James wasn’t hiding, he was simply making himself unavailable. It wasn’t like he didn’t have a good excuse, he was covered head to toe in mud from this morning’s escapade. Young Master Charles, a spoiled and aimless sot, had ridden home through the back pasture, so drunk he was barely able to stay astride his horse. When the horse got stuck in a mire, he tumbled off and left the beast to struggle on its own. James and three other men had spent the early morning hours prying the poor creature out of the mud without damaging it. In the end, James had climbed in alongside the horse, positioning himself as leverage for the horse to climb its way out. His ribs were certainly bruised and there were no doubt hoofprints across his back.

He had duties to attend to, but he knew the Mistress of the house would be out soon to take her daily ride. It was foolish, but the thought of her seeing him like this, sodden and reeking of swamp, made his cheeks burn with shame. Lady Elizabeth was always pristine, coiffed and polished, from the tips of her shiny leather boots to the top of her velvet helmet, and it always made something warm and heavy settle low in his gut. She was kind, but sharp when things didn’t go her way. She never raised her voice to anyone, but disappointing her felt like being doused with freezing cold water. Like there was nothing you wouldn’t do to bring back her warm smile. His station was miles under hers, and if anyone found out about how he thought of her, how he touched himself late at night when he thought about the way she held the crop in her hand, the way wisps of chestnut hair slipped from underneath her helmet to curl sweaty and dark against her neck, he’d be whipped and thrown out on his backside.

So he’d begged the stable master to let him run down to the stream to wash, bolting from the back entrance as he heard Lady Elizabeth coming in the front, calling for her horse. James slowed down as soon as he passed into the treeline, letting the thick foliage obscure him from anyone who might be watching his departure. He hurried down to the stream, kicking his shoes aside and shucking off his filthy clothes as he approached the rocky ledge. He lowered himself into the cool stream, sighing as the clean rush of water freed him from the clumps of mud and muck that clung to his skin. He dunked his head under the surface, scrubbing at his hair until he had to resurface for air. He beat his soiled clothing against the side of a rock to clean it, then laid the rough linens out on a flat rock to dry in the sunlight before rolling onto his back to float and ease his sore muscles.

He closed his eyes against the dappling of sunlight filtering through the trees, slowing his breaths to listen to the sounds of the forest around him. It was peaceful here, the stream steady and alive as it surged over the jut of rocks above to fall, clear and invigorating, into the pool below. There were more animals than he could count in the woods, hiding from his presence, but speaking to each other in tweets and chatters. James loved the forest, had lived in it until his father had passed and he’d been sent to work at the manor for Lady Elizabeth’s father. His life wasn’t as hard as some of the other citizens, he had employment, a roof over his head, three meals a day, and a dry bed, but he wasn’t free. Not like he had been as a child in these woods.

He heard the horse before he saw it, a high whinnie accompanied by the clopping of hooves on the ground. James startled and rolled over, moving to the deeper end of the pond until the water reached his shoulders. The horse nickered and James froze in shock as the dark head of a Belgian Warmblood appeared through the trees, its glossy, braided mane the same color as his rider’s. Lady Elizabeth didn’t notice him at first, bringing the horse to a stop on the embankment and removing her helmet. Her hair was pinned up in an elaborate twist, a little flattened from wearing the headgear, but as silky and dazzling as ever. She swung her leg over and slid gracefully from the horse, the fabric of the trousers she insisted on wearing pulling tight across her thighs.

James contemplated sinking below the water and hoping he could hold his breath long enough for her to water the horse and be on her way. Being caught dawdling and naked by the Mistress of the house was sure to end badly for him.

He knew the exact moment Lady Elizabeth’s eyes landed on his drying clothes because she let out an involuntary gasp and her hand went to the small knife she kept hidden in her left boot. The boots were sturdy, but supple, James knew, from the times he’d had the pleasure of cleaning and buffing them for her. They went to her knees, a long zigzag of laces encasing her slender calves in black leather, giving James a plethora of fantasies that focused solely on him lacing her into them.

Her gaze fell upon him, eyes narrowing in suspicion as she recognized him. “James? What are you doing here?”

“Lady Elizabeth, forgive me,” he blurted, his heart pounding in his chest. “I was simply bathing and stayed longer than I should have.”

She looked into the woods around them, her knife steady in her hand. “Do you know the consequences of harming a woman of my peerage, James?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’d never hurt you, I swear it.” James said, his shock quickly turning to fear. Anything she claimed would be her word against his, and he was no one.

“I was told you saved Ransom this morning,” she said, relaxing her stance, but holding onto the knife.

“There were four of us, ma’am, but we got him free.”

“The maids are saying it was you who jumped into the mire with him. Is that true?”

“Yes, ma’am,” James told her, eyes staunchly focused on her feet. “Had we simply pulled him out he certainly would have broken a leg, he was in so deep.”

