Today, our wild journey has taken us onto the moors. We trundle through a desolate, forbidding, barren landscape made even less hospitable by the looming clouds, thick fog and…
Plop. Plink. Patter.
Most of us are napping, lulled to sleep by the rocking of the carriage and the sound of rain. I’ve nabbed the window-seat for this portion of the journey, and I’m staring out at the passing scenery. Suddenly a flash of wild natural beauty catches my eye.
I rap on the coach’s top and shout, “Stop the carriage!”
Monty snaps to attention. “What is it now? Pirates? Highwaymen? Raving madmen mourning their dead lovers?”
“None of the above, I hope. But something definitely worth seeing.”
I fling open the carriage door, and all the authoresses sleepily crane their necks for a glimpse. I’m pretty sure that thunk I hear is the sound of jaws dropping. But I won’t turn my head to confirm it, because out of the mist emerges one of the most perfectly formed men I’ve ever seen.
Close-cropped dark hair, ice-blue eyes, and a strong, squared jaw. He wears no shirt–only a pair of skin-tight breeches and a leather vest–and he’s soaked to his sun-bronzed skin.
“Why, hullo,” he says. “What’s a carriage full of fine ladies doing in these parts?”
Someone else takes over and introduces the authoresses and explains the nature of our journey, and I just sort of stare at the entrancing little divot between his hipbone and his waistband.
“And this is Tessa,” I hear the helpful explainer say.
Those startling ice-blue eyes focus on me.
“I carried a watermelon,” I mutter, apropos of nothing. Because it’s just that kind of moment.
“I’m Mick. In these parts, the ladies call me Magic Mick. Because I’m good with my hands.” He winks. “Why don’t you visit my cottage? I’ll have you warmed up in no time.”
Babbling like fools, we all clamber out of the carriage. Magic Mick offers his arm. There’s a mad scramble, as all eight of us jostle to accept. Fortunate, Mick has plenty of arm to go around. We’re each of us able to get a hand on the goods.
“Oh my,” I whisper. “So very…solid. Like marble.”
“If you ask me, more like a cannon barrel fashioned of cast bronze,” says Gaelen.
Katharine runs her hand along Mick’s forearm, musing. “I’d describe it as a beam of steel sheathed in velvet.”
Monty’s obviously put out by this rhapsodizing. “Please. Spare me.”
“We’re writers,” I say. “This is what we do. If it helps, we had a long conversation during your nap over whether your bruises should be described as mulberry or aubergine.”
Monty rolls his eyes–or at least, the less-swollen one. “That doesn’t help, actually.”
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” Mick says. As we crowd into his humble cottage, he begins removing his damp vest.
The vest comes off. No one can even speak.
“Feast your eyes, ladies.”
Oh, we’re feasting them. Gorging, more like. Our eyes are proper gluttons, devouring every sculpted contour of his muscled, hairless torso. Does he wax? I find myself thinking. Then I tell myself to stop thinking.
“I’ve something for you ladies that’s hard as Devonshire granite.”
Someone squeals. I clap my hand over my mouth, because it might have been me.
And then Mick steps aside, revealing … a chunk of granite. Actual granite.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” Visibly bulging with pride, Mick crosses his arms over his broad chest.
I tilt my head and peer at the thing. “Er… what is it?”
“What is it?” Mick laughs. “What is it? It’s a coffee table, of course.”
“Of course,” Lauren says. “A coffee table.”
We all nod our heads.
“I make custom furniture,” Mick explains. “It’s my dream. In five years, the finest houses in England will display my pieces.” He points out another lump of stone. “I’ve been working on this one for the last two weeks. It’s an armchair. I’m sure you’ll all be wanting to place orders.”
Lady B is, as always, the soul of tact. But even she can find little to praise. “I must say, it doesn’t look very comfortable.”
“Of course it’s comfortable. Even against bare skin. Watch.”
We watch. Magic Mick leans forward, grasps the front of his breeches, and with one strong tug–he pulls them completely off. They’re gone. Like magic.
“Breakaway breeches,” I breathe. “I didn’t know they made such a thing.”
“Ditto for leather thongs,” Kate whispers.
“Don’t question it,” Sarah advises. “Just be thankful.”
“This is patently unfair,” Monty grouses. “My own have nine or thirteen buttons, depending on whom you ask. How does he get by with no buttons at all?”
“What a very good question,” Miranda says. “I think it calls for research.”
To demonstrate the comfort of his granite armchair, Mick lowers his nearly-naked weight onto the thing. He gyrates and thrusts his hips, sliding rhythmically against the molded stone.
“Ooh,” he moans in a deep, silky voice. “Yeah. That feels real good.”
It may be a cold, rainy day on the moors, but our fans snap open in unison. He did promise to warm us up.
Mick holds out a hand. “Any of you ladies care to join me?”
Alas, a few more minutes’ conversation proves that Mick is not interested in doing anything with us except selling us full suites of clunky, impossibly heavy furniture.
“The best thing about this stuff?” he says. “Clean-up is a breeze.”
“Yes, well. It’s been lovely, Mick, but I think we must be getting underway again.”
We make our way for the cottage’s door and hurry back toward the carriage.
Mick calls after us. “Ladies, wait. I’ve more to offer than just furniture.”
We turn, hopeful.
“I have a side business in carriage detailing,” he says.
We sigh, taking time for one last look.
Farewell, Magic Mick.
Back into the carriage we climb, warmed and enlivened by our short detour. No one seems inclined to napping just now. There’s a half-hearted attempt at a sing-a-long, but it’s quickly abandoned when Sabrina motions for silence.
“My goodness,” Sabrina presses her nose to the foggy window. “Please tell me I’m not seeing what I think I’m seeing.”
I follow her gaze. “I thought those didn’t exist! Not anymore. Not here.”
“They don’t exist,” Lauren says with certainty.
“Well,” says Monty. “Someone had better tell them so.”
I know one thing. It won’t be me.