Lucien inhaled the earthy scent of fallen leaves mingled with the tartness of ripened apples and massaged his back muscles. He was about to return to his afternoon chores when Miss Julie sashayed toward him, her perfume cloud trailing.
He sighed. He couldn’t afford to be distracted by her pouty lips and her advances, not with so much work still to do before winter.
“No, Miss Julie,” he said when she sidled up to him. “Can’t talk today.”
“Talk’s cheap.” She ran a red-painted nail along his stubbled cheek, tracing his childhood scar. “You know what I’m here for.”
He grabbed her wrist. “I’ll be taken out back and shot.”
“No, you won’t. Daddy’s not even home. How will he know?” She pressed herself against him.
He swallowed and weakened his grip on her wrist. He shouldn’t even entertain the idea of touching Miss Julie. The heat of her hand pressing on the small of his back made beads of sweat roll from his hairline. His shirt clung to him.
“Just one kiss. I promise, no one will know. Who would believe it anyway? The yard boy kissing the Baron’s daughter…”
“No.” He released her, then grabbed his shovel and turned back to his chore. “You shouldn’t mess with someone in a different class. People will talk.”
“Nonsense.” She found a stump to sit on and hiked her skirts up, revealing a thigh. “This is my private garden. There’s no one around.” She plucked at the lace on her dress, but he saw her watching him beneath her lashes. “I could order you and you’d have to obey.”
He drove the shovel into the soil and leaned on it, looking at her openly. “That’s evil, Miss Julie.” He didn’t like the way she looked at him. Like he was an iced cake and she was starved for sugar.
He forced his mind back to his work even though he could feel her eyes on him still. She swung her feet against the stump. Thump. Thump. Just like his pulse. Could she see his heart leaping through his shirt?
“How deep of a hole do you need for planting vegetables, anyway?”
“It’s not for vegetables. Mrs. Porter’s canary died.”
Julie got off her stump and peered into the hole. “Canary? How big is it?”
Lucian shook his head. “I’m not burying the canary, I’m burying the cat that ate the canary. Mrs. Porter scared it into the broom closet. Trouble is, she forgot about it and it ate rat poison.”
“It was just a barn cat.” Lucian lifted a small bundle wrapped in burlap from a wheelbarrow and dropped it in the hole.
“All God’s creatures deserve some good in life,” she said in a measured tone.
Lucian shovelled dirt onto the shroud. “See, that’s the trouble with you, Miss Julie. You got it in that head of yours that everything’s equal.” He stopped to wipe the sweat from his upper lip, but spoke to the ground like he always did. Like he was taught to. “Some things aren’t meant to be mixed, and it’s best if you don’t interfere with that.”
“Your daddy teach you that?”
Lucian tapped the mound with the back of the shovel harder than necessary, then tossed the shovel into the wheelbarrow and unrolled his sleeves.
“I’ll be seeing you, Miss Julie.” He tipped his hat to her and pushed the barrow into the garden shed.
“Indeed. Good day, Lucian.”
Lucian thoughts flitted from his chores to Miss Julie and back again for the rest of the day. What did she want with him? He plunged his hands into his washing bowl in his private quarters and splashed tepid water on his face. Miss Julie was a temptress—no, that sounded wrong. She was wild and careless. He used to love that about her.
He dried his face on an old towel and pushed his hair back with his hands. He spied his reflection in a propped up bit of broken mirror, and ran a finger along his scar. Just like Miss Julie did earlier.
The click of his door closing made him spin around.
“We’re alone.” Miss Julie leaned against the door, a secretive smile on her face. Lucian forced his eyes to remain on hers, while he mentally assessed the bodice of her deep red gown, so tight it forced her bosoms up. Pale, ripe fruit fringed with scarlet lace.
He swallowed hard. “You shouldn’t be here.”
Miss Julie flicked her wrist. “You’re in your head way too much, Lucian. You need a little fun in your life. Loosen up a bit.” She charged forward, pale green eyes glinting. He backed up into his washing table. The water pitcher toppled and crashed to floor. Lucian’s stomach sunk into his boots. The whole household would be wondering what he was up to.
But Miss Julie just laughed, a slender hand pressed to her throat. “What are you afraid of? I told you, no one’s here. Mrs. Porter left early, something about Mr. Porter feeling poorly, and Daddy still hasn’t come home.”
Lucian glanced at the pottery shards scattered around his feet and when he looked up again, Miss Julie descended on him. With deftness, she undid his shirt buttons, her cool hands raising goosebumps on his fevered skin. Her rose scent gave him vertigo.
“No, Miss Julie.”
Her hands pulled his shirt down until it hung around his waist, his wrists trapped by the tight, fabric cuffs. He’d gone shirtless plenty of times when he worked outside, but never in Miss Julie’s presence. His muscles stiffened with a toxic mix of confusion and desire.
“Don’t tell me you don’t like this, Lucian.” She touched his scar again. “Remember?”
He turned away. He didn’t want to remember. That was then.
Miss Julie wove her fingers into his hair at the back of his head and pulled him to her. “Look at me.”
Her whisper stilled his heart. He lifted his eyes to hers.
