Ice Whispers Excerpt

The Hidden Hills Saga

Book I

“Ice Whispers”

By

K. Willow

 

 

“Whereas you have been forsaken and hated,

So that no one went through you,

I will make you an eternal excellence,

a joy of many generations.”

Isaiah 60:15

 

 

Chapter One

Sometime in November, 1858

Outside of Charleston, South Carolina

 

“When I die,” he said, “and pass from this earth to a more satisfying place . . .”

Aggie stood hidden behind the door, listening and feeling the aged and winded voice of Master Lance Kristofferson whisper through the crevice and hover over the tiny hairs of her skin. His most powerful voice had always hushed the spirit, rebellious as it was, inside of her. And today’s morning, even more so, the spirit was stuck in her chest.

Not a person ever dared to speak whenever Master Lance Kristofferson was talking. Nor did they ever attempt to question his judgments, his authority over the multitude living there on Kristofferson Plantation, both slave and free. Unwise souls who did so always regretted it after enduring the merciless consequences from such a vengeful man. From warnings, most had acquired this lesson, but some had learned it through a most difficult way.

And so people in Hidden Hills, especially those on Kristofferson Plantation, knew to listen to Master Lance. They should preserve their truest feelings inside themselves and simply obey, for it was the best way to safeguard their lives. There hadn’t been a time that anyone, even the most elderly of slaves or the most gossip-driven society woman, could recall when Lance Kristofferson had not achieved what he wanted. He had always found a way.

He crowed, “I want you all to be aware of what exactly is going to become of each and every one of you.”

His audience of three, all dressed in their fine and elegant morning dress for the day, were assembled before him at the foot of his grand old metal bed, where he had slept alone for probably over two years now. Aggie’s mistress, Marissa Kristofferson, his younger wife, who was now more handsome than Master Lance had ever been at her age, sat ready between the other two. Mister Alexander Pratt, the faithful employee who oversaw the runnings of Kristofferson Plantation, and then Shane, Marissa’s dark-haired, sullen son of eighteen, whom Aggie had raised alongside her own daughter, Lolley.

Aggie could hear them, see them, even though, as it had often been over the years, she was veiled from them. Unassuming, but witnessing everything. She knew that not one of them wanted to be there in that cold, drab room with Master Lance. Even Aggie could smell the disease that was devouring him, seeping through his pores and rubbing up against the bodies of all close to him, from their fingertips to their little toes. She could hear things, and she could hear it laughing. And she wanted to shut it up, that sickness that had thieved the beauty of this once overly superior man. Now he was as ugly on the outside as he was on the inside.

The other cups sitting on the tray held out in front of Master Lance jiggled together as he struggled to place his own teacup on it. But Lucas, the darkest skinned one in the room, was holding that tray, and he wouldn’t let it fall for fear of the wrath to come to anyone who embarrassed the master.

From the doorway, Aggie watched as Lucas held the tray with the large pot and all of the teacups secure in place, unaffected. She knew that he had become accustomed to Master Lance’s growing physical frailness, even though Master Lance had not been able to admit it was so. The master’s mind was still as strong and devilish as it ever had been. Aggie felt her spirit rising up against her, becoming anxious as she heard the scrambling of the soles of old shoes downstairs on the main floor, tirelessly working to fulfill their morning chores, calling her to help, to see to it that the teams of slaves in the Kristofferson household were doing as they had been told.

Rivulets of sweat dripped down from her tight, curly hairline over her dark, chiseled skin, but she steeled herself to maintain her statuesque position, waiting for Lance to continue making his great announcement. But knowing Master Lance, his sudden quietness signaled that he was also waiting—for Lucas to leave.

Lucas turned and trailed toward the door. It was obvious to Aggie that Master Lance didn’t want Lucas spreading word of what was going to happen to Kristofferson Plantation—and to all of them—just yet. He would rather torment them all by allowing the gossip and the hearsay to just keep running amok in every circle of the plantation.

Lucas finally lifted his sharp hazel eyes to the probing deep and dark ones of Aggie. He mouthed, “No.”

No, Aggie thought, though he had been there a good fifteen minutes before she had arrived in the shadows of the doorway. Lucas had not heard any new information. As soon as he stepped both feet in the hallway and was out of sight of the white folks inside, she wrapped her long fingers around the tingling knob and dragged the door closed.

“Bring that tray on out to the kitchen,” she whispered. “Miss Marissa, Mister Pratt, and Master Shane will want to be eating shortly after their talk.”

