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All Loved Up: Ann Walker of Lightcliffe, Mistress of Crow Nest Mansion

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Crow Nest Mansion, Lightcliffe, Halifax UK, 23rd May 1832

 

Ann Walker’s carriage pulled up outside of her home and stopped, she and her cousin Catherine had spent three glorious weeks in the Lake District and now they were home. She was a little sad about that fact, because she had gotten a lot of sketching in on their outings and she was really starting to get a feel for foliage and how the light caught it. But alas, now was time for her to be back home, picking up her duties as her brother’s head of the household, the position she took over since their sister Elizabeth got married and moved up to Scotland.

It had been a sad time, John’s wife, Fanny, had died on their honeymoon in Naples, she had been with child and now John was left alone, a bachelor again. Elizabeth had married and moved away with her husband only two years earlier. They had all been getting along famously, more like friends than siblings, but Elizabeth had to go and break that dynamic up. Her fiancé, George was handsome and attentive, a pretty good sportsman too, and so she was infatuated and bursting to start a family.

Ann wasn’t too worried about being left behind. John seemed disinclined to get back into looking for a wife and now he was too busy with his stable of prized horses to really care about pleasing society. So, his sister was called upon to take care of the household and as she seemed disinclined to marry any time soon, they had settled into a nice arrangement.

By the time 1832 rolled around, Ann had many suitors, but none that she was willing to settle down into a marriage with. She did have one man, who had proposed to her and she had consented to say yes, but he had died suddenly before she could even tell her family about him. Since she never had told anyone about him and what a good man he was, she had no one to confide in and no one to share her grief.

When her cousin Catherine had suggested the trip to the Lakes, she jumped at the chance, she was just starting to feel herself again and she wanted to throw herself into something that she loved to do, which was sketching. As they made their way back to her home in the carriage, she was musing about all of the great days and fine weather that they had, when her cousin brought her out of her thoughts with a question.

“Are you sure you don’t mind me staying for a few days with you? I daren’t go back to Gledholt just yet, my cousin, William’s son, Frederick, is staying with my parents until Tuesday next and I’d rather be pulled back to Wastwater by my feet tied to these horses then spend two minutes with that devil child.”

“Catherine, that’s unkind! You forget, he’s my cousin too, I think he’s just high spirited.”

“High spirited? High spirited?! Do you remember that time he caught my leg as I was moving past to walk into the drawing room at Stoney Royd? I fell forward, pushed Delia into Granny who fell off her chair. The whole house was in a panic about her for a week and that little contumacious knave wouldn’t own up to what he did-”

Contumacious?” Ann looked at her cousin with a smile and a raised eyebrow.

Catherine furrowed her brow, “I’ve been improving my grammar, you know this…”

“If you’ve been improving your vocabulary…” Ann said the last word pointedly, “…then you would know that it wasn’t called grammar.”

“You know you’ve been very full of yourself ever since you were made John’s head of household.”

“It gives me purpose.” Ann said, stating the truth.

“And what happens when he marries again? You know his wife will want you out.”

“That may be, but for now, he’s content with his horses.” Ann said, trying not to worry about that eventuality, she was having a pretty good time being needed, making decisions about the house and staff, feeling like her life had a purpose.

“Speaking of horses, who’s that with John’s prized mare?” Catherine said, as the carriage stopped and she stepped out after James opened the door. She was looking off towards the lane that led to the stables.

Ann looked out of the window towards where Catherine was looking, she saw someone in britches and thigh high boots walking with Raven, the horse John won in a card game and had raced her to win three races so far, which Ann did not approve of, but was unable to persuade her brother to stop.

“Is that a Spaniard, do you think?”

The person’s hair was not quite as black as the horses’, in fact Ann would call it more of a chestnut color, but it was pulled back into a braid at the back and as long as her own.

Ann was puzzled as to who that could be, she knew who all the staff was, outside and in. In fact, since John had been so caught up in his horses, she was allowed to handle the outside staff as well and even though he made decisions about the horses themselves, she dealt with decisions about where the staff would sleep, how much they were paid and anything else they needed that didn’t have to do with the horses.

Ann stepped out of the carriage and said firmly, “I don’t know, but I expect I’m going to find out.”

As they went inside the house, they could hear the piano forte being played and a female singing voice. The song ended and John was heard clapping and giving the woman his praises.

Catherine and Ann looked at each other quizzically, took off their bonnets, gave them to James and went into the sitting room where John entertained most of his guests.

“Ah, here they are, the travelers!” John said, moving to his sister and his cousin to greet them. “How well you both look!”

“Thank you.” They both said, in turn, as he gave them each a kiss on their cheeks and then indicated towards his guests.

“Ann you remember Fanny’s sister, Charlotte don’t you? And I don’t think you’ve met Catherine before…”

“Hello, Charlotte,” Ann said, putting out her hand for a shake, “How lovely to see you again.”

“Yes, hello, very lovely to see you again,” Charlotte said, shyly.

“Ann, this is Catherine Baroncelli, she’s also Fanny’s sister. She’s the one who is married to an Italian and lives in Italy, if you can imagine.” John said, with a broad smile on his face.

“I’m very happy to meet you, Catherine, I had heard Fanny talk very proudly of her sister in Italy.”

“How kind of you to say that, Miss Walker.” Catherine Baroncelli, said with a grateful smile.

“And this is our cousin, also called Catherine,” John said, introducing her to his in-laws.

“Yes, I think I remember Charlotte from your wedding John; was that who we heard singing as we came in?”

Charlotte smiled demurely and nodded.

“It was very lovely.” Ann said, smiling at her.

“My sister is very accomplished in all the arts,” Catherine said, smiling almost haughtily, Ann took note of that and wondered if she was thinking herself better than them. “As was our dear belated sister, may she rest in peace.”

“May she rest in peace.” The others said.

“Charlotte and Catherine have come to stay with us for a little while.” John said.

“Just a few days whilst we wait for our brother who has gone to York on business,” Catherine Baroncelli, said, “It’s so nice to be able to visit former family.”

Charlotte looked at her sister pointedly and Catherine looked back at her defiant.

Both Ann and her cousin Catherine quickly surmised what was happening here. Charlotte must have been told by someone, probably their mother, to make herself presentable as a potential fiancée to John, but her sister didn’t seem convinced that was a good idea.

“Well, it’s very nice that you would come to stay. I am so very glad of it.” Ann said, being the perfect host. “My cousin Catherine is also spending time with us these next few days.”

“Oh?” John asked.

“Yes, Ann has been good to invite me for until at least Tuesday next, my parents are…away themselves,” Catherine lied, not wanting to reveal that she was wanting to avoid a bad relative, guessing it would give the other Catherine a bad impression of their family. She didn’t want to give her the satisfaction. “And I don’t really want to be in the house with just the servants.”

“Quite right, such a good notion,” Catherine Baroncelli said, stately. “It’s good to see one with my own name be the sensible one of the family.”

Ann narrowed her eyes ever so imperceptibly, she knew that was aimed at her, probably because of some story about her that was running around in the Penfold family. Possibly about the time she tried to shoot a gun John had given her and shot out the window in the kitchen, giving the cook such a fright, that the woman pulled the pot that she had been stirring, off the stove and scalded her leg quite badly. Ann’s stomach always lurched at the suffering she had caused one of her favorite people, who had to have extensive medical care and ultimately moved in to live with her sister because she couldn’t work anymore and needed almost round the clock care for her leg. Ann still sent correspondence and any money she could each month to help with her care. John had said, only last month, that she had done enough, but Ann wouldn’t hear of it and kept sending money out of her allowance like clockwork.

“Indeed, Catherine is sensible and judicious, I rarely consult anyone else but her on family matters.” Ann said, lying again. Catherine was hopeless with making a decision and she rarely asked her about any matters of the household or family.

“Tea is about to be served Ann, why don’t you and Catherine go freshen yourselves, you must be dusty after that carriage ride.” John said, feeling the tension in the room.

“Quite right, John,” Catherine Baroncelli, said, “They do look a little grey…”

Ann just smiled and addressed her brother, “John, I’ve received some correspondence whilst I was in Wastwater which I would like to speak to you about after tea, if you have some time?”

“Certainly.” John said, wondering if he was about to catch an earful about Fanny’s sister.

“Excuse my cousin and I, ladies, please, do go on playing if you’d like.” Ann decided to remind Catherine Baroncelli about who was head of the household.

When they went back to Ann’s room her cousin Catherine asked, “What correspondence did you get in Wastwater, you didn’t mention anything to me except the letters from your Aunt Ann, Lydia and Harriet.”

“I said that to secure some time alone with John, I wanted to find out about that new groom he’s apparently hired without consulting me.”

“It is his house…”

“Catherine, I am the head of household, I must be consulted in these matters or it’s not going to work. What if I had planned on hiring someone, or did hire someone and they were on their way here at this very moment? It would be very embarrassing to say the least and then I’d look like I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d be the talk of the town, like I guess I already am to Fanny’s family.”

“Yes, what was that about?” Catherine asked, furrowing her brow.

“I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing they know of what happened to Cook.”

“Oh…yes…it’s so surprising that you should have been the one to do that. It so unlike you, sounds something like I would do.”

“Well, I guess I can do no right in their eyes now. Not that I particularly care. They’ll leave on Tuesday and probably never call again.”

“It looks like they’re setting Charlotte upon John’s path, do you think he realises that?”

“I honestly don’t know; I’ll have to ask him about that too. Sometimes he’s so clueless about those matters I don’t even know how we’re related.”

Catherine laughed.

“Better go get freshened up, Catherine. You wouldn’t want to go down to Mrs. Baroncelli looking grey and dusty.”

“Heaven forbid.” Catherine smiled at her cousin, knowingly.

Catherine left and Ann stood and took off her pelerine, which went over her shoulders for the carriage ride. Some dust flew into the air and she had to smirk. Fanny’s eldest sister might have been right about the dust from the carriage, but she wasn’t right about Ann Walker being non-sensible. She had been managing the household successfully for the better part of two years now and she wasn’t going to let anyone tell her differently.

As she went to go put water in her basin, she heard a horse whinny and neigh outside her window, she went to it and saw the person with Raven a little more closely, albeit from the back, his black waistcoat hung open and his braid shining in the sun, the hair was definitely auburn, a very nice shade. She wondered if he spoke any English. Catherine’s supposition that he was a Spaniard was starting to make sense. The horseman leaned into the horse when she had put her hooves back on the ground, putting his head on her snout and gently stroking the area between the horse’s eyes. He was obviously saying a few soothing words to the horse and she was responding to him very nicely. It would have been a touching scene if she hadn’t been a little annoyed at her brother for not consulting her about his hiring.

As he turned around, did she see another issue with the choice of groom by her brother. The groom had led the horse a few feet towards the house and Ann can clearly see the shape and features of a woman. She might be dressed manly, but Ann could tell that it was a woman and her heart suddenly clenched. The water jug slipped from her hand and crashed to the floor.

Catherine came racing into her bedroom while she was picking up the shards of ceramic, cursing herself for losing her grip. In more ways than one.

“What happened?”

“I knocked over the water jug.”

“What were you doing? You must have knocked it pretty far for it to be over near the window.”

“I was going to give my plant a little water, I see it’s been neglected since I left and bumped it on the window ledge and that was all it took.”

“It made such a God-awful noise…now that Catherine lady is going to have another thing against you…”

“Don’t remind me. But you know what, I honestly don’t care.” Ann said, defiantly. “Do you mind if I have some of your water? I’d rather not have to bother the servants until I’ve cleaned this all. I don’t want them to go gossiping about it.”

“I’ll go get the jug…”

“Thank you.” Ann said, standing up and looking back out the window. She saw the woman with Raven shielding her eyes and looking up at the window, obviously curious about what caused the noise. The spark of recognition as to who the woman could be flicked in her brain. She knew her and if she was right in who she thought it was, that would be both thrilling and scary for her. But it couldn’t be, that woman had long ago moved out of Halifax and went to America. Right after she had made a promise to call on her and never fulfilled it.

It just couldn’t be.

*****

“Miss Lister of Shibden Hall?” Ann asked, stunned at what her brother had just explained to her about their new staff member.

“She was once of Shibden Hall, yes, but since the Lister family lost it after the balloon went up in twenty-five, she’s not of anywhere really. Paris for a few years and then Virginia for the last three or four, I think. That is, until her Aunt took ill and she came back to care for her in her last months. Pity.”

“But to have a woman as a groom, isn’t that…” Catherine Baroncelli started to say something but trailed off.

“She’s not a groom, exactly,” John explained, “She’ll not accompany us on any trips, Ann has Bell and I have Wharton, so that’s all set.”

“But why hire her at all? Unless it’s out of charity, but even then, it would be very odd.” Catherine Rawson said, her eyebrows furrowed.

John defended his decision, “Yes, thank you, cousin. Miss Lister has always been an oddity, some say, so let them say it,” He waved his hand dismissively, “She saved Raven and some of the other horses from a mysterious illness that’s been going around amongst the horses here and in Spain and France, and I’d rather have someone like that, in my stables, than dead horses in them.”

Ann had been quiet after she asked her question earlier. Her heartbeat had started to pick up as she thought of the woman who was soothing Raven earlier. She loved that horse and to know that she was in peril had made her upset. Also, the fact that she had no knowledge of that while she was away in the Lake District, was currently making her angry. She felt her brother didn’t trust her with information about things that went on at the estate and that just wouldn’t do.

Why wasn’t I informed that Raven or the other horses were ill?”

“I didn’t think you should be bothered with it. They’re my horses…besides, Miss Lister…”

“Miss Lister what?” Ann’s voice was hard.

John began again, a little frightened of the look on his sister’s face, “Well, she thought we should tell you only if it was a certainty that she wouldn’t have lived. She thought it too much to bother you with, because she was sure she could bring her around and you were having such a relaxing time in the Lakes, which your account in the letter I had just received from you had illustrated. Were you not having a good time?” He smiled at his cousin Catherine in an attempt to have her help him out.

“The point is, John-” Ann started.

Ann, you have guests…” Catherine whispered to her cousin, out of the side of her mouth.

Catherine Baroncelli took the momentary lull to bring up a point of etiquette, “Shouldn’t you be calling her ‘Lister’, if she’s part of the staff? What’s with all of this ‘Miss Lister’ business?”

Miss Lister of Shibden Hall was a friend of this family, my dear sister-in-law and she saved my horses, so I will call her what I like, thank you.” John said.

Ann shot John a look, he might be the master of the house, but Catherine was a guest and even if she was being impertinent, he shouldn’t be talking to her like that.

Catherine Baroncelli scoffed because of the hard edge to his voice but left it there and sipped her tea. Charlotte, who had largely been silent the whole day, practically, smiled downwards into her teacup and bit her lip to stop a chuckle from coming out.

Catherine Rawson fixed a smile on her face and addressed Charlotte, “What a lovely voice you have, Charlotte, we heard you sing as we came in, are you studying with someone?”

They chatted about music and their different teachers for the remainder of the tea.

*****

 Catherine Rawson was at Ann’s window looking out, as Ann was getting ready to take a nap.

“There she is again…”

“Who?”

“Miss Lister.”

“Oh.” Ann said, trying not to sound anything but indifferent.

“Can you believe your brother?”

“What, with Mrs. Baroncelli? I know, I wanted to slip off the sofa and under it…”

“No, well, yes, he was most ill-mannered…you both were actually-”

“Catherine, he usurped my power…if he doesn’t want me to be head of household and outside staff then he should tell me, so I could just go off somewhere and sketch to my heart’s content…”

“And miss all the eligible bachelors swanning into Crow Nest?”

Ann rolled her eyes at her cousin.

Catherine smirked and looked at her cousin, “Someday soon you’re going to have to at least give one of them the time of day…”

“Catherine…” Ann said, with a sigh.

There was a loud whinny outside and Catherine looked back out the window. She tutted and said, “I mean, really, what is your brother thinking?”

“What?”

“Anne Lister… working in the stables?”

“I know that it’s unorthodox…”

“Unorthodox? No, Ann, unorthodox is when you have a groom work as a butler. I’m talking about a woman… with a certain reputation I might add… working at Crow Nest, in the stables.”

“I really don’t…”

“You do know what people say about her don’t you?”

Ann was getting frustrated with her cousin, she didn’t really want to hear anything right now, except for her own snores as she drifted off to a glorious nap.

“Yes, I do, as a matter of fact.”

“And you’re okay with that?”

“With what?”

“With the fact that she can’t be trusted in the company of other women and she’s living in your stables.”

“And how are we going to come in contact?”

“I don’t know… I mean…”

Really, Catherine,” Ann smirked at her cousin, “I think you read too many of those bawdy novels.”

“Ann!” Catherine looked around as if she was going to find someone in the room, “I showed you those in the strictest confidence.” She whispered, almost urgently.

“We’re in the privacy of my bedroom, who is going to hear?”

“You never know…”

“Catherine, I’m tired, we’ve had a long journey and I had that woman downstairs being very disagreeable and scrambling my brains. Later, I have to see what’s to be done with this new staff member, I’m going to have to have a talk with her, or at least with John again.”

“If John won’t talk to you and you have to talk to her, then I’m going to accompany you.”

“Fine, if you like. Let me be now…” Ann remembered her manners, “Please.”

Catherine went over to her cousin and gave her a peck on the forehead.

“I’ll leave you to rest, I supposed you’ll need it.”

Ann watched her leave and then let her thoughts run to Anne Lister, as she had glimpsed her from the window. Cool, calm and very loving to Raven. Her hair pulled back into a long braid and her impossibly crisp looking, white shirt, billowing at the arms, underneath her shiny black opened waistcoat, possibly made of leather. She realized her heart was beating fast and she tried to quiet her mind to let sleep claim her. At last, thinking of her sketching on the finest day at the Lakes, helped her to banish all thoughts of a certain someone, the way she looked today and how that made her feel. She fell into a shallow and very active with dreams, sleep.

*****

“Booth, very nice to see you!” Anne said, as she saw John Booth walking towards her in the stable. She held out her hand for a shake and he pushed right past that and grabbed her in a hug.

“Forgive me for being so impertinent, ma’am, but aren’t you a sight for sore eyes!” He said, as he hugged her and stifled the urge to pick her up and twirl her around.

Anne was stunned, but deep down she felt the same way about him. Tightening her hug, she took the opportunity to get lost in the moment and tears made their way to her eyes. 

Just then a cough was heard and they realized someone was in the stable with them.

“Hi there, Booth, welcome back.” William Bell, Ann’s groom said, as he averted his eyes.

“Mr. Bell, ‘ow do?” John asked, as he and Anne stopped their hug and composed themselves. Booth had also felt emotional and had to swipe the wetness from his eyes with his sleeve.

“Can’t complain.” William said with a nod and a smile. “How was your mother?”

“She’s pulled through, thankfully, it were touch and go for a while there and I was sure she’d be leaving us, but she’s alright. God be thanked.”

“Your mother was ill?”

“Yes, ma’am, Dr. Kenny thought it was dropsy, but Mr. Sunderland said it was a bad case of gout and something with her kidney, it passed though and she’s much better.”

Anne nodded and touched his shoulder, “I’m glad she’s pulled through.” She said, smiling sincerely.

“I had a letter from my brother, he’s working at Shibden now and he told me you were back. I’m sorry about your Aunt. She were a great lady.” He said, looking down at his hat in his hands.

The tears sprung to Anne’s eyes again and she took out her kerchief from her pocket again, dabbing at her eyes. “She was that, John, thank you.” She tried not to break down in front of them.

“So, it’s true, then, you’re working for Mr. Walker?” John said and thumbed towards the direction of the house.

“For now.” Anne said, with a nod.

“For now?” William Bell said, “Have you told Mr. Walker that? He talks about you like you’re the second coming of our Lord and Saviour, walking on water and all…”

Anne tried not to get caught up in that description, she said, “I told him once you firmly understood everything I’ve taught you about spotting that disease, putting together the medicines and being comfortable with administering them and I was satisfied with that, I would be moving on.”

“So, he’s hired you to be a second groom?”

“No, John, I only help in the stables with the horses.”

“A stable… lady?”

