Pennsylvania Colony, 1723
“You don’t wanna be goin’ to Stewart House. It’s got more haunts than the Tower of London.”
The carriage driver’s words echoed in Shauna’s mind as she stared at the two-story stone building. The house didn’t look haunted. Why had the driver tried to scare her with tales of murder and madness? She’d come to the colonies to do a job, and she wasn’t about to be put off by a batch of superstitious nonsense.
Shauna walked up the path to the front door, passing her trunk where the driver had dropped it in his haste to flee. She rapped with the brass knocker, waited a moment, then knocked again. There was no answer. Was anyone home? She didn’t fancy waiting outside all day.
She opened the front door and stepped into a tiled entryway. The scent of cherry tobacco filled her nostrils. “Hello? Anyone ’ere?”
Curious, she peeked into the parlor to her left. The room was decorated with a horsehair sofa, an assortment of chairs and tables, and a thick wool carpet. “Oh my,” she muttered. Was everyone in Pennsylvania Colony so well off?
A colorful painting of a garden filled with yellow roses drew her into the room. She admired the painting for a moment, then strolled around the parlor.
Upon closer inspection, she noticed cobwebs dangling from the ceiling’s open beams, a gray tinge to the lace curtains, and stains on the light blue carpet. She frowned. The coach driver had been right about one thing—the house needed a servant. She recalled the rest of his strange story.
“The Stewarts can’t keep servants, ya know. They tried to hire local girls, but folks in town know better than to let their daughters go there. Nobody stays at Stewart House after dark. Not after what happened to that Purdy girl.”
She hadn’t asked who “that Purdy girl” was, and she didn’t care. It was none of her business. Besides, even if the house was haunted, she had no choice but to stay.
“Who are you and what the devil are you doing in my parlor?” a deep voice thundered.
She whirled around. A man with dark hair and a heavy beard towered over her.
“I asked you a question. Who are you?”
“I’m the new servant. Me name’s Shauna Farrow.”
“You were supposed to be here three days ago. Where the hell have you been? I paid the driver a good bit to fetch you. He’d better have done his duty,” the man snapped. “I am your master, Joshua Stewart. You are not allowed to use the front door without permission. You are a servant. Use the servants’ entrance.”
“Aye, but you see—”
Joshua shoved her to the floor.
“If you wish to speak, beg permission. I will not tolerate insolence.”
Shauna curled her hands into fists and shot to her feet.
“You’ve got no right ta—”
“Do not argue with me, girl. I own you.” Joshua grabbed her by the shoulders. “Address me as ‘sir’ or ‘Master Stewart.’ Understand?”
“Do you have your papers?”
“Aye, sir. They’re outside in me trunk.”
She darted into the foyer, then stopped. Was this a trick? She turned back. “Sir, pray I use the front door to fetch ’em? The driver—”
“Are you mocking me?”
She forced herself to sound meek. Joshua Stewart was a big bear of a man, and she didn’t want to make him angrier. “Nay, sir. I wanna be sure I’m doin’ the right thing. Me trunk’s at the edge of the walk.”
He waved her off. “Hurry.”
Shauna rushed outside and opened her battered brown trunk. Her indenture papers were stacked neatly on top of her clothes. She picked up the papers and paused. Having second thoughts now would do her no good; it was too late to turn back. As soon as she handed these documents over to Master Stewart, she would belong to him for five years. It already seemed like an eternity.
Part of her was tempted to march back inside and give her new “master” a piece of her mind, but she couldn’t. A fiery Irish temper and a loose tongue had caused her more problems than she could count. She didn’t need to start any new troubles here. As long as she lived at Stewart House, she would have to do as she was told. Besides, she had nowhere else to go.
Shauna returned to the parlor and saw Joshua leaning against the stone fireplace, tapping pipe ashes onto the hearth. She handed him her indenture papers and flinched as his cold hand touched hers.
“We’ll discuss the rules as I take you through the house.” Joshua lit a candle, then led her up the main staircase. “The room at the end of the hall is mine.”
Shauna followed him down the dark, musty hallway, catching glimpses of cabinets in the shadows.
Joshua pointed to three closed doors. “My son Colin’s room and two guest rooms.” He strode down the carpeted corridor. “Missus Stewart’s room.” Joshua’s gaze bore into hers. “Colin’s wife has particular needs. She always keeps her door locked.”
Joshua gestured at a small door on the opposite side of the hall. “That leads to your room. You have the attic space.” He walked to the end of the corridor and opened another door. “These are the servants’ stairs. You are not permitted to use the main stairs.”
She trailed behind him as he made his way down the servants’ narrow steps. It looked as if the stairs hadn’t been used in years. Ropy gray cobwebs draped from the beams. Dust whirled around her skirts, tickling her nose. She coughed as she crept down the creaking staircase and found herself standing in the kitchen.
“Gretchen, the cook, prepares our meals. She returns to town after supper.”
Shauna hurried after Joshua as he marched through a swinging door and into a pale green dining room.
“Meals are served here. You eat in the kitchen.”
She barely had time to glance around the room before Joshua returned to the parlor.
“That is the main house. The dependencies—barn, stable, smokehouse, and springhouse—are none of your concern. Any questions?”