He nodded and strode on skinny legs beneath dark, perfectly creased trousers down the hallway. She watched until he had disappeared around the worn corner leading down the back stairwell.

Trying one more time, hoping for good fortune, she positioned her body with her head tilted toward the door to see if she could hear anything. But all was still in there except for a throaty hum of a voice, which she knew must be Master Lance’s. She could not make the words out.

Aggie sighed as the spirit inside of her relaxed back down into the center of her belly, and she started to stroll down the hallway, knowing there was always the possibility that the mistress might just let slip out later what had happened in that room.

 

Chapter Two

Since the day she had married him at fifteen years of age, Marissa Kristofferson had hated Lance with as much vehemence as a person could loathe her enemy. Even now, her nose was scrunched up as she held her breath. She didn’t want to smell Lance’s rotten stench from the illness and the horrid doctors’ formulas he poured down his throat. Her palm caressed the silk sleeve of her embroidered dress that maintained the warmth of her skin while in this drab room. She observed him with disgust. What new torture had the tyrant devised today?

For the entire time they had been married, Lance had torn her soul to pieces, abusing her with shameful perversity in their most intimate moments. With his callous, forked tongue, he had bullied and berated her till her will had become black and blue and toughened like a piece of pummeled meat. She was his penniless prisoner, and they both knew it. Having inherited little more than status from her own esteemed family in Charlestonian society, she was fully under Lance’s rule, no matter what his whim.

As she repositioned her body in her chair while Lance waited for the surety that all footsteps of slaves had passed on, a waft of Alexander’s strongly spiced cologne breezed across her nose. Why on God’s green earth would Lance have summoned Alexander here to listen to what should be a private family matter?

Alexander was a mere, albeit good and faithful, employee. But a solicitor he was not. If he wanted to stay on as manager of this plantation, he would just have to do as he was told since she herself did not have the same affection that Lance had for him. Alexander was a forty-two-year-old bachelor whose private dealings with women had fueled some of the most salacious gossip in Hidden Hills. And a man who was respectable in his business affairs but scandalous in his personal life was not the sort of man that could win her good favor.

Sadly, she thought, her son was not that much different. As Shane sat on the other side of her, she could hear his breathing louder now than a few moments ago. He, like her, was growing weary of his father, whom he loved with childish devotion. And from whom he had such a need for approbation that his constant failure to gain it had left him withdrawn and joyless at the tender age of eighteen, with few male friends and many female conquests. Shane had never confided in her. But as with Alexander, it had been nearly impossible for Marissa not to hear the torrid stories of Shane’s secret affairs all over Hidden Hills, and sometimes even in Charleston.

Looking up through the long reddish-brown ringlets hanging over her eyes, Marissa spied Lance’s china-blue eyes watching her as he continued.

“First, I want you all to know that after much contemplation, I have decided to free Lolley. Not now, but after I am here no more. Those foolish sons of bitches up at the state legislature have made my ability to manumit a slave quite difficult. Indeed, they are talking of war.” He fixed his gaze on Shane, who now appeared attentive to every word his father was uttering. “Shane, I will leave Lolley in your steadfast care as her new owner. However, I will require that you ensure her the ability to enjoy complete and undisturbed liberty, in like fashion of her having been fully emancipated. Pratt, see to it that this one of my last wishes is placed in the public record this day and without hindrance.”

Marissa knew her husband did not expect nor want any of them to speak, as he was accustomed to unbroken silence when he was talking. But she had abruptly ceased caressing her sleeve upon hearing this horrifying news. Beneath her dress, a sensation of cold clamminess was creeping across her skin, as though she was not within the surroundings of this room with its newly lit flames, but outside, sitting with her bare-naked body on thickly frosted, fine pins of grass.

Her chair shook as Lance was racked by a torrent of coughs, and Marissa conjured in her mind the yellow-green mucus sliding up and down his throat, constricting his airway. How she wished he would choke on it now.

Finally, he gathered up the strength to continue. “All of us have watched passively as Lolley has grown up beside Shane. And you have loved Aggie, Marissa, with a devotion that only attests to your good and kind nature. She has been good to our family for so many years. Should we not repay her this kindness by setting her daughter free?”

He was challenging Marissa, and she knew it. He had no expectation of a reply from her. He would be furious if she disagreed with one word of his. Her feet were prickling to stand up and escape this hole that would soon serve as the gateway to hell for Lance.