“Had something happened to that horse my father would have been very cross with my brother.”

James paused, unsure if he was expected to agree or not. “Ma’am.”

Lady Elizabeth sighed, finally sliding the knife back into her boot and leading the horse, Cadence, to the water. “Charlie deserves worse than he’ll get for simply leaving Ransom, but he’ll come out unharmed again, I’m sure. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, James, but my brother is a bit of an ass.”

James laughed, turning it into a cough when Lady Elizabeth raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow in his direction.

“Sorry, ma’am.”

“Why are you hiding in there?” she asked, brushing her hand over Cadence’s hair.

“Ma'am, I’m, ah,” James stuttered, his face heating. “I was bathing, ma’am.”

“Have you finished?”

“Yes, but,”

“Then come out. I’m sure you’re needed in the stables, it’s not like you to squander your time like this. Castor always tells father what a hard worker you are.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” James said, surprised the stable master had kind words for anyone, much less him. “But I should wait until my lady has departed.”

“Whatever for?” Lady Elizabeth laughed.

James’ gaze went to his clothes, then to her face, skittering away quickly when her eyes met his. “I’m not decent, ma’am.”

“And?” she asked, archly.

“It’s not proper. My lady cannot be subjected to, to, that.” James insisted, covering his groin with his hands, even though the water was still covering him.

“Oh, James, your chivalry is adorable. And appreciated, but I assure you, I will not be offended by your naked form. Now come.”

“I cannot,” he insisted.

The smile dropped off Lady Elizabeth’s face and she walked over to his drying clothes, picking them up returning to her horse, draping them over the saddle.

“Get out of the water or I will ride off with your clothing. What do you think are the odds you will make it across the grounds and back to your room without being seen?” A sly smile curved across Lady Elizabeth’s mouth.

“I mean no offense, my lady, but why are you asking this of me?”

Her smile turned predatory as her eyes slid over James’ face and exposed shoulders. “I simply wish to thank you for saving my brother’s horse, my dear. Don’t you think you deserve a little something for your trouble?”

“It was no trouble, ma’am, it’s what I do.”

“Yes, it is, and you do it very well. I simply want to show my...appreciation.”

“My lady, I don’t think-”

“I seem to have popped the buttons on my gloves, James,” the lady said darkly. “Come here and help me with them, won’t you?”

James sighed and gave in. It was clear she wasn’t going to rest until he came out. He walked carefully over the slippery rock bed, making his way to the embankment and hauling himself out, rivulets of water running down his body and soaking the rock beneath him. He stood to his full height, looking resolutely over Lady Elizabeth’s head. It wasn’t a struggle since she came barely to his shoulder, even in her boots.

She held her wrist out, giving him an expectant look. James let out a shaky breath and went to her, swiping his hair back to stop water from dripping into his eyes. Three of the four buttons on her riding gloves were indeed undone, her soft, pale skin exposed and making his mouth water. He couldn’t help but slide one of his large, calloused fingers into the gap, feeling how warm and alive she was under all her wrappings. Lady Elizabeth let out a small gasp at the touch, her other hand coming up to wrap around his bicep. She traced the path of a water droplet down his arm and his fingers slipped on the buttons. He’d never been touched like that before, curious and confident, as though he was a prize she’d won and he was hers to do with as she wished.

Her hand continued to explore him as he struggled with the gloves, cool leather trailing over his chest to brush against his sides. James was shaking by the time the last button slipped through it’s hole, fighting his arousal as her hand slid down his stomach, resting just above the hair at his groin.

“I’m going to thank you now, James. Be a good boy and stay still.”

James squeezed his eyes shut, clenching his teeth against the want roaring through his body.

“Open your eyes,” she coaxed. “You’re always so afraid to look at me.”

James bit his lip, shaking his head and sending water flying.

“You look at me when no one’s watching, don’t you, James?” she asked, her fingers scratching through the hair above his cock.

James whimpered, losing the fight against his need. He felt his cock filling with blood, thickening and curving out towards her.

“Lovely,” Lady Elizabeth exclaimed quietly. “I knew I was right.”

“My lady,” James pleaded, finally opening his eyes to look at her.

“Oh James, you mustn't worry so. Have you not learned by now that I always get what I desire? It just so happens that this time, what I desire is you. Our interests align, isn’t that wonderful?” Her hands travelled back up his chest, massaging their way to his nipples, where they plucked and twisted the sensitive nubs until he groaned.

“What, what should I do?” he panted, his cock hardening further as the leather of her gloves warmed to his body temperature. He knew that beneath that thin material, her hands were heating up, too, all from the contact with his body.

“Oh, my dear, you don’t have to do a thing,” she purred, her small hand wrapping around his cock and stroking him from root to tip in one long, slow, movement.

