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"It has been decided that I shall go to Somerset. I feel myself being torn apart but we must be strong. I shall write whenever I can and, I pray you, write to the usual place and it will reach me eventually. Hitherto our clandestine activities have excited me. Now they feel like a further barrier to our love."

Being single was getting on my tits. Sure, I could do anything I wanted, whenever I wanted as long as it didn't involve physical contact with another woman. And since that was the one thing I missed more than anything else, well, I was pissed off.

My good friend, Lauren and I were sharing a bottle of Prosecco in my nicely secluded, little garden. It was a warm summer day and the drowsy buzz of insects in my unkempt borders, combined with the alcohol had a slightly soporific effect. So it was that my attention was drifting until Lauren said, "Oh, I meant to tell you, Polly Cameron has moved out of London and back here. She's bought a place down near the canal."

"Is she still with dreary Deirdre?" Dreary Deidre was the soubriquet universally applied to Polly's partner. Unkind it might have been but accurate it definitely was.

"Well, that's the thing. Apparently there was a huge bust up a while ago because DD got seriously drunk one night while Polly was out and, when Polly got home, she, DD, accused her of being over the side with some woman or other. Polly put it down to the drink but, in the morning and sober, DD started again and kept on about it for days. They'd only moved up to London because of Dreary's work, Polly can work from anywhere," she was a musical technician so as long as she had a workshop, she was fine. "So, word is, she has returned to the city of the steaming, malodorous baths and is signally single and delighted to be free of Dreary."

Lauren, married and straight and probably my best friend, looked at me. I knew that look. I also knew her well enough to know she hadn't suddenly remembered this little snippet. She knew how to manage a conversation, how to spark my interest and how to feed my imagination. She knew, too, that I'd fancied Polly for years. Polly was butch without being a woman in drag. She could look butch in a dress, although, if memory served, she rarely wore one. She was tall, athletic, intimidatingly clever and just my 'type.' I often had wondered if she knew I existed but, then, once, she had walked past me at a party and her hand had rested momentarily on my shoulder. She whispered in my ear, 'You look fucking edible in that dress," and moved on before I could even say, 'what, this old thing?' Bitch.

"Anyway, I thought I might invite her to my birthday party. What do you think?"

"That would be a good chance for her to get back with the group."

"Exactly what I thought."

"Don't try match-making, Lauren. She barely noticed me and is probably riven with angst and self-loathing."

Lauren laughed. "I don't imagine Polly can do angst or self-loathing. She's the most self- aware person I've met."

"Apart from me, obviously."

"Obviously. Well, be nice. All you have to do is be polite."

The Saturday of Lauren's birthday party. Polly hadn't changed a bit. A white shirt, dark blue trousers, black shoes, she looked smart and fresh. Her short cap of black hair set off her grey/blue eyes perfectly. Her sharp chin and nose couldn't detract from her handsome features. Somehow, I had worn the same dress that she had liked. Pure coincidence of course. The dress was a mix of blues, tight at the waist and flared to just above my knees. The bodice sort of cupped my little tits and the colours worked well with my now long, chestnut hair. I'd arrived late at Lauren's party. It was a beautiful evening and everyone was out in her long garden, a huge trestle table groaning under the weight of food and drink. I placed my contributions of gin, Champagne and red wine and chicken liver pate on the table, fearing momentarily it might give way under the additional weight. I poured myself a glass of bubbles and before I could take my first sip, Lauren appeared and hugged me.

"Happy birthday." I gave her a small gift; a bracelet I'd found in one of the little jewellery shop in the covered market.

"Thank you. Isn't it a beautiful evening?" She was clearly outside a good few drinks and was intending to have a great night. Her current target, Roddy Welby, a Professor at the local University, was holding court to one side of the garden and she pointed at him with her glass. "Roddy has no idea that he's going to lose his virginity, yet."

"From what I understand, he left that behind a long, long time ago."

"He may think so, but wait until Lauren get's hold of him."

Pour sod, I thought. He'll be exhausted for a week. I circulated a bit, saw Polly across the garden talking to a small group of our mutual friends and decided not to join them. Instead I spoke to a couple of the members of my drama group, always a guarantee of a good laugh.