Anne chuckled, “I guess so. I’m really just making sure the horses have fully recovered from this disease that’s been going through stables like wildfire.”

“Joseph said it killed most of the horses at Shibden.”

Anne, who had begun to pet Onyx on his mane, hung her head. She had been too late to help the horses there. Percy had perished, along with two other horses she had recently purchased before she was obliged to sell the estate.

“Sorry, ma’am…” John said, realizing he shouldn’t have brought that up.

“It’s Lister, John.”

“Sorry?” He asked, puzzled.

“I’m staff, just like you are, you should be calling me Lister, if not just Anne.”

“Oh, no, no ma’am, I couldn’t. It wouldn’t be right.”

“I’m with you, John. I couldn’t do it either, neither could James. The younger staff, they’re not really familiar with Miss Lister, so they’ve got no hang-up in calling her Lister, but… I couldn’t either.”

“You do what you want when we’re all alone together, but in front of the household or the other staff, you better call me Lister, or there will be trouble.”

“Yes, ma’am.” They said in unison, with a nod, making her shake her head while letting out an incredulous chuckle.

“Lister!” One of the stablehands called out.

“In here!” Anne called.

Alf Sowden came into the stables and gave Anne a note. “Thank you, Alf.”

He bowed his head slightly, turned and waved to the men standing there and left.

“I’m wanted up at the house.”

“By whom?”

“Well, it doesn’t look like John Walker’s handwriting, it’s not signed, but…” Anne lifted the paper to her nose. “I’m guessing Miss Walker has learned of my hiring and she wants to see me.”

William furrowed his brow. “You don’t think she means to dismiss you, do you?”

Anne nodded sideways and her eyebrows went up, “We’ll see. I better go change my boots and put on a better jacket.” She nodded at John who looked worried. “Don’t worry, Booth, I’ll be alright…”

“I know, ma’am.” He smiled, uneasily.

Twenty minutes later and Anne was waiting in the kitchen near the fire.

“Anne Lister?” Ann asked her, she was standing in the doorway.

Anne turned and nodded to her, “Yes... Miss Walker…”

Ann narrowed her eyes, trying not to get sucked up into Anne’s dark and expressive ones, she asked curtly, “I thought I asked for them to bring you into the parlour? Why did you not go with them?”

“I assumed it was a mistake, I’m outside staff and…”

“Lister, as you are staff, you’ll do as I say, now. I’m tired and I’ve had a bad day, please come into the parlour so I can sit in comfort.”

Anne was taken aback by her abrupt tone. She turned to the cook and the other kitchen staff and they all looked down. But she could see they had their mouths open.

Anne followed one of the maids into the parlor, she didn’t really remember where it was. She had been at Crow Nest only a handful of times in the past, when she was Mistress of Shibden Hall, but never more than a couple of hours. She chuckled as she remembered thinking the Walkers were beneath her socially. Now look at her.

“Thank you for coming, Lister. You’ll remember my cousin, Catherine Rawson?”

“Miss Rawson, how do you do?” Anne had the urge to put her hand out for a shake, but she had to keep that in check. She bowed her head.

“Miss-” Catherine started and stopped herself. “Hello, Lister.”

Ann quirked an eyebrow at her cousin. “First of all, I’m sorry to hear of the death of your aunt. She was a very good woman.”

Anne smiled, “Thank you, that’s very kind of you.” She said, not looking into her eyes too long.

“I remember once, she took my mother and sister and I into Shibden when our carriage had an accident. We took refreshments, blankets and one of your lamps to light the way home.”

“Yes, I do remember.”

“She was very kind.”

Anne looked at her and pursed her lips together in a small deferential smile, nodding again.

Catherine looked at her cousin, this was starting to feel more like a social call to her and that wasn’t right, it was almost like she was witnessing a suitor coming to call on her cousin. She cleared her throat to get Ann’s attention and when that failed, said, “Miss Walker has called you here today, Lister, to discuss your employment.”

“Oh?”

“Y-yes, m-my... Excuse me,” Ann coughed into her handkerchief, she needed to get a hold of herself, she was incredibly nervous in Anne Lister’s presence right now, especially since she practically yelled at her in front of the kitchen staff. “My brother had not consulted me on your hiring and I am the one who is supposed to do that.”

“Well, I’m sorry, I didn’t know that was the case, but I assure you, this is only temporary.”

“Oh?” It was Ann’s turn to be puzzled now.

“Yes, though your brother wants my position to be permanent here, I have told him that it is my wish to return to America as soon as I have the fare for the passage.”

“Have you really told him that? Because he seems to think you’re here to stay.”

“I have, ma’am.”

Ann’s heart felt peculiar when Anne Lister treated her like she was socially superior to the brunette woman. She felt it swell.

“Would there be anything else, ma’am?” Anne said, after the silence had started to stretch.

 “W-w… well, just that while I do appreciate what you’ve done here for the horses, that I’m glad you understand that your position isn’t permanent. If it were to become as such, I would have to assess your references and your work.”

Anne bowed her head, “Very well, ma’am.”

“You’re dismissed.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Anne bowed her head again to Ann and then to Catherine, “Miss Rawson, good day.”

“Good day, Lister.”

As Anne followed the maid back out of the parlor, Ann let out a big sigh of relief.

“Are you okay, Annie? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know, it…”

“What?”

“I…” Ann didn’t really know what she could say, then decided to just waive it off, “Nothing.” She said and shook her head, trying to remain as calm outwardly as she possibly could, but inwardly her mind was racing as much as her heart was.

*****

“Ann, are you not well?” John Walker asked his sister, sitting at the table during breakfast the next morning.

“Hmm?” Ann asked, absent mindedly, then answered, “Oh, yes, I’m perfectly well.”

“I only ask because you haven’t touched your breakfast.”

“Oh, well, I was thinking about the plans for the fête next week.”

“Yes, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about those…” John said and continued to lay out his plans.

Ann didn’t hear him, her mind was on the fact that she had seen Anne Lister running across the lawn this morning, hastily trying to make her way to the kitchen. Her hair was undone and flowing behind her. She obviously hadn’t planned on being so late for her breakfast.

“Ann, don’t you agree?”

“Hmm?”

“I said, don’t you agree?”

“Oh, yes, yes of course.” She said, again, not having listened to what he said.

“See, cousin? Ann does agree.”

“But I think it’s dangerous.” Catherine protested.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing. You’ll have the children go around the paddock with the ponies?” Ann heard Mrs. Baroncelli ask.

“It’ll be delightful and fun,” John said, “This is supposed to be a celebration. Why not let the children have fun, too?”

“This is for the adults, surely.” Catherine Baroncelli said.

“But we’re young and we’re nothing like our parents were, why not have a good time and let the children have one as well?”

“Won’t it look indecorous?”

John looked at Mrs. Baroncelli’s sister and said, “Charlotte? What do you think? It was only a few years ago when you were a child, eh? What would you have thought if you were aloud to ride a pony around a paddock at a fête?”

“Oh, I would have lo-”

“Charlotte, no one asked you…” Her sister said, warningly.

John scoffed and narrowed his eyes at her.

Ann finally understood what they were saying after tuning in for the last few minutes. “Where did you come up with this idea, John?” She asked her brother.

“Miss Lister suggested it.” He said.

“You mean your horselady?” Mrs. Baroncelli, asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

“She has been more than that…” John said, trailing off, perturbed.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Catherine Baroncelli asked.

“Is no one going to admit or remember she was Mistress of Shibden Hall?” He asked, looking at his sister and cousin.

“But as I understand-” His sister-in-law started saying.

“You understand nothing, Catherine.”

“John!” Both Ann and Catherine scolded him.

“Excuse me, Mrs. Baroncelli.”

“Excuse my brother for being so rude, Mrs. Baroncelli. He hasn’t been at all himself for a long while now. Especially, since your dear sister…” Ann trailed off, not wanting to really bring up that memory. “May she rest in peace.”

Everyone repeated that sentiment and things went quiet.

Mrs. Baroncelli nodded her thanks at Ann, she had understood that line of thinking at once and felt bad for him. John must still be beside himself after losing Fanny, that’s why he had these fanciful notions of his. A woman for a stable boy, letting the children ride ponies at a fête for adults. These things were simply not something you’d hear of from a person in their right mind.

*****

“So, good to see you’re still here,” William said, as he sat down in the servant’s quarters, as Anne poured herself a cup of coffee from the pot on the stove, she had just put her hair in a ponytail and tied it with a ribbon she had asked one of the maids to borrow, “I didn’t see you come back last night.”

“I took a walk, had to clear my head, do some thinking.”

“Where’d you walk to?”

“Up near Cunnery Wood.”

“Above the Hall.”

“Mm.” She said as she looked at him and nodded. He let it drop.

*****

“James, can I see you a moment?” Ann asked.

“Yes, ma’am?” He said, when he reached her.

She whispered, “Is Miss… is Lister still in the kitchen?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Could you ask her to see me in the library? I’ll be there in a few moments.”

“Very good, ma’am.” He said and then left to go tell her.

*****

Anne looked at the newspaper the boy had just ironed, she sniffed a little, the morning’s air was not agreeing with her sinus. Good thing she had the handkerchiefs her aunt had given to her, she must not be used to the trees around Yorkshire anymore. As she sipped her coffee, she finished scanning the page and was satisfied not too much was going on in the news lately. The reform bill was still set to be signed and now that it didn’t really matter to her, she didn’t care what the landowner got out of the deal. Good for the little people, she jutted out her lip in defiance. Before she had a chance to turn and leave with her coffee, James came into the kitchen.

“Miss Li… uh, Lister, Miss Walker would like to speak with you, a moment, can you come this way, please?” He pointed to the area beyond the kitchen.

Anne looked down at her boots, she didn’t plan on being called into the main rooms of the house and she had been later than she wanted to be, so she had jogged across the grass and stepped in a puddle.

“Where is she?”

“The library.”

Anne rolled her eyes, put her coffee down on the bench and took off her boots one by one. She looked for a place to put them, but when she saw the narrowed eyes of the cook, she decided against it. “I’m right behind you James.” She said and carried her boots with her as she practically tiptoed into the hall and then into the drawing room with James. Miss Walker wasn’t in yet, so she had to stand around and wait. Good thing she had darned her stockings recently, she thought.

*****

“Charlotte,” Ann said, smiling at the young woman who was very quiet, “Would you be so kind as to sing for us later this afternoon? You have such a lovely voice.”

“T-thank you, Miss Walker. I’d be delighted to.”

“Ann, you must play piano to accompany her.” Catherine said, smiling at her cousin.

“I don’t know, I feel a bit rusty, I haven’t played in ages.” Ann said, humbly.

“What do you mean? You played in that small cottage in Wastwater, the people in the town thought you were a traveling musician.”

Ann’s face colored slightly and she gave a polite smile. Normally, that would have filled her with pride, but Fanny’s sister, seemed a little unimpressed by that fact.

James came into the breakfast room and caught Ann’s eye, he nodded and she nodded back.

“Would you excuse me, please? I have to take care of some business with one of the staff.”

John stood up and nodded at his sister and the rest of them carried on eating in silence.

*****

Anne looked around at the knick-knacks on the side table, ‘I bet if I nicked one of those and pawned it, I’d have enough money to go back to America and buy a house.’ She thought to herself, adding, ‘If I were a thief…’
She heard the door open and Ann stepped through, James had opened the door for her. He nodded to Anne and gave her an encouraging smile, hoping things would go well.

“Lister, thank you for coming, I know you were probably eating your breakfast, so I’ll be brief.” Ann said, as she moved a pillow from the corner of the sofa to the middle and sat down. She grimaced and the look wasn’t lost on Anne.

“James said, you wanted to see me.” Anne said, not really knowing what else to say but wanting to get to the bottom of it and leave. She felt positively awkward standing in the library at Crow Nest with her muddy boots in her hand.

Ann finally got the pillow behind her right and sat back a little, grimacing again before letting out a sigh. When she opened her eyes and looked at Anne, her eyes were immediately drawn to the muddy boots and she quirked an eyebrow at her.

“I… uhhh… puddle.” She shrugged slightly. “Didn’t want to get your carpets all muddy.

“Quite right,” Ann said, with a pious nod and pulled her shawl a little tighter around herself. “Now, I asked to see you to say that in future, you are to consult with me for any changes or additions to the fêtes, parties, balls or anything of that nature here at Crow Nest, is that understood?”

“Yes…” Anne was puzzled and a little perturbed, it sounded like she was being accused of something and she hated even the hint of that.

“My brother might be the master of Crow Nest, but everything comes through me decision-wise.”

“Is this about the pony rides?”

“It’s about anything and everything that happens here at Crow Nest. I’m not sure if you know, but I’m not that little girl you made a date with and then didn’t keep it. I keep this household running very well and if there are to be any decisions made, they come through me. Is that-”

“Completely understood. I’m sorry, ma’am. Will that be all?”

Ann was puzzled, she was expecting some sort of fight from Anne, for speaking to her so impertinently and truth be told, she was hoping she would ask her about the date that she had broken, just to show her that she remembered, and she wasn’t happy about it, but also that she wasn’t bothered by it any longer. The tables had turned and now she was the one with more of a pedigree than Anne. She moved slightly and grimaced again, the pain making her breath hitch in her throat.

“Are you alright, Miss Walker?” Anne asked, concern evident in her voice.

Ann had closed her eyes as the pain shot through her torso and she had to bite back a moan of pain. It took a few more moments before she tuned back into what was happening in the room.

“Miss Walker?”

“Yes?”

“Are you alright? Do you need me to fetch the doctor?”

“No…” Ann’s breath hitched in her throat again as she chuckled and said, “No. That won’t be necessary. It’s nothing.”

“It doesn’t look like nothing.”

“Leave… leave it…”

Anne nodded, “Very well, ma’am. I’ll get on with my day.”

Ann watched her turn around and she didn’t even really know why but she asked, “What would you suggest for my neck and back?”

Anne stopped and turned around, “That would depend on what was causing it. Do you know?”

“I felt like I might have slept on it wrong.”

“Probably just a salve that you can have someone rub into the area if you can’t get to it. I have one I swear by. Made it myself.”

“Ew,” Ann screwed up her nose, “Like Dr. Day’s essence of turpentine ointment?”

Anne smiled and wrinkled her nose, “No, not that. I made quite a lot for my aunt before I left. It apparently helped in her later days.”

Ann looked sympathetic and nodded. That look of sympathy was like an alcohol-soaked taper touched to a flame that lit a fire in Anne’s belly and spread warmth throughout her torso. She tried to not pay attention to it. She didn’t want to get any complicated feelings for anyone while she was back in England, least of all someone who she could never have now that she was completely penniless.

“I’ll… uh… I’ll send it back to the house for you.”

Ann had started to feel bad at the way she was treating Anne, she didn’t really deserve it, all she had done for the family was save their horses and she hadn’t really done anything to warrant Ann’s mood.

“You could bring it back yourself.” Ann said, politely.

Anne was a little flattered by that and also simultaneously angry with it, Ann shouldn’t be trying to spend more time with her, it was beneath her station and it would make it harder for Anne to keep her feelings at bay.

“I’ll send it back. I’m sorry, but I do have some things needing tending to and if I don’t carry on with them straight away, it will throw off the balance of the rest of the stables.”

“Oh, right. Yes, of course.” Ann remembered herself and hardened visibly. “That’s all then, Lister. You’re dismissed.”

Anne bowed her head and left the room.

Ann let out a sigh of relief when the other woman was safely out of the room, her heart was beating so hard that she was sure Anne could have heard it. She tried not to think of what she had felt for Anne when she was younger, it just wouldn’t do. She wasn’t that young, frivolous girl that had just lost her parents and that Anne charmed at Crow Nest. She was the keeper of her brother’s household and Anne was just a servant.

Now, how to convince her heart of that?

*****

“Lister, the man with the extra ponies sent a note, they’ll need the money by Friday if you still want them for the fête by next week.” Bell, the groom said.

“I think that’s not going to go ahead now.” Anne replied, brushing Raven.

“What, the fête? They better tell Pickles, he’s already starting on the frames for the tents.”

“No, the paddock with the ponies.”

“Oh, Mr. Walker was very excited about that. Though god knows why…”

Anne chuckled and shook her head slightly as she brushed Raven’s mane once more. Leaning into the horse and murmuring some words of appreciation for her.

Anne certainly knew why John Walker was so keen on having the ponies at the fête, she had seen a widowed woman at Crow Nest a couple of times, who had a little boy and girl and who were both very interested in the horses. She apparently was the widow of a friend of his and though he mainly spoke to the children, Anne could see the longing in his eyes every time he looked at their mother. She was a very pretty woman, so she could see why he wanted to impress her, but she guessed that his family wasn’t too receptive to the fact that she had been married before, which struck her as odd. Surely there were widows with children who remarried respectable gentlemen.

Anne shook her head at the absurdity of society. The society she once held so high in esteem and tried to rule.

*****

“Annie, one of the boys from the stable brought this for you.” Catherine said, as she came into her cousin’s room, after being called to enter. “What could it possibly be?” She asked, as she watched Ann unravel the package. It held a note that she put to the side.

“Oh, Miss… I mean Lister has sent me a salve for my back. She said it helped her aunt a great deal.”

“Couldn’t have helped that much…”

Ann gave her an unapproving look, “Catherine, don’t be ill-mannered.”

“Sorry, that was ill-mannered of me. She was a nice woman.” She tried to steer the conversation from her bad manners. “What did you do to yourself?”

“I don’t know, the pain is getting worse and now I can’t really move my neck.” Ann sighed, as she looked down at the little jar in her hands and opened the top. She brought it too her nose. “Mmm, lavender…”

“Really?” Catherine perked up, “How can that do any good for your back if it smells of lavender? Doesn’t it have to smell awful to work? I thought that was a requirement.”

Ann smiled, “I don’t know… would you mind rubbing some on my back?” She held the jar out to her cousin.

“Sure.” Catherine said and took it from her smelling it. “Ooh, that is nice… I can detect something else in there, definitely something that would be medicinal, but the lavender… very nice touch.”

Ann smiled at the scent that filled her nostrils, glad that the smell wouldn’t prevent her from getting some sleep. Usually, with the essence of Turpentine in Dr. Day’s ointment, it was always hard for her to get to sleep right away with the strong scent bothering her so much.

Catherine’s application of the ointment was helpful, but she wished she had someone with strong hands to give a good rub as they applied it. Her thoughts ran back to Anne Lister as the smell filled her senses. She sighed.

“I stand corrected.” Catherine said.

“Hmm?”

“It must be helping immensely if that’s the kind of reaction it gets from being applied.”

“It’s soothing…”

“You’re almost asleep already.”

“I’m going to lie down for a while…”

“Good, you do look tired.”

Ann yawned and Catherine put the top on the jar and put it on her dressing table. She spied her sketch book open to a page she had recently been working on. It was the outline of a horse and someone with a ponytail, talking to the horse and gently stroking its head.

Catherine narrowed her eyes and closed the book, looking at her cousin who had already begun to lightly snore. She felt sorry for her, both for her back and the obvious crush she still had on Anne Lister. She would try to do all she could to help her get over it, but with Lister looking like she did still, now even more handsome then when they had last seen her, she knew it would be hard for Ann.

She went over to the side table and looked at the note.

‘Miss Walker, here is the ointment I made for my aunt, best to apply it twice a day when necessary. It can help with sleep, too. Let me know if there is any way I can be of assistance. Sincerely, A. Lister.’

‘I know a way you can be of assistance,’ Catherine said to herself, ‘But not one that wouldn’t cause a scandal.’

She smirked as she looked at her cousin again, “Poor dear…” She whispered and then left the room.

*****

The next afternoon, Ann made her way to the kitchen after she watched Anne walk to the house and into the servant’s entrance.

“No, please don’t get up, I’m sorry to disturb you whilst you’re eating your lunch. I just wanted to speak to Lister for a moment, I thought I might have seen her come into the kitchen.”

“She did but she went back out again, something about Miss Penfold requiring a smaller saddle.” The cook said, standing.

“Thank you, Harding, I appreciate the information. Do carry on, everyone.” Ann smiled and left the kitchen, going back to the drawing room where John was talking to Fanny’s sister.

