11. The Red One

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I had planned to spend the rest of the day talking with the men who oversaw the farming and forestry end of things, but I felt I might not be able to concentrate on that either and end up making an even greater fool of myself than I felt I already had done. Or at least, a greater fool than I already felt myself to be.

No, the best way to clear my head of James was to leave the premises entirely and do something active! Our carpentry workshop was on the edge of the village. I would make a surprise visit and then....well, I didn't know what then. Something that didn't include thinking about James every two minutes.

Yes, that would be berries.

Spring had just started to creep across our corner of Southern England, and the smell of budding shrubs, trees, grass and flowers sweetened the air as I pedalled on one of our spare bikes down the long drive to the front gates. There was only the faintest of chills in the air. Small birds darted in and out of the trees searching for insects. I stepped hard into the pedals, darting and flying right along with them.

It felt good to be outdoors, whizzing along at a fair clip, and working up a decent sweat. I'd outgrown Hercules, my pony, years ago but cycling often did remind me of all the hours I'd spend cantering all over the estate as a girl.

The herb greenhouses were just coming into view as I continued to pump along.

Sykes had his men out with trowels and netting. A few of them lifted their heads and waved as I shot past. I waved back, and breathed in the fragrant smells of that part of the road before racing on.

The glassed greenhouses had been built on Father's initiative back in '15 when things had become tight. Medicinal herbs were in extreme demand at that point, as we'd been relying entirely on imports from Germany. When the war broke out, Britain was left scrounging around for basic medicines overnight and people took to scavenging over hill and dale to find the herbs we desperately needed.

As we soon found out, the medicinal ones were much harder to cultivate than culinary herbs, but we managed a scrounge enough of our own and we were able to grow a fair amount en masse to sell for the war effort. In the end, that brought in the revenue that we would desperately need to keep the Hutch programme going.

That I would desperately need, to be more exact. It was one of the few things I could genuinely thank Father for having done.

Cloud Hill and the Hutch weren't based on herbs alone, naturally. There was also the agricultural end of things. Corn, wheat, rye and an assortment of vegetables made up another of our legs.

Two weeks ago, Tomkins, our sowing and reaping expert, had given the all clear for ground temperature and had informed us in his raspy, mustard-gas damaged voice that we could start turning the fields and sowing the first crop immediately. And thank goodness for that. We need to get the men out of their winter slumber and into the fields, sharpish.

I'd already written a note for Cullen to draw up the schedule and list of groups assigned to each task. I just hoped I'd remembered to give it to him.

Besides the plants, we still had a few goats and a good number of sheep, who's milk and wool still came very much in handy. I'd failed at all of my cheese making experiments, sometimes laughably, but during the war, we used almost half of our own yarn production knitting up socks and scarves for the men at the front.

I could remember evening after evening when Agatha, myself and a handful of local women sat among piles of yarn skeins, listening to phonograph records and chatting while knitting. . .

Oh, no.

The red scarf around James' neck. That dirty, ragged scarf. I'd told him not to lose it.

My feet dropped from the peddles and I coasted for a little bit before coming to a halt, breathing heavily and staring at the twin pillars topped with metal dragons marking the front gates of the estate.

It couldn't be the same one, could it? Surely, it was some other scarf and not the one that....

I was standing in one of the unused upstairs bedrooms, three scarves dangling from my hand. One blue, one green. . .one red.

James was half-sitting, half-laying on the bed, propped up with pillows and smiling at me. The sun poured in through the windows and we had an hour in private before we would have to sneak back to where we were supposed to be, each one of us going a separate way to throw off suspicion. That was all part of the thrill.

"Which one? All the lads get a Cloud Hill scarf, which color shall it be, Lieutenant Davis?"

James scratched his chin and pretended to ponder the choice, screwing up his face and cocking his head this way and that. "Hmm, certainly all of them have their qualities. The blue one is clearly dignified and will lend an air of class to my suits when I dine at the Ritz. The green is cheery and will enliven the spirits. . ."

I was giggling and could hardly keep a straight face.

". . .but then the red one! Yes, the red one is certainly a robust . . ." He began to laugh as well. ". . . an attractive color, combining well with any and all uniforms! I believe I shall choose that one! Yes, the red for me, please."

"The red one it is," I said, tossing the other two scarves into a chair. The red scarf I hung about my neck and then started to unbutton my blouse. James' smile changed from one of amusement to one of intense, appreciative observation. When all my clothes had been unfastened and were in a pile on the floor, I wrapped the scarf around myself, knotting it loosely over my breasts, allowing the ends to dangle down in front like a Christmas bow.

"Well, if it's the red one for you, then come and . . . take it," I said.

"I'll take both of them," he whispered, getting up from the bed.

"First this one." Reaching out, he slowly pulled open the knot of the scarf and let it unwrap from around me, before draping it around his own neck. "And then this one," he said gently running his hand through my auburn hair and leaning down to kiss me.

The soft scratchiness of the scarf and the feeling of his gentle, probing lips and thick erection pressing against my stomach caused the most incredible sensations to shudder down the length of my spine and dip between my legs until I couldn't stand up any longer and told him to take me to bed at once.

That afternoon, we'd used that red scarf for every possible delight we could think of. It had been wrapped, stretched, rubbed, bitten and groaned into. It had been laid on, rolled over, pressed between our bodies, knotted, unknotted and used to cover and uncover every possible inch of skin on both of us.

When we'd got back into our clothes again and were leaving, I'd caught him at the door and, gently tugging at the scarf, had said teasingly, "Don't lose it, lieutenant. Your scarf there has just seen more action than most men in a lifetime."

"I won't. I won't ever lose it. I'd rather lose everything else in the world first."

Yes, that's exactly what he'd said.

And it looked as if he'd kept that promise. 

Oh, hell. 

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