Questions? She had a thousand but dared only one. “The room there, sir, on the other side of the foyer . . . what’s that?” She pointed to the closed door.
“My study. I often conduct business at home.” Joshua scratched his black beard. “You will take your orders from me and Missus Stewart. Understand?”
Joshua crossed his arms over his barrel-like chest. “You are indentured to me for five years. That means no payment and no leaving the house without my permission. You obey me or else. If you steal anything or slack off in your work, you will be punished. If you run away, you will be brought back in irons and suffer legal penalties. Understand?”
“I expect you to bathe at least once a week and look presentable. I will not tolerate a smelly or unkempt servant. Do you have anything else to wear?”
Shame washed over her, and she glanced at her dull black skirt and threadbare blue shirt. There hadn’t been many clothes to put in her trunk. “Aye. Some, sir.”
“I’ll arrange for you to receive new dresses next week. And meals are provided, of course. I couldn’t expect you to go five years without food, now, could I?” Joshua chuckled.
She jumped, startled by his deep laugh. Was that a joke? “I hope not, sir,” she answered, her voice trembling.
“Very well, then. Get accustomed to the house. Your work begins in the morning,” Joshua stated, then left the parlor.
Shauna gazed around the dusty room and sighed. What had she gotten herself into? Leaving Ireland to start over in Pennsylvania Colony had been the worst mistake of her life. Yet she had no choice but to begin her servitude in the morning.
Joshua Stewart, master of the house, had spoken.
Ashton rolled over and winced. His head ached as if a spike had been driven into his skull. He blinked a few times. Where the hell was he? The air smelled stale. The scent of sweat combined with rum and perfume made his stomach lurch. He looked at the woman sleeping next to him. He was naked in a bed but where? He couldn’t tell one place from another anymore.
Hazy memories from the previous night flashed back to him. He had gotten into a fight and lost the last of his money in a card game. This came on the heels of last week’s fight that had landed him three nights in jail. His father had used his influence to spare him a public flogging for drunken and indecent behavior, but then two days later, he had caused the incident at Mr. Campbell’s house.
Ashton studied the fair-haired girl half covered with a green quilt. In the dim morning light, she appeared ordinary and featureless. Why had he been attracted to her? Perhaps it was the wanton way she’d teased him with her tongue each time she kissed him or the sinful promises she had whispered in his ear. In any case, it didn’t take long for her dress to come off once they were upstairs.
He recalled stripping out of his breeches, then the soft feel of her hands stroking him until he was hard. She had pushed him onto the bed and straddled his hips, taking charge as he had told her to. While her hot body had pumped up and down on his prick, his troubles had faded away. He had let himself be ridden, not caring about anything except his building orgasm.
What was her name? He searched his fuzzy memory. Jane? Joan? It didn’t matter. He had nothing to pay her with.
Now what? He closed his eyes. The letter. Father’s scathing letter had arrived yesterday, ordering him to return to Stewart House at once, before he “disgraced the family’s reputation further.” He had no choice but to go back to the Stewart madhouse for a while. He would endure the torment for a month or two or perhaps the entire summer if he could stand it. Then what? Repeat the pattern again?
He licked his dry lips and rubbed his eyes. Stewart House held too many memories. It always reminded him of his mother. She was in his thoughts quite often these days. She would have wanted him to be respectable and not a drunken whoremonger. He groaned. At least she was spared seeing what a failure her only child had become.
Last night, he’d been tempted to go down to the docks and sign on to a ship leaving for England or Ireland. In his drunken state, he had reasoned that if he left the colonies, he could start over and begin a new life.
But all the liquor in Boston couldn’t help him take such a bold step. Eventually, he’d admitted the truth to himself. It was easier to crawl into a bottle and ignore the world than to face reality. Besides, what did he have to look forward to?
Ashton sat up and grimaced as a sharp pain shot through his head. Who cared about the future? Right now, he needed food and headache powder. Everything else could wait. He pulled his rumpled breeches from a pile of clothing on the floor and dressed quickly.
As he buttoned his vest, he felt something hard tucked into an inside pocket. A coin! He fished it out and ran his thumb over the edge. It was enough to buy a morning meal.
He glanced at the still-sleeping girl and felt a tug at his heart. Lord knew she deserved it for what she put herself through every night. He placed the coin on the edge of the dresser and slipped from the room, ignoring the rumbling in his stomach.
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ABOUT KELLI A. WILKINS
Kelli A. Wilkins is an award-winning author who has published more than 90 short stories, seventeen romance novels (for Medallion Press and Amber Quill Press), and four non-fiction books. Her romances span many genres and heat levels. Kelli had two historical romances published in 2014: Wilderness Bride from Amber Quill Press: http://www.amberquill.com/store/p/1941-Wilderness-Bride.aspx and Dangerous Indenture from Medallion Press: http://medallionmediagroup.com/books/dangerous-indenture/.
Kelli publishes a blog: (http://kelliwilkinsauthor.blogspot.com) filled with excerpts, interviews, writing prompts, and whatever else pops into her head. She also writes a monthly newsletter, Kelli’s Quill, and posts on Facebook and Twitter. Kelli invites readers to visit her website, http://www.KelliWilkins.com to learn more about all of her writings.