“You’re looking rather refreshed this afternoon, Ann.” John said, with a smile. “I noticed last night at dinner as well; your face was brighter.”

“Thank you, John. I feel better. My back had been bothering me, but the pain is quite tolerable now.”

Catherine Baroncelli looked at her appraisingly, “Do you often get pain in the back?”

Ann wanted to narrow her eyes at her, but she held herself in check, leaving her look neutral.

“Sometimes.”

“You should do more riding. Charlotte was told so by her doctor and has done her a power of good. Even today, she’s being helped with a saddle so she can ride. The back gets stronger when used, not left to idle.”

“Do you ride, Mrs. Baroncelli?”

“I used to, but I find my allergies to the horsehair makes it very impossible to get near them. Pity. I did so love a ride.”

Catherine Rawson, reader of bawdy novels, had a smirk on her face that try as she might, couldn’t get off of it.

“What are you plotting over there, cousin?” John asked, the mirth evident in his voice.

“Who me?” Catherine asked, “Oh, nothing, just remembering something I was reading.”

Ann narrowed her eyes at her cousin, usually she was the butt of a joke when Catherine looked like that. She was in a good mood, so she didn’t want to press her as to what it was about. So, she announced.

“It looks like such a fine day out there, I think I’ll take a turn in the garden.”

“Did you want company?” Catherine asked.

“No, that’s not necessary, I won’t be long. Just want to get some fresh air.”

Her cousin nodded to her.

“Very good, Miss Walker, I don’t think I’ve seen you outside once since you arrived back at Crow Nest the day before last.” Mrs. Baroncelli said.

Ann smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes, she just bowed her head ever so slightly and left the room.

*****

“You see, Miss Penfold, if you grip the saddle like that, with that hand, it leaves you free to wave to any passersby.”

Charlotte laughed at Anne’s animated wave.

Anne laughed with her and then said, “Now, how does that saddle feel?”

“Perfect, it’s very natural. I wish I didn’t have to sit sidesaddle.”

“Well, that wouldn’t do for a proper young lady, now would it?”

“I’ve seen you do it, when no one’s around.”

“You’ve been spying on me, have you?”

“Only occasionally.” Charlotte said, her cheeks showing a hint of a blush, as she looked down.

“Well…” Anne said, flattered but also not trying to flirt with this woman, who was far too young and above her current station. It did give her some thrill to know she could still attract young, pretty women. “If I did allow you to ride astride the horse, your sister would have me fired on the spot and you would be in trouble, I daresay. I don’t want to leave my position just yet and you are far to nice a young woman to court trouble. So…”

“Sidesaddle it is then…” Charlotte said, disappointedly.

“Indubitably.” Anne said, with a smile and a nod.

They shared another laugh.

Ann concealed herself as she saw Anne walk Raven out with Charlotte up in the saddle.

“Did you want to come with me, Lister?” Charlotte asked.

“I… uh…” Anne looked at the younger girl’s smiling face, there was a promise so bold on it, so opposite of innocent, that it made it almost forget herself, “I’m sorry, Miss Penfold, I have things to do here.”

“Pity. Maybe another time?”

Anne shrugged, “If I have time and if you require a guide, but we’d need permission from Miss Walker. She is my employer.”

“Very well. I’ll ask her tomorrow, she seems agreeable enough,” Charlotte said and took up the reigns as Anne showed her, “Well then, I’ll be back.”

“Please be careful, don’t take her out too fast, and remember,” Anne addressed Alf who would be accompanying her, “Stick to the high roads only.”

Alf nodded and started his horse at a reasonable speed, with Charlotte following.

Ann had been a little angry when she heard Anne laughing with Charlotte and the younger woman talking so freely, like with that of a friend, or worse yet, a beau. She wouldn’t admit it, but what she was feeling at that moment was jealousy. So, when she heard Anne turn her down for a ride and the reason why, it did make her feel better. She felt Anne had listened to her and knew her place. That was all and not for any reason like she was jealous of her attention to Charlotte Penfold.

After the two young people were away on their horses, and Anne went back into the stable, Ann stepped out from the side of the building where she had been eavesdropping.

“Lister?” She called and her heart caught in her throat as the woman turned around.

“Miss Walker, how can I be of help?” Anne said, as she was redoing the buttons on her shirt she had started to undo. The men that were usually in the stable had gone to their lunch and she was going to use the bathtub in the privy to take a bath. There was hot water in the stable, which was a luxury she used as often as possible. Her hair was down as she had taken out the ribbon. It framed her shoulders like a silky brunette cloak.

“I… uh… I just… wanted to uhm… t-thank you, for the uh…”

“Ointment?”

“Y-yes, that’s what I came to do.”

“You’re welcome.” Anne stood there, expectantly. “I trust it worked?”

“Very well, I still have soreness in that area but it’s much better today than it was yesterday.”

“Yesterday I couldn’t stand it, it was…” Ann trailed off, she had a feeling maybe that Anne wouldn’t really want to be hearing all this. Try as she might, to think of the brunette woman, as someone beneath her and who was hanging on her every word, she just couldn’t shake the fact that this was Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, in her stables.

“Yes?” Anne asked, quickly retying her hair into the ponytail she favored now.

“It was very tight and very hard to move.”

“Yes, I could see that you didn’t have much movement in your head yesterday.”

“I’m just worried that it’s something horrible because I can’t think of anything I would have done to make it that sore and yet…”

Anne nodded her head. “I know what you mean. What did your doctor say?”

“He said, to keep using his ointment and to not tax myself more than normal.”

Anne looked bothered by that, but quickly recovered, smiled and nodded at her.

“What? You don’t agree with his diagnosis or treatment?”

“I have to respectfully say no, Ms. Walker.”

“What gives you the authority to question a medical man?” Ann didn’t say it with disdain, she was genuinely curious.

“Absolutely none, ma’am.”

“Then why do so?”

“I don’t really. You asked my opinion and I gave it.”

“Oh.”

“Forgive my brusque manner of talking there.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine, ma’am.” Anne said, reaching over to her bicep to scratch an itch that had been bothering her since before Ann came into the stables.

It was brief but Ann noticed how strong her hand looked, she didn’t want to be caught staring, so she bent her head down and looked at the hand that was still in front of her. It too showed strength, darker skin than her own and the veins clearly defined on the back of them, as they ran up along her equally strong looking forearm. She briefly closed her eyes. “I… thank you, is all I came to say. But… if I might ask you one more question.

“Surely. I’m at your disposal.”

“If you were to guess why this happens, what would you say?”

Anne looked at her skeptically, “I honestly don’t know,” She said, a little uneasy at the exact same premise as earlier popping up again. “As you say, I’m not a doctor…”

“No, but I do remember one time you told me that you studied anatomy… under… who was it?”

“Georges Cuivier. In Paris. That was a while since.”

“You were very good at diagnosing and curing the horses, my brother tells me…”

Anne looked at her and smiled, a mischievous smile.

“What?” Ann asked.

“Well… you do have a very pretty mane, Miss Walker.”

Ann laughed despite her need to stay aloof, “Oh, so I’m a horse?”

“Well, if you want me to diagnose you…”

“I just… I thought you might know something… it was worth a try.” She sighed.

“Are you serious?”

“If the pain that was there yesterday comes back, I’ll be at my wits end. I couldn’t stand it.” Ann sounded truly desperate.

“Would you mind coming with me to…” Anne thought about asking her to her room, but that sounded so scandalous, then she thought about asking her if she wanted her to examine her in the house, but they wouldn’t have been alone. She sighed. It was useless.

“Where?”

“Well, if I ask you to accompany me to my room, you might be scandalized, if I examined you in the house, they might be scandalized. Either way…”

“Where’s your room?”

“This way…” Anne nodded her head towards it.

When they got there and Anne let her inside, Ann looked around quickly, it was small and very tidy. A small drawing of Anne’s aunt was on the writing desk, as was a huge journal, opened and filled with black scrawl.

Anne lit the candle that was on the desk and Ann quickly saw what looked like Greek or algebra or a combination of the two. She tried not to stare too long.

“Where do you want me?” Ann asked.

Anne twirled the chair around and moved it more to the middle of the small room. “Here. I’ll be right back.”

Before Ann could say anything in protest or question where she was going, she was out of the door. She bent over to look at the journal but there was the pull of her back again and she winced in pain.

Anne came back in the room with her shirtsleeves rolled up and wiping her hands on a flannel, she had presumably been washing them. Something Ann never saw her other doctors do though she wished they would.

“First things first, Miss Walker, can you sit up straight?”

Ann did as she said, looking at Anne who was looking at her as though a painter was looking at their muse.

“Mm.” Anne grunted and walked closer to her, putting her hand out to her chin, almost touching it and then stopping. “Do you mind if I… touch you?”

Ann resisted the urge to draw in a sharp breath, she managed to say without squeaking, “If it’ll help…”

“Just to see range of motion.”

Ann consented with a nod and Anne put her fingers on her chin lightly, “You tell me when this starts to hurt. Alright?”

“Yes.” Ann trembled slightly from the touch on her chin, it was very tender and delicate. As her neck moved to the right, everything was fine, but when Anne moved it back left, before it even was a quarter way to her shoulder she said, “Ow… there.”

Anne nodded, she then held her hand above Ann’s head and asked again, “May I?” Again, she consented with a nod. Anne applied some pressure and the blonde woman took the hint and bent her head downwards.

“No, ow, there…”

Anne nodded and smiled at her sympathetically, then touched her chin again and bid her to look up, as Ann did so, she looked into her impossibly dark chocolate eyes and her heart clenched in her chest, causing her to look up faster than she should have, there was some popping and cracking sounds and she cried out in pain.

“Oh, Miss Walker, you needn’t have moved so quickly. Poor girl.” Anne said, helping her to bring her head back down slowly. “I only meant for you to do that gently…”

“I know, I just… I don’t know what happened,” Ann said, the tears evident in her voice.

“I’m so sorry… you sound in great pain.”

“Yes, the pain is back and now my head… it pounds.”

“Okay, don’t worry, I can fix that,” Anne said, holding up her hands emphatically, she went and got another jar of the ointment. “I’m sorry to be impertinent but do you mind if I loosen your dress? Not much, just so that I can put on the ointment.” She held up her hands and waited for her reply to show deference.

Ann was touched by all the care Anne was taking with her.

“Yes, that’s fine.”

Anne put the ointment down and then put her hands on the back of her dress, the fine delicate silk was pleasing to her fingers, it had been a long while since she’d been with anyone who had worn this expensive of a dress. Probably since she was with Mariana last. She chuckled to herself at that thought. Mariana who looked at her sympathetically but told her in no uncertain terms that she would not be running off to America with her. In a way, she understood. Mariana was only keeping Anne on a leash in case Charles died and she wasn’t left a sizable jointure. She really didn’t blame any of her friends for not really corresponding with her after she lost Shibden Hall, she didn’t want to know anyone anymore either.  

Before she rubbed Ann’s back with the ointment, she told her she would be checking for where it hurt most. She knew instinctively where that would be, but she wanted to make sure she was right. Ann consented again, “If you feel off or it hurts too much, please let me know straight away.”

“Alright.” Ann said, she was already feeling off, but that was only because Anne Lister was so close to her and her heart was beating fast. She was thankful she didn’t take her pulse or couldn’t see her face.

Anne put her hands delicately on either side of Ann’s neck and then pressed more firmly, trailing down from the neck to her shoulders.

Ann had to bite back a moan as the pressure was relieving some of the tension in her neck. As Anne reached her shoulders and rubbed firmly over the skin a moan did escape her lips.

“Did that hurt?”

“No, it feels like it’s relieving something…”

“Mm.” Anne said, with a nod.

She moved to down on her back, and went along the spine, another moan from Ann. “Still okay?”

“Yes.”

Anne moved down further to her left shoulder blade, “This okay?”

“Yes.”

She then moved over to the right side, starting just under the neck.

“Oh, ow. That hurts.”

Just as Anne suspected. She moved down lower to her shoulder blade.

“Oh, yes, that too.”

Anne moved her hand back up over to a particular point on the blonde woman’s shoulder and pressed harder than she had been, “Oh, God in heaven…” Ann said and reached behind her with her left hand and took purchase on Anne’s thigh.

“Sorry, did… did I hurt you?” Anne said, feeling slightly out of sorts by the hand on her thigh.

“It feels like… like some sort of fire is going through me, like maybe what a lightning bolt feels like if it were to hit you.”

“Mm.” Anne put the hand on her thigh out of her mind and nodded her head. She trailed her hand up over Anne’s puffy shoulder and down to her upper arm and pressed there as best she could with the amount of material there that was. “Tender?”

“Yes, a bit…”

Anne trailed down her upper arm and went down to the forearm, along the muscle on the top, “How about here?”

“Yes.”

Next, she moved to in front of her and took her hand in hers, Ann had been doing better with her presence so close, until that intimate gesture made her heartbeat pick up. She put her fingers around her wrist and took out her pocket watch.

‘Uh oh.’ Ann thought, but she also remarked at how different she was from Doctor Kenny, whose eyes would be travelling down her bodice by now. Anne kept her eyes on the watch and when she was satisfied, she closed it up and looked at her.

“Heart rate is a little fast, but that is probably due mainly to the pain you’re feeling.”

Ann sighed in relief, her secret was safe, at least for now.

“Yes.”

“Okay, now…” Anne picked up the jar of ointment and took a bit of it onto her middle and index fingers, then put it down. She picked up Ann’s hand again, she massaging her wrist and hand.

Ann’s eyelids had the urge to close and she had to bite back a moan again, whatever Anne was doing to her hand and fingers were magical, currently she was paying particular attention to the wrist.

“Have you been writing a lot lately, Miss Walker?”

“Hmm?” Ann missed the question, the feelings were just so, so good.

“I say, have you been writing a lot?”

She shook her head slightly, bending her head down to hide the pleasure she felt, finally she remembered the question and answered, “No, no more than usual.”

“Mm.” Anne said.

Anne moved on to Ann’s forearm and massaged it for a bit. Ann noted that it felt as good as when she did it on the wrist.  After a couple of minutes, Anne moved to behind her and picked up the jar again.

“Now, this may hurt a bit and you moan or cry or do what you need to, but if you can bear it, I say we press on, if not, you tell me to stop and I will stop. Is that understood?”

“Yes.” Ann tried to steel herself for any pain that she might encounter, she would have to bear it, she wanted the pain to stop and she felt sure, this would help.

Anne started, lightly, just warming the muscles up for a few minutes, then when she felt satisfied it was enough time, she really started to kneed and cajole the tense parts into yielding. All through out this, Ann was gasping and moaning and even crying out at times, but she never said stop. When Anne followed the line of her spine up to the base of her neck Ann moaned low and deep and it made the brunette woman’s pussy throb. She had to close her eyes and stop those thoughts from straying into her mind, she wasn’t the mistress of Shibden Hall anymore, she could probably be thrown in jail for stepping out of line here. Though, she was grateful the laws had not changed in England about women who loved other women, she still couldn’t be hanged for it. She started to think of the passage over from America in the boat a few months back. Before her aunt died. That helped to quell the fire that had started to burn in her loins.

Ann wished she were laying down, as Anne worked the different parts of her back and the tension dissipated in them, she started to feel powerfully sleepy. Finally, the magical hands that had been massaging every last shred of trouble out of her back, came up to the part of her that she had said felt like lightning hit it when she ran her fingers over it before. Ann tensed up in anticipation of the hurt she was going to feel, but it was only slightly achy there. Almost as if that spot in her back had to yawn. It started to feel a little cramped and she mentioned that to Anne, who then massaged lower under the shoulder blade and it went away immediately. Ann started to feel the fire between her legs grow, now that she was no longer feeling pain, all that was left was the pleasure. But again, the pull of sleep became powerful.

When she woke up, she inhaled deeply and didn’t feel any pain at all. She blinked and looked over at the figure at the desk, back to her, bent over it and writing furiously.

“How long was I asleep?” She asked, her throat a bit dry.

Anne picked up her head from the page and took out her watch, “About thirty minutes. I was going to give you another ten. Otherwise, your family might be getting really suspicious. I trust you didn’t tell them you were coming to see me in the stables, hmm?”

Ann smiled guiltily, “I said I would be taking a walk and that I might be some time.”

“Mm.” Anne smiled back, nodding.

“What are you writing?”

“Just some thoughts, I put down in my journal.”

Ann stretched her body and for the first time in a long time it didn’t make her want to cry. There were some trouble areas still, but the main part of her back that always gave her the most trouble was feeling warm and loose. She smiled widely.

“What thoughts?” She felt good enough to ask a bold question.

“Well, if you must know, this particular passage I’m writing involves what I just helped you with. I detailed where you had your pain and what I did to help take it away. Also, my informal diagnosis, though, I still think you should talk to your doctor about it.”

“What do you think it is?”

Anne turned around and looked sincerely at Ann, who sat up. “Well, you haven’t been writing a lot recently, but have you been sketching, bent over your desk? And is it a writing desk?”

Ann thought of the sketch she was working on only last night, of Anne and Raven. She was being more detailed with it then she ever had before, and she also had burned her candles further than she ever had before into the night, trying to capture the essence of the scene from her window that was burned into her mind, down onto the page.

“Yes.” She said, truthfully.

“Quite a lot?”

“Yes.”

“Mm.”

“What?”

“Well, I think you should stop for a day or two. Let your muscles recover. But, when you do go to draw again, warm them up beforehand.”

“How?”

“By stretching, doing small exercises, shaking out your wrists and fingers. And then…” Anne said, smiling a little.

The mischievous look on her face made Ann smile and bite her lip in anticipation of what she was going to say.

“Then?” She asked, finally.

“Don’t stay up so late into the night bent over your desk, sketching furiously.”

Ann’s eyes went wide. Anne must have been able to see her somehow, but she couldn’t, unless she were in the room with her.

“How did you…”

“Well, I’ve felt like that some nights when I have had a particularly huge amount of thoughts to put down in my journal. But also…” Anne turned more fully in her chair to look at Ann. “I saw some singe marks in your hair. You must have had the candle very close to your head for a long time during the night. The fact that your wrist and all of the tendons and muscles connected to your right hand, which I can tell is the one you write or draw with by the callous on your middle finger, were the ones that were so hurt and tender and, your face when I said that you were sketching furiously confirmed my suspicions.” Anne finally stopped to take a breath. “Did I imagine it?” She asked.

Ann thought for a few moments, she was going to lie and scold Anne for her impertinence, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. Her back was feeling so good and her feelings towards the woman responsible were very warm that she didn’t want to risk upsetting her.

“What can else can I do?” She asked.

“Well, I think you should take exercise more. Walking, riding. I’m not sure how much you do, but that will probably help. Also, when you do get the wild inspiration to sketch, try to take breaks from it more frequently. Don’t do it all in one go. I know how that can be, mind you.” Anne laughed, and pointed at her journal. “You don’t want to stop; you want to get it all out whilst it’s fresh. Hmm?”

Ann smiled and nodded, “Yes.”

“Do you feel alright enough to get up? I’ll help you refasten your dress.”

Ann didn’t really want to get up, she felt so comfortable here, though, the bed was harder than the one she was used to, and smaller. She was surprised and sad that a woman as tall as Anne had to fit herself into the bed. She also was surprised at how small, in general, these quarters were. As she stood up and turned her back to let Anne rehook her dress closed, she smiled at the thought that just entered her mind.

“Would you… help me with a routine?” Ann asked.

“What sort of routine?”

“What you mentioned before… an exercise routine.”

“Have you ridden a lot before?”

“I used to… once upon a time. It’s been a few years since I went out almost every day.”

“I think I remember that…” Anne said, fondly remembering how she would see Ann on her pony, riding past Shibden. Occasionally stopping to chat about what sort of work was going on in the grounds.

“The last few years, I just really haven’t had the inclination.” Ann said, turning around and putting her pelerine back on over her shoulders. She was grateful for the reason to turn around, her face might have given away her inner thoughts about exactly why she had given up riding as much as she did. When the Lister’s left Shibden and Anne went off to America, there really wasn’t any reason to ride every day. Well, every day the weather had permitted.