Camp David, our juvenile lead, was in fine form. "I told him, just because you're 6' 3" and built like Adonis doesn't mean I'm going to fall into bed with you. I shall leap into it, as an hart!" He said this with his voice rising and a flamboyant sweep of his arm, distributing white wine everywhere. "He's a total bull. I adore him."

I asked, "Is he here tonight?"

"Poor love's got to work. He's a fireman. I told him, he had the best hose in the Fire Service."

"Just a tad too much information, Roddy."

"Sorry, darling, I know that isn't part of your world but, well, goodness, it's so gorgeous it might just turn you."

I felt a hand on my shoulder and half turned. It was Polly. "Did you wear that dress because you knew I was coming tonight?"

I kissed her cheek. "Welcome back. Lauren, the unofficial town crier, told me you were. Sorry things didn't work out with Deirdre." I just managed to stop myself calling her Dreary.

"Everyone said I was a prat to move in with her. Turns out they were right. Such is life. It's good to be back. Life treating you well, Cass?"

"Couldn't be better, thanks."

We were facing each other now and I had to look up at her. "Well, did you?" she asked.

"Did I what?"

"Wear that dress for me?"

"Now why on Earth would I do that?"

"Because, last time I saw you in it I told you, you looked fucking edible."

"Did you? And you a partnered woman! Shocking."

Polly laughed. "Why have you never flirted with me?"

"Polly! You've barely noticed me."

She slipped her arm through mine and led me away from the crowd. "That's bullshit. How many times do you think I remember what a woman was wearing? You've always been a bit, oh, I don't know, unapproachable. I guess because you're so bloody clever."


"I read your latest book." I write history, mainly about the Victorian engineers, a subject my Dad had introduced me to and which I had grown to love. "It was simply brilliant."

"Thank you."

"I want you to come and see my new house."


"Because, first of all, it was built by the engineer who designed the canal and secondly, because it has a static steam engine that isn't working yet but I intend to get it going to power all my tools. You'll wet your knickers when you see it. You even mentioned him, Harry Gurnard, in your book."

"My God. Did he build the engine too?" He was something of a hero.

"He did. It's small but, I am told, powerful and reparable. Isn't that marvellous?"

"It really is and I'd love to see it."

"I have a condition?" I did the questioning eyebrow thing. "I want you to consider researching and writing a short history of Gurnard, my house and the engine. It'll be great for my profile and yours and we can plug each other on our websites."

"Interesting thought. Can I think about it?"

"Of course, but come over tomorrow and have lunch and see it all for yourself, then say yes."

We talked on, late into the evening. Every now and then her hand would touch me; my hand, my arm, even, once, pushing a strand of hair behind my ear. Am I alone in finding that incredibly intimate?

When I finally got home that night, alone and not entirely sober, I thought about Polly. I reckoned that our conversation was the longest we'd ever had. Her long, strong fingers brought me to a gentle climax as I thought about her in my bed that night, my knees up, legs spread wide and my nipples aching for her mouth. I drifted off to sleep with, I suspect, a contented smile on my lips.

Sunday. "Come in, come in." Polly was wearing brown dungarees over work boots and with a white t shirt under the bib. She also wore a leather apron, scarred from slipped chisels and God knew what else. She was wiping her hands on an oil-stained rag. "You didn't come dressed for an engineering course but, not to worry, I have a set of overalls you can wear. Nice dress, we don't want it getting messed up like my clothes are. Tour first, then lunch. Okay?"

The tour was the house first. Outside it was typical of the sort of house that engineers built for themselves during a long civil engineering project. This part of the canal had needed a two mile long tunnel and Gurnard had wanted to oversee it personally, so he moved his family into the house for the duration of the works. It was red brick with tall, elegant chimneys and mullioned windows with a lovely porch and double front. The impressive front door gave onto an equally impressive acrostic-tiled hall with doors off either side and at the end.

"My God, Polly, it's almost like it was built yesterday. Look at that fireplace!"

"I know, isn't it fab? Wait till you see the kitchen."

She wasn't wrong. It was huge with an old-fashioned range and impressive granite work tops that were, so far as I could tell, original.

"I have the plans he drew for this so you can study them when you write the book."

"I haven't said I will yet."

