“We’ll have to stop,” Lady B says. “I see a light ahead.”
I refrain from rolling my eyes. We have already begun this journey in a Bigger-On-The-Inside carriage, been ransacked by a highwayman, seen Lady B shoot at said highwayman, Monty lost his buttons and now, we are being directed by Lady B towards a pinpoint of light.
I’m an authoress, I know a set piece when I see one.
But I am at Lady B’s disposal – and even though she managed to magically transport us to the Beaufetheringstone Estate just a few short weeks ago, now we have to travel back to London the slow, annoying, regular way. Therefore, as the carriage rumbles on its way towards the light, I am merely waiting. Waiting, that is, for the next contrivance.
And I do not have to wait long, before the carriage is jolted from its springs, making us go lopsided.
“What was that?” Miranda cries, grabbing hold of Monty’s buttons, presumably to steady herself.
“I believe we hit a ditch in the road,” Katharine replies, trying to peer out into the darkness. “We are not moving, we must have broken a wheel.”
Of course we did, I think, but manage to refrain from saying aloud.
“We shall simply have to walk,” Lady B declares, already gathering up her peacock muff and Albert’s cage. “It is not far.”
“But it’s snowing!” Sarah pouts. “Hard.”
Indeed. It seems that freak September snowstorm that none of us planned for and yet all of us expected has come in full force, and huge, wet globs are falling at an alarming rate. But one look from Lady B, and the comfortable confines of the surprisingly roomy and well-equipped carriage (I think some of the seats reclined fully, ala British Airlines Business Class) are abandoned, and we all trudge through the snow.
It is not too long before our clothes are soaked through. Luckily, it is not too much longer before our path takes us to the front door of a ramshackle building, practically hidden by overgrown shrubbery.
Lady B locates the door, and knocks on it firmly. A beefy man opens it.
“Sir, we require food and lodging. And while I am perfectly dry, my young friends will need a change of clothes.” Lady B declares, before she brushes past him and into the building.
The other authoresses and I shrug at each other, and make the same imperious nod, and move through the door.
And then, we stop dead in our tracks.
It’s a tavern. A seedy one, at that. Terribly ill kept, spider-webs everywhere, my inner OCD clean freak is FREAKING OUT. There is no one in there save us, the Beefy man, and a tired looking woman cleaning tables.
“Moira!” the beefy man calls out. “We got women here.”
“And one gentleman!” Monty calls out, obviously offended.
The man slides a glance to Monty, obviously unimpressed. “They want clothes and a room and, er, other things.”
“Ain’t got no clothes for ye,” Moira replies, not looking up from her cleaning. “But the laundry’s just been done. We have a fair number of clean sheets.”
“Moira! You cannot be thinking of having them stay!” Beefy complains.
“Why ever not? Moira saiys.
“Because we only have one room,” Beefy replies. “And it is already… occupied.”
“These ladies will pay better.” Moira replies, nodding to Lady B. Lady B nods back, and I get the feeling these two ladies are cut from the same cloth. “The occupant won’t mind, will he, love?”
Beefy shrugs, and trudged to the stairs.
“Oh, dear, I do not wish to evict anyone,” Lauren says in a low whisper.
“Let me get you your linens, and would you care for a drink?” Moira declares, lining up pint glasses.
In a flurry of moments, all eight of us are undressed, draped in sheets, and drinking merrily, all thought of the evicted tenant lost.
“Monty!” Sabrina teases. “You have to come out eventually.”
Monty, who had been changing behind the bar, pops up, a sheet slung low around his waist and another haphazardly over a (bronzed, gorgeous) shoulder.
“I am so glad that my new husband is not here to see this,” I murmur, and we all nod in agreement.
Just then a flurry of movement on the stairs catches my eye. A flash of white moving along upper landing.
“What was that?” Tessa asks – she must have seen it too.
“A ghost!” Sabrina exclaims, downing the dregs of her third ale. “The tavern is haunted! Is the tavern haunted?”
“Not haunted, miss.” Moira sighs. “Just… overstaffed at present.”
“Well, well well, what have we here?”
It’s a familiar voice. And a familiar pair of piercing blue eyes. A familiar rakish wink and a terribly charming set of shoulders.
“Highwayman!” Monty cries, leaping into action. Unfortunately, his toga is long, and he is not as familiar with walking in skirts as the rest of us, and he ends up face down on the ballroom floor, further injuring his bandaged features. Katharine and Lauren rush to his aid – unceremoniously pushing Tessa and Sarah out of the way.
“Highwayman?” Moira asks, her eyebrow up. “What does he mean ‘highwayman’?”
“What he means,” Lady B says imperiously, “is that young man attempted to rob us, not an hour ago. I insist that you call in the authorities and have him arrested!”
“I canna be doing that,” the beefy man says sheepishly, catching his breath from running down the stairs after the young, delicious… er, highwayman. (Married, Kate, you are married now, my inner monologue admonishes.)
“And why not?” Lady B demands.
“Two reasons.” Moira replies on a sigh. “Firstly, the snow is already a foot thick, no one is going anywhere tonight.”
“This is his tavern. We work for him.”
The highwayman can’t help a grin. A naughty, naughty grin. Oh my.
“Looks like we’ll be making a party of it.” He drawls. “Now, who has a spare toga for me?”
With the snow as thick as it is, it seems as if we are spending the night at the tavern – with our Highwayman, and in togas! What could possibly happen next?
Since we are enjoying beer and a toga party, we authoresses can’t help but be reminded of a certain film’s wild parties. What’s the wildest party you ever attended?