“Sometimes we grow out of things.” Anne said, with a sad smile that Ann wanted desperately to take away.

“Lister?” Alf called out.

“Yes?”

“Mr. Walker would like to see you for a moment.”

“Where is he?”

“In the courtyard, in front of the house.”

“Very well, tell him I’ll be right there.” Anne smiled at Ann. “Come Miss Walker, I’ll walk you back to the house and then go see your brother.”

“What do you think he wants?” Ann was puzzled, she hoped it didn’t give Anne instructions that would interfere with her plans for them and her exercise.

“I really wish I could tell you, however, I have no clue.” Anne said, with a smirk.

Anne waited for her mistress to walk out first, then joined her, walking a couple steps behind her, back to the house.

“Thank you, Lister… for the… help with-with my back, it was exactly what I needed.”

Anne smiled and nodded towards her, “Remember what I said, about the sketching. At least not for a couple more days and take frequent breaks when you do start again.”

“I will.” Ann said, as she bounded up the steps, feeling stronger and happier than at any other time in her life.

*****

“You wanted to see me, sir?” Anne asked, as she walked up to him in the courtyard.

“Yes, Lister, I’ve got to alight to London, something’s come up with one of my business partners and it requires me to be there almost immediately. He’s sent his carriage for me and I just wanted to tell you that I want you to carry on with the fête…”

“But sir, surely you should be talking to your sister about this, not I…”

“I haven’t seen her for the better part of an hour and almost a quarter, she’s gone out and hasn’t been back yet.”

“Oh? Well, I just saw her on my way here to see you, she was coming back to the house… she was on a walk.”

“Yes, but there’s no time now. I have to leave this minute. You talk to her about it. And I want the damnable ponies, on that I’m fixed.” He said, stubbornly and pointed at her, “Fight for me, Lister, and I’ll fight for you, eh?”

She nodded at him, impressed. “Very well, sir. I will. Anything else?”

“Tell my sister that it was all my idea, not yours. She gets so funny about the running of this household; I wonder what’ll come of it all when I get married.”

Anne’s eyes went wide and she looked down, not to show him she was taken aback by that. She knew the position was rather important to Ann and she wanted to ask if he was engaged or thinking of proposing. She decided against that, he had to leave and she was a servant.

“You’ll do this for me, Lister?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good, my friend, Mrs. Sampson will be here with her two children and I’d love for them to have a good time with the ponies while I’m gone.”

“Very well, sir.”

“Give my love to Raven.”

“I will. Safe journey.”

“Lister…”

“Yes, sir?”

“Take my sister out of herself, will you?” He said, with a smirk.

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that-”

“I think you do…” John winked at her and stepped up into the carriage, tipping his hat to Anne as he went.

*****

“There you are, Ann!” Catherine exclaimed, at her cousin who was in the library reading a book, “I was looking all over for you. Did you just get back from your walk?”

“About five minutes ago. Is something the matter?”

“John had to leave quite suddenly, something about his business partner. He’s gone to London, in a carriage they sent for him.”

“London? What about the fête?”

“He said he probably won’t be able to make it back in time.”

Ann rolled her eyes and sighed, putting her book down. “He was the one who wanted to throw this party.”

Just then there was a knock at the front door and they heard James answer it.

“James, would you… I’m sorry, I should have gone around to the back. But Mr. Walker wanted me to impart something to Miss Walker. I wonder if you would do it for me?”

Ann got up from her place on the chair she was sitting on and went out into the hallway.

“What is it, Lister?” She asked.

“Ah, Miss Walker, your brother has just left in his carriage and he wanted me to give you a message.”

“If it’s about going to London, my cousin Catherine has just told me.”

“Well then, good. The news has been relayed.”

“Did he say anything to you about the fête?”

“Yes, he said he wanted you to still hold it and to go on has he had instructed.”

“With the paddock and the ponies, I imagine?” She held up her eyebrow in question.

“Yes, he did mention those specifically.”

Ann sighed again.

“Good day, Miss Walker.” Anne said, feeling like her old self, she forgot that she was a servant and should wait to be dismissed.

“Lister,” Ann called after her before she got off the steps, when she had turned back around, Ann said, “I’m going to need some assistance with the planning of that, I’ll need your help.”

Anne nodded and gave her a small smile, “Certainly. Anything else?”

“No, that’s all. Thank you…” Ann said, her eyebrow raising, she wanted to say more.

“You’re welcome.” Anne said, with a nod.

As she watched Anne saunter off, she could imagine her looking like she used to, with her hat and cane, great coat, striding down her lane back to Shibden Hall. She felt sad for her but oddly grateful that she had her there now, to help with her back problems and this party they were throwing. The one that her brother promised he would help with and then abandoned her. She was so thoroughly vexed about that.

*****

As the week progressed, Ann’s back kept getting stronger, she kept working on her sketch of Anne with Raven, but she took her advice on what she should do beforehand, which was to stretch out her arms and fingers, take more frequent breaks and go riding more. She liked that time the most, because she and Anne would go around Halifax together. At first it had been a bit awkward, because she really didn’t know what to bring up to talk about. So, the first couple of times they went out, it was quiet, except for Anne giving her instruction on how to sit in the saddle and hold her reigns. It’s not that she hadn’t ever done it before in her life, but apparently, she’d been doing it wrong for her back.

The next two days were melancholy ones for Ann, the rain started during the night and seemed not to want to stop again. Two days had passed and she hadn’t seen Anne at all. She couldn’t even think of an excuse to call her to speak to her about the party. Anne had sent all of the correspondence about that through Booth and being Anne Lister, it was so thoroughly organized and nothing she thought of to speak to her about would sound plausible. She and Catherine played backgammon, did needlepoint, sketched and painted and read to each other, but Ann was getting restless and bored. To make matters worse, Mrs. Baroncelli and Charlotte hadn’t left as they said they would. They decided to stay for the fête and then leave after that. Ann felt like she was being watched and judged all the time.

It was making her irrationally angry and short with everyone. Her dreams didn’t help that at all either. Just last night, she dreamt of a dashing horsewoman riding in front of Crow Nest, stopping in front where she stood outside, reaching down, picking her up, settling her in front, strong arms encircling her own as they took up the reigns again, making her feel safe and secure, riding off together, somewhere away from all of the prying eyes and judgement.

That afternoon, she went for a nap, hopefully to quiet her mind but she was disturbed by the noise outside her window, someone was shouting orders in a very concerned manner and one of the horses sounded very agitated. She recognized the voice immediately. Getting up from her bed, she went over to the window to see what was happening. Anne was yelling instructions to Alf who appeared to be trying to corral Onyx but was having a very hard time of it. Finally, Anne took charge and tried to settle the spooked horse herself. It took her two tries, but she finally got hold of his reigns, held onto the pommel and hoisted herself up onto his back and into the seat of the saddle. She held onto his reigns firm, but didn’t pull back too hard, she didn’t want to upset him anymore incase he was hurt by something, which would explain why he was spooked.   

The weather had turned better and Alf was going to take Charlotte out riding again. Ann was hoping to go with Anne after her nap. She watched as Charlotte was looking at Anne and smiling, praising her for her innate ability to get the horse to do what she wanted. Their laughter reached her ears and a pain bubbled up into her heart. She knew what Charlotte was doing, she was flirting with Anne and what hurt the most was that Anne was flirting back. Or so it seemed.

“Sarah,” She said to her servant. “Could you take a note to Lister for me?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Wait one moment whilst I write it.” She said, a little annoyed sounding.

“Very good ma’am.” Sarah was perplexed, what did Miss Walker think she was going to do? Walk off before she’d written the note? She tried not to sigh as she saw her employer scramble around trying to find paper to write her note.

A few minutes later, Sarah handed the note to Alf, who handed the note to Anne, still up on Onyx, who seemed much better than before.

“What’s this?” Anne asked, bending down to take the paper from Alf.

“A note, from Miss Walker.” Sarah said.

Anne nodded at her and opened the paper. She put her thumb to her mouth while she read it and right now she had the urge to look up at the window, she knew she’d catch a glimpse of her there, but she resisted doing so. The note, though polite and cordial, seemed like a slap in the face.

“Will there be an answer, ma’am… er Lister?”

“No, no answer.” She said, as she folded the note and put it in her pocket.

“Very well then.” Sarah nodded and went back in the house.

“Alf, Miss Walker doesn’t want to go riding today and I don’t think you should take Onyx out with Charlotte.”

Charlotte pouted and said, “You seem to be riding him just fine.”

Anne smiled down at the younger woman, “Well, I said Alf shouldn’t take him out, I didn’t say I wouldn’t take him out with you.”

Charlotte perked up and put her bonnet on, Alf helped her onto Raven and within a minute she and Anne were off together on their ride.

A noise made Alf look up at the window that would be Miss Walker’s room. It sounded like an angry shout, but when he looked up at the window there was no one there. He shook his head as he walked down the gravel drive back towards the stables.

*****   

Catherine looked at her cousin, puzzled. Mrs. Baroncelli had just asked Ann a question and she stayed silent, completely oblivious to anyone in the room with her it seemed.

“Miss Walker?”

Still no answer.

Ann.” Her cousin called her.

“Hmm?”

“I asked why you didn’t take the opportunity to go riding today? Charlotte said the weather was most agreeable. Apparently, she went with your horsewoman.”

Ann’s stomach clenched.

Catherine Baroncelli continued, “It might seem very odd to me still, to have a woman in the stables, but Charlotte says she’s very capable. They must have been all over God’s own country today, she came back and went straight in for a nap. Poor dear, seemed very thoroughly tired out.”

Ann’s brow furrowed in anger, but she recovered, though Catherine Rawson saw the look.

“I uhhh, I didn’t feel like it earlier, but I might take a walk in a little while.”

Catherine Rawson asked, “Did you want company?” She asked, remembering a few days ago when she went out for hours and no one really knew where she had gone, though, Catherine had started to have a suspicion.

Ann didn’t answer right away, she was still lost in her thoughts from earlier. Catherine Baroncelli looked as though she were about to say something but Catherine Rawson stepped in quickly.

“Annie,” She said, putting her hand on her cousin’s arm to get her attention. “As a matter of fact, I wonder if you wouldn’t come upstairs with me. Delia has sent some toile that I can’t decide what to do with, I wanted to maybe see if Sarah could fashion some type of shawl, to use for the fête, I think it would go nicely over my dress for that, but I wonder if it would make me look too aloof.”

“A shawl?” Catherine Baroncelli asked, looking confused, “Making one look aloof?”

Catherine Rawson chuckled, she really didn’t know what to say there, she was trying to get her cousin’s attention. “Yes, as I say, I’m really puzzled as to what to make from it.”

Mrs. Baroncelli shrugged and went back to her needlepoint.

“Ann, come on, come with me upstairs, you can get ready for your walk right after, I won’t detain you long, I promise.”

Ann finally heard her cousin and got up to follow her.

“Excuse us, Mrs. Baroncelli.” Ann said, to the older woman.

“Off you go, with your aloof toile.” She said and shook her head, still puzzled at that description.

As they went into Catherine’s room, Ann looked around.

“Where’s this fabric you want me to see?”

“It’s in the drawer, but I only said that to get your attention, I don’t need any help figuring out what to do with it.”

“What?” Ann looked confused.

“You’ve been very inattentive and I wanted to ask you why, but that woman downstairs would have been listening so I had to get you out of there somehow, okay? Don’t make this a big thing.” Catherine said with a judging look. “Now, what’s got you so wrapped up in your head that you don’t hear anyone lately?”

Ann looked squarely in her cousin’s face and lied, “Nothing.” She said, with a dismissive shrug.

Catherine could tell there was more to it than that, just by the look in her eyes, like something was hurting her.

“Ann, come on, it’s me here. You were so keen to go riding this afternoon before your nap and then all of a sudden you canceled, now you’re far off, not even hearing anyone asking you a question from a few feet away… I’ve only ever seen you do that once before, a few years ago… at Stoney Royde… when… Miss Lister turned up.” Catherine ended her point and watched her cousin’s reaction. She was remembering that day too but within less then thirty seconds Ann’s face had grown hard.

“I said it’s nothing, Catherine. My back hasn’t been the best and you’re only making matters worse by bringing up nonsense from the past. It’s nothing.” She huffed and put her hand on the back of the chair in the room.

“Okay, if you say so. I just want you to know that you can talk to me. I’ll listen.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, thank you.” Ann nodded, trying to control her emotions.

“Very well,” Catherine nodded back, “So, if you’re back hurts, you’re not going out walking I take it?”

“What?” Ann realized her mistake and had to recover quickly, “No… no I want to take some air… I feel… constricted…”

“Alright, I’ll ask again, did you want company?”

“No… I’ll be fine…”

“Will you be as long as last time?”

“Last time?”

“When you went to see Miss Lister in the stables.”

Ann narrowed her eyes at her cousin. “Catherine, I did-”

Ann, don’t lie to me. Your secret is safe… I won’t tell anyone.”

The blonde-haired woman looked away. “I… she helped me with my back… with the ointment and I went to thank her. We talked a little and then I took my walk.”

“Alright, I believe you. I’m not trying to make things difficult for you. If you say that’s it then that’s it.”

“Is this because of what I told you after that day at Stony Royde?” Ann asked.

Catherine shrugged.

Ann continued, slightly annoyed. “Because I have gotten over that, Catherine. Haven’t I? I’ve grown up. Not the starry-eyed fool that I was back then.”

“I know-”

“So, I’ll thank you to not bring that up again, please.” Ann said, curtly.

“Okay.”

“I’m going to go for my walk.”
“Alright.”

“I shan’t be as long as last time.”

“But if you are, I’ll just tell Mrs. Baroncelli and Charlotte you went visiting.”

“Catherine…”

“Ann…”

Ann looked at her cousin pointedly and then just left the room. Going into hers she changed her dress and put a new pelerine on and left the house to go see Anne.

*****

“Booth, Onyx seemed troubled this afternoon, just before I took him out.”

“Oh? I didn’t notice.”

“Mm.” Anne said. “You wouldn’t have, you were off tending to the garden, but it worries me.”

“You think the blight is coming back?”

“God, I hope not. I mean, he seemed fine when we went out walking. I didn’t tax him too much, just wanted to see how he was out and about.”

“Probably nothing, ma’am. Just that time of year… you know?”

“Hmm?” Anne was a little lost in her thoughts.

John looked a little embarrassed but said, “Love is in the air…”

Anne chuckled and he smiled, thankful that his joke didn’t offend her.

“Quite right, Booth, quite right. And I told you, it’s Lister or Anne, you know, we’re equals.”

“Oh, I could never call you Anne, no, couldn’t be done…”

“John…”

“Ma’am?”

She sighed and shook her head.

“I’ll be in my room.”

“Very well.” He said, then called to her, “Ya see… everyone’s gone down to the Stag’s Head, blow off some steam before the big day, I was thinking of joining them. Are you sure you didn’t want to come?”

She sighed, “As tempting as that is, I think it would be quite scandalous now I’m just a…” She felt guilty to think of the position she once held and now being a servant but she didn’t want to make him feel bad, so she said, “…a woman.”

“I understand.” He gave a small smile. “Well, have a good evening, I expect we’ll be busy as anything tomorrow setting up.”

“We will. See you then.” She nodded then as she watched him leave, she called after him, “John?”

He turned around, “Yes?”

She hesitated, wanting to say something heartfelt, but again, didn’t want to embarrass him, “Don’t have too many.”

“Me? Never, ma’am.” He said, putting his cap on his head and pulling it down over his eyes, comically.

Anne laughed, shaking her head as she went to her room.

A few minutes later, she heard a knock at the door, briefly she thought it might be Miss Walker, by the lighter knock, but then it could be Alf, come to borrow or return a book as he had been doing lately.

“Door’s open, Alf…” She said, deciding it was him, he had said he would return the last book he had borrowed either tonight or tomorrow. Miss Walker was mad at her and probably stewing in her room.

The door opened and the voice that called her made her heart skip a beat.

“Lister?”

She stood up and turned towards the door. “Miss Walker… what can I-”

Ann was going to be mad at her, dismissive, keeping everything above board and business like. Her note this afternoon had said that she wasn’t going riding and that would give Anne time to work on the fête plans, but she disobeyed that and went out riding with Charlotte. She should be very angry that an order wasn’t followed, her heart however, had other plans. Steeling herself, she tried to push those to the side.

“I wanted to know why an order of mine was blatantly disregarded.” Ann said, her voice, hard edged.

“What order?”

“I specifically said in my note that I would not be going riding and that would give you time to work on the plans for the fête and you disobeyed me and took Charlotte Penfold out riding.”

Anne quirked an eyebrow at Ann, her instinct was correct, she was at the window watching, “Mr. Walker told me to take any direction from Miss Penfold and Mrs. Baroncelli as if they were you or he, she asked to go riding-”

“But my orders take precedence over any others.” Ann’s frown became deeper. “You should have told her you had work to do and couldn’t take her out. I saw Alf there, he could have gone out-”

“Onyx was-”

“Don’t talk back to me!” Ann shouted a little too harshly but couldn’t seem to stop herself, once she was going it was hard to stop. “Now, I’ll take this incident as a momentary lapse of judgement and won’t punish you for it, or put you on any notice, but I can tell you, if anything like this happens again, without consulting me and me giving my consent I’ll have to let you go. Do you understand that?”

Anne’s jaw had set into a hard line as she listened to Ann’s tirade. The bile in her stomach started to bubble and she wanted to lash out, but she held it in check. The fact was that she needed this job for the fare to get back to America and she didn’t want to risk losing it over something like this.

Not trusting her voice to sound anything but harsh she grunted and gave a nod indicating she understood.

“Good.” Ann said, nodding sharply.

Anne stood there, waiting for her to leave, she certainly wasn’t going to ask her if that would be all. She also noticed the dark circles under her eyes and the way she held herself tightly, almost like it was painful for her to stand. But again, she held her tongue.

Ann wished she hadn’t acted that way, there was really no going back on it now though, what could she say? She wasn’t really sorry that she had to be the boss, because that’s what she was. She just realized that now she couldn’t ask Anne to help her with her back again, it felt like she would be rejected and she wouldn’t be able to stand that. Afterall, Anne wasn’t a doctor and helping her with her back wasn’t in her job description, so she could refuse. This made a lot more sense in her head on her way to see her just a few minutes earlier.

“Well, as you were then, I expect you have things to do. Good night.”

The non-answer as she was leaving the small room was as painful to her as if she’d received an angry reply. Suddenly, she felt like she should have never come back from the Lake District.

The next few days before the fête went exactly as the days before her scolding of Anne went. She saw her exactly twice and there was no real talking except that of a servant to an employer and vice versa.

Catherine noticed the change in her cousin but didn’t say anything for fear of her exploding. Once their guests had left after the fête, she would be getting to the bottom of whatever this was, of that she could be sure.

*****

“Lister, show the children to the paddock, won’t you?” Ann said, addressing her horsewoman, the anger with her had dissipated somewhat and she had settled into a matter-of-fact, aloof, tone when speaking to her now.

“Very well, ma’am.” She said, equally as aloof, then smiled at the children, “This way, children, we have ponies.”

Catherine smiled as she saw the children’s faces light up. Her cousin John would be pleased at how attentive Anne was with them, as she explained all she could and then answered their questions patiently. Today she was dressed in a skirt, instead of the britches they had seen her in, she looked more like the Anne Lister of Shibden Hall and that was confusing for some of the guests from far away or minimal acquaintance, who had known of her before and hadn’t really heard of her fall from society.

Many of them went up and talked to her like she was a guest and not a servant of Crow Nest. Oddly painful for Catherine to witness was the explanation she had to give them, but she did it each time without fail and then watched as they politely withdrew from her. Even though it was polite, it still looked like something hurtful. She wished her cousin hadn’t insisted on the woman attending the children, but she said it was John’s express wish and she was firm on that point.

Anne didn’t really seem bothered by it all. She politely obeyed every order from anyone who had asked, answered any of their questions, no matter how stupid or designed to shame her they were. Catherine started to get mad and felt like defending her.