Lance smiled with his customary, self-satisfied smugness and said, “I would, of course, free Aggie too, but Aggie is old. And she’d have nowhere to go. Hell, that bitch would probably stay here with you since she loves you so. And there is no point in freeing a slave who’s just going to go on acting like a slave. What say you, son, to this proposition?” Lance’s eyes did not leave Marissa, nor did his smile depart his face.

Marissa twisted her head in Shane’s direction. She could well anticipate Shane’s reaction, but still, she hoped for the opposite to be true. It was not. Shane was in his glory. To have Lolley, beautiful as she was, with her long dark brown hair flowing over her pale mulatto skin—this was by far the most gracious present Lance could have left Shane before dying, and they all, save for Alexander, knew it was so.

“I am happy,” Lance said.

And Marissa knew that Lance saw the same joy that she saw in Shane now. Although he did not wear his emotions as evidently as most young men his age, joy was dancing around Shane’s eyes, lips, and even his mouth as he tried to prevent a smile.

“Given your great concern for Lolley all of these years, I was certain this would make you happy. Hopefully, this too will make our relationship better in death than in this life.”

Shane nodded, but like the others, he didn’t dare interrupt.

Marissa suddenly felt her petite body grow heavy, as though it was she who was on her way to being carried and lain deep at the bottom of an empty grave, with no warmth, no love, just a blankness behind her eyes. She stared at Lance. Why did he have to end his life by trying to hurt her? She had begged him to keep Shane away from Lolley, to find a way to subdue the ever-growing attraction between them. Had they not secretly sent Shane to that northern school as a means of accomplishing this? Although it had succeeded only in planting in Shane’s mind heretical ideas about ending slavery and providing him with a wife whom Marissa was well aware Shane did not love, at least not enough.

“Now, Pratt.” Lance finally addressed Alexander, ready to present the much-anticipated reason for Alexander’s presence. “My most faithful and trusted friend. You are questioning, as I am sure my wife and son are, why I have required your attendance at this most solemn of meetings. I know that you have been fielding the requests of the many scavengers, my foes included, who would like to steal Kristofferson Plantation away from my family.”

Shane glanced at Marissa.

She was knowledgeable of such requests, but she had not told Shane since she assumed it would be she who would run the plantation, although it would be left in Shane’s name. Was this not to be? Her heart started throbbing in her chest. She heard Shane’s chair creak angrily beside her as he leaned in closer to his father.

“But Pratt, I am not able to surrender myself to this. I will not sell this magnificent place. Graciously, you have provided me with excellent and loyal service. I have watched as you have patiently learned from me and grown to the point that there is little on this plantation you could not run on your own. So it is with much pride that I inform you that I will be bequeathing Kristofferson Plantation to you. You will not, of course, change her name, for it shall always be my name that sits on that sign at the beginning of the drive. All I ask, all I will require of you, is that shortly after I die, you marry my beautiful widowed wife, Marissa.”

 

 

Death-silence inhabited Marissa’s bedroom as Aggie sat on her customary soft stool at her perch by the grand window, eyeing the comings and goings of the carriages and other happenings around the great Kristofferson house. She had routinely done so for the last nineteen years since she had arrived at the plantation with Marissa, who had been welcomed as Master Lance’s handsome new bride.

Today, though, Aggie was soaked in the unknown. She would not even venture down those stairs to oversee the others. She had determined to wait in the stillness of this room, where she had for so many years helped Marissa dress herself, pretty her hair, make decisions over even the most trifling of dilemmas, and the most damning. She had listened closely. And that was what she was prepared to do now.

She purposed her eyes on the door as the creak of her mistress’s steps began echoing down the corridor toward the room. The morning meeting had ended. It hadn’t been that long since she had left them in that vile-spirited room with Master Lance. What had they all heard from him? Said to him? If anything at all. Her mistress was just as afraid of speaking up to the man as anyone else, and Aggie had been witness to her cowing to his whims for all these years. At least publicly so.

As soon as the opening door tore through the silence of the room, Aggie hunched her body back over the dress in her lap, clutching the slippery silk as she pretended to have been mending the fine, delicate creature all this time. The door clicked shut, and Aggie cocked her head upward and peered at Marissa as she slumped past her, stopped, and then seemed to just let her body fall onto her bed, burying her face in the newly tidied linens.

Aggie sucked in her gut as she tried to subdue the wicked spirit, which was starting to fidget inside of her and demanding that she rush over to the mistress and twist every shard of information out of her. But Aggie hummed to herself and cautioned it to stop bullying her into doing what it wanted her to do, which wouldn’t be good for either of them. It was all in due time, and not a moment sooner, no matter what her spirit desired.

