Authors: Virginia Henley
Her pulses quickened at the very thought of her husband. She sighed, wishing the rain had not spoiled their rendezvous, yet she felt a shy relief that she was being allowed a postponement of more serious lovemaking She trimmed some of the candles before she went back to the house and noticed with relief that the rain had stopped. There would be no storm tonight, however everything in the garden was drenched.
Upstairs in her bedroom it was evident that the shower had brought no cool breezes with it. If anything, the humidity made it feel hotter and more uncomfortable than ever. On impulse she shook out her lawn nightgown and took the scissors to it. She sheared it off so that it just skimmed her hips. She was so delighted with the feeling of freedom it gave to her legs, she wondered why she hadn't done it long ago.
She opened wide the doors that led to the balcony and took a book of poetry back to bed with her. It absorbed all her attention, for suddenly the love sonnets had a new meaning for her. They evoked a depth of feeling she had never been aware of. Dimly, in the distance she heard a night-bird singing a heartbreakingly beautiful song to its mate and she laid the book aside to listen. It was as if it called to her. Amanda left her bed and went out to the balcony to listen. She leaned against the verandah railing in rapt appreciation as the small bird sang its throat out. When it stopped, she felt its loss acutely.
Her eyes searched the shadowy trees to no avail, then as she looked along the darkened gallery, she saw her husband's cheroot glowing in the blackness. She felt an initial panic whether he could see her or not, then realized that he must, as her lamplight through the open doors illuminated this part of the balcony. The light started moving toward her and she knew she must prevent him from coming along to this wing of the house were Billie or Mammy Lou would overhear them. She ran quickly along the shadowed gallery until she stood before him breathless, heedless of her state of undress.
"If only there was a moon tonight to reveal your loveliness."
"Nicholas, you must come no further," she whispered unevenly.
"You met me halfway, as it should be," he murmured softly. His voice hinted of passion, yet still he did not touch her.
They drew closer, unable to control the attraction their bodies held for each other. He opened his robe and took her inside against his body.
She gasped as the shock of his hard nakedness came against her warm, soft flesh. The wisp of material was no protection for the hot length of him pressed tightly against her delicate body.
"Sweet, sweet..." he begged, and suddenly she felt his hard shaft rise up and begin to throb and probe against her thighs.
Panic seized her. "No, please don't do that."
His hands slid beneath the shortened nightgown to hold her hips against him, and now he brought his mouth down on hers to silence her protests.
She struggled to free herself, and her sharp little teeth sank into his lip. When his hand left her body and went to his injured mouth, she pulled her trembling body away from his demanding torso and fled back to the sanctuary of her room and locked the balcony doors. After what seemed an eternity, her heart beneath her breasts slowed its tumult and she was able to catch her breath.
She slid beneath the covers and the tears slipped down her cheeks and fell onto her pillow. Amanda examined her feelings for him. She was sure she loved him, trusted him, but tonight had frightened her. He was such a big man, so mature, with an age gap of almost ten years between them. It made her feel timid, and shy, like a child. Just thinking of the physical demands his body made on hers caused her to tremble. The following day, Amanda avoided her husband, and when they did chance to meet on the stairs, her lashes swept her cheeks and she dare not meet his eyes.
That night, he waited in the gazebo, but she did not come, and he knew their idyll in the garden had come to an end.
Every day Jennifer asked Brandon if his slaves had arrived from Blackville. It wasn't until the end of the week that he confirmed they had arrived at the Jackson Plantation, and he was expecting the slave buyer from Charleston the next afternoon.
The following morning, Jennifer arose early and gathered together five of the house servants her mother had left her in the will. "Cleo, Fanny, and Aphrodite, I want you over at the Jackson Plantation today. Charles and Porter too. As soon as you're finished morning chores, we'll all go over there together."
"Yass Miz Jennifer," they chorused, not really curious about why they were needed back at the other house, and glad really that they would be reunited for a gossip with the Jackson servants who hadn't been brought to Paradise.