“Ann, can I see you for a moment?” Catherine asked her cousin.

“What is it? Did something happen?” She looked around, towards the paddock.

“No, nothing like that… I just…”

“What?”

Just then Catherine’s Uncle Christopher came over to her, he and his family had just arrived.

They said their hellos and then the moment Catherine was dreading for the last few hours finally happened.

“Is that Anne Lister, there?” Christopher Rawson said, almost gleefully.

“Yes, it is…” Ann suddenly was nervous, she was going to say she was her servant but for some reason she thought he would use it against her. Besides, of all people, she knew that Christopher Rawson knew what had happened to Anne, being a banker, magistrate and Lord Lieutenant of the County.

“I’d heard your daft brother had hired her, though I thought someone was playing a trick on me.” He said, sounding like he had had a few glasses of madeira already.

“Father, can we go over to the paddock?” His son asked him.

“Yes, children, let’s go. Your cousin John has a new horseman… or should I say woman. Horsewoman-man? What’s she like to be called?”

“Uncle Christopher…” Catherine said, warningly.

“What is it my dear niece? I’ll be polite.” He said, as he led his children over to where the ponies were.

John Booth and Alf greeted him and took the two smaller children over the planks that were set up as the path to wear a pony was waiting for them to ride.  Anne’s face didn’t show any emotion either way as she saw who it was walking over to her.

“Anne Lister, as I live and breathe.”

“Mr. Rawson.” Anne said, nodding her head to him.

“I say, this is a little different from what your used to, isn’t it?”

“Not really, for the last seven years I’ve been doing something quite similar.”

“Being a servant over in America? Oh, I’d love to see that… well, I am actually, aren’t I?” He said, unsteady on his feet, but like a cat who had gotten a bird in it’s mouth.

Anne managed a polite smile, “Yes, sir. I suspect so.”

While they spoke to each other Catherine continued the conversation she tried to have with her cousin right before her uncle had come over to them.

“Ann, why have Anne Lister be here to…”

“To what? All of my servants are here.” Ann said, dismissively.

“It’s just… so hard to see one who has been in society and then have to answer the questions from some of these snobs…”

“Not too long ago, cousin, you were talking exactly like one of these snobs.” Ann stuck her chin out towards the tables that were set up.

“But you weren’t.” Catherine looked at her pointedly, “What’s changed?”

Their conversation was interrupted by a very happy Charlotte Penfold, “Miss Walker, Miss Rawson, isn’t this such a lovely day?!”

Catherine smiled at her, “The weather is most agreeable, Miss Penfold, it’s been a wonderful party.”

“I saw Lister earlier, she was in britches, helping to set up tables and now that I see her, she’s in a skirt and it looks odd. Isn’t that funny how used to britches on a woman one can become?”

Ann narrowed her eyes and Catherine spoke up quickly, “I see what you mean, it does look a little funny now that she’s in a skirt and her usual shirt and waistcoat.”

“I daresay that’s a new waistcoat, I’ve never seen the pattern before on her and she’s added an ascot, that is so smart looking, wouldn’t you agree?” Charlotte said, smiling.

Ann’s mouth watered with a bitter taste and she felt her cousin put her hand gently on her elbow.

“You’re so observant Charlotte,” Catherine said, “Do you paint? I bet your paintings would be intricately detailed.”

“I do as a matter of fact,” Charlotte nodded, “Lister has been letting me sketch her in the evenings before dinner.”

Catherine could feel the tension in her cousin coming off her in waves.

“What?” Ann asked. “When? Why?”

“Before dinner,” Charlotte said, puzzled, she had just said when, “…she comes to the kitchen to read the paper after everyone else has finished with it and I asked your cook if I could come in and do some still life work and she said yes.”

“But you didn’t ask-”

“Isn’t that a great idea, Annie? Having your staff documented in every day, still life?”

“It’s exactly why I did it.” Charlotte nodded. “I’ve already done the kitchen scene, now Lister is being so kind as to sit a few extra minutes so I can really get the detail of her. I just find her so fascinating, don’t you?”

Catherine couldn’t believe what she was hearing and she felt like her cousin might actually have a crisis of nerves.

“She is one of a kind, I’ll give you that.” Catherine said.

“Well, I see she’s free for a moment, I’m going to ask her about her waistcoat…”

“What was that?” Catherine asked.

“You shouldn’t have encouraged her, Catherine…” Ann said, her voice low.

“What do you mean?”

“We should have told her not to treat the staff like they were hers to use as her… playthings.”

“What An… excuse me, what Lister does on her dinner break is really her business and it doesn’t sound like Charlotte is being too demanding, she said it was only minutes that she sat for the portrait. Though, I daresay, she’s very modern and forward… sketching the servants…” Catherine thought a few moments about that. Her thoughts were interrupted by Charlotte’s peels of laughter while talking to Anne who was politely smiling at the young woman.

“The complete lack of…” Ann trailed off as she saw Charlotte’s sister, Mrs. Baroncelli walk up to the young woman and speak to her what looked like harshly but under her breath so as not to make a further scene.

“Come, Ann, let’s go say hello to some of your recently arrived guests, your brother asked us to also talk to Mrs. Sampson a great deal.”

“I can’t believe him; he didn’t even tell us about her and now I have to entertain her for most of the day. What do we talk about?” Ann asked, vexed.

“I don’t know, but it looks like she’s interested in whatever Lister has to say.” Delia said, from behind them. “Hello ladies.” She said, conspiratorially when they turned to look at her. “We just got here, sorry, mother was being difficult again.”

Catherine scoffed.

“So, there’s Anne Lister, eh? I have to say, tumbling down from on high has agreed with her.”

Delia… remember yourself.” Catherine scolded her sister.

“I don’t know… hair pulled back, getting up and riding around on horses…” Delia pretended to fan herself.

“She’s being scandalous to get a reaction out of us, cousin, pay her no mind.”

Ann looked over at Anne, she said something to Mrs. Sampson who laughed but then remembered where she was and tried to stifle it. Anne’s countenance never changed except her eyes were now sparkling.

It made Ann feel two things, jealousy and the second wasn’t so easily explained. It wasn’t just that she was attracted to Anne, it was almost as if she felt she belonged to her and everyone should know it. Like that of a betrothed. She thought of how her father used to talk about Anne Lister and then her aunts, uncles and cousins echoing the same thing and rather than make her feel sorry for Anne it made her feel angry for feeling this way at all.

Ann.” Catherine said, louder.

“What?”

“You’re so out of your head again today, I said, Mrs. Sampson is coming over.”

She and Catherine greeted the woman and she praised Anne Lister the whole time she was there. She was very happy at how Anne had treated the children and she smiled and laughed about some of the things they had talked about. Ann felt that jealousy bubble up again.

The rest of the party went without incident, much. There were still many people who apparently didn’t see the reason why John Walker would hire a horsewoman, although, there were many of them who spoke up in her defense. Mostly, all of those were the families whose horses she saved from certain death and a few who appreciated her eccentricity and brilliant mind. Those were the women who Ann would see stopping to talk to her and the bubble of jealousy would swell in her chest. Still, she tried not to notice anything else. Who was she to stop someone from talking to her servant? Anne wasn’t seeking them out, she was just standing at her post, waiting for someone to ask her about the ponies or help with guiding the children around the paddock.

It was when, after the fête was over, and she saw Charlotte Penfold go sneaking off towards the servant’s quarters near the stables, that she snapped.

*****

Lister, open this door immediately, do you understand me?!” Ann said, her tone made it clear she was not to be trifled with. She was about to knock on the door again when it opened suddenly.

Anne’s brow furrowed and she stepped back as an angry blonde-haired woman pushed past her and into her room, as though she were looking for someone.

“Can I help you?” Anne said, her eyebrow raised in curiosity.

Ann looked around, puzzled. Charlotte wasn’t in the room and it was evident that Anne had been at her table, writing in her journal. Her sleeves rolled up, the pen still in her hand and an ink stain on the front of her shirt. She stared at it and Anne followed her gaze.

“Oh, I had a little mishap. Going to have to wear my high buttoned waistcoat to hide it until I can get a new one.”

“I was looking for someone, I thought they came in here…”

“No, as you see,” Anne swept her arm dramatically towards the far side wall, “I am not having a party here. Just me…” She smirked.

Ann narrowed her eyes at her servant. “Don’t be impertinent.”

Anne’s face fell and her stomach had an uneasy feeling. “Sorry, Miss Walker.”

“I hear you’ve been sitting for a portrait for Charlotte Penfold?”

“Is that against the rules? She comes to the kitchen to-”

“Yes, she’s told me, I just was curious is all. I hope it’s not being done when you’re supposed to be at your duties.”

Anne wanted to eyeroll in the worst way, but she was able to hold her expression the same way, neutral, if not a little puzzled.

“No, Miss Walker, I can assure you that’s not the case, ma’am.” She saw Ann had raised an eyebrow as though she were expecting an explanation, so she continued, “I use some of my break time to read the day’s papers that have already been read and are going into the pile for burning. I promise you; I do not use one minute of work time for anything akin to leisure. Have I caused you displeasure?”

Ann wasn’t ready for that question, she was raring for a fight actually, but Anne wasn’t giving it to her.

“Something seems to be afoot and I can’t really put my finger on it. Just know that I’m watching and that I am not opposed to let anyone go that has disobeyed my orders.”

“As I said the other day, I don’t mean to offend, I’m just doing as I’m told. I’ll make sure that your consent has been given and if I can’t verify that, I will refuse.”

Again, that caught Ann off guard. She couldn’t let this anger that was bubbling in her out and to make matters worse, her back was bothering her again. The other thing was that the tender and deferential way Anne was speaking to her was making its way into her cold heart and it was warming it.

All these feelings were swirling around in her head and making her feel dizzy, she started to feel faint. Anne saw this and caught her around the arms, lifting her slightly and depositing her gently on the bed.

“Are you alright, Miss Walker?” She heard Anne say from what sounded like being under water or cotton stuffed in her ears.

“I… I feel… I can’t…” Ann started breathing too fast.

“Come, sit up, Miss Walker. Can you do that for me?”

Anne helped her to sit up, then realized her stays wouldn’t really allow for bending over as far as she needed to be.

“I’m going to unhook your dress and loosen your corset, alright? Nothing but that, no one is going to touch you anywhere.” Anne knew her reputation in Halifax, she didn’t really care about it either, she just wanted to put her at ease.

“I… can’t brea…”

“Yes, you’re hyperventilating, please, let me unhook you and then you’ll bend over a moment… it will help you get your breathing under control.”

Ann did as she was told and Anne helped her to sit in the proper position to bring her breathing under control. “I’m going to unhook and unlace you a little further, I don’t want the stays to hurt you while you’re bending over.”

It was only a few minutes of sitting this way that Ann was able to get a hold of herself and her breathing, she looked down at the floor and wondered how she must look to Anne Lister.

“There, your breathing sounds almost normal. Ready to sit up?” Anne asked.

Ann nodded her head, “I think so.”

“Okay, now easy does it, not too quickly, alright?”

“Yes…” Ann sat up slowly, helped by her servant who was being very sweet to her. That feeling she had in her heart earlier, the one of the melting ice, started again and tears sprung to her eyes.

“Miss Walker? Are you alright? Should I send for the Doctor?” Anne look worried and pointed to the door.

Ann shook her head from side to side as tears spilled from her eyes. There was no sound coming from her, just water seemingly never ending, streaming down her cheeks and falling in big droplets onto her dress.

“Miss Walker, ma’am…” Anne trailed off, she was surprised by how many tears were coming out and got up to get a clean handkerchief. She pulled one out of her drawer and then knelt in front of Ann, holding it up to her. “Here, Miss Walker, here’s a handkerchief… “It’s just here…” She took Ann’s hand and put it up against the cotton material, slipping it into her palm.

The crying woman couldn’t really understand exactly why she was crying so much and so hard, well, she could if she let herself think about it long enough and that’s probably what the problem was. She hadn’t let herself think about it at all in the last two days. She had shut herself off from anything having to do with Anne Lister and forcibly pushed her out of her mind when she crept in. For the nights, she would order a bottle of Madeira to her room so that she wouldn’t be able to dream. The problem with that was it left her utterly exhausted in the morning. The stress of the party and the added anxiety about actually being in love with a woman, one she had always been in love with, and seeing other women flirt with her in the past few days, had just become too much.

She didn’t know what else to do but sit there, dress open at the back, on her beloved’s bed and cry.

“I’m sure it can’t be as bad as that, Miss Walker.” Anne said, getting up from the floor and sitting beside her. She turned Ann towards her and lifted her chin to look into her eyes. Wiping the tears from them as they streamed out. “I’m sure whatever it is we can talk out and work out the best way to deal with it. Or… or if you don’t want to talk to me about it, perhaps I could get your cousin… Miss Rawson?”

Ann shook her head, she sat there, trying not to do what was in her heart, it was making her ball her fists in frustration. After a moment or two, Anne started to get up from the bed and she reached out with both hands, took Anne’s shirt in her fists, pulled her close and hugged her for all she was worth.

Anne sat there, stunned for almost a minute, then put her arms around Ann and hugged back. All of the moments since they met, that played in her mind were becoming strikingly clear. Ann wasn’t annoyed at her, she wasn’t dismissive of her and she most of all wasn’t resentful of her. She was in love with her. A love that didn’t have a name to put to it, didn’t have any guidelines for her to follow, at least none that Ann Walker knew of.

Ann had been left alone for so long to try to work out what her feelings for Anne Lister were, that she finally had decided it was hate. But try as she might to hate the woman, whenever she saw her, she felt the feelings that Elizabeth had described to her when she would talk about boys or men. Ann never really had felt that way about a man, but when she had seen Anne Lister for the very first time at fourteen, her heart leapt out of her chest and she started to sweat. And that’s how it had been every time since. There was a time when she was older, where she thought she had been able to pin Anne down to going on an excursion alone together. Had even gotten a promise and a time. But that appointment was never kept and, in the end, Ann felt foolish and silly for even thinking of it.  

As Ann’s crying subsided Anne started to give the blonde-haired woman some soothing words, nothing too spectacular, just to let her know she was there for her, but they were like a cool salve on an angry burn to Ann. There was also a confusing moment, she could have sworn that Anne had kissed her on the temple, but it was so light and fleeting that she wasn’t sure if it was. And that thought started to get her pulse racing and now all she was feeling was desire. Being so close to the woman she loved for the first time, she noticed how perfectly their bodies moulded together and she tightened her arms around her even more.

Anne gave her all the time in the world to do what she needed to get herself under control. When she felt her arms tighten around her even more, she smiled. She froze, however, when she felt what was decidedly a kiss to the side of her neck. She thought maybe she imagined it or tried to explain it away by saying it was imagined or wishful thinking, until she felt it again, and again and again. Soft lips on her skin and the last one she was sure she felt a tongue lick out at her flesh. Anne pulled back to look in Ann’s face, to see what she had in her mind through her eyes.  What she saw was pure love and desire, no mistaking that whatsoever. Ann leaned in and captured Anne’s lips in a kiss, that soon turned hungry and needy. After a few moments, Anne started to come to her senses. This wasn’t just a woman from a neighboring estate come to call on her in her chaumière, this was her employer, come to see her in her servant’s quarters, this could get her fired sooner than anything else would and the men around her, while they were nice and seemed loyal, wouldn’t be able to keep this secret for her. She almost didn’t blame them.

She reluctantly pulled back. Ann groaned and leaned back in to resume their kissing and Anne had to remind her of her place.

“Miss Walker… you must remember yourself.”

“What?”

“You’re my employer… this is highly irregular, in a whole host of different ways. At best, I could be let go for such an infraction…”

“Who’s going to tell?” Ann whispered her question and leaned back in, but Anne backed up, her face showed hesitation and worry.

“I’m a servant…” She wanted to get her to see the gravity in that statement. “I have to watch what I do at every moment of every day or I could find myself without employment. Also, I don’t think your brother would be too keen on me…” She stopped and looked pointedly at Ann with a crooked smile trying to figure out what exact words she should use, finally she said, “… having my way with his sister.”

“I am my own woman; my brother has made that clear to me many times over. He leaves me to make up my own mind.”

Anne looked up at the ceiling and then looked down again at Ann. Her mind was warring with her body. The fact was, she did find Ann extremely attractive, she had also, as of late, been fantasizing about her. And now, here was the very woman, on her bed, half undressed already and offering herself to her. So, what she did next, took an extreme amount of fortitude.

“Miss Walker-”

“Anne, please call me Ann.”

Anne grinned and said, “Miss Walker.”

“Do I have to order you to kiss me?”

“What?”

“Would that make it easier for you?” Ann quirked an eyebrow and smiled a little mischievously.

“You would hold that over me, wouldn’t you?”

 Ann sighed and looked down at her hands, “I… I have been fighting something for a very long while now, it’s only just become very clear to me. I know you might not care about that, but I thought maybe you could understand… I’m sorry.” She looked at Anne sincerely, then her face became harder. “Could you… could you help me lace up my stays and hook my dress please, Lister?”

“I can do whatever you’d like, Miss Walker. I am at your mercy.”

Ann’s eyes narrowed. “Is that so?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Then kiss me.”

Anne put her hands back on Ann’s arms and pulled her close. “I know… how you feel. I won’t exploit that.” She whispered into her ear.

Ann’s face softened for a moment, then she recovered, “Thank you, Lister, now, I said for you to kiss me.”

Anne knew she should stop this right here, but her body finally won over her mind and she leaned in the few inches and kissed Ann’s lips. She pulled back after a few moments. It was nice, but she knew that wouldn’t satisfy her employer.

“Again.” Ann commanded.

Anne leaned in again, and this time pulled her impossibly close, kissing her deeply.

“Lister?”

They both froze as the voice of Alf was heard right outside the door.

Anne pulled back and put her hand to her own lips to indicate silence.

“Lister are you in there? James is looking for Miss Walker, have you seen her?”

“Not for some time, Alf.” Anne got up and walked to the door, she waited to open it until Ann got behind it where she wouldn’t be seen.

“Sorry to disturb you,” Alf said and James walked up closer to the door.

“Do you know when you saw her last?” Ann’s manservant asked.

Anne looked up as she pretended to think. “Shortly after the fête, she said she was going for a walk. I wonder if she went calling on anyone?”

“Unlikely usually after such a big day, especially with how her back has been lately.” James said, then nodded at Anne, “Well, thank you, Lister. If you hear of anyone that has seen her, please let her know her cousin is looking for her.”

Ann rolled her eyes and Anne caught that look from her vantage point. She had a very hard time not to laugh.

“I will, James, straight away.” She said, smiling and biting back a laugh.

He nodded and then took his leave. Alf said he had to go to the paddock to finish helping to break down the fence and picking up the hay bales before dinner.

“I’ll be up there in a few minutes, Alf.”

“Right-o.” Alf said and put up his hand in goodbye.

Anne put up hers and nodded. She closed the door and sighed, looking over at Ann with her eyebrows raised.

“That was…”

Ann bit her lip and then said with a smile, “Exciting.”

“Oh, Lord,” Anne laughed and went to Ann, pinning her against the wall, “Is this what you want, Miss Walker? To feel excitement, to feel alive?”

Ann nodded and closed the gap again with a hungry kiss. It lasted a few moments until they were both needing air and Anne pulled back.

“Let’s do up your dress, your cousin will be worried.”

Ann sighed, she didn’t want to cause Catherine any worry. She turned around and let Anne fix her corset and dress.

“This isn’t over, Lister.” She said, firmly. “I expect you understand that?”

“I do.”

“Good.” Ann said, satisfied. “Tomorrow, I will have some new duties for you. Will you come up to the house after your break for lunch?”

“I will.”

“Very good, now, can you see if the coast is clear? I shall walk behind the stables and up the path around the conservatory, I’ll tell them I was tired, so I stopped to enjoy the view of the fields from above Shibden. I’m sure you remember those views.”

Anne’s heart clenched at the mention of that.

“I do.” She nodded.

“Maybe we’ll see them again, together, soon. When we go riding.”

“Yes, of course.” Anne said, putting the last hook into the eye. “There, ma’am, your dress is fastened.”

