Jesslynn stepped close to the slave, her eyes narrowed and her voice hard to cover her own fear. "The moment they return you are to send a messenger to me, do you understand? No matter the time of day or night. Otherwise, I will mention that you've gossiped about your master's business behind his back. As he values his privacy, I'm sure he will be most grieved to hear of it!"
The woman squealed. Jesslynn grabbed up her skirts and swirled from the room with the command, "Come, Fabian."
Fabian helped her into the carriage and then climbed in next to her. At a word, the driver took up the reigns with a "Yawh."
Fabian seemed amused. "Will you really betray her to Mr. Smit and his temper, I wonder?"
"Perhaps." Jesslynn stared at nothing, her expression cold. I am strong. I am fierce. I am resolute. I am strong.
"Really? How unlike you. You're too soft with your own and I can't imagine you jeopardizing another's."
She dismissed his concern. "Mr. Smit is softer. A fearful slave would never have spoken to us unless spoken to, and certainly would not have betrayed such confidences."
Fabian leaned back in the seat. "Or perhaps he's crueler and she's more afraid of him and what he might do if he knows you've been there. She may have told you so that you'd leave before he arrived and found you in his chambers." A wry smile twisted his lips. "I can't imagine that your husband would appreciate such a visit, either."
"Then he should have come home!" The veneer slipped away and her terrors shown on her face. "What if he never returns? What will I do?"
Fabian shrugged. "Remarry. You'd be a wealthy widow. Mr. Smit is unwed-"
The slap was loud. Fabian put a hand to his stinging cheek and scowled.
"Don't ever suggest such a filthy thing, again. If Oren is gone, it is his doing. I would no more marry the instrument of my husband's destruction than I would throw my child to wolves! I am not Torina! I do not hand my affection to the highest bidder!"
Fabian smirked and relaxed back into the seat. "She only does so for a short while, usually an hour at a time."
She should have slapped him again for his crude remark. Instead, she grunted her agreement.
"Is Father coming home?"
Jesslynn caught her breath and tucked the blanket under Alexander's chin. "Of course. I told you, he and Mr. Smit have gone to Charleston on business. They'll be home soon." She pressed a kiss to her son's cheek and inhaled his sweet, innocent scent. How much longer can I continue this charade?
She closed the door and found Torina in the hallway, frivolously dressed in her new skirt and matching shirt waist. "You expect us to believe that story?"
"Yes." Jesslynn answered coldly and made to move past her. Torina caught her arm and held her back.
"He always tells me when he's going somewhere and asks if I want him to bring anything back. He wouldn't go without speaking to me first and telling me goodbye. Why would this time be any different?"
Jesslynn jerked away and glared, her lip curled in fury. "How should I know! Perhaps because you're his sister and not his wife! Now get out of my way!"
Shocked, Torina stepped back, and Jesslynn stormed by her, anger pulsing in her veins. She'd had enough of her, of Fabian, of all of them!
She changed into her night dress and shut herself in her room, Tristan in the bed next to her. She picked up her embroidery and worked without really seeing it. Inside, her mind clicked away, making plans. If Jorick returned without Oren she would confront him. She would take Fabian and five of the most able bodied field slaves. She'd demand answers, and she would get them!
Tristan cried; a soft, mewling whimper. She scooped him up and cradled him close to her. He was so pale and so weak. She tried to nurse him, but he refused to drink, only made those soft, sickening noises. She clutched him tightly. "Damn it! Where are you Oren? Why haven't you come home? Why haven't you brought the secret? Where are you?"
The dog barked. She stood and crossed to the window. Torina stood before the porch in the arms of a man. Jesslynn couldn't see his face and she didn't want to. She made a noise of disgust and moved back to the bed. We will never be free of the harlot!
She heard a raised voice; the man. She glanced towards the window, but from her vantage point she could only see darkness. It's no matter. Let them fight.
And then Torina screamed.
Jesslynn laid Tristan aside and hurried back to the window. She drew aside the curtain to see Torina struggling with-
She dropped the curtain and stepped back. She didn't want to know who he was. Let him do as he pleased with her. It was something she gave away for free to other men. Let this man take his share, too. Let her scream. Let her lay in the cold, bruising grass and know misery for once in her selfish, pampered, spoiled life. Let her suffer.
Jesslynn climbed back into bed and pulled her baby to her. Torina screamed again and again and Jesslynn closed her eyes tightly against the sound. Tristan cried for her, though Jesslynn shooshed and soothed him.
A door banged. Feet ran across the floor. The house slaves were awake. She heard the front door open and she heard Nan cry, "Lordy! What have you done? What-" her words were choked off in a terrified cry.
Jesslynn squeezed her eyelids tighter. Where was Oren? He was the Master of the house! He should handle this! He should but he was gone. Gone and useless! And what use was he when he was there? He was a body, at least. A body who could stand at the door with a rifle. Now someone else must hold the rifle and she must stand behind them.