Stubbs took another long draw on his pipe. “In a way lass, aye. I got a glimpse from behind. Do you know the big badger sett not far from the loch? The entrances are all among the roots of the oak trees there?”
“I was there close to dusk. It’s about the time the big boar comes out and I was resting up against some roots myself on the ridge above.”
Thomas smiled, suspecting Stubbs was doing anything but resting at dusk. He also knew the boughs above would have been filled with plump estate pheasants. If you stayed quiet and still, and used something noiseless like a slingshot, you could fill a bag with birds without them even being disturbed.
Stubbs grinned, acknowledging Thomas’s knowing look. “As it got dark, I noticed the slightest movement. It was the beastie’s tail. The body was so large I thought it was a bear. Then I saw what it was after. Old Brock was just nosing his way out of the entrance of the sett. Quick as a flash, this thing hooked him out of the hole with a paw and caught him in its jaws. Never seen anything like it lad, I can tell ye.”
Stubbs sighed. A hush fell over the table as Alastair brought over the three plates of food, including a suspiciously fresh-looking piece of pink salmon for Stubbs. The old poacher winked at Thomas as he stabbed it gently with his fork and shovelled a quick few mouthfuls before he continued his story.
“I found badger bones all over the woods for the next few days. They forage during the day now, but there’s only a few left. Glen’s been cleared of wild cats too. I don’t go to the lower ground too much these days. I’ve found kills from squirrels to stags, it’s not so picky yer know?”
“We know,” Thomas sighed.
Stubbs continued to eat. “Whatever this beastie is, every animal in the glen knows it’s here. The deer are moving differently. The hares and birds don’t sleep long now. It’s done me a tasty favour to be honest, everything’s moving to higher ground and too ragged to worry about little old me.” Stubbs glanced to the windows. “If you’re desperate to get close to it lad, it’ll snow the next couple of nights. That black hide might stand out a wee bit, and tracks are easier to follow aye?”
The staircase was strewn with scarlet and pink dried rose petals. She followed them up, giggling slightly at the extravagant gesture. Thomas seemed to have no ability to gauge his romantic offerings, making them all or nothing, with a preference for the all. She stepped along the hall to the bathroom, following the path of petals as she went. She swung the door open and beamed.
More petals laced the clay coloured tiles. At the centre of the room, the grey and pink hued stone bath was filled, and as she stepped closer she caught the fragrance of the jasmine, ylang-ylang and clary sage scented foam. Sitting beside the bath was an ice bucket containing a bottle of rose Veuve Clicquot. A crystal glass champagne flute sat on the rim of the bath with a singular, sliced strawberry delicately perched over its outer edge. He had turned the lights low and pulled the blind to the only window, making the red-walled room feel even warmer. Several lit candles sat on the floor to add to the cosiness. She tested the water with her fingers, as she walked past the bath to the dressing table and large framed mirror sitting against the far wall. She slipped off her running gear and left it in a messy pile underneath the table, grinning that it would slightly ruffle Thomas’s desire for neatness when he saw it. Then she paused, running the forefinger and thumb of her right hand over the band of white gold on her ring finger, its channel set with brilliant round diamonds surrounding the six-pronged centrepiece, a 2.3 carat stone. She had hit Thomas hard enough to leave a bruise on his chest after looking it up on the Tiffany website to see how much it had cost. She eased the ring off and left it on the top of the table.
As she turned, she met Thomas’s gaze from the open doorway.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but in my defence, if you haven’t learnt that I don’t always think things through by now, it’s probably too late.”
“It’s okay,” she smirked. “I mean, it’s not, but we’ll talk about it later. I would just have preferred if I had been the first person you spoke to about it rather than Keelson.”
“Who?” Thomas quipped, staring at her soft naked skin.
“That,” she purred, “was the right thing to say.”
She stepped over to him, taking his hands in hers and placing them on her waist. They pulled her tight to him. They kissed softly and slowly as she began to strip away his clothes until they were both naked, tentatively touching each other with a nervous eagerness. She led him over to the bath and they stepped in together. She sat down in the warm, milky water with her back to him. She felt his legs sidle past her and he began to bathe her, his hands cupping the silky liquid and letting it fall over her neck and shoulders. A stream cascaded between her breasts, and suddenly his hands were there too, rubbing and stroking to her delight. She leaned back, nestling her lips into his neck to nuzzle softly. She arched her back, lifting herself and squeezing his legs back between her own. They made love slowly and tenderly at first, but giving way to their passion as it broached. They giggled together as each impassioned lunge sent a wave of water over the top of the bath. They held each other for some time afterwards before she stood up, looking down at him coyly.
“I’m still going to need that shower,” she whispered.