Ann turned around quickly, taking Anne by surprise. “You’re mine now, Lister. Is that clear?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re my servant, under no one else’s authority but mine, is that understood?” Her voice was excitingly hard.

Yet, Anne was still puzzled, she furrowed her brow, not quite sure how that was possible, but she was her boss so she nodded.

“Good, so long as it’s understood. Now, give me a kiss on my cheek and then check to see if all is clear.”

Anne did as she was told, though the kiss on the cheek was highly unusual, even in light of what they had just been doing. She then opened the door and looked out. “It looks clear, ma’am. I expect the staff are all up cleaning up the grounds, I think you should be safe. I’ll walk out ahead and just make sure you’re safe on the path to the conservatory walk.”

“Very well, thank you.”

Once Ann was firmly on the path and she could see her almost back to the house, she went back inside her room. She stood silent for a few moments, looking at the bed and then at the wall, trying to figure out what the future was about to bring her. Ann clearly had made some sort of a decision for her employment and she didn’t know whether to be happy or worried about it. Her sense of adventure held her intrigued to say the least.

That night, after she was done writing in her diary, she spent a long while thinking of Miss Walker and how the bossy tone in her voice made her drawers wet. The next morning’s diary entry would record that she had ‘incurred a cross’ thinking about it.

*****

“Miss Walker, Lister is here to see you.” James said, entering the library after knocking.

“Show her in James and please, tell the others that we’re not to be disturbed. I have had a letter from my brother and there is a lot of information I have to go over with her for the horses.”

“Certainly.” James said and nodded.

Anne was shown to the library and she thanked James.

As soon as she was in the library and Ann told her to close the door, she was pinned back into it and the blonde woman was kissing her with a fiery passion. She worriedly looked out at the windows, trying to see if anyone was out there who could see into the room.

When their kiss broke, Ann breathed out, “I thought about you all night last night. Our kisses in your room. I could hardly sleep from the want of them…”

“Miss Walker, your guests…”

“Lister, my guests are out visiting some of our other relations. I haven’t been feeling well. My back as you know is poorly. I require some attention and so I’ve stayed home to have it seen to. By my new attendant.”

“Your new attendant?”

“Yes, you’re going to be my new attendant.”

“Like your lady’s maid?”

“Not exactly… more like a… like a nurse?”

“Nurses are for the nursery, Miss Walker.”

“You’re going to nurse me back to health, my back it’s been bad. Dr. Day has just been here and he said it would be wise if I were to have someone help me daily. I suggested it would be the best for myself and he agreed. So, I pick you.”

“Can I ask a question?”

“Yes, of course.”

“What were you thinking?”

“What?”

“What were you thinking? That I could just change my position on a moment’s notice?”

“Well, yes, that’s what I’m telling you.”

“Ann, you’re not being reasonable.”

Lister, you forget yourself!” Ann raised her voice and narrowed her eyes.

“I was hired by your brother-”

“Who has told me I can do anything I want with the staff.”

“Including ordering them around for your amusement?”

“For my health.”

“I’m not a slave.”

“I’m not asking you to work without compensation and you’ll have new quarters, in the house, where the nurse would have been had there been young children.”

“Is this so that you can get what I can give you… what you wanted last night? More of this?” Anne said, pulling the blonde woman to her.

Ann started to get annoyed but the feelings of being so close to the brunette woman, in this manner, were softening her heart and making it skip a beat. She had wanted to be the boss here, wanted to order Anne around, but the fact was, she loved her too much for that. Plus, she loved for her to take the aggressor role.

“I want more of you, all of you but I want you to have me too, as equals.”

Anne looked into her eyes, trying to find something in them. She marveled at the color, they were like the sky in mid-morning after it had just rained and the clouds had been blown away, blue, but on the grey side as well. What she saw there was something she had seen in many of her other girlfriends, desire for sure, but also love, hope, a want to be connected and not just sexually. But there were too many barriers in between them. Being women wasn’t even their main obstacle.

Ann watched Anne’s eyes as they darted back and forth between her own. She could tell she was extremely conflicted, her heart grieved for that. She could also tell that she saw the truth of what she felt for her in them and that made her heart soar.

“I will help you with your back, but you are my employer and anything else wouldn’t be appropriate. I will still carry on with my duties with the horses. I fear the blight might not be completely gone from them; I have to monitor that. I’ll keep my quarters where they are.”

Anne’s voice was neutral and business like and Ann felt like she wanted to lash out. But she held herself in check as she let go of her and stepped away.

 “Very well,” She said with a curt nod. “I will increase your wages accordingly and request that you come back after dinner to get started on your new duties.”

“Very well.” Anne gave back the same nod.

They stood there looking at each other for a few moments before Ann realized her servant was waiting to be dismissed.

“Thank you, Lister. That’s all.”

Anne nodded again and then left through the door at her back.

Rather than feel like it was an ending and she should be sad, Ann felt emboldened and formulated a new plan.

*****

“Thank you, Lister, I’ll require your service upstairs.” Ann said, when she had come back as she had instructed.

“Very well, ma’am.” Anne said, with a nod.

Ann remarked that she was again very business-like and didn’t try to hold eye contact with her. She knew this woman was shrewd and this wasn’t going to be easy, but she wasn’t one to quit easily either. Well, lately anyway and not when it came to capturing the heart of Anne Lister.

As they arrived in front of Ann’s bedroom door, Anne waited for her to open it. Holding the door open with her arm and letting her employer go through it first.

Ann pointed to her dressing table to where the ointment was and then presented her back to her.

“You can help me remove this dress first, no need to stand on ceremony, as you are my nurse now, I can take this all the way off.”

“If that’s your wish…”

“Yes, it is, I find I’m too restricted anyway, I wonder if I can have something done about these stays,” Ann said and then stepped out of her dress when it was undone. She turned around immediately and stepped closer to Ann, knowing that the top of her breasts were visible. “Do you see, Lister? These are coming right out of the top, the stays I mean.”

“Yes, I see that, ma’am. You should have your lady’s maid mend that.” Anne said, trying to remain neutral, her eyes darting around the room.

“What if… what if I didn’t wear any?”

“Not wear any stays?”

“Exactly.”

“I don’t know, that’s not something that I can really give an opinion on.”

“What about you, you’re a woman, aren’t you?”

“Well yes…”

“Then how can you not have an opinion?” Ann put her hand on either side of Anne’s torso and touched lightly. “You’re not wearing any?”

Anne shook her head no.

“Well then what do you…?”

“I have a different method, I found the stays too restrictive when I would work in the fields, back in…” She suddenly became self-conscious and trailed off.

“Back in?”

“America.”

“You worked in the fields there?”

“Yes. Besides, had no lady’s maid either.”

“What’s it like?” Ann said, turning back around for Anne to help her with her corset.

“Hmm?”

“What’s it like working in the fields of America? Is it hot?”

Anne narrowed her eyes slightly at that, thinking there might have been a little innuendo in there. She smirked and decided to play along, “Oh, yes, very hot and sweaty work.”

Ann’s breathing started to increase and she could feel Anne press into her a little more firmly but then back away.

“There, you’re all unlaced.” She said, putting her head down and keeping her eyes on the floor.

“Thank you, Lister.” Ann said, turning around, removing her corset and leaving her just in her chemise and petticoats.

“I’ll wait in the hall whilst you get more comfortable.”

“That’s not necessary.”

Anne didn’t stay where she was but kept walking to the door. “Yes, it is.” She said curtly and went into the hall.

Ann looked at the closing door and sighed sharply, this might be a little more difficult than she was thinking.

As they continued this way for days, Ann trying to think up ways to frustrate her servant and Anne keeping herself to herself. Ann decided on a new tact. Jealousy. Her sister had recently written to her about her husband’s cousin, Sir Alexander McKenzie still being interested in her and one day, as Anne was applying the ointment to her back Ann struck up a conversation about marriage.

“Lister, have you ever been proposed to?”

Anne tensed slightly and Ann could immediately feel it but didn’t say anything.

“Once or twice… there have been some inquiries… yes.”

“But they haven’t been the right person?”

“You could say that, yes.”

“Have you never wanted to be married?”

Anne hesitated, she immediately thought of Mariana, who she had exchanged rings with and who was the love of her life, until she had gone off and married Charles. And then Anne lost Shibden and the correspondence dropped off and that’s when she decided to leave for America, after stopping in Paris until her money had run almost out. America was somewhere raw, where she could anonymously lose herself in her work and try to save money to send back to her aunt. The shock of losing Shibden had been too much for her father and that shame weighed on her, even though the reason they lost Shibden was not actually due to her own handling of the estate. Once she got control of it, she found that there were mortgages on it so vast that she could never have pulled it from debt and they had to sell or risk being put in jail. It felt calculated and planned. Her sister didn’t even speak to her. It wasn’t an ideal situation for anyone and she really didn’t blame Mariana Lawton for not wanting to have anything to do with her, but it disappointed her greatly that the money was more than love for her.

“I have been… well, promised, but nothing transpired in the end. It was hard with my… with what happened to Shibden and now I don’t really think about marriage. May I ask why you ask?”

“My sister has written to me from Scotland, her husband has a cousin… he’s asked me to marry him before and I said no… but now I’m wondering…”

There was an almost imperceptible falter in her normally strong, sure hands and Ann felt detected it.

“Wondering whether you’d be better off wed?” Anne asked.

Ann sighed, “Yes.”

“Well, ladies do get married long before now, I expect your family knows what’s good for you.”

“I don’t know. I just think maybe George, that’s my brother-in-law, wants to get more of our family’s money. I would come with a considerable dowery. But still…”

“I think maybe you should discuss this with your brother when he comes back.”

If he comes back, you mean. I think his business will detain him for quite some time. And Catherine has to go back to her family, her Aunt being sick she’ll have to go care for her.”

“And Miss Penfold and her sister?”

“Leaving tomorrow, thankfully. I’ll be quite all alone in this big house.” Ann sighed dramatically.

“Maybe you can invite some friends to stay?”

“I’ve had all the company I can stand for a month. It was stressful here with my departed sister-in-law’s family. I felt watched all the time. Now I think I’m just going to relax and get better, with your help.”

“I’ll do anything I can for you.”

“I appreciate that, Lister. I might hold you to it.”

Anne started to reply and then stopped, she heard something in her voice that sounded dangerous. There was no doubt that Ann loved her, but she couldn’t give into that, though she wanted to very much. She would be leaving for America in a few months, no more than a year and this would only complicate matters.

“I have another question for you, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.”

“Do you think Charlotte Penfold is pretty?”

Anne wondered where this line of thinking was coming from, but she didn’t shy away from it, “I do.” Was her simple, honest reply.

“Prettier than my cousin Catherine?”

“I would say they are equally pretty.”

“Prettier than me?” She raised her eyebrow.

Anne closed her eyes, here was the real reason for the question. “Well…” She started and then stopped.

“You don’t find me pretty, do you?”

“What? What makes you ask that?”

“You offer up your opinion on my cousin and Charlotte very quickly, yet when it comes to me, you find it hard to speak.”

“With all due respect, ma’am, you asked for my opinion, I didn’t offer it and when it comes to you. You are my employer, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to tell you how you look to me, as I can’t be trusted to be honest.”

“Oh, really?” Ann said, looking back at her, “I’ve seen you around here, with the other staff, with the people in the house, the last thing I would call you would be dishonest.”

“And if I’m completely honest, I would risk my position.”

“I give you my word as a lady, I will not do anything towards you if you tell me the truth.”

Anne leaned down and got close to Ann’s cheek, whispering. “In light of recent events, Miss Walker. I think you know exactly how I think you look.”

“Then why don’t you show me?”

“What would you have me do?”

Ann stood up from where she was on the chair and stood to the side of Anne, who was still in back of the chair. She took the jar of ointment from her and put it on the side table. Next, she took her hand in hers and kissed it. Anne’s mouth hung open.

“Ma’am, you shouldn’t…”

“You said you would do anything for me…”

“Well yes…”

“Is my touch not agreeable to you?”

“It is, but…”

“But what?”

“Why are you torturing me like this?” Anne asked, pleadingly.

“I’m not-”

“You are!” Anne took her hand away from Ann. “I think you know my reputation and you’re playing on my obvious attraction to you.”

Ann smiled and moved closer to her, “I’m glad you’re finally being honest with your feelings.” She took her hand again in her own, as she looked into Anne’s eyes, still smiling, she brought her hand to her own breast and lay it upon her, over her chemise.

Anne drew in a sharp breath. Her hand started to shake slightly, she hadn’t felt a woman like this in quite a few months, it was intoxicating.

“It’s alright, Lister…” Ann said, encouragingly. “You can press me harder, you know… in fact, you can do what you like…”

Anne’s eyes narrowed and she smirked. “Can I?”

Ann smiled, “Yes.”

Anne moved her hand over Ann’s breast and then pulled it away, she turned it and put her fingertips at the top of her chemise and looked in the blonde woman’s eyes. Ann nodded and she slipped her hand under the material, feeling the nipple harden almost immediately.

Ann let out a gasp, she didn’t think it could feel any better, but skin on skin was one hundred times better than the feeling she had from the hand over her chemise. Anne parted her index and middle fingers and slipped them on either side of the erect bud, lightly squeezing it between the two digits.

“Ohhhh…” Ann breathed out and closed her eyes.

“Open your eyes, Miss Walker, please…”

Ann did as she was told.

“They are a very pretty blue, I see them in my dreams quite often, you know…”

“Do you?”

Anne nodded, “Ma’am may I be so bold as to pull down your chemise?”

Ann’s eyes went wide, she wasn’t sure exactly what she had expected when she challenged Anne, but she was being pleasantly surprised by the result. It already exceeded her expectations of how she would be feeling. She pulled down the chemise in the front herself, exposing her chest.

“Such a pretty looking bosom.” Anne remarked, her mouth starting to water at the anticipation of what the pink nipple would taste like in her mouth. “May I use my mouth?”

Ann’s eyebrows raised and so did her heartbeat. It took her a few moments for her brain to send the signal to her mouth, but she finally managed to say, “Of course…”

As soon as Anne’s lips attached themselves to the flesh she licked out at the hard, warm nub. Ann gasped again and put both hands on Anne’s head and pulled her in closer. The brunette woman smiled around the nipple then started to lightly lick and suck, eliciting more moans and groans from Ann.

“Good lord, that feels…” She started to get a little loud as Anne alternated the licks with small bites that sent electric jolts down to her nether regions. She started to squirm in place trying to get more friction to her core, while still holding onto Anne, keeping her in place.

Anne noticed this movement and slid a hand in between her mistresses’ legs, just cupping the mound there, through the material of her pantalettes.

“Lister… Anne…” Ann’s legs started to feel like they wouldn’t be able to support her, she couldn’t help but groan loudly as Anne held her more firmly at her core. The two sensations between her hand and her mouth were causing a very pleasant sensation and it was making her breathe erratically.

As Anne was going to move her to the bed, they heard a knock at the door.

“Miss Walker?” Came the unmistakable voice of James.

“James? Don’t come in… not yet. What is it?”

“It’s just, is Miss… is Lister in there helping you, ma’am?”

Anne took her mouth off of Ann’s nipple and looked up, smiling.

“Yes, yes she is, with my back.” She narrowed her eyes at Anne and then smiled.

“She’s requested in the stables, ma’am.”

“James, what is it?” Anne stood up and looked at the door worried.

“Onyx, ma’am… er Lister, he’s… he’s, no one can keep him steady and he might do himself a harm.”

Anne stood up and removed her hand unceremoniously from between Ann’s legs, giving her a look of apology.

“Go, take care of Onyx.” Ann said, quickly.

Anne immediately went to the door and looked back, waiting for Ann who was hastily covering herself with her robe. Ann nodded for her to open the door.

“Anne,” Ann called her before she walked out the door, “Please, be safe.”

Anne looked at her and nodded, swiftly leaving out of the door and leaving James’ to follow in her wake as she hurriedly made her way to the stables.

*****

“Don’t!” Anne shouted when she got to the stables and saw Alf and Booth trying to put a sheet over Onyx’ head. “Don’t.” She said softer.

“But he’s highly agitated, ma’am. He’ll hurt himself if we don’t stop him from seeing what’s around him.”

Anne quickly rolled up her sleeves and removed her skirt, she wasn’t in her britches and boots as she had to attend to Ann in her room and didn’t want to be dressed in that manner for her nurse duties. She was wearing men’s undergarments, so her legs were covered but both Booth and Alf still looked away.

William Bell, the groom and James came running up behind her, she put up her hands, “Shhhhhh, don’t say anything, don’t move… let me think…”

Everyone stood stock still as Anne kept her hands up and talked to Onyx soothingly, trying to calm him down. The other horses started to get upset and they neighed and whinnied their disapproval.

“Alf, go into my room, second drawer down, get me a pair of britches, my boots from under the thermometer pinned to the wall, and the rucksack slung over the back of the chair. Go! Now!”

Alf ran off to do as he was told.

“What are you going to-” Bell started to ask.

“Shhhh, don’t talk, back away.” She whispered.

The men did what she wanted.

John whispered to her, “Ma’am, he can’t go on like this much longer, either he’ll break the gate, or he’ll hurt himself… he might kill someone in the process. You know what we-”

“Booth, I said quiet,” She whispered back harshly, “No one is dying here today, do you understand that?”

“Aye.” He whispered and nodded sharply.

Alf came back and immediately handed her the britches, which she quickly put on, next she slipped the boots over her feet one by one and stamping them quickly to get them on snuggly.

“Okay, here’s what I want you to do, Alf, you move off completely, get into your room.”

“But-”

“Don’t question me, we don’t have time.” She whispered harshly again.

He did as he was told without further question and left.

“James, wait until I’m around the corner of the far building and I shout the signal, you’re going to open the gate to his stall. John and William, you’re going to come with me and bring that sheet, holding it in between you and taut as possible, creating a wall so he thinks he has to go around. It’ll slow him just enough for me to do what I have to do.”

“Which is?”

“I don’t have time to explain,” She said, as she folded her skirt and put it under her arm. “Let’s move.”

Each of the men looked at each other, worriedly and nodded resolutely. Taking up their positions as Anne had laid out for them.

She told John and Bell where to stand and then made sure they held the sheet as she wanted them to and then went around the corner of the building, climbing up onto the low wall there. She held onto the awning that was there and shouted for James to open the gate.

James opened the stall door quickly and Onyx darted forward and stopped, but then reared up and shot out of the stall like he was prodded with a hot brand. William and John braced themselves as the horse darted towards them, they both held the sheet up, hoping he would do as Anne had said and go around the wall. Thankfully, he did, slowing his progress just enough so that when he went passed, she jumped on his back. He whinnied and reared up and she held on for all she was worth, finally he put his front hooves back down on the ground and she had a moment of respite in which to get herself set on his back and threw her skirt over his eyes as he ran towards the big house.

Ann had been coming out of the back of the house after hastily getting dressed to see what was happening down at the stables, hoping to lend a hand where she could. The low light of the early evening just afforded her a chance to see a figure, who looked a lot like Anne Lister, clinging onto Onyx whose eyes were now covered with a piece of material. She was hoping against all hope that it wasn’t Anne, that somehow Bell or Booth were up on the highly agitated horse, but she knew instinctually that it was her. It was confirmed as she heard her shout orders to the horse. As they approached near to where she was, she heard Anne shout to her to get back inside and keep everyone else in as well. She and the horse, disappeared around the side and Ann did as she was told running through the house telling everyone not to go outside then opening the front door just in time for her to see Anne and Onyx, who was still traveling at a high rate of speed running up to a low hedge, she closed her eyes for a moment, saying a silent prayer, then opened them to see the horse jump over it, right after Anne had shouted to him to do just that. She let out a huge sigh of relief and saw her manservant and groom running around the corner of the house after Anne and Onyx.

James spotted Ann out of the corner of her eye and started to run up to her. She waved him off.

“Go help Miss Lister!”

Alf came past riding on Raven and Bell shouted at him to stop, he ordered him off and shouted to James to get up on the horse behind him. As soon as both men were in position on the horse, Bell kicked off and Raven rode at a fast pace. Ann held her breath as they came to the low hedge and then sighed again as they made it over.

