The Duchess and the Highwayman
By Beverley Oakley
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He’d wanted to quiz Phoebe in greater detail but she was clearly shocked by the ordeal and besides, there’d not been the privacy he required. As he lowered himself into the little wooden chair that was surely too spindly to support a man of the miller’s girth, he mused upon relations between Phoebe and Wentworth. Had he even noticed his lover’s maid? Wentworth was a man who took advantage where he could so Hugh would have to ask the question. Yet several men with whom he’d shared an ale at the local tavern had suggested the local lady of the manor and her lover had eyes only for one another. The Blinley Manor servants said Wentworth was renowned for incarcerating himself in his lover’s salon for days at a time, an observation that suggested he had little interest in the underlings of his household. Hugh pushed open the casement window and stared at the starry sky above. Far in the distance he could see Blinley Manor, a single twinkling light burning in the distance. He felt foolish now, imagining he could have forced Wentworth out of his carriage at pistol point in order to gain the satisfaction he needed. The truth was that red hot fury had fuelled his wild ride to this part of the world the moment Ada had reluctantly given her brother the name he’d hounded her to reveal. But with Phoebe as his new ally, a far more sophisticated and effective plan was going to win the day. One that would ensure justice for Hugh’s sister without Hugh having to dirty his hands. A sound in the bushes below caught his ear. Instantly he was on the alert, tensing as he withdrew his head and snuffed out the candle while he peered into the darkness. With a murder having recently occurred up at the manor and Wentworth no doubt on the run, who knew what characters were about? Quietly, Hugh slipped into the corridor and exited through the scullery and into the kitchen garden. He allowed himself a moment to get used to the darkness before moving silently around the ivy clad walls, glad of his dark clothing. When he reached the casement of the front parlour he rested the back of his head against the panes and strained his eyes for a sign of movement in the bushes the bordered the grounds. But only the soft sighing of the breeze through the leaves emitted any sound. He moved forward to begin an investigation deeper into the garden when the muted splash of water within reminded him that just inside, Phoebe was having her bath. He turned, and felt a jolt of shock and something he was immediately unable to identify as through the diamond-paned windows he took in the startlingly erotic sight of a young woman with slender, milky limbs and long ripples of golden-brown hair standing in a bath rub, reaching down to soap her thighs. Her face was no longer streaked with mud and as she raised her chin Hugh felt guilt and fascination in equal measure; topped with a large degree of astonishment. The girl was a beauty. He turned away, uncomfortably conscious that his hatred of Wentworth stemmed from that man’s disregard for the dignity of a woman. Hugh did not want to be compared. But as he took a step back towards the house he felt softness beneath his feet and then the startled shriek of Mrs Within’s deaf and blind cat which flew at him with bared claws. His last glimpse before he hurried back into the safety of indoors was confirmation that Phoebe’s body was indeed goddess-like perfection, her waist tiny, her breasts full and tipped with two tiny pink rosebud nipples. Trying not to deny the effect of such a sight, he closed the door to the outside behind him and took the stairs, two at a time, to his room.