“You loved me once,” she said. Both her hands went to his chest, pinning him against the table.
He willed his heart to stop hammering. “We were kids, Miss Julie. We didn’t know any better.”
“You kissed me.”
“You kissed me. I… I let you.”
“You must’ve liked it, because you kissed me back.”
He looked at her downturned mouth, seductive defiance. His blood thickened in his veins. “I was afraid, Miss Julie.”
She stepped back. “Of what.”
Lucian held her eyes. “Of you.”
Miss Julie smirked, then whirled around and strode to the door. She left with swishing skirts and slammed the door. Lucian heaved a great breath and pulled his shirt over his shoulders—without bothering to button it—then knelt to pick up the broken pieces of his water pitcher.
He laid in bed that night with an arm over his eyes. His thoughts were riotous, filled with images of Miss Julie that he forced away. The warm, autumn breeze that came in from his open window carried a hint of rose.
He rolled over and froze.
Illuminated by the moonlight, Miss Julie stood an arms length away in a white nightdress, her hair long and loose to her waist. He grabbed for the sheets he’d kicked to the bottom and yanked them over his bare torso.
She raised a finger to her lips then walked to his window and pulled it shut. Her hair billowed around her shoulders as she came to him and he wondered stupidly how many times she had brushed it tonight.
She slid in next to him and curled up on her side, facing him like they did this all the time. His mouth went dry. She looked like a little girl with her eyes closed, a small smile on her lips. Her hair tickled his chest and her feet, when they found his, were cold. He propped himself up on one elbow and looked at her.
Laying like this she appeared innocent. The rust-gold waves of hair that spilled across the slender curve of her shoulder, and the way she tucked one hand under her chin. He watched her until the clouds rolled past the window and sliced the moonlight into silvery splinters of light.
“Remember when I used to sneak into your room like this after the accident?” The warmth of her breath woke something up. A memory long dormant.
“And I would hold you while you cried.”
“Do you think of her?” Miss Julie’s eyes popped open, and in the half light, she looked like an apparition. Two black holes where eyes should be. But he felt her looking at him, waiting for his answer.
The air went out of him and he sunk into his pillow and closed his eyes. “I try not to, Miss Julie. But sometimes…” He touched his cheek, remembering. “Sometimes I can’t help it.” His eyes burned and his chest ached. Embarrassed to be fighting back tears with the Mistress of the house in his bed.
The sheets moved and he felt Miss Julie’s hand rest on his chest. “I never told you this, but after…after your sister’s accident it was your father who cut the tree down.”
Lucian shivered in spite of the heat. He turned his head to her. “But your father told me he took care of it.”
Her hand flattened on his chest, stilling his heart and stuttering his breath.
“Daddy did take care of it, in a way. He gave your father the honour of cutting down the tree that killed his daughter.” Her hand fisted and his heart bumped beneath it. “That’s how he said it.”
Lucian pushed her hand gently off him as he turned onto his side. Eye to eye, nose to nose, mouth to mouth. Inches apart, they breathed each other’s air until slowly Lucian’s pulse returned to normal.
“The Baron’s a good man,” he said into the darkness. He didn’t expect a reply, thinking Miss Julie had fallen asleep and he might have to take a chance on being seen when he carried her back to her room.
“Yes, he is. But you never thanked me.” Her whisper raised the hair on his arms. “After all these years you never once thanked me.”
“For not telling Daddy what really happened that day.”
Lucian swallowed. “My sister got stuck climbing that damned tree and I went to help her. I don’t know how the branch broke. I…” He rubbed his scar.
“Yes, but do you remember why Millie climbed the tree in the first place? She was looking for you. I know how you loved to climb up high enough to see the entire estate.” Her fingers drew lazy circles on his chest. “I told Daddy you were busy in the garden and didn’t notice she had wandered off.”
Lucian curled his fingers into the sheets. “Miss Julie—”
“I never told him you were with me. That we were kissing behind the garden shed.”
“Please. Miss Julie, I think you need to—”
“I never breathed a word of it. I saved your life. Now you owe me, Lucian.” She moved and pressed the length of herself against him.
Heat exploded in him. The betrayal of his body so strong that he did the only thing he could. He shoved her away from him. Hard. “Miss Julie. We can’t do this. Please.”
“Don’t you understand? I love you. I’ve always loved you.”
“You’ll get me killed.”
“I could’ve told Daddy the truth, but I didn’t. For you.” Miss Julie sat up. Her volume increased and panic erupted in him. The Baron must be home by now. If he heard his daughter’s voice coming from the hired help’s room…
Lucian sat up and grabbed Miss Julie’s shoulders. “What do you want from me?” His whisper sounded harsh. Miss Julie’s shoulders quivered beneath his hands. Her soft sob pulled his heart. He moved his hands until he found her face. He stroked her cheek, wiping her tears with his thumb then, without thinking, he pulled her to him. She wrapped her arms around him and he felt her heart fluttering like a frightened sparrow in a cage beneath her thin cotton nightdress.
“Kiss me, Lucian,” she whispered.