She smiled. "And now, the piece de resistance." She led me out though the back kitchen door and along a path through a hedge to a stone building about forty feet long with a tall chimney at one end. Inside, through a wide, oak door, was a vast space neatly arranged with work benches and a huge variety of tools and stores. But the room was dominated by a small, rather world-weary steam engine standing at one end beneath the chimney. Some of its brass shone feebly in the dim light. "This is the little beauty. A genuine Gurnard. Do you know much about steam engines?"

"Not enough."

"You will, I know you. Isn't it beautiful?"

"It really is." I'd stripped my little yellow sundress off and put the dungarees she gave me on before we'd left the kitchen. Demurely, I'd done that in the toilet to preserve my modesty. She'd also leant me a pair of boots which were too big but sufficed. I clambered around the engine, marvelling at its complexity, its beauty and sense of power.

She showed me her tools and a few pieces of works in process, including a violin. "This," she said proudly, "is an Amati - Giroloamo Amati and probably dates from about 1710. It's owned by a member of the London Symphony Orchestra. I feel so proud to have been entrusted with it. Isn't it simply beautiful?" I agreed that it was.

"What's it worth?"

"Oh, darling, one doesn't discuss money, but let's just say my fee will pay my mortgage for a couple of years." Reverently, she laid it back in its case and we made our way back to the house where I changed back into my dress and sandals.

"Now," she said, "follow me." I did and she led me to a lovely office room with a mahogany desk that had been polished for decades to a deep, gloomy sheen. It was situated so the user could look out over the valley where the canal lay, beyond a small stand of trees. The office was big enough to have room for several broad tables and, on one, there were plans of the house weighted down with, at two corners, paperweights and the other two, draughtsman's instruments.

"This was Gurnard's desk and these are his plans and his instruments. There are more plans in that cabinet, including the engine." The cabinet was also mahogany with wide and shallow drawers which, when opened, revealed more plans. "I thought you might like to work here. Please say you'll do it. I've even made up a bedroom for you so that if you need to work late you can stay over." I looked up at her and I wonder if she could see the disappointment in my eyes because, well, I'd hoped a room of my own might not be necessary. Apparently I'd hidden it well.

"Yes, Polly, I'll do it."

Her reaction astonished me. She gathered me into her arms and kissed me with a whoop of delight. "Fuck, I am so, so pleased. Thank you, Cass. Come on, let's celebrate."

She'd a bottle of champagne already open in the fridge and she poured as I sat at the kitchen table. Raising her glass, she said, "To a collaboration." We ate a salmon salad she had prepared and talked. We agreed I'd speak to my publisher and see where that got us. I was pretty confident she, Erin, my publisher, would go for it because, well, my books sold well. It seemed there were a lot of engineering nerds like me in the world. "I'll call Erin now before I am too drunk."

Erin, a workaholic even on a Sunday, agreed, in principal, on the spot. She knew of Polly and she had heard of Gurnard. She said she'd sort out a meeting with her board but didn't see any barriers. All she'd need was a synopsis and a timescale and she'd let me know.

More champagne. I was going to need to get a taxi home.

After lunch we went for a walk along the canal. Polly had changed into jeans and a white cotton shirt and we walked, side by side, along the tow path and then turned to take a circuitous route back through the woodland. She stopped and stepped in front of me, turning to face me. "I'm really grateful you've agreed to do it."

"I'm grateful you asked me."

When we got back to her house, we had coffee and, probably not entirely fit to do so, I drove home. Once again, that night, my mind drifted to erotic images of Polly. I lifted my arse, face down on the pillow and felt her push into me, her hands on my hips as she entered me, slowly, resting there deep in me before increasing her pace until I reached my climax, my nipples squeezed between my fingernails.

It took a little while before my publisher confirmed the commission of the book and I received a modest advance. It wasn't going to be huge tome though, so I was happy. I'd had a couple of evenings out with Polly and spent a couple of days at her place going through the material that was available there, enjoying sitting at Gurnard's desk, seeing 'his' view' and gaining an insight into his vision.

