Walking into the main room of the hut, with the glowing fire and the aroma of baked bread, drying herbs, and fresh flowers, made Henley feel immediately warm and alive - like he was home. He removed his muddy boots and draped his damp oilskin jacket over one of the hooks in the entryway, alongside Wesley and Dorrington’s tattered ones. The familiar bone china teapot sat on the long, pine table. When he felt its round belly it was warm, so he filled four cups, added a bit of sugar and milk, and set them around the table.
Rosetta was already at work making poultices out of dried comfrey leaves. Mixtures of yarrow, goldenseal, and crushed hawthorne berries simmered on the cookstove, while she encouraged the two exhausted and injured men to remove their dirty clothing down to their knickers so they could bathe and she could tend to their wounds. She knew all too well their wounds went much deeper than she could possibly begin to heal.
Dorrington and Wesley first drank thirstily and devoured the warm bread and marmalade that Rosetta set out on the table. She let the two men eat to their heart’s content before ordering first one, then the other, to her washbasin behind the kitchen. Before long, both men emerged wearing heavy cotton robes and looking spotlessly well groomed. Both had fresh bandages where needed, and Dorrington had a stitch or two above his eye that Rosetta deftly provided for him. Wesley thought how sexy he will look once it healed into a craggy scar. The two men went to sit by the well stoked fire, having moved on from tea to sherry. Rosetta finally took a seat at the table, accepting a glass of sherry from Henley.
“Rosetta, darling,” Henley began. “Please listen to me. You are not my sister.” He paused, waiting for some sort of reaction, but she remained quiet. “Do you hear me, Rosetta? You are not my sister.” He now had the full attention of the two men, but they kept to themselves, allowing Rosetta and Henley their time together. “Randolph told me the full story. I’ll tell you...tell you everything.”
She gazed up at him, her big brown eyes filled with disbelief...and misty love. “Oh, how I’ve missed you, Henley,” she finally said.
“Me too, my darling, but it’s okay, everything is okay.” She looked away.
“It’s been so hard, so terribly hard being here alone with my feelings,” she said, keeping her head downward. “I hated you for being my brother, for falling for you and your mother’s scheme.” She broke off and looked at him again. “I hated you, but loved you, Henley. I felt so hurt, so betrayed, yet somehow I knew deep down that what she said was not true, could not be true.” Tears welled up in her eyes, but then she rallied, shaking off the dour mood. “So tell me, tell me what you know.” She pulled her chair around so she could face him directly, needing to feel as if they were alone in the world. She reached up and circled her arms around Henley’s neck, finding comfort at last. Her eyes were still moist with emotion, his bright and lost in a pool of affection. They kissed, long and tenderly, until their tongues intertwined and their bodies stirred in unison. Then she pulled away.
“Please, let’s talk. I want to know everything.”
“It was Randolph,” Henley began. “If it hadn’t been for Randolph stopping me as I was leaving the breakfast table this morning, who knows how long it would have taken to find out the truth.”
“And the truth is?”
“The truth is, you are not my sister, Rosetta.” He paused. “Apparently your father was a woodcutter who disappeared when hearing of your mother’s pregnancy. Of course she kept the whole affair quiet, not wanting to lose her job. When my parents found out, she was too far along to do much else but help her. Besides they liked her and her sister Lavinia. They had been with our family for years.”
“Lavinia? But that was my mother’s name.”
“Sadly, Rosetta, your mother died in childbirth when delivering you. The mother who raised you, the only mother you knew, was actually your mother’s sister, your aunt Lavinia. She was my mother’s chambermaid, the best one she’d ever had, that is until...” He trailed off.
“Until she and your father fell in love.” Henley looked away, not ashamed but still processing the information. Learning this now, about his father who could no longer defend himself, was a hard pill to swallow. Meanwhile, Wesley and Dorrington remained quiet, mesmerized by the story that unfolded before them.