James cried out, his hips thrusting forward on instinct.

“That’s it, darling, let me hear you.” Lady Elizabeth stroked him again, just as slow, but with a twist of her wrist at the head, coating her glove with precome. She made a pleased noise and spread the clear fluid down his shaft.

“Come,” she directed, leading him by his cock to an outcropping a few feet away and pushing him down. They were now the same height and she rested her boot along the edge of the rock beside his hip, straddling his thigh and curling over him as she continued to stroke.

James wanted to lean back on his hands, to watch her work him, but he was afraid to move. He’d never felt anything as exquisite as her hand on him and he wanted it to go on forever. Her fingers tightened on his shaft, working more precome out of the tip and smearing it across her palm.

“So wet,” she said, sounding delighted. “Did you picture this, my dear? All those times you watched me?”

James grunted in response, his teeth biting into his bottom lip to stop himself from blathering exactly what he’d thought of her. Surely, if she knew all he’d imagined, she’d only look at him with scorn and flee. Perhaps tell her father and have him punished. He couldn’t risk that. “I’ve watched you, too, James,” she confessed, her voice low and syrupy sweet. “You were such a gangly child. Imagine my surprise when I returned home from school to find that you’d grown into such a large and useful young man.”

“Ah, ah, ah,” James breathed as her fingers massaged the head of his cock, pressing and squeezing, sending shocks of pleasure through his body.

“I’ve seen the way you look at me. Felt the way your hands linger when you help me onto my horse. You always take such care with me, James.” She leaned closer, her warm breath sending shivers over the skin of his neck as she spoke directly into his ear. “I confess I do not intend on returning the favor.”

She pulled back to smile wickedly at him and James whined, jolting when her other hand caressed his scrotum.

“No, I plan to treat you quite recklessly. You don’t mind, do you, James?”

“N-no, ma’am,” he blurted, heat pooling in his belly as she worked him slowly. Her pace was maddening, but he knew better than to complain. That this was happening at all was almost impossible to believe and he wasn’t about to question it any further.

He’d had dreams about her before; complex, detailed dreams where he rescued her and she repaid him with her body. Drawn out fantasies where he tended to her every need, dressing her, feeding her, protecting her. Never would he have imagined that her needs would be thus, but as always, he was happy to serve.

Her hand gave a particular cruel twist and he cried out once more, Cadence tossing his head and stamping in protest behind them. James clenched his teeth, his eyes glued to hers as she drew him closer and closer to his end, her hand excruciatingly slow, but firm on his cock, the leather of her gloves now slick with his fluid. Her lips curled upwards and if it wasn’t for the brightness of her eyes, he would think it a cruel smile. It was predatory and full of anticipation, and it brought him closer, eager to please her.

The hand on his scrotum squeezed and James jerked, his right hand curling around her ankle, the boot stiff and smooth under his palm. Lady Elizabeth’s eyes flashed dangerously, but he held on, knowing it would only be a few more moments until he met his end. He licked his lips, parched and breathless, her gaze following the motion with intensity. James’ whole body burned from the effort of holding still and upright, his muscles screaming for release. She leaned into him, her slim thighs braced over his leg and so close he could feel the heat of her core against his skin.

“You’re so close, aren’t you, darling?” Lady Elizabeth cooed.

James nodded, whining high in his throat. His climax was building fast, his hair pricking and his skin buzzing. He wanted more, faster, but she continued to stroke him at the same pace, turning his orgasm into a crashing wave once it came. James shouted, his mouth and eyes opening wide as his cock throbbed and spurted in her hand. Lady Elizabeth worked him through it, watching his reactions closely as she milked him of every last drop and he was oversensitive and curling away from her. When she finally released him, she held out her soiled hand to him expectantly. James stared at it in confusion, still panting and shaking.

“I can hardly return to the manor with my gloves in such a state, can I? Remove them,” she demanded.

His fingertips were numb, making him clumsy and slow, but she didn’t seem to mind, simply waited patiently as he peeled the gloves off, one by one. Her palms were pink and sweaty under the leather and he wanted to taste them. Before he could, she pulled away and strode back to Cadence, collecting her helmet and dropping his clothes onto the grass. She swung herself up into the saddle and smirked down at him.

“You did very well today, James, and I will seek you out again. Keep the gloves, but let no one find them.” She clicked her tongue and turned the horse around, riding back in the direction of the house.

James collapsed back onto the rock, staring after her, unable to believe what had just occurred. The gloves and his spunk were the only real proof, and she’d left him with both. James grinned, feeling his face heat up once more. She’d chosen him. Touched him and made him cry out in pleasure. He had pleased her and she would engage him again. James bit his lip and jumped back into the water to clean himself, thinking that one day, if he was truly well behaved, maybe she’d let him have one of his fantasies, too