“Ma’am!” Booth shouted to Ann as she looked like she was about to pass out. He ran up the steps and caught her, but her momentum was already too far and she fell backwards into her foyer, hitting her head on the floor.

“Run, Alf! Get Doctor Kenny!” Booth shouted, picking her up off the floor and rushing up to her bedroom as her lady’s maid followed quickly behind.  

*****

Almost an hour later, Anne rode back up to the stables with a decidedly calmer Onyx and dismounted when she got to the front. She smoothed his mane and walked in front and held his head to her in what could best be described as a hug. She soothed him with kind words in his ear and stroked his nose, praising him for his actions.

Alf was walking back towards the stables, having just gotten back with Doctor Kenny who was taken to Ann’s bedroom. Anne led Onyx over to the water trough and pumped some water from the well, to freshen it, also using some to drink for herself and wash her hands. Alf came over, took the bucket, worked the pump and filled the bucket again. He went over to his room and came back out, handing her a linen cloth to dry her hands.

“Thank you, Alf.” She smiled at him, gratefully and used the cloth to wipe her face and neck.

“How did you get him to calm?”

“He rode himself tired, then I gave him one of the pills I made, it seemed to do the trick.” Anne said, sitting on the bench, next to the trough, she was thoroughly exhausted. For some of the way home, she had to walk as Onyx seemed bothered momentarily by her being on his back without the saddle.

Bell and James rode up to them and dismounted, letting Raven drink from the trough as well.

“Hells bells.” Bell said, emphatically. “T’horse was so fast we couldn’t keep up wi’you. How did you come back? We missed you.”

“Along the Leeds Road.”

James bent over as he was trying to catch his breath. “We… we thought… we thought you might… have…”

Anne chuckled, “I’m fine.” She said, and nodded her head, remembering something she addressed Alf.

“What was Kenny doing going to the house?”

“Miss Walker, she fainted, hit her head.”

Anne sat up quickly and pushed herself off the bench, one of her knees was sore and her shoulders felt like someone had tried to rip her arms from them. Still, she walked very quickly through the stable yard, through the coach house and into the butler’s house on her way to the main house and up to Ann’s bedroom. When she got in there Catherine immediately went up to her, “I’m so glad you’re back, she’s been calling for you.”

“How is she?”

Doctor Kenny answered, even though the question was directed at Catherine.

“Her pulse is normal and there appears to be nothing broken, though she might have a pretty good-sized bump on her head by morning.”

Anne nodded to him and addressed Ann’s lady’s maid, “Sarah, could you go and send one of the boys for some ice from the icehouse, bring it up in a bucket filled with straw and a few flannel cloths.”

Sarah nodded and went out of the room. Technically she was a higher rank then Anne, but everybody of late had been taken to listening to Lister over anyone else.

“Thank you, Doctor Kenny, I’ll let you know if anything changes. As you say, it appears she’s doing well, good job.” Anne said, dismissing him.

He looked at Catherine who nodded her agreement and he bowed to both of them, taking his leave, delicately.

“Booth.” Anne said, in greeting to her old servant, who was standing near the bed, looking worried, “I take it you tried to catch her?”

“How did you know?”

“Well, for one you’re standing in her bedroom,” She smiled at his even more worried look, “And you look apologetic.”

“I ran up t’steps and got to ‘er, but it were just a shave too late. I-I got her by the arms but her body was already almost by the ground.”

“You did the best you could, I’m sure.” Anne said and patted his shoulder. Reaching in her knapsack she took out her pocket watch and lifted Ann’s wrist. Doctor Kenny was right, her pulse was normal.

“What will the ice do?” Catherine asked.

Anne sat on the side of the bed and looked down at Ann who looked like she was peacefully sleeping. That concerned her. “It will bring down the swelling of any bump that has formed.” She bent over and reached behind, gently feeling around Ann’s cranium, she saw the slumbering woman’s face wince when she got to the already sizably formed lump.

“Booth, can you do me another favor? Can you go down and tell the cook to make a big pot of coffee, it doesn’t have to be in a delicate china, just brewed and bring up a mug, a tall one.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He said, moving quickly towards the door.

“Ann…” She remembered who was still in the room, “Miss Walker… Miss Walker, ma’am…”

“Why are you waking her?” Catherine said, a little agitated. “Shouldn’t she sleep after all that happened and why were you jumping on Onyx, I heard John telling Sarah that you-”

Anne kept her voice sounding neutral, even though her mind was racing and her heart was pounding.

“I’m sorry Miss Rawson, please not too fast and not too loud. This bump is going to make your cousin’s head hurt tremendously and she’ll be sore inside her skull, loud noises will only hurt her.”

Catherine lowered her voice, “Why wake her?”

“The brain is swelling and making her sleepy, but it’s artificial and we need to keep her awake, so it doesn’t cause her to… slip into a coma…” Her voice broke before speaking the next line, “She might not wake up from.”

Catherine quickly looked at her cousin with fear in her eyes, she said, “Ann!”

“Shhhh, Miss Rawson, as quiet as you can, now.”

Ann,” Catherine said, trying to be quiet but still be heard. “Annie, come now, open your eyes… we’re here, Miss Lister is here.”

Ann’s eyes started to flutter open, Sarah came into the room with the bucket and the cloths. Anne got up and took the bucket and one of the cloths. Looking around for something to chip at the ice with, she looked at the dressing table and saw a paper knife, she took it and stabbed at the ice and two sizeable chips broke away. Catherine watched, fascinated, as Anne wrapped the chips in some straw and then wrapped that up in the flannel cloth.

Ann,” She said again, jostling her cousin.

“Miss Rawson, please, no sudden movements. Here, hold this to her head, gently, towards the crown at the back is the lump.” Catherine looked puzzled as to wear she meant and Anne led her hand to the spot. “Don’t press too hard, just enough to transfer the cold. Sarah, can you get some water as well? I’m sorry for ordering you around.”

“No matter, Lister, anything to help Miss Walker.”

Anne smiled at her gratefully. She sat back down on the side of the bed, taking Ann’s hand in her own and calling to her.

“Miss Walker? Do wake up, Miss Walker. Please.” She smiled as she could see Ann’s brow furrow. “She can hear, that’s good.”

“Ann… Annie darling, please wake up.”

Ann,” Anne said, changing tact and using her Christian name instead, the blonde woman’s eyes fluttered open and she recognized who had called her.

“Anne?”

Anne answered with a nod.

Ann sat up quickly, threw her arms around her and pulled her to her, kissing her desperately. Anne pulled back immediately, very aware of Catherine Rawson looking at her with a shocked look, when she saw Anne looking her face went back to just puzzled.

“She’s unsure of what she’s doing,” Anne tried to explain it away.

“I can’t believe you! You could have been killed!” She leaned back in and hugged Anne to her. “Ow…” She said, finally realizing her head was hurt. “I fell over…”

“Yes, you did, you have a nasty bump and I fear a concussion. Don’t touch it.” Anne said quickly, making sure she didn’t touch the lump, hurting herself further.

“Catherine?”

“I’m here behind you.”

“Oh, good, I was worried it might be Doctor Kenny. Is he gone?”

“Yes, Anne dismissed him.” She smirked.

“Good.” Ann said, smiling and then winced. “Odious man.”

John knocked on the door and said, “Only me, with the coffee, ma’am.”

“Come in, Booth.” Anne said.

“Coffee?” Ann asked, puzzled.

“We have to keep you up, darl… Miss Walker.”

John pretended not to hear that little almost endearment, as did Catherine, but Ann heard it and grinned from ear to ear.

“Can you pour a mug of it for her, John?” Anne said, turning away, trying not to see the look in Ann’s eyes, it was making her want to lean in and kiss her.

John handed it to Anne and she tested the heat, it didn’t really need to be hot, it just had to be good and strong. She found it a little to hot and blew on it for her before handing it to Ann.

“Ooh, still too hot.” Ann said, screwing up her nose and handing it back.

Anne took the mug and went over to where the ice bucket was on the washstand, she took the paper knife and chipped away at the ice, breaking off a good amount this time, but unfortunately, also breaking the paper knife. The noise made Catherine look up.

“Was that the paper knife I gave to you?” Her cousin asked Ann.

Ann looked over and smiled at Anne who had half of a paper knife in her hand and a sheepish look on her face.

“You could have asked Sarah to bring you up an ice pick, Anne.” Catherine took her cousin’s hand and placed it on the ice wrap, scoffing as she got up from behind her. “Come Booth, let’s go get her an ice pick so she can stop breaking presents that are given to Miss Walker from loving family members.”

Ann chuckled then winced again, as she watched her cousin and Booth leave. She called after Catherine, “Biscuits might be helpful as well, to go with the coffee! Ooh.” She said, holding one of her hands up to her ear.

Anne finished putting the ice into the coffee and sipped it so as not to spill any on the carpet. She was pleased to note how strong it was but hoped Ann wouldn’t refuse to drink it because of that. Walking back over to her she said, “Be careful, take small sips, not big gulps.”

“I can’t do that and hold this to my head, too.” She said, indignantly.

Anne moved to take the duties of holding the ice, but Ann held the mug out to her and said, “You hold it for me, please… that way you can monitor how quickly I’m drinking it…” She said, smirking mischievously, “And I can look at your handsome, yet foolish face.”

Anne’s eyes went wide, then she narrowed them, “Foolish?”

“I saw you riding Onyx without a saddle, barely able to hold on. What did you have in your hands over his eyes?”

“My skirt…”

“Why?” She said, worriedly.

“I needed to calm him, his senses were out of sorts and taking away his eyesight usually does the trick. I was able to calm him by the time we got back on the Leeds Road, but I had to walk most the rest of the way. Which is why I’m a little disheveled. As soon as I got back, Alf told me Doctor Kenny was here and why and I came straight up.”

“Come here,” Ann said, sternly, “Sit down.” She took the ice wrap off of her head and put it in her lap, reaching for the cup in Anne’s hands, she put that on her side table, finally taking Anne’s hands in her own. “Promise me you won’t do anything so foolish again?”

Anne tried to pull her hands away from Ann’s grip, but the blonde woman tightened it.

“Your hands, they’re cold,” Anne whined a little in explanation.

“Promise me, Anne.”

“I’ll do what I can, for you.” Anne said, narrowing her eyes and bringing up a point that Ann hated to hear, “I was hired by your brother-”

Don’t tell me about your job description-”

“I have to, because you don’t seem to understand this, Ann… as much as I want to, as much as I have… come to want to be with you, I am no longer an equal.”

“If you say that to me one more time, I will be violently cross.”

“Please don’t, I want you to get better.”

“Then help me by promising you won’t do foolish things that could get yourself killed.”

“I was trying to protect you and everyone else on this estate, Onyx was highly agitated, he could have hurt himself or others, or worse.”

Ann sighed, “Is he alright?”

Anne nodded her head and smiled, “He’ll be alright, I hope. I need to monitor him still.”

Ann sat back against her pillows and said, “In between monitoring me, of course.”

“Well, yes, now that you’ve given me this new duty.” She smiled at her.

Ann put the ice wrap back on her head and nodded, “Ooh, how long is this going to hurt?”

“For a few days, within three it’ll be mostly fine, you just have to make sure to be careful, no sudden movements like getting up from lying down too soon. I’m pleased that your stomach doesn’t seem affected by it. Some people get violently bilious from it.”

“No, I’m kind of hungry as a matter of fact.” Ann looked at Anne with a pout, “Will you come up here and read to me every day?”

“If you want that.”

“I do. Now, I need you to help me drink this coffee you’ve prescribed.” She said, looking expectant, like a Queen.

*****

On the third day of nursing Ann back to health, Catherine Rawson left. Charlotte and Catherine Baroncelli had left the day before and for Ann it wasn’t a moment too soon. They had stayed a little longer to make sure she was out of the woods and she saw Charlotte flirting with Anne when her sister wasn’t in the room, but she was happy that Anne didn’t encourage it, she was polite to her but didn’t seem to flirt back.

When they were alone, Ann again had her help her work on her back and started asking for massages of her limbs and lower back. Those were really intimate, because Ann would lift up her chemise while she was lying face down on the bed, in order for Anne to apply the ointment.

Anne was being driven wild by the noises Ann was making when she massaged her. Every night when she was alone in her bed she would close her eyes and see Ann’s face and hear her moans. Trying to give herself pleasure while thinking of her wasn’t enough, though. She was getting a little desperate, but she was determined not to get involved though it was getting very, very hard when Ann seemed to want it as much as she did.

On the fourth day of nursing Ann back to health, she was massaging her lower back again in the afternoon before she was to take a nap. Ann asked for her to go lower and soon she was kneeding the rounded cheeks of her bottom. The moans Ann brought forth from her made her throat go dry and her hands started to shake a little with her need. She closed her eyes and tried to block them out of her mind. Thinking of anything else but the sounds she was making.

Ann called to her and gently asked her to stop, which she did. She pulled back a little and watched as Ann turned herself over onto her back. “My thighs feel very tight today, can you massage them?”

Anne nodded and started massaging, at first lightly, then harder as Ann commanded.

“Anne, why do you resist me?”

“Hmm?”

“If a man were to be doing this to me right now and I kept practically throwing myself at him, well… I think you know what would happen, servant or not. Why do you resist? And don’t tell me it’s not appropriate, twice we have been intimate, with each other and each time we’ve been interrupted, so I know my advances are not really unwelcomed. Are you afraid of letting me into your heart?”

Anne stopped her massage and sat up. She looked down at Ann, who was looking at her not as a mistress would their servant, but as an equal.

“Are you aware of what you’re talking about when you talk about the connection you want to make with me? Do you understand what that entails?”

“Well, my… friend has shown me some literature that deals with the subject of two women-”

“And that seems agreeable to you?”

“Very.”

“Have you ever done something like this before?”

“No… well, not really… kissing maybe… but…” She shrugged.

Anne looked over at the door. “Are you sure we won’t be disturbed?”

“Quite, I told the servants that when I come up here to take my nap, no one is to be on this floor.”

“Does it lock?”

“Yes, the key is in the drawer.”

Anne got up and locked the door. She looked back at Ann who was biting her lip in excitement. The brunette woman took her boots off, since the other day she had been wearing her britches because she still hadn’t been able to replace her skirt that was lost somewhere between Lightcliffe and Halifax.  

“Are you sure you want this?”

Ann nodded and her smile deepened. She had been fantasizing about what Anne could do to her since she saw her when she was fourteen. She was more than ready.

Or so she thought.

Anne walked on her knees to her and pulled her up, capturing her mouth in a hungry kiss. When it broke, she whispered into her ear, “How’s your head?”

“A lot better, thanks to you…” Ann whispered back.

“Well, you’re going to need to hold onto it, because I’m going to try and make it blow it’s top off…” Anne said, sucking her earlobe into her mouth.

Ann gasped and her eyes went wide, both from what Anne was doing and what she had said to her.

“I… I’m ready… for whatever you want to do to me.”

Anne pulled back and looked into her eyes. “And if I’m the boss here, if I’m in charge?”

“That’s fine…”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.”

“Completely.”

“Yes.”

“Very well, Miss Walker, lie back.”

Ann did as she was told.

“Have you heard of a French kiss?”

“With a tongue?”

“Yes, but have you heard of the real French kiss?”

Ann shook her head and again, put her top teeth over her bottom lip. She watched as Anne stripped herself of her waistcoat and shirt, she realized what Anne had been talking about when she said she didn’t wear a corset. It looked like she bound her breasts with some sort of a material, that held them so they wouldn’t jostle when she was up on the horse, she was curious to see what was underneath.

Next came her britches, but she left her men’s undergarment on. She hoped she would be less modest as the evening wore on, she was excited to be near to her, skin upon skin.

Anne pulled her down further in the bed and got right between her legs, settling in, with a swift move she pulled her pantalettes to down around her bottom. She smirked as Ann’s eyes grew wider and her breathing visibly increased.

“Lift up, my pet, these need to come off,” Anne grinned, “Come on, don’t be shy, lift your bottom.”

Ann lifted her lower half and Anne pulled the material down her thighs, over her knees and down to her calves. She lifted each foot and pulled them off the rest of the way, throwing them off to the side and onto the floor. As Anne settled herself on her stomach and between her thighs Ann looked up at the canopy on her bed and thanked God for what was about to happen, she was so turned on she didn’t care about what was tantamount to that being blasphemy, but she felt as though she were about to experience heaven.

Anne took in a deep breath and smiled, the smell was so pleasing to her she repeated that action and her mouth watered. Suddenly she got up again on her knees and gave Ann another kiss, pushing her tongue to her lips, asking for entrance. Once inside she massaged Ann’s tongue for a few moments, showing her what she was in store for. She pulled back and said, “That’s what you’ll be feeling…” She nodded her head down, “Down there.”

Ann couldn’t form words right now, she just nodded.

Anne chuckled, “Can you show me your hands?”

Ann held them up, “Here, put them up on my head. Hold on tight and you will be just fine.”

“Get on with it.” Ann commanded and Anne’s jaw dropped.

The brunette woman recovered and said, “Kitten has claws. But I’m supposed to be in charge here.”

Ann looked at her through narrowed lids, “Yes, well, you’ve got me so worked up I might just start without you.” She said, as she snaked her hand down her torso and towards her mound.

“No!” Anne said, capturing her wrist, stopping her hand from its progress and then taking the other one, holding both in one hand she got up on her knees and pulled the hair band loose from her head, letting her hair free. “D’you know what happens to bad girls that don’t obey me, Miss Walker?”

“What?” Ann asked, smiling.

“They get restrained. Tied up, as they can’t be trusted to listen to orders.”

“Oh, that’s awful,” She said, still smiling. “Better make it tight, I feel very disobedient today.”

Anne tried not to smile but she couldn’t help it. “Oh, you are a naughty little kitten, aren’t you?” She asked, as she was tying up her wrists. Laying back down, she pulled her hair out of the way and took a good look at the sight before her.

Ann was so turned she was squirming a bit, her hands were bound in front of her, but she could break the bonds if she really wanted to. Rather than be annoyed by them, she found them to add to her pleasure.

Anne was studying her cunny, it was framed by a thick thatch of golden curls, she noted impressed that it was the prettiest one she’d seen as of late. Saying a silent prayer of thanks quickly, she leaned in and placed a kiss on her glistening lower lips, smiling as she heard the gasp from above.

That sound was like touching a flame to dried out tinder, Anne dove in and started licking in earnest, spreading the blonde woman’s legs a little further apart, so she could get to more of her, she started licking up from her hole, then dove through the folds to the hood of the bud she knew would be ready for her. As she sucked it into her mouth, she heard an even louder gasp escape the woman above and she felt her fingers on her head, holding her in place, in fact, she was pushing her more firmly into her. Anne’s inner dominant spirit couldn’t believe the audacity of this woman who was supposed to be restrained, but it made her want to laugh, though she kept at what she was doing. She used her thumbs to hold her lips apart and swirled the tip of her tongue around the pink and shiny, turgid nub.

As Ann’s desire increased, she moaned and groaned louder. Anne was going to tell her to be quiet, but the truth was, it was turning her on so much that her own clitoris was starting to pulse. She had never had someone so responsive to her, so soon. That fact was endearing her even more to this woman who she had barely known before. She resolved to give her the best experience she’d ever known. With this in mind, she took the hard clitoris in her mouth and sucked. Another jerk of the hips and a loud groan were heard from above.

“Yes, yes, Anne! Right there… keep… keep doing exactly that, oh! Oh my God!”

Anne felated the little button with increased fervor, the words from Ann helping to spur her on. She sucked and licked with a blistering pace, sadly she noted her jaw was becoming sore quicker than it had ever done in a long, long time, but that was because she hadn’t had anyone like this in a very long time.

Finally, after sucking the hard bud into her mouth one more time, she felt Ann’s legs tighten around her head, her hands push hard at the back of her head, holding her in place and the little pink clitoris disappear, she flattened her tongue over the spot and let Ann dictate what she wanted out of it. She was forcefully bucking and twisting herself, crying out her name over and over again. Anne held on for all she was worth, she wasn’t letting this absolute angel down. She felt an overwhelming sense that she needed to protect and shield her from harm, but also that she was put on this earth to please her exactly in this manner.