She stood up and placed the seemingly untamable dress down on the stool, laying the long, thick thread and needle on top of it carefully. With the slowest of steps, she snaked her way over to the bed, which sat closer to the corner of the room. She softly whistled out some of the burning air that was building inside of her and sat down on the edge closest to Marissa’s head. She hovered over her and whispered, “Mistress?”

She had discerned long ago that it was always the most practical tactic to be sensitive with Marissa, who could be more fragile than the crystal lined up all over the grand Kristofferson dining room. Marissa was like them, showpieces for the many guests who visited the house, who were intimidated by their beauty and cautious not to touch.

Only a couple years younger than the mistress, Aggie had lived side by side with Marissa ever since Marissa’s doting father had bought Aggie as a playmate—a toy—for his only daughter after the girl had suddenly become motherless and alone. Aggie took care of Marissa, it was true. And she knew that although her mistress would never admit it in public, the two of them, slave and free, were friends. In fact, just as close as any true sisters.

But Aggie had also submitted to the reminders surrounding her of a life she was never meant to live. Just be present and not heard. She watched the messiness of the romantic relationships that Marissa and the other young fashionable white women of Hidden Hills sometimes giggled and sometimes cried about, ever since they had all been young girls. Now they were a little older, but they were still living elegantly, while she was destined to a life of spying about them all. She would never have her own Lance Kristofferson, who would take good care of her and hold her on his outstretched skinny arm beneath the black sleeve of his grand evening coat as his own prize of society—no matter how callous he was. So many men in Hidden Hills did this with their ladies, these precious dolls of the plantations and great big city estates. Aggie was alone, and she would always live like this since Marissa would require her servitude for the rest of her God-given life. And they both were aware that it was so.

Marissa scooted her little body over and seemed to stare right through Aggie as though Aggie herself was an object of glass that could permit Marissa to see into another world far away. She looked as though she was in a sort of trance, her eyes bright with tears that stood imprisoned between her eyelids.

“Mistress, could you tell me why you’re so upset? Is it as bad as all this?” Aggie crooned while keeping her tense curiosity hidden.

“Yes, Aggie, it is. The fool wishes me to die with him. That is what he wants from me, and I haven’t a clue what on earth I’m to do about it.”

Aggie looked down at Marissa and brushed strands of her red hair away from her face. She wanted to see her face fully so that she could understand exactly how she was feeling. She waited, as she knew that Marissa was only pausing for a moment before she continued with her story. The details were necessary. “Master Kristofferson has informed me that he plans to marry me off.”

Aggie suddenly felt her throat tighten a bit as the spirit inside of her screamed, Go on. Why are you fiddling around and taking so long to tell us? Aggie whispered, “Marry you, Mistress? To whom?”

“To Mr. Pratt, of course. He is planning on leaving me like everything else—his cattle, his slaves—to his hired hand as though I am just a common prostitute. I am the lady of this house.” She shut her eyes and covered her face with her hands, her long fingers seeming to claw at her.

Aggie felt her heart grow strange, as though it was trapped inside of a cage whose gate had just flung open, but it didn’t dare step outside of its boundaries. Of course, Aggie had viewed the ways in which the master had treated Marissa as though she were a silly little girl rather than his own wife. But that he would see her as little better than a slave? It brought shivers up her back. Could it be that for the first time, Marissa might be able to understand a little of the way that she felt?

Marissa suddenly started laughing, dropping her fingers from her face as she glared into Aggie’s eyes. “But I am sure you will be ever so pleased that your master plans on freeing Lolley as well. She will no longer be a slave, which he believes will make you think kindly of us. And Shane is in his absolute glory, which none of us have seen from him in, Lord, I don’t know how long, now that his horrid father intends on leaving Lolley in his care. If that man has any more of these meetings before he dies, I think I will die first.”

Aggie turned away from Marissa and then stood up. Her face was starting to twitch beneath the masked expression she kept fixed over it. It would give her inner thoughts away. What had she said? You heard what she said. She could feel the prickling of her spirit chuckling inside of her.

“I intend to put a stop to it before it happens though,” Marissa said as Aggie walked away from the bed, back toward the stool which held her sewing for the morning. She could hear Marissa rustling on the bed behind her. Marissa raised her voice louder, “I tell you, Aggie, it’s as though he knows the truth about Lolley. But could he? You haven’t said anything to make him suspicious, have you? Because if you have, you have ruined her life and Shane’s.”

