Copyright © 2006 by Leah Kelley
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“This is the wife I have given you.”
Only years of habit kept Sam from gasping aloud. His heart pounded and soared, more excited that the Lord had actually spoken to him than over what he’d been told.
Then Sam turned his attention to the tiny woman of whom God had spoken and he was captivated. Seated in front of a vanity in what had once been his room, she turned her head this way and that as she admired the silver hair clasps she’d situated in her long dark tresses.
Sam leaned one broad shoulder against the door facing and crossed his arms in front of his chest. The movement caught the girl’s attention, causing her to gasp and nearly jump out of her skin. She stared at him in stunned silence through huge frightened doe-eyes, making him aware of how he must appear to her.
Having just arrived after nearly a week of hard travel, he wore his usual buckskin attire and sported a full dark beard. This lady friend of his sister’s couldn’t possibly recognize him from the clean cut pictures of his youth that still graced the hallway, even if she was aware he’d agreed to return home to help his ailing father save the floundering plantation.
A swish of skirts coupled with an angry screech startled him and caused the girl to stiffen and squeal.
“How dare you!” A woman who he assumed to be his sister but sounded eerily like his step-mother screeched as she flew into the room. “HOW DARE YOU!”
In a flurry of skirts and screeching in a very unladylike manner, Sam’s sister fell on the girl and ripped the silver clasps from her head, hair and all, knocking her to the floor.
“Miss Addie...” the girl sobbed, “Please, Miss Addie.”
Addie stood to her feet, her cheeks blotched with anger. Her mouth twisted as she looked down on the sobbing girl who Sam now realized was not a friend of his sister’s but a slave instead. Addie moved determinedly toward the mantelpiece where she grasped a riding crop and started back toward the keening, terrified woman on the floor.
“I’m sorry...” she gasped, “I’m so sorry...I didn’t mean it. Please don’t beat me, Miss Addie, please...”
When Addie raised the crop high, Sam was propelled into action.
“Whoa...ho...” he said as he grasped Addie’s upraised arm, preventing her from bringing it down across the slave girl’s shoulders.
Addie twisted toward him, her face a mask of anger that looked so much like his step-mother that it ran cold chills down his spine.
“Sam Bennett, if you think you can just waltz in here after eight years and take over, you’ve got another thing coming!”
Sam cocked his head to the side and stared into her face trying to see the ten year old child he’d left behind. Granted, she’d had her moments back then, but he’d not dreamed she’d grow into the spitting image of her mother, both inside and out.
He sighed. Yes, he did plan to “waltz in here and take over” as his father requested, or begged more like it. But he was unwilling to alienate his little sister only minutes after returning home.
“Addie...,” he started, carefully removing the crop from her hand, “Father did ask me to come here partly to take care of you and...your mother. This is not something a sensitive lady such as yourself should have to deal with, as unpleasant as it is. I am here now to take care of these things for you.”
Her expression when she looked at the girl still sobbing on the floor told him she would, indeed, enjoy beating the slave, but she was not about to admit to her cruel thoughts.
Her sky blue eyes filled with tears, a maneuver her mother had used to her advantage on many occasions. Her bottom lip protruded ever so slightly. “She ruined my new hair clasps,” she accused. “I haven’t even worn them yet.” She allowed her voice to crack and fade away.
Sam picked the silver clips from off the floor and examined them. “They’re fine, Addie. See?” He held them flat in his hand in front of her face.
She knocked his hand away, almost causing him to drop the clasps. “No! They’re dirty now. They’ve been in negro hair. I won’t wear them!”
Sam refrained from pointing out that the slave girl’s hair appeared just as clean and silky as Ellie’s own. He simply tucked the clasps in his pocket.
Addie crossed her arms in front of her chest and glared at the slave girl. “Go ahead...whip her.”
The girl’s head snapped up and she slid several feet backwards, her wide frightened eyes fastened on the crop Sam still held in his left hand.
“Not...here,” he said, thinking fast. “I don’t want to subject you to such an...unpleasant sight.” Addie looked as if she’d argue, but Sam grasped the slave firmly by the arm and drew her to her feet. “Come with me,” he ordered and walked from the room before his sister could utter a word.
Sam knew the girl followed only by her sniffling and quiet hiccoughs. He hated slavery and all it stood for, which is why he’d left home in the first place. He was not going to enjoy his stay here.
Finally they reached his father’s study where he opened the heavy wooden door, allowing the subdued and trembling woman to enter before him.
She pressed her hand to her mouth, a look of horror on her face, while he closed the door. Realizing he still carried his sister’s crop, he deposited it in the windowsill and went to stand behind his father’s desk.
He was momentarily distracted as memories assailed him. While the study seemed much smaller now, nothing else had changed. The huge desk still dominated the room. Three chairs sat against the wall. He almost shuddered when he recalled sitting in one of those chairs while his father lectured him on some wrong he’d committed. He glanced at the wall behind him. Yep. The heavy strap still hung there. One of the last memories he had of this house was the sound of that leather meeting flesh and his older sister’s horrible screams while their father whipped her. Sam had been furious. His sister was innocent of the accusations made against her by their step-mother, but as usual, the old man took her side. He shook his head. He’d bet his bottom dollar Addie had never suffered his father’s strap. She’d been their father’s little princess from the day she was born.
A small sound drew his attention back to the girl whose frightened eyes were now fixed on the strap, obviously having noticed his preoccupation with it. He shook his head almost imperceptibly and started to open the drawers to his father’s desk. The girl hadn’t done anything even near to deserving that kind of pain.
“What is your name?” he asked as he searched the drawers.
“Becca,” she answered in a near whisper. “I didn’t mean to ruin them. I only wanted to see how they’d look in my hair. I didn’t mean...”
“Becca, you had to know your mistress would not be pleased with you going through her things.”
She lowered her eyes. “Yes, Sir. I’m sorry. I promise it won’t happen again.”
Sam nodded once, finally finding what he’d been searching for — a stout wooden paddle his father had kept in his desk drawer to correct smaller faults in his children.
“Come here, Becca,” he said, moving around to the side of the great oak desk.
“Please, Sir,” Becca said, though she did move to obey. “Please, don’t.”
Her voice caught on a whimper, telling Sam she was still very afraid despite the fact that he obviously didn’t intend to use the strap on her.
Well, no matter. He had no choice but to punish her. She’d known better, yet she’d chosen to help herself to her mistress’s belongings. He couldn’t let that pass, especially if she was to become his wife.
Now where had that come from? He must have mistaken the Lord’s voice. This girl was a slave. A very beautiful slave, but a slave nonetheless.
“Lean over the desk, please,” he ordered, pointing with the paddle.
Becca did as she was told though he noted she trembled from head to toe. One hand fluttered back in an attempt to protect her small, shapely bottom.
“Put your hands above your head, Becca, and keep them there. Do you understand?”