A Death in Sheffield
“Hair of the dog,” Artemis suggested. “I heartily recommend it.”
“Instead, I think I need something to eat.” Droughm lifted a tendril and smoothed it behind her ear as she leaned over him in the bed.
“And I need something to wear.”
He ran his hand over her splint. “Did I mangle your arm last night?”
“Only slightly; nothing to signify.”
He chuckled, and she chuckled, and soon they were both laughing as he pulled her carefully against him and caressed her back. His hair was disheveled, and his unkempt beard completely covered his chin and throat, but she thought he was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
“My God; I am starving, and you are beautiful. It is a dilemma.”
“Eat,” she suggested. “You will need to muster your strength for more mangling.”
“I’m afraid we cannot stay here more than a day.” His voice held real regret as he pulled on a lock of hair so that she was compelled to bring her face to his. “I must go lay claim to your silver mines.”
“I see how it is,” she murmured into his throat. “Now that you’ve had your way with me.”
He lay back to gaze at her, propping an arm behind his head. “More like you with me, from what I can recall—and that was excellent whisky, by the way; I must lay a case away at Somerhurst.”
Tracing a finger on his chest, she asked, “Where exactly is Somerhurst?”
He laughed. “Derbyshire—near Lambton.”
“Ah,” she replied, having no clue.
But he was on to practical matters, planning the day. “I should reconnoiter a bit, to verify we haven’t been followed. Then I’d like to find a doctor, so that you may be examined before we travel to Sheffield—we need to make certain the bone is well-set.”
“Are we no longer in hiding?” It had occurred to her that the two men from last night had a very fine story to tell.
“No. Now that we are wed, there is little point in seizing you—or even me, for that matter.”
Knitting her brow, she realized, “Wentworth is the heir to the mines, now, until we have children.”
He nodded. “Wentworth is the heir, and he is safely stowed away.”
The simple wedding ceremony in the barn had changed everything—small wonder that the enemy had tried so hard to prevent it. “So now we march into Sheffield and stake out our position, big as life?”
“A direct foray.” Thinking, he pulled his fingers through her hair, and watched it fall back on his chest. “I am of two minds—some very unpleasant people will no doubt descend on Sheffield, but I do not want you out of my sight; I learned my lesson in Carlisle.”
“I will stay with you, or know the reason why,” she warned in a tone that brooked no argument. She ran her hand across his chest, feeling the hair spring up beneath her palm.
“Breakfast can wait,” he decided, and pulled her atop him.
After another session of lovemaking—this time sober—Artemis lay in the bed and watched Droughm pull on his boots as he prepared to go forth on his errands. “I imagine I’ll be away for an hour or more, depending on the nearest doctor. You should be safe; I’ll go by the barn to caution the two from last night, and no one else knows you are here—don’t answer the door.”
“I don’t have any clothes,” she pointed out. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to.”
He leaned over her to kiss her, briefly. “I’ll bring the saddlebags with me on my return. See if you can sleep, in the meantime—you should rest.”
“I will; I need to muster my strength for when you’ve mustered your strength.”
“Artemis,” he protested, unable to suppress a smile. “You are mighty demanding—think of your poor arm.”
“I am a very hardy Countess, and I am dedicated to my one task.”
“Rest,” he advised, as he left to search down the stairs for his coat, “and then we shall see.”
Artemis did indeed doze for a time—she normally slept on her stomach, and so it was difficult to find a comfortable position, with the splint in the way—and then she lay abed, watching the shadows on the walls until she was heartily bored, and decided to go investigate the pantry. Wrapping the quilt around her, she padded in her bare feet to the kitchen, where she stood on tiptoe to examine the offerings in the cupboards.
“Well, glory be to God.”
Startled, Artemis turned to confront a plump, middle-aged woman, standing at the back door and gazing at her in astonishment. The woman untied her straw bonnet, and approached to place it on the kitchen table. “Pray tell me your name, lass, and how you brought about this particular miracle.”
Smiling, Artemis shook her head. “I’m afraid you misconstrue the situation, ma’am; your brother is not at home, but he very kindly allowed my husband and me to stay here last night.”
The woman threw back her head and laughed heartily. “Ah well—it was too much to be hoped for, a pretty little thing like you. I am Mrs. Tittle, and I’ll be hearin’ how you came to be here, and how my curtain came to be wrapped ʼround your neck.”
Taking a seat, Artemis wound her feet around the kitchen stool and described last night’s wedding whilst the woman bustled about the kitchen, preparing a meal of stew and bread. “It was such a stroke of luck—Mr. MacLeod set my arm, and then your brother married us, all in a trice.”
“And what brought you to such straits, if I may be askin’?” Mrs. Tittle chopped the carrots, and allowed her thoughtful gaze to rest upon Artemis for a moment.
“I am not of age in England.” This much was apparent, and so Artemis thought it did no harm to disclose.
Slicing her turnips with quick precision, the woman cocked an eyebrow at her. “And your parents did not approve, I s’pose?”
“My parents are no longer alive, and my guardianship is unclear—the Court of Chancery is sorting it out, and it is all very complicated.”
The woman shook her head philosophically, gathering up the vegetables and dumping them into the cast-iron pot. “And he couldn’t wait, I suppose. Ah, youth.”
Artemis hid a smile. “He was indeed eager to be wed.”
With both hands, Mrs. Tittle lifted the heavy pot by the handle, and then hung it on the hook in the hearth. “What’s done is done. Where is this husband of yorn?”
“He is searching for a physician, your own being out of town. He wants to be certain my arm is well-set—no offense to Mr. MacLeod—”
The other made a derisive sound. “Of course he wants to be certain; by the looks of ye, he managed to do his duty last night despite that contraption on your arm.”
Artemis’ eyes twinkled. “Yes, ma’am. It was our wedding night, and so it seemed important to make the effort.”
“For the men folk, it always is.” The woman cast a shrewd look at her guest. “If ye don’t mind plain speakin’, now’s the time to ask any questions ye may have, being as yer mam is no longer with us. I been married over twenty years to Tittle, and there’s little enough that I don’t know about men and their doings.” Taking a handful of flour from the bin, she spread it on the table. “Best that ye know what to expect.”
Not one to shrink, Artemis found she did indeed have several questions, and so passed a very interesting hour discussing her difficulties with Mrs. Tittle whilst the bread baked and the stew simmered.
“’Twill ease, over time,” the woman assured her. “And a bit o’ warm oil will help—that, and havin’ the boy slow down, and pay some attention to what is best pleasin’ to you.”
“He does try to please me,” Artemis defended, embarrassed. “But then I worry that I am not pleasing him, and it builds from there.”
Wiping her hands on her apron, Mrs. Tittle addressed her with a twinkle. “Here’s the secret, lass, and hark it; it takes remarkably little to please a man—only good food, and a willingness in the bedroom.”
Artemis had to laugh. “You sound remarkably like a cook I know.”
“’Tis the simple truth,” the other insisted, giving the pot a stir. “And it’s all you’ll need to know—he’ll be happy as long as you lay yerself down, and there is no need to fret over it.”
Satisfied with the stew, the woman glanced up at her. “I’ll brew up a pot of tea while you dress yerself; my brother will show up soon for his supper, and he’ll swallow his tongue if yer here with nary a stitch on.”
“I’m afraid I have no clothes at hand,” Artemis confessed. At the other’s astonishment, she added, “It’s rather a long story.”
“It is apparent to me,” the other pronounced with a great deal of emphasis, “that neither one of you young ʼuns is possessed of a lick of sense.”
“You may have the right of it,” Artemis agreed in a meek tone.