When Jennifer arrived, Brandon raised his eyebrows when he saw the group of servants she had brought with her. A suspicion crossed his mind that he could hardly credit.
"Could I speak with you in private, Brandon?" Jenny asked at her very sweetest, and his suspicions were instantly confirmed.
Alone, outside the house, Jennifer said, "I'm selling them. The buyer can take them on consignment and when they're sold you can collect my money for me and pay him his commission."
"But Jen... they served Mother... you can't do this!"
"I can and I will, Brandon. Paradise has dozens of servants. Why should Nicholas Peacock have the use of my slaves, pray tell me? I'm not a Simon-pure fool, Brandon. Here are their papers. Take care of it for me."
"And if I refuse?" he demanded, still outraged.
"Why then I'd have to tell Daddy about you takin' me to that terrible place, and how you took your pleasure on a wench in the very next room where my poor ears were exposed to every vile thing that went on."
Brandon's mouth tightened as he took the ownership papers from her.
Jim, Brandon's body servant grasped what was happening. A great fear took hold of him. If they were selling Cleo and Porter, who had carried ol' Miz Caroline about so faithfully, then perhaps he would be next. He followed Miz Jennifer back to Paradise, making sure he kept a healthy distance between them. He hung about the back door of the house until he spotted Samuel.
"Hello Jim. Mast' Brandon wid yo' today?" Samuel asked.
"Naw sir, Sam. Ah wants t'tell y'all sumpin, but ah don't wants to be in no trouble."
"Spit it out boy," Samuel ordered. He was a man not easily disobeyed and Jim spilled out his fears to the older man.
"You tellin' me de trufe boy? Git home before anybody see yo'. Ah'll take care o' dis."
When Samuel found Nicholas he was supervising the digging of drainage ditches on his low-lying land. As soon as the field hands spotted Samuel, there was good-hearted kidding that the house servant would get dirty if he'd come to help them dig.
Nicholas stopped laughing when he saw the distress evident in Samuel's face. He took him aside and asked him what was amiss. Before Samuel finished his tale, Nicholas looked haggard. A white-hot searing anger took hold of him.
"Jesus Christ," he swore, "the treacherous bitch!" He glanced quickly toward the black men in the ditch. "Don't breathe a word of this to Brute. I don't want any killing around here. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Nicholas ran all the way to the stables and grabbed Sunblood. He didn't wait to saddle up, but rode him bareback, his strong brown hands threaded through the horse's mane. He pulled the magnificent beast to a halt on the driveway at the Jackson Plantation, sending gravel flying in every direction.
"Where are they?" he demanded the moment he laid eyes on Brandon.
Brandon stepped back in alarm at the look of pure hatred on Nick's face.
"They've left, but they can't be more than a couple of miles down the road. Ma's house slaves were dragging their feet all the way." He hesitated a second, then tried desperately to excuse himself. "Thank God you've got the guts to go after them, Nicholas. I told Jenny she had no right to do it, but she wouldn't listen."
Nicholas looked at him with contempt. "By Christ, Brandon, don't you think it's time you learned to handle your womenfolk?"
He didn't wait for an answer, but urged Sunblood forward, and before he reached the end of the driveway, he was riding at full gallop. It didn't take long to overtake the mules pulling the slave buyer's wagon. He saw that the man held a long buggy whip, and it was obvious he had used it on the reluctant house servants.
The abject misery on the black faces changed to hope as they saw Nicholas thunder up on the huge red stallion. The anger in his eyes was terrible to behold. Though he dismounted, he still towered over the man in charge of the slaves.
Nicholas spoke with such total authority, the man found it impossible to put up more than a token protest about having legal papers in his possession.
Nicholas fixed him with a steely eye. "The papers are worthless forgeries. My people's papers are locked in my safe, where they will remain. You will give me the papers before I ride for the patrol and have charges brought against you." He turned to the five house servants. "Go home."
They hesitated only an instant, then they lifted their heels and took off for Paradise like the devil himself was after them.
Nicholas dared the man to use the whip on him, but the buyer shifted his eyes and mumbled, "What about these others?"
