She knew it was wrong. She knew there would be dire consequences if they were caught. But she couldn’t help herself.
Abigail is the wife of a wealthy plantation owner with a dark, irresistible past.
Excerpt from The Plantation Owner’s Wife:
The Kentucky bluegrass waves in the field behind my house, and I pause amidst the responsibilities of the day to admire the figure in the field beyond the blaze of sheer July green.
His name is David, and he’s new. My husband, William, bought him last week, leading him in like some prize stallion, but ruining the moment with his own impotence as a man. David towers over William, and his dark eyes ran over me quickly, intelligently, his mouth set in a firm tight line that betrayed nothing except the raw energy inside him. I remember I became very hot and uncomfortable in my corset, but strangely felt glad that I’d worn the white and blue gown with lace eyelet trim. My eyes, a blue as the pure Kentucky sky, met eyes as dark as the Kentucky earth. The sun was clear and hot and I made my excuses quickly, fumbling to remember my role as housekeeper and wife of the estate owner. William’s eyes were shrewd as always, and even if I didn’t know what I was feeling then, he did, and quickly directed David to his living space—far away from me.
At the time, I didn’t even know his name—I learned it accidentally, while one of the younger maids gossiped with her mother about how one of the new slaves, David, had already received a whipping from our foreman, Johnathon, less than one week into living here. Her mother, Constance, eyed her daughter’s rosy cheeks and bright eyes, then gave her a smart smack on the cheek.
“Dun’ go gettin’ yo’selfn’ trouble now. David’s a good man, but heesa man jus’ like any otha.”
The girl’s eyes dimmed and she nodded solemnly before going back to her dusting. I stepped away from the door to the dining room silently, unable to shake Constance’s firm tone from my mind. A man just like any other. I thought about the sharp, blundering pitches William made at me at night, in the dark beneath the covers of our bed. The uncomfortable heat, William’s determined, annoying grunts, the dryness between my legs, the inevitable soreness and strange weariness the next day. Somehow, I didn’t think that was what Constance was talking about. For the first time, I thought about Constance as a woman with another man, making the girl she was so matter-of-factly protecting. A man just like any other.
I shake myself out of my reverie; David isn’t even in the distance anymore, and I’m just leaning on the verandah rail like a lovesick girl, thinking about my thoughts. Constance’s daughter, Minnie, drops a small curtsey before proceeding.
“Was jus’ wantin’ to see’f yous still wanted that chick’n made fo’ when Master William gets back.”
“Yes, please get started on that,” I glanced up at the sky. “He’ll be home in a couple hours.”
Minnie bobs another curtsey and goes back into the house. I watch the indistinguishable figures moving around in the far fields for a few moments more before I turn as well and follow Minnie, moving through the beautifully varnished wooden floors and carefully wallpapered walls until I’ve reached my husband’s study, off the side of the main entrance into the foyer.
It’s not really his study—I’m the one who keeps track of all the expenditures, incomes, and taxes, and balances and budgets each month accordingly. He only ever comes in here for meetings with local plantation owners, or to draw up an official contract that he secretly shows me for approval before signing. It’s the end of August now, and I sit heavily into the handsome wooden chair, my breasts straining uncomfortably against the tight lacing of the corset. I draw a breath slowly, and exhale through my nose. It’s still uncomfortable, but bearable. I smooth my skirts beneath me, reach up to pat my hair, split neatly into two loops and pinned to the sides of my head by Constance this morning.
“This,” she’d said, holding a lock of my hair up so I could see it in the mirror. “This is a good, strong, brown.” Then she let the soft, natural ringlets fall from her hand, the color of a brand-new leather riding saddle.
I work quietly, tucked away from the late afternoon heat. The numbers on the paper in front of me calm and distract me from the vast landscape of wandering thoughts I nearly lost myself in looking out at the fields. I don’t know what to think about the battering butterfly wings that make me forget everything that separates me from David, and I’m both grateful and resentful that our run-ins are infrequent enough as to merit my own renditions and imaginings of them before I can meet his frank, yet aloof, gaze in person. Darn it all.
For the fourth month in a row now, we’ve gone over budget. I’m not sure how, but it must be William’s spending. I check the numbers again, and again, but I can’t figure out why they’re not adding up. I just know they’re not. Disgruntled, I give a jump of surprise when there’s a sharp rap at the front door. Constance bustles into the front hall and I hear the door open, and her sharp intake of breath a second before she scolds whoever is on the front step. From the sound of it, it’s a field hand, probably newer and just tired or lost or thinking that coming into my home is in any way appropriate. I lean curiously toward the huge bay window, but the lovely plants that I supervised the planting of block my view. Frustrated, I rise and pace a lap around the study, trying to catch a glimpse of whoever is standing at the front door and giving poor Constance so much trouble.
I don’t know how or why, but it’s like he knows my husband is gone and that he won’t be back for some time still. Something rises inside me, and with a practiced authority I step out of my study.
“It’s okay, Constance, I sent for him.”
“You?” Her tone is utterly incredulous. “But, Ma’am, s’not right.”
I raise my eyebrows at her, and she withdraws, muttering to herself.
We look at each other, and our gazes are like new lovers tentatively examining one another’s bodies. There was another man, before William, though of course he doesn’t know that. He’ll never know the man, either. Daddy was the foreman and I was the prize hen, caught being mauled in the barn one evening by a cinnamon-colored slave named Abraham. Abraham is dead now, and I can feel the scars across my own back prickle at the thought of him. My father and mother, forced to suffer their shame in secrecy, nearly killed me as well.
It’s like David is reading the story in my eyes as he closes the distance between us in two strides, stopping just short of touching me and looking intently into my face. He lifts a hand and touches the tip of the scar that plays peek-a-boo with the collar of my dress every day.
Daddy, Daddy it was my fault! Daddy, please, no! No!
Shut your mouth, Abigail, you disgusting, loose girl.
I never wanted this life, but my parents ensured I had it. William was in debt, but the son of a local plantation owner. I paid for my disgrace with Abraham, and I paid for my refusal to marry William. Dearly. On our wedding night, when he discovered my scars, I tasted bile in my mouth as I recounted the story my mother had lashed into me.
There was a rebellion on the planation I grew up on, and some slaves used me to make a point when I strayed too far from the house.
That night, I suffered gladly.
I blink and David’s eyes are soft, though a curious expression curls his mouth into a faint grimace. His own story flashes across his eyes, briefly, much less detailed than mine, but infinitely more painful.
So much death, so many siblings and half siblings. His mother is—was—a prize hen, just like me. Unlike me though, she didn’t seek an escape, she sought the escape. The remains of David’s family are now scattered across the South, dead and alive. Foolish woman, running away with five grown children and two little ones. Pain stabs my rib like a punch as David’s eyes flash, and I feel his guilt for living now. I’m sorry.
I don’t know how long we’ve been standing in the foyer, but suddenly I feel the wrongness of this moment, the danger it poses to both of us, but especially him. I open my mouth to send him out, but he places a hand firmly over my mouth and shakes his head. Turning me, he pushes me towards the office, with the big windows blocked by plants. My mind flapping like bedsheets in the wind, I let myself be propelled forward, paralyzed with panic and desire for this man who I can never be with.
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