21. Staff and Others

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Chloe mumbled and stirred, but she did not wake when Valerie gently lifted her from their laps and pulled her to her chest. Lorne rose from the chesterfield and stood massaging his thigh. "Leg's asleep."

"You should have said something earlier."

"She looked too comfortable to disturb."

"Yeah. Done that." Valerie gazed up at Lorne as her mind wandered. Such a soft sweetie. So accepting. Gentle, considerate and caring. So different from his corporate persona. Such a...

"You look far away, Valerie."

"Just thinking about how much I love you."

"How much?"

"There are no words to quantify."

"Yeah. We're beyond words, aren't we." He shook his leg and took a few limping steps to get it back into form, then he nodded toward the chesterfield. "I'll go get bedding for this while you wake her and show her to the loo. It's the door on the right, just past the stairs."

Lorne was sorting through the linen cupboard in his bedroom when he heard a truncated scream. He rushed into the hall to see Valerie with her arms around Chloe as they stared at a woman in the lower entry doorway. "Good evening, Mrs Wilkins. These are the two I told you would be moving in. Valerie and Chloe, this is Mrs Wilkins, our housekeeper."

"Oh, God! You scared the living daylights out of me."

"As you did me. You should have told me they'd be with us tonight, Sir. I would have been back earlier to prepare."

"Yeah, I should have." Lorne ran his fingers through his hair. "It seems our quick tour evolved much further than I had anticipated."

Mrs Wilkins smiled as she assessed Valerie and Chloe. "What may I do to help them settle in, Sir?"

"While you're still in your coat, you could take Chianti out for her evening squat. We'll make a bed for Chloe on the chesterfield."

Chianti's pompom tail sprung into action at the mention of her name, and once Mrs Wilkins had left, Valerie said, "I wish you had told us she lives in. It would have saved the wear and tear on my heart."

"I had assumed you understood she does when I mentioned her earlier." He pointed along the hallway. "Her room is the one off the garden at the bottom of the back stairs."

"Yeah, I didn't question. Makes sense if she looks after Chianti." Valerie noticed Chloe's pleading eyes and fidgeting. "It's the first door on the right, Sweetheart. Don't forget to wash your hands."

Twenty minutes later, after Chloe had been tucked in and they had bid goodnight to Mrs Wilkins, Valerie and Lorne lay on his bed, conjoined and gently shifting their hips. "I've missed this." He laughed. "God! How crazy is that? It's been only twelve hours, and until two days ago, my experience had been nothing beyond handing relief to erotic thoughts. You're addicting."

"Yeah, as are — uhnnn." She interrupted with a moan. "Oh, God! Do that again."

"Do what?"

"The deep. I didn't realise I could feel all the way in there." She moaned again. "That's it. Just push and — oh, Fuuu!"

<><><>

Shortly past eight thirty on Tuesday morning, while Valerie, Lorne and Chloe sat at the kitchen island enjoying breakfast, Valerie replied, "No, one bedroom only. Our cook is our nanny's husband, so you can keep your office. Mr Forbes is currently caretaking Chester Square for us."

Lorne nodded. "It might still be a good idea to move my office up to the study, though. Allow the staff to have the entire lower floor."

"Like in the shows and books?" Chloe asked. "Like Downton Abbey?"

"Somewhat, Sweetheart. But that story was set on a country estate, not in the city. This is much more like Upstairs, Downstairs, which was set in Eaton Square."

"Eaton Square? The one next to our old home?"

Lorne smiled at her. "Yes, this is how most of the houses were built in this area a century or two or three ago. The kitchen, laundry, utilities and staff were downstairs, and the family lived upstairs."

"So, we'll be a family, then?"

"If you and your mother want us to be, then yes, we'll be a family."

Valerie's heart sped as she listened to Lorne, then she said, "We can pretend for the moment, Sweetheart. We need to see if that is what we all want." I can't believe I'm saying this. Of course, it's what I want. And Chloe. But does he? Infatuation does strange things, and he may —

"You look far away again, Valerie."

"Thinking." She sighed. "Other than six brief talks, we've known each other just short of three days."

"I feel as if our souls have known each other forever."

"Oh, God! You do that so often."

"Do what?"

"Make my heart go crazy."

"That's good, isn't it, Mummy? That book talked about an increased heart rate being one of the signs of interest."

Lorne chuckled as he gazed into Valerie's eyes. "I'll leave you two to discuss details." He glanced at his watch. "I must get my bag; Jason should be here any minute now."

A short while later, Valerie and Lorne hugged and kissed at the door. "Jason will be back within the hour to take you to Harrods." He paused and turned on the sidewalk. "Oh, and in case you've not noticed, I'm head over heels in love with you."

Valerie's insides churned while she watched him walk to the car, then disappear from view when Jason closed the door. Oh, God, I've got it bad. She chuckled to herself. No, I've got it good.

Half an hour later, Mrs Wilkins answered the door and welcomed Mrs Forbes, taking one of the suitcases and showing her along the hall to Lorne's bedroom door and pausing to knock. Valerie, draped in an oversized bathrobe, opened the door and said, "Come in. Thank you for doing this, Grace."

After Valerie had made formal introductions, she said to Grace, "Once we've settled in, this room will be for you and George. It will probably be two or three days before we're ready for that."

Grace nodded as she assessed the space, then she chuckled at Chloe. "You look as if that gown has swallowed you up. I brought lots of clothes for you."

"And my computer?"

"Yes, and your school books."

Chloe pouted. "You didn't have to bring those. I learn more interesting stuff on the internet."

"We've had this discussion before, Sweetheart. The internet is for after your schoolwork is done." Valerie lifted a plait of Chloe's hair. "But now, we need to finish drying and arranging this — and mine. We don't want to keep Jason waiting."

Shortly past ten, after being assisted out of the Bentley next to Harrods' central Hans Crescent entrance, Valerie said to Jason, "We should be less than an hour."

"No need to rush, Miss Redburn. Mr Benton doesn't need me until two."

"Very well. But we don't need long at all." She offered her arm to Chloe, and they had just started toward the entrance when a question caused her to turn.

"Miss Redburn?"

A flash blinded her as she looked toward the voice. "What will you do about the photos in The Sun?"

Another voice asked, "What about Twitter?"

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