“Then who was Romney?” Rosetta asked, surprising Henley with the question. “Was he my father or another one of Lavinia’s lovers?”
“It seems Romney was the man who became Lavinia’s lover, and your father, after Lavinia was banished from the estate by my mother.” Henley was pensive. “According to Randolph, who worked at the household during that time and is, in fact, the only person left who knows the true story, said that Father and Lavinia were very much in love. Sad but true, it was the two of them that should have stayed together, not my own parents.” Henley reached for her hands and held them. Their fingers automatically wove together in locked tenderness. “Funny how life is, isn’t it?”
“I wonder if my father, I mean Romney, ever loved my...Lavinia? They certainly seemed to be in love. I have very fond memories of the two of them. They were good parents to me.”
“I imagine they were,” Henley answered sincerely. “Once Lavinia was banished she was given very strict orders never to return to the estate, or to have any contact with the family - our family. I guess Father was ordered to do the same - to forget her - but he had one condition.” Rosetta listened intently. “Father insisted a house be built for Lavinia, and an allowance be given so the two of you would be well provided for. This was all very hush hush, and of course Mother didn’t approve, but she had no choice. She had to go along with it if he agreed never to see her again.” Rosetta detected a little sadness in his voice. “It sounds like Lavinia went on to create a rather interesting and comfortable life for you both,” Henley continued. “Whereas my father could never forget her. She was, according to Randolph, the love of his life.”
“It’s no wonder Edith despises me so, and yet she continues to use me for my treatments and advice. How odd.” Rosetta shook her head.
“Actually not really. Randolph said Edith suffered not only from discovering her husband’s love affair, but was also deeply affected by the loss of her chambermaid, Lavinia. You see, the two had gotten along like sisters, which I do remember hearing about when I was young. Come to think of it, now I know why later, Mother would leave the room whenever the subject of Lavinia arose.” He laughed. “Oh, Mother,” he said. “She had extramarital love affairs most of their early years together. Everybody knew about them, but I suppose in her case it wasn’t love at all, was it? Hers were full of lust and self indulgence, whereas with Father it was real love. That’s why it was so damaging, that’s why it hurt her so.”
Rosetta reached up and touched Henley’s face. His cheeks were warm, perhaps from the heat of the fire being emitted into the room, or perhaps from the sherry. His rough, two day stubble told her he had been as distraught as she had.
“How are you feeling, my sweet?” Henley asked. “This must be terribly difficult for you.”
Rosetta looked at him with love and admiration. How, she wondered, had this person in front of her turned into such a fine, handsome man from the child she met less than a year ago? Eying him from top to bottom, she could barely remember him as the slight, frail boy who landed unexpectedly on her doorstep. Henley had matured intellectually, emotionally and, dare she say, sexually since their coupling. He had blossomed into no less than a hunk, but the true beauty of him was that he didn’t know it.
“How are you doing, my Henley?”
He looked at her. “Now? Fine, now that I’m with you.” He leaned into her and kissed her softly. “It’s been quite a wild ride this past fortnight,” he continued. “And I’m ready to have some peace.”
“Yes, I couldn’t agree more.” She sat back in her chair, letting her eyes skim over his muscular, sinewy arms, broad chest, thick neck. He was looking at her and a smirk crossed his face. Her eyes continued to undress him button by button down to just below his navel. A thick tuft of sandy hair rose from the top of his trousers inviting her in. Her mind unzipped, revealing his ready cock. She squirmed in her seat as Henley reached over to caress her open cleavage, feeling her heat. Her heart skipped a beat and she let out a faint gasp.
He took her in his arms and they kissed again, lingering in the warmth of each others lips, remembering the longing they had been holding inside. Their loins stirred with the absence of each other, craved to crawl naked into each other’s arms in heated passion. He took Rosetta’s hand and led her away from the table toward the bedroom, but as they passed the hearth, they noticed the fire had burned to a rubble of ruby coals. Wesley and Dorrington were nowhere to be seen.