As Ann came down from the heights of the most incredible experience, she had ever had in her twenty-nine years, she felt Anne licking at her nether hole. Only one other person had been there before and she immediately regretted thinking of him. She tried to stop it but a sob escaped her lips as she wished that had never happened and it was Anne who was the first to claim her innocence. She felt Anne lift her head up and instinctively knew she was looking at her. Opening her eyes, she saw what she would liken to the face of an angel and her heart knitted itself back together. At once, she stopped grieving for what she couldn’t help or change.   

“Did I hurt you just then?”

“No…”

“Are you sure?”

“Quite.”

Anne put another kiss on Ann’s nether lips, but she was certain that she must be lying, she distinctly heard a sob that wasn’t a cry of pleasure or a gasp of desperation. She pulled herself away from Ann’s sex and sat up on her haunches, taking the woman’s bound hands in hers, she undid the tie, freeing her. Next, she moved to the side and helped her to stretch out her legs, massaging them a little while she looked into her eyes and smiled.

“Are your legs sore at all?”

“No.”

“Back?”

“No.”

“Then what-”

“Could you just come up here with and hold me?”

Anne smiled without showing her teeth and nodded. She remembered her first time having a mind-blowing experience, she felt a little guilty and also the overwhelming urge to be held.

Joining Ann up at the head of the bed, she lay down beside her and snaked her arm underneath her, pulling her closely into her side. Then joining her hands together and lacing the fingers together behind the blonde woman’s back.

“That was… indescribable… I can see what you mean by holding onto my head, there was one point where I thought for sure it would blow off.”

Anne chuckled and looked into her hooded eyes. Trying to seek the truth of the sob, while Ann was busy exploring Anne’s body, starting with her arms and torso. She stopped at the material Anne had over her breasts.

“Can you remove this?”

“Would you prefer it?”

“Yes.”

Anne pulled herself from Ann’s embrace and sat up, reaching behind herself she removed the pin that was holding the material in place and unwrapped herself. It felt freeing and she sighed relieved.

Ann smiled, impressed at what she saw before her and quietly agreed that she would have had to do that in order to ride the horses the way she did.

“Now me…” She said, and held her arms out, inviting Anne to remove her chemise. When that was done and her chemise joined her pantalettes on the floor she pointed at Anne’s bottoms. “Now these…” She said, smiling challengingly.

Anne smiled at her. “You’re very demanding, Miss Walker.”

“I want to feel… everything.”

“You’re a very touch sensitive person, I like that…”

“You’re not being fast enough.”

Anne laughed and shook her head. “We really need to talk about the roles here if I’m to be the dominant one.”

“You’re only the dominant one when I allow you to be.” Ann said, her voice showing she was in charge.

“Is that so?” Anne lifted a brow.

“It is.” Ann said, with a nod, “Now remove them.”

Anne felt a shiver go through her, but rather than being an unpleasant feeling, she remarked that she was turned on by it. Little Miss Walker with claws. She felt herself get wet.

When Anne was completely naked, Ann moved closer and put her body right up to the length of hers, feeling all of her skin, trying to get her to turn towards her, pulling at her arms to do just that.

“What do you need?”

“I’d like you to lay on me…”

“How?”

“On top.” She laid back on the bed.

Anne rolled over and lifted herself up over Ann’s body, pushing her legs open so she could fit herself between them. Holding herself up with her upper arms she looked into Ann’s eyes. “Is this what you meant?”

Ann sighed, nodding and pulled her down for a kiss. At first it started tentatively and then Ann put her hand at the back of Anne’s head and snaked her tongue into her mouth hungrily. When they had to break for air, Ann breathed out.

“That’s what I taste like…”

“Yes, it is.”

“Is it… pleasing to you?” Ann asked, worried.

She looked into her eyes sincerely, “It is. Very.”

“Is it… like others you’ve had?”

Anne was going to lie and say that she didn’t have any to compare it to, but for some reason she knew Ann knew and she didn’t want to lie to her.

“Very much so, but none as pleasant.” There she did tell a little white lie, if tortured she would admit that Mariana, before she married Charles, had a sweet taste, very similar.

“Really?”

“Yes, really. Did you not enjoy it?”

“It’s different… but not unpleasant. A little… oysterish?”

“A little yes, but you also have a sweet liquor, almost honeylike in quality.”

Ann smiled and pulled Anne down into another kiss. What she just said was so sweet, she had to reward her. She put her hands firmly on Anne’s shoulders and pulled her in closer, wanting her whole weight on her.

“I’ll crush you.” Anne protested.

Ann pulled back and looked at her sincerely, “Believe me to be delicate, but not so much so that I’ll break if you lay yourself upon me.”

Anne had to give it to this woman, she held no pretense nor hid her wants and desires. She wondered briefly, how many others had this opportunity with her. Then stopped that line of thinking as it was making her worry that she wouldn’t be enough.

As she kissed the woman beneath her, she also felt her lower half start to squirm and try to get more friction on her core. Smiling as she kissed her, she reached down between them and slid her hand in at the apex of her thighs, feeling her wetness again, another gasp from Ann made her heart skip a beat and she remarked that this woman could possibly kill her today. She felt like she wouldn’t be able to get enough of those gasps and groans. Pulling back and holding herself up on one arm she looked down as she slipped her fingers through her folds, mesmerized by the sound the slick flesh was making while being prodded by her digits. It was music to her ears.

“Always so ready… so responsive.”

“I’ve never been this… desirous before. I mean-”

“You don’t have to tell me of your past, but I won’t judge you if you did.”

“I don’t like to think about it.”

Anne understood immediately what she was going to say and while she was mad and wanted to find the blaggard to horsewhip him, she also wanted to do what Ann wanted. “Then let’s say nothing and make some new, better memories for you.” Anne smiled and nodded at her.

“Yes…” Breathed out, happy at that sentiment.

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.” Ann sighed out and pushed her lower half towards Anne’s fingers.

Anne pulled back slightly and put a fingertip at her opening. She looked into Ann’s eyes and waited for the reply.

“Yes.” Ann said, smiling and silently thanking her for the opportunity to say no if she wanted.

Anne smiled, satisfied with the answer and pushed her finger in slowly, letting Ann adjust to the intruding digit. Her hole was tight, warm and very wet, she quickly added another finger, and waited again, just in case it was too much.

“Ohhhhh, fuuuuuuck…” Ann sighed out, her breath hitching in her throat. The sensations she was feeling, were nothing she had ever felt before. She had been worried that if she were in this position again, where someone was about to enter her, that she would have panicked and not been able to go through with it, but she found that this experience was the very opposite and she was only too happy to have this happening. “Yesssssss…”

Anne was surprised at the word she heard, but her heart soared, she was very pleased at the reaction from Ann and she was anxious to get on with the next part. Fitting her hips in behind her hand she fell more forward, onto the blonde woman, who immediately put her arms around her in an embrace and locked her ankles behind her posterior, pulling her in closer. She waited a few more moments then she started pushing her hips, grinding into Ann, she knew when she got going she’d have to break the lock on her ankles and didn’t want to upset her, but she also knew by that time she would hopefully be in the throes of her first or second orgasm. She placed her thumb on her clit and elicited a moan from Ann that spurred her on and had her pushing into her harder, trying to chase those moans and groans. Sweat was starting to bead at her temples and hairline as she continued to piston her hips in behind her hand, she redoubled her efforts as the blonde woman started to really vocalize her pleasure and instructions, interspersed with that were words of love and Anne’s name.

“It’s… it’s going to… happen again… you’re going to make me… do it…”

“Let it go, my sweet, I’m here for you.”

As Anne was rutting into her with such force that her voice was catching in her throat each time she thrusted, finally it did happen, something in her broke, harder than before when Anne was licking her, she cried out and dug her nails into the brunette’s back.

Anne bit her lip at the sharp pain, but the sensation was quickly replaced by desire again and she kept at her task, she increased her pace, knowing there would be at least one more in there, she didn’t feel that Ann was done, especially with the way she was still seeking her hand and not pushing her away.

As the sweat droplets dripped down onto Ann she marveled at Anne’s vigor and speed. Her hole was grasping at her fingers, trying to suck them in deeper, her hips meeting her thrust for thrust and she felt herself like a bird, soaring above the clouds until someone pulled the string and let the air out of her and then she was crying out and shouting and pulling Anne to her riding the pleasure of her violent thrusts.

She willed herself to stay in the moment, though she was getting very sleepy, she bit the inside of her cheek to rouse herself from it. She could feel Anne laying above her still, her left hand out of her hole and cradling her face in both hands, giving her little sweet kisses.

“Anne…” Ann sighed out.

“Yes?”

“Kiss me, please…”

Anne did as she was told and captured the sleepy woman’s lips in a passionate kiss. She had never done it so well before, maybe once with Mariana and then again with Maria Barlow, but this time the pleasure she felt from it and the love she felt from Ann gave her almost equal pleasure and soon after Ann’s second crisis coming to a head, she was also riding her own wave to a mind-blowing orgasm. She was still coming down from the high when Ann asked for a kiss.

 When they came up for air, Ann looked into her face and plainly stated, “I love you.”

Anne’s eyes went wide, that was the last thing she thought she’d hear. It wasn’t unwelcome, but she wished she could do better for this woman, she wished she still had Shibden. She wished she didn’t have to get back to America.

“That worries you?” Ann asked, noting the look on her face.

“No…”

“Then why the furrowed brow, my love?” She said, smoothing her thumb over the spot between her eyebrows.

“I worry about tomorrow, you go back to being my employer, I go back to taking care of the horses, and your back…”

“You come stay in my bed tomorrow night.”

Anne chuckled, and said, “Your brother comes back from London, your aunts, uncles and cousins come to visit… the world comes in to view.”

“All of those people and the world may come, but only you and I come in here.”

Anne laughed, she wondered whether or not Ann knew the double meaning in that sentence.

As if she read her thoughts, Ann smirked and said, “I told you, I’ve read some books that make me worldly.”

“Not too worldly, I trust. Though there was a word I should spank your bottom for.” Anne squinted but then leaned down and captured her lips in a heart melting kiss.

They settled into a comfortable position, with Anne pulling the duvet over them and kissing the top of Ann’s head as she could tell the blonde woman was about to succumb to the sleep she had been fighting after the second orgasm. Well, since the first really.

She formulated a new plan as she waited for sleep to come for her too.

That morning, Anne woke up disoriented, she didn’t quite remember where she was at first. She looked around and took a deep breath, Ann’s perfume and sex permeated her nostrils. A delicious feeling started in her loins and she stretched out in the bed. Feeling her muscles strain and her neck and back pop with satisfaction.

The door handle moved and soon Ann was carefully walking into the room with something in front of her. It was a tray, Anne hopped out of bed and lit the candle quickly, lighting the way for her.

“Thank you… this was a little hard to carry but I managed.” Ann said, quickly putting the tray on the bed.

“What’s this?” She looked down at the tray, there was bread, cheese, strawberries, oranges, small biscuits that looked like they had chocolates in the middle of them and a flower arrangement in a vase. On the opposite side there was a bottle of wine and two glasses.

“I thought we could have some breakfast in bed before you had to leave for the day. I know you’d want to get back before everyone else gets up.”

“What time is it?” She asked, looking around for her waistcoat, which she noticed Ann was wearing. She smiled.  Ann took the pocket watch out of the pocket.

“Four.”

“We have some time then.” She said, sitting down on the bed and taking an orange and a linen napkin off the tray. She lay back, on the pillows and proceeded to watch Ann, seemingly model her clothes for her.

“I wanted to try and see what it was like… do you like it?”

“Little big, but you know… my clothes actually look better on you, then they do on me.” She held out her hand to her. “Honestly though,” She said, pulling her into her on the bed, “…I prefer you sans clothes…”

“Au naturel, eh?”

“Mm.” She nodded and smiled.

“Like you are right now.” Ann said, looking at her naked form.

“Mmhmm.” Anne said, biting into an orange slice, she wasn’t prepared for how juicy it was and the juice ran down her chin and dripped into the hollow of her neck.

Ann smiled and leaned forward, licking the juice from her neck, spending some time to nip and bite at the skin, then licking the area. Anne sighed out. She couldn’t really remember the last time she let anyone do this to her. She always preferred to be the aggressor, the one giving the pleasure. This petite blonde woman was breaking down some of those walls. Soothing some of those fears.

As she made her way up to her chin and then her mouth, Ann put an orange slice into her mouth, leaving half of it sticking out and leaned in, offering it to Anne who took it between her lips, then bit down and kissed the blonde woman with abandon as the juices ran from their mouths.

They managed to not knock over the tray as they each explored one another’s bodies, silently wishing the world outside would just go away. They didn’t get too lost in what they were doing, just a little hello to each other, kissing and exploring the taste of each other’s skin on their tongues.

Anne sat back up when she heard the bottle fall over on the tray, knocking a glass to the floor which. “It didn’t break. That’s a good job. Come on, Miss-”

“Don’t you dare call me Miss Walker when we’re alone…”

“What shall I call you?”

“Whatever your heart desires, my love.”

Anne smiled deeply at that endearment. “Well, there’s my dear, my sweet, my heart, my sweetheart…”

“My sweetdearheart…” Ann chuckled.

“Precisely. My sweetdearheart, let’s eat some of the delightful victuals that you have prepared with thine own two hands.”

“I’ve gotten everything that didn’t need to be cooked, I didn’t want to wake anyone trying to light the stove.”

“Good notion, no one needed to see you parading around in my clothes.”

“I wish…”

“I know…” Anne said, nodding. She could tell what she was thinking because she was thinking the same thing. She wished they could live their lives as they wanted to live them. If she still had Shibden there would be a chance of doing just that, but Ann didn’t have Crow Nest at her disposal and Anne didn’t have two sovereigns to her name. At least not here in England.

They finished their breakfast in silence, thinking of plans to be made.

*****

Later that morning, Anne tended to Onyx, making sure he was okay from the excitement of earlier that week, then tended to Raven, and with Alf’s help, saw to the other horses.

James came with a note.

She opened it and smiled, realizing they were looking at her, she recovered and said, “Thank you, James.”

“Miss Walker requires an answer.”

“Tell her I’ll be up at the regular time.” She nodded and he answered with his own. She then looked at her helper, “Alf? Are you okay here? I have to go into Halifax before I tend to my other duties for Miss Walker.”

“Fine, Miss… er… Lister. Tomorrow, or sometime, would you show me how you jumped on the horse’s back while he was running past?”

 She smiled at him and ruffled his hair.

“I hope I never have to do that again as long as I live. I almost broke my neck, as he threw me on the Leeds Road. Don’t ever tell another living soul that, Alf. I’m trusting you.” She pointed at him.

“My lips are sealed.”

She nodded her head and went to her room to make herself ready to go into Halifax.

*****

As she went into Ann’s room that night, she was almost bowled over as Ann ran up to her and kissed her soundly on the mouth.

“What’s all this?” Anne said, as the kiss broke and she held her, looking into her eyes.

“I had a nap earlier and dreamt of you all throughout, we were…” Ann looked a little embarrassed. “I had asked that you come to me earlier.”

“I had to go into Halifax. I had to deliver a letter and I bought some things for you.”

“For me? Anne, you didn’t have to buy anything for me…”

“It’s nothing really, honestly, here.” She said, giving her the two small packages she had hidden behind her back.

Ann took them from her and sat on her bench in front of the bed. “You really shouldn’t have.”

Anne tilted her head to the side and smiled, “I wish I could do more.”

Ann opened the first package, “Ooh, these look wonderful…”

“Sweets for my sweet…dearheart.” They both laughed at that.

“Chocolate hearts… how did you know I love chocolate.”

“Your eyes light up every time you see it.”

“It’s my weakness.” She looked at Anne and said sincerely. “Well, that and you… if you were dipped in chocolate, you’d never be able to get me off of you.”

Anne’s jaw dropped, but she recovered and smiled. “You are something, Miss… sweetdearheart.” She saved herself a look.

“This one feels like a book. Probably some sonnets or something, right? You strike me as the complete romantic type.”

“I guess I’m predictable.” She said, pouting.

Ann opened it, it wasn’t a book, it was a box. She opened it and gasped.

“Anne…” She said, stunned at what she held in her hands. “This must have cost you all your savings.”

“I said, it was nothing.”

“But… you shouldn’t be buying me things.”

“If I can’t buy you things, I’ll feel like some kind of kept woman. If this is going to work, for me… we need to be more equal.”

“And what if I love bossing you around?”

“I know you do, and you shall, but in your heart, I think you know who’s the boss here, don’t you?”

“Of course,” Ann nodded promptly, holding her arms out to the sides and said, emphatically, “Me.”

Anne laughed.

Ann lifted the heart shaped pendant out of the box. “It’s so beautiful… delicate. I love it…”

It was gold, small but intricately etched with swirls in rose gold. The silk ribbon was ivory colored with an onyx clasp at the back.

“Would you put it on for me?” Ann asked, holding it out for her.

“Certainly.” She said, taking it from her and then standing behind her to put it on.

“I had a ruby pendant like it-”

“I remember… you wore it outside of your shirt. It was exquisite…”

Anne was surprised she remembered that, they had only met a few times at people’s houses and then once or twice she made a call at Shibden with her family.

“Had to sell it to pay off some debts.”

“I wish I could make that all right… buy Shibden back for you…”

“We’ll leave it up to providence. See what God has in store for me in the future.”

“If you bought all this for me, that means you won’t have enough for a ticket to go back to America.”

“I still have some money left.”

“Please… don’t leave me…” It came out of Ann before she could stop her words, “Not again.”

Anne bent down and kissed her neck after fixing the clasp in place.

“Again?” She inquired, whispering in her ear.

“I don’t say it to scold, just… it was years ago, you made an appointment with me for an excursion. I thought it all settled, but then you didn’t turn up. Then a few months later, I heard you were bound for America.”

Anne was shocked, she remembered the date she had made, but she didn’t remember that it was with Ann Walker. She couldn’t be blamed for that really; she was in turmoil over Shibden. It was a few days after she met with her and made that date, that her lawyers came to her with the lawsuit that was being filed against her for the balance of the mortgages on her ancestral home.

Anne moved to kneel in front of her, taking her hand in hers, she put the other one on top of it and looked up into her eyes.

“I’m sorry… I know that’s probably not enough to quell that hurt all those years ago, but it was shortly after that, I lost-”

“You don’t have to explain… I realize now what kept you. It’s… I lost you then… I don’t want to lose you a second time. I mean…” She stopped and looked worried.

“What is it, Ann?”

“Couldn’t we maybe… if you need to get back there… couldn’t I say I’m going to travel for my health and take you with me since you know the land already?”

Anne’s eyes went wide. “You’d… you would do that for me?”

Ann squeezed her hands and leaned down closer to her, looking into her eyes sincerely. “I would do anything for you.” She said, with such conviction Anne couldn’t have thought it a frivolous gesture.

Grinning from ear to ear, Anne leaned in and kissed her gratefully.

“I know we have to act a certain way around people, in the outside world Anne, but believe me when I tell you, you don’t have to spend money on me for me to think of you as my equal. Most times you are my better. You’re so wise and thoughtful, brave and considerate. I don’t know what I would have done without you the past couple of weeks. Probably still be in a coma.” She added, sadly.

Anne picked up her hand and kissed it. She put it to her face and Ann cupped her cheek with it, she turned her mouth and put a kiss on the palm.

“I will endeavor to be worthy of your love, Miss Walker…”

“Anne, I told you…”

Anne winked. “I just like to hear your scolding nature.”

“Well, Lister… if you want me that way, sit on the bed whilst I make you stay absolutely still and show you my tantalising wares.”

Anne smiled and shook her head. This was going to be an interesting life she was going to be leading with Ann, but she was happy she didn’t just buy that ticket and leave like she had originally planned.

Later that night, as Ann rode three fingers of Anne’s right hand while sitting astride her in a chair, galloping towards her third orgasm of the night, the Mistress of Crow Nest wondered if her voice was heard in the heavens, because God certainly had heard her prayers.

The End.

 

Or is it?