Aggie picked up the dress. It felt colder in her hands than before. The threaded needle fell to the floor, and she bent over and picked it up as it hovered over a narrow crack. She stood back up and then sat down on the stool. Marissa was quiet, and Aggie realized that she was waiting for a response to the question. “No, Mistress. I would never do such a thing,” she said as she looked down at the dress, found the spot where she had left off, and began stitching the hole that she needed to close. She did not wish for her face to give away the joy she felt. Lolley was going to be free. The daughter she had raised. But how Aggie wished it was her.

“Well, there is something that he knows. I can see it in his eyes. The way he looked at me, Aggie. It was as though he wants all of this to do me in. You will have to pay close attention and see if you hear anything from the others. Or if he says anything to you.”

“I will make sure to tell you, Mistress,” Aggie said as Marissa pulled herself up and maneuvered across the bed until she was sitting on the edge.

“For now, you and I will be sending Lolley away from here tomorrow,” she said.

Aggie kept sewing, but she could feel her fingers starting to shake. “Where to, Mistress?”

“To another plantation. Maybe Charleston? Perhaps much farther away.” Marissa laughed, but Aggie could hear the seriousness in her voice. That tone was too familiar to her. Marissa’s lighthearted demeanor was only a ploy. Aggie had witnessed this in the way she had handled some of the other slaves, the way she had spread gossip about some of the ladies she called “friends” in Hidden Hills. When Marissa indeed wanted her way, she was not the type of person to be dismissed.

“But then I would never see her. And I know that although you say now that you would not care, I am sure that after a little while, you will,” Aggie said, frustrated that her fingers would not stop shaking. She hoped that if the mistress saw them, she would just blame it on the cold in the room and the fact that Aggie was sitting beneath the window.

“I do not agree. You know that I have little care for Lolley, especially not nearly as much as you do,” Marissa said, but her voice seemed to trail off.

There was the opening, small as it was. Aggie had heard the drop of uncertainty in Marissa’s voice. But she knew that although it was only the two of them in the room, Marissa desired to maintain this ruse, probably for fear that if she ever dared to let slip the truth aloud, someone would somehow overhear her, especially now with all the speculation encircling the plantation as to what was going to happen to them all after Master Lance’s passing on. All the hands had started listening more carefully, hoping to spread the news first. She and Marissa would, as always, keep up this farce. They would speak with hidden subtleties so as to protect themselves in case anyone did happen to be secretly listening for gossip to spread around town. And to Marissa’s idea that the master could know the truth, that was an impossibility.

She had to put an end to any plans Marissa had to send Lolley away. Why had she never assumed that Master Lance would ever do such a kind, generous act? And now Marissa wanted to ruin the girl’s only chance at a real life, one she might just be proud of. Aggie paused and then said, “I know of a place that we could send Lolley, Mistress.”

Marissa turned her gaze to her. Aggie could detect suspicion.

“There is a family in town. I’ve heard some things about them around. Not too much, but I think they might be compliant if you request that they take in a slave until Master Lance passes on. Perhaps we could insist they find Lolley a suitable husband of her own kind, and although I am not that knowledgeable about these things, I believe that would put an end to Master Shane’s interest in her. She would be another man’s wife with another man’s babies. I am sure, if I may speak so boldly, that this attraction Master Shane has for Lolley will vanish at the image of her with another man, and a Negro at that. Isn’t it true that men possess a strong sense of revulsion at the thought of the woman they want being with another man? And for white men, especially a Negro?”

Marissa was quiet for a moment. She did not answer, but Aggie could see in her eyes that she was thinking.

“If you think on it, Mistress, you might see that this is a more permanent solution to the problem . . . a final solution, I think.” Aggie focused on Marissa, who was still not looking at her, and even the spirit inside of her held its tongue as she waited for Marissa’s reaction to her plan.

“And do you think Lolley will go along with it? She can be an ornery girl when she wants to. I think we have spoiled her in this house. Slaves have no business acting in such a way,” Marissa said.

Aggie could see the fear on Marissa’s face as she stared over at Aggie. She knew she had to reassure her. “She will not have a choice, Mistress. We will make her.”

“Then I think this may just be the answer. If Shane finds out she is to be with another man, I am sure he will lose all interest in her. Most likely, he will despise her very sight. Who is this family, and do you think you can convince them to do such a thing? To help us?” Marissa leaned toward Aggie.

“They will certainly do it, Mistress, because you asked them to. I will tell them that you requested it, and they will not be able to say no.”

