By Beverley Oakley
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“Sir, your sister’s just being admitted through the front door. I wanted to warn you now so’s you could get this… piece out of her way.” She raked Phoebe with narrowed eyes and curled lip.
“Where am I to go, sir? Downstairs?”
Guilt surged through him. If he didn’t know better she could pass for a lady except for the ghastly gown, another of the miller’s wives’ which had been retrieved from an old trunk. Clearly it was not even one that she wore any longer for even he could see the fashion was years out of date. “You can go and find yourself something fitting to wear, Phoebe.” He tried to modulate his tone so as to inflame neither Phoebe nor Mrs Withins though he knew that was an impossible task. The housekeeper looked like a trussed up turkey growing even more purple in the face as Phoebe looked smugly between them.
“How very kind, sir? So I might wear it to take tea with your sister?”
“No!” He’d not meant to sound so panicked.
She, clearly, didn’t take kindly to it for with a toss of her head she picked up her thick, cumbersome skirts and swept to the door. “I must be quick if I’m to avoid embarrassing you, sir, however I cannot do your bidding on thin air.”
Embarrassed, Hugh thought quickly. “That’ll be all, Mrs Withins. Please see my sister into the parlour. Phoebe, come with me now.” He led her hurriedly down a short corridor to the room where the miller did his book work, closing the door behind him. “How much do you want, Phoebe?” When he glanced up he was nearly scorched by her fulminating look.
“I am not a… whore!” she hissed.
“Five minutes ago you were taking your pleasure, despite my protests that the timing could be better-”
“I did not force you, Phoebe. And you were more than ready for me.”
“And immediately you’d had your pleasure you banished me downstairs because I’m not good enough to see your sister and then ask me what payment I require.”
“You’re being too sensitive, Phoebe-”
She cut him off. “Half a crown will do for the moment to amuse me with bibs and bobs. I shall see what else I need in the way of suitable attire and then you can arrange payment later.”
“Oh, so you’re well accustomed to transactions like this, yet you speak to me as if I’ve insulted you.” Hugh wasn’t sure if he was more needled by her accusations of insensitivity on his part or the fact that Phoebe appeared used to having protectors shell out money for her charms. He’d been going to reassure her before Mrs Withins entered the room of his honourable intentions with regard to setting her up nicely. He wanted her much more than he wanted a wife and Phoebe, with her looks and prowess in the bedroom department would be quick to look elsewhere unless Hugh got himself in order.
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