"They have nothing whatever to do with me, thank God."
Sunblood, untethered, had danced off a distance when Nicholas raised his voice in anger, but now he obediently answered his master's whistle and came trotting up.
"Good boy." Nicholas rubbed his hand down the satin flank and remounted. He lost no time getting back to the house, and as he rode past the five servants, he called, "I want to speak to you in my office when you get back."
He slammed the door of Paradise so hard, it shook the very foundations.
Jennifer Joy was going upstairs with Mammy Lou who was carrying two freshly ironed gowns.
"Get down here!" Nicholas ordered in a harsh voice that brooked no refusal.
Jennifer, appalled at being spoken to in such a manner, whirled about and she came down furiously to face this uncouth lout-of-a-man who came into the house with the grime and sweat of the field still upon him.
His eyes blazed into hers. "I may have tainted myself buying human flesh, but by Christ I will never commit the sin of selling a human being. Hear me well, for I will only say this once. No slave will ever be sold from Paradise."
She dared to defy him. "They are my slaves to sell if I wish."
"Yes-- your obedient slaves who have served you well and faithfully all your life. You are a mercenary bitch who will do anything for money. I will buy them from you for you are not fit to own them. I will give you two thousand dollars. I have some Confederate money in my cash box I've been looking to get rid of.
"You will rue this day," Jennifer vowed venomously. "I'll write to Daddy and tell him you have been molesting me," she said triumphantly.
His large hand shot out and slapped her across the face. Her head snapped back on the impact, nearly knocking her to the carpet. "I am not a Southern gentleman, Jennifer. Never forget it," he said with deadly calm.
Her hand covered the left side of her rapidly swelling face as she stared at him in shocked disbelief.
"If your lies about our having a sexual relationship ever reach my wife's ears, I will destroy you." His threat was made in such a quiet voice, it was more deadly than if he'd shouted it from the rooftop.
Jennifer fled upstairs, past Mammy Lou whose eyes stared out of her head.
Amanda, who had been up in her room with the door closed, had dimly heard the shouts from below and was coming to investigate. "Jenny, whatever's the matter?" She was alarmed at the state of her sister.
Jennifer shook her head, ran into her room, and locked the door.
Amanda looked at Mammy Lou. "Someone struck her," she said with disbelief. "My God, it wasn't Nicholas, was it?" She rushed down the staircase past Mammy and ran along to her husband's office where she saw Cleo, Dite, and Fanny sitting down, and Charles and Porter standing behind them. She disregarded their presence and asked Nicholas in an incredulous voice, "Did you strike Jennifer?"
She watched a muscle clench in his jaw and saw his lips were white with suppressed fury.
He pointed to the door and uttered one word. "Go!"
Mandy's mouth fell open with surprise. As she was about to protest, he said, "Obey me madam, or I will not be responsible for my actions."
This was a Nicholas Amanda had never seen before and she was relieved to put a safe distance between them.
"Mammy, get in here and tell me what's happening in my own house." Amanda took the dresses from her arms and sat her down in a bedroom chair.
"Ah don't know, Miz Mandy."
"Mammy, you stop that prevaricating this minute. You even know when somebody takes a pee!"
"You' stop dat trashy talk an' ah tells yo'. Miz Jennifer dun sold de house servants yore momma left her to de slave buyer, and Masta Nick dun got 'em back."
"Great balls of fire, Mother will be spinning in her grave."
"Sumpin' happen to Miz Jennifer up at dat Blackville place dat turn her mind."
"Thank God Nicholas got them back. Cleo is having a baby. Didn't Jennifer stop to think what Brute might do to her if she sold his wife and baby?" Amanda shuddered.
Downstairs, Nicholas was doing his best to convince the servants that it was all a terrible mistake. "Miss Jennifer did sell you all, but she sold you to me," he said firmly. "The slave buyer got you mixed up with some others. I want to assure you that you will never be sold from Paradise." He would have immediately given them their papers and freed them, if he hadn't known from experience that it would fill them with apprehension. They needed the security of Paradise.