Marissa leaned back and smiled. “Of course. You will travel there with Lolley tomorrow and tell them that I have asked them to do this one favor for me, and I will be ever so grateful to them.”

“I will do it, Mistress. Shortly after breakfast.”

“No. Before breakfast so as to avoid any spectacle. I am not interested in any crying fits from the other slaves.”

“I don’t think there will be any crying from the other slaves, Mistress.”

“Lolley does like to keep herself away from the others, doesn’t she? They do not like her much, do they?”

“No, Mistress,” Aggie said. She wanted to laugh at how dull Marissa was. Everyone on the plantation, at least all of the other slaves and most likely her own son, Shane, knew that Lolley had no friends on the plantation and kept to herself. Aggie relaxed her body on the stool. Her fingers had stopped shaking.

“Even better,” Marissa sighed. “It will make it that much easier. Just keep it from Master Shane and, of course, Master Lance.”

Another secret, Aggie thought.

Marissa lay back onto the bed. “And now I can concentrate on what I am going to do about this abominable marriage Lance has proposed for me. He has threatened to sell the plantation out from under me and Shane both if I defy him and refuse to do it. He knows we will be penniless. The bastard. What I will do, I haven’t the faintest idea.”

“I think the other ladies in town just might be a bit jealous of you should you marry Mister Alexander, Mistress.” Aggie could feel her breathing returning to normal. The spirit was calm now. Every now and then, it decided to stir up rebellion inside of her. News of rebellious slaves had gotten all of them antsy, not just the whites around Charleston. Denmark Vesey and that Nat Turner boy had been making it more difficult for her not to wonder at times what it would be like if she was free. And now Master Lance was going to give what she had always dreamt of for herself to Lolley while at the same time leaving a cruel bruise on Marissa and that ego of hers. But why?

Marissa was yapping as she focused on her prospects to Mister Alexander. “But I want to be free, Aggie. For the first time in so many years only to be married again? I don’t know if I can tolerate such turmoil anymore.” Marissa closed her eyes as though she was trying to hide from the vision that had just appeared.

For this, Aggie could have no compassion. To feel that in marriage with all of these grandiose and beautiful things life could be anything less than freeing was not a possibility to her. And the parties that were just so spectacular. God, how she loved watching all them people dressed in their fanciest gowns dancing around the Kristofferson’s grand ballroom! “Should I go and prepare Lolley for tomorrow?”

“Yes, of course,” Marissa said, opening her eyes.

Aggie sighed under her breath, stood up, and placed the dress back on the stool. She nodded toward Marissa before heading toward the door.

“And Aggie, who are these people that you’re sending Lolley to?”

Aggie turned around and said, “Their name is Franklin, Mistress. Free blacks. Mister John Franklin. Has a shop in town, fixing up things. He’s making quite a name for himself. ”

“Why haven’t I heard of him before?” Marissa said.

“You will, I’m sure. People say he’s been up to the mayor’s house on occasion for dinner.”

Marissa laughed. “Well, look at that. Yes, take Lolley over to him. Maybe he’ll be able to teach her a thing or two about the way she should act. Lord knows she’s had a hard time as a slave. What’s she going to do when she’s free? That foolish husband of mine might have just signed her death warrant. You don’t free that type of slave. She was better off staying right here as she was. And you are sure, Aggie, that these people will be able to help us with her? They will have to marry her to someone if this is to work at all. If I know my son, who can do whatever he pleases, he’ll be disgusted if a woman does anything other than cater to him. Just like his father.”

Aggie wanted to remind her that Master Lance was forcing her to become another man’s wife, and she was sure that he was aware of what Mister Alexander would do to her once they were married. A part of Aggie hoped that Master Shane wouldn’t care any which way. Whether Lolley was with another or whether she wasn’t, maybe Master Shane would still want Lolley. Maybe he loved her. Aggie hadn’t quite figured out the truth yet. “I am sure they will do all they can to please you, Mistress,” she said and then turned around and walked toward the door. She cringed as she steadied herself before leaving the room to go find Lolley, to tell her this news that Lolley was being sent away from the plantation for good.

Whether Lolley would take this news well or not, she was unsure. But it was the only way. She comforted herself with this thought, and then as she turned the doorknob, she swore she heard what sounded faintly like a pair of woman’s shoes as they scampered down the hallway. She knew who it was. Opening the door and peeking down the hall, she caught a glimpse of the tail of the frumpy blue dress that Blaire, Shane’s wife of only one year, wore often enough that Aggie would be able to spot the girl anywhere. It disappeared quickly into her bedroom.