It was now the height of Summer as I made the ten minute drive to Polly's house to start work in earnest. She had never made a move on me physically beyond a couple of chaste kisses and a lot of her touches which, I had decided, bespoke a tactile nature rather than any expression of desire. My erotic imaginings of us together had remained just that, imaginings, but they were no longer confined to nocturnal activities. Frequently, at home, I had found myself at my desk, going through notes, and my hand would wander unbidden to my cunt.

It was 9 am on a gorgeously warm and sunny Monday morning when I arrived at her house. I used the key she had given me to let myself in and went straight to my office, knowing she'd be in her workshop. I laid out the tools of my trade: laptop, notepad, pencils, dictionary, a couple of reference works and the notes I had compiled.

I turned as the door of the office opened and there stood Polly, wearing a pair of dark blue silk pyjamas, with short pants. The jacket was held together with one button just below her tits. "I heard you. I was up late working last night so I overslept, sorry. Fancy some coffee?"

"I'd love some."

"Love the dress."

I'd chosen a white cotton dress with gold embroidered flowers. It was floaty and quite sheer in parts, notably the lower skirt and the midriff. Of course, I hadn't worn it to impress. Believe that if you want to. I was pleased she'd noticed.

She shuffled off to get the coffee and I got to work. The first stages of writing are, for me, to get inside the subject and so I had read and made copious notes about Harry as I now thought of him. He was a self-taught engineer with amazing entrepreneurial drive. He was not a modest or particularly pleasant man, I had decided. But, perhaps, a less self-driven individual might have been less successful. I started to organise the material into chapters. I didn't want to write a boring, 'first this, then that, then that happened' type of story. I had decided to write about the reasons for the canal; the way the investors had been seduced by Harry's vision, his sales pitch, his attention to detail. I started at the end. The opening of the canal and the huge celebrations that Harry had plotted as a means of getting maximum publicity for himself and for his investors.

Polly appeared with deliciously aromatic coffee. "Oh, you have to take a break when I'm dressed."

"I've barely started."

"I know but I have something to show you and it simply cant wait. Enjoy your coffee, I'll be back in a few minutes."

True to her word and in her customary dungarees, she returned a few minutes later and urged me to, "get off your arse and follow Polly to see a wonder of the world."

The wonder of the world was Harry's steam engine. It positively gleamed. The brasswork had been polished to within an inch of its life. The black work was newly painted. The steel components were clean and sturdy-looking. It sat there, steam issuing from a couple of places and with the air of a large animal, an elephant perhaps, about to charge.

"Watch and share my awe."

Polly started messing around with some leavers and suddenly the huge flywheel started to turn, slowly at first but increasingly quickly. A piston on one side began to thrust in and out of the cylinder and the whole building seemed to have come to life. She threw another lever and a long shaft that ran the length of the middle of the room way above head height started to revolve, making the wheels attached to it spin too and, in turn, the belts that ran from those wheels to the tools on benches came alive.

Polly placed an oily hand on my shoulder and pulled me to her. "Isn't it just so fucking amazing?" I was speechless. I'd had no idea it had been repaired. She kissed me then, hard, intimately, deeply. "I know how you feel. Words just aren't enough, are they?" I threw my arms around her neck and kissed her, oblivious to the fact that her filthy overalls were besmirching my dress. Who could possibly have cared. "You," she said, "are the first person to witness this apart from the engineers and me. Doesn't that piston make you positively aroused?"

I didn't need her glee to infect me. I was utterly enthralled and, as I watched it all, I felt her hand on my breast, inside my dress. I turned to look at her.

Her head leaned slightly to one side. "It isn't just the engine that excites me. You'll need to get out of that dress so I can wash it."

"Fuck the dress."

Filthy fingers undid me; buttons, zips, and she peeled it off me, there, then in that workshop. She held me against her and kissed me and now inhibitions were gone, as were my clothes except a pair of loose short-like knickers that did nothing to prevent her getting at me. She kissed my face, my neck, my shoulders, my tits and sucked my nipples. Her hands roamed over me and I held to her, stroking her hair, her back. Then she kissed my mouth again and her hand delved inside my knickers, curling a finger into me. Whispering in my ear, "That piston, God, I watch it and I just want to fuck you."

"I've wanted that for years."

She leant back, her finger just inside me, and looked me in the eye. "Really? Why didn't you say."


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