Her vulnerabilty moved him. He shouldn’t, but he kissed the top of her head, the scent of her full and heady. He moved her hair to one shoulder and kissed her neck. Feathery kisses that trailed up to her jaw, each one growing more fervent. When he found her lips, they parted in anticipation. Kissing Julie, the woman, was different than kissing Julie, the girl. This Julie moved against him in ways that she shouldn’t. This Julie’s breasts felt full and round against his chest every time she breathed.
“Go,” he whispered. Urgency clipped the word.
He sighed and prepared to pick her up and carry her, but the sheets were suddenly flung off and a wad of warm, rose-scented, fabric landed in his lap.
“What are you doing? Put your nightdress back on!”
“You can’t order me around, Lucian.”
He threw the night shirt in her direction and scrambled to the foot of the bed, in an attempt to avoid touching her nakedness. He suffered a bruise to his shin before finding the door.
“Out, now!” He hissed, one hand on the doorknob. In a moment he heard rustling, then the sound of her padding toward him. He opened the door and the light from the hall revealed her fury as she sailed past him, her bunched up night dress held to her naked chest.
He didn’t sleep. He opened his window and let the night air wash the scent of impropriety from his room, then laid on his bed and watched the shadows dance on the wall until morning.
“Good heavens, you look a mess!” Mrs. Porter clutched her throat when Lucian entered the kitchen in the morning. “Here. Sit. I’ll get you some eggs and toast. And strong coffee.” She pulled out a chair, forced him to sit, and fussed over him.
After a few bites Lucian pushed his plate away and sat holding his head.
Mrs. Porter sat beside him. “Mr. Brightly wants you to shine the Baron’s boots before he gets home. He has an outing this afternoon, but I think we should find someone else to do it. You haven’t even shaved.”
Lucian lifted his head. “The Baron isn’t home yet?”
The cook turned her soft face with its deep-set raisin eyes to his. “Not yet.” She patted his arm. “But something tells me, whatever happened last night had to do with that daughter of his.” Her pats turned into a sharp pinch. He yelped and yanked his arm away, then rubbed the sore spot.
“You better not have touched her, Lucian. You know it’ll cost you your life if any of the high-born’s find out.”
He shook his head, even as a flush went through him. “I told her no, but she kept on about it.” He brushed at some toast crumbs. “I kissed her.”
Mrs. Porter sighed loud enough to rattle china. “Before the clock strikes eight, you’d better be washed, shaved and back down here shining the Baron’s boots.” She stood and collected the dishes. “Mark my words, that girl will get what’s coming to her. She’s been trying to get you killed from the first day you and your father came to work here.”
Lucian’s mouth dried out. “What? Why?”
Mrs. Porter filled the sink, then put the dishes in before she turned around. “The heart always wants what it can’t have. And if she can’t have you, then perhaps she thinks no one should.”
“It’s not Miss Julie’s fault though. Not entirely. I gave in.” Lucian rubbed his forehead and frowned. Mrs. Porter finished washing the dishes then dried her hands on a towel. She turned to him. Her solemn face made Lucian’s skin prickle.
“You mind what you’re ’fessing up to, boy.” She pointed a finger at him. “That girl goes after what she wants. And if she doesn’t get it…well, let’s just say that barn cat didn’t find itself accidentally wandering into the parlor where the canary was.”
Lucian pushed back his chair, his chest heaving. “You don’t mean…but why? She loved that bird.”
Mrs. Porter tossed her dish towel on the table and smoothed Lucian’s hair like a mother would her child. “That canary wouldn’t sing for Miss Julie no more, Lucian. Now, go on and get yourself cleaned up before the Baron comes home. I’ll take care of everything. You’ll see.”
At half past seven Lucian returned to the kitchen and spread an old cloth on the floor in an alcove by the back door, assembled his brushes and tins of polish then began shining the Baron’s boots. Mrs. Porter flitted about the kitchen humming to herself.
A strong rose scent wafted to Lucian and he snapped his head up to see Miss Julie stumble into the room. She wore a night dress torn across one shoulder, exposing the top of a breast, and her hair stood out from her head in torrent of angry snarls. Her swollen, red eyes and blotchy face gave testament to a horrific night. But it was the bruises that had Lucian’s shivering where he hunkered over her father’s boots, his stomach rippling and convulsing. Her pale shoulders and throat were painted in purpling swirls, the size of a man’s fingers.
“Good Lord!” Mrs. Porter pulled out a chair the same way she’d done for Lucian and helped Miss Julie lower herself into it. She produced a damp cloth and pressed it to the young woman’s face and neck. “Now tell me what happened, child.”
Miss Julie’s hands fluttered around her face as she attempted to rearrange her hair. Her eyes flitted in Lucian’s direction. “It’s too awful to say, Mrs. Porter. But I pity the man that did this to me. My daddy will take him out back and slit his throat!” She dissolved into tears and flung her head into her folded arms on the table.
Mrs. Porter raised her eyebrows at Lucian and he stared back at her, slaw-jawed, heart galloping. This couldn’t be happening. He hadn’t touched Miss Julie like that.
“There now, dear. I’ll get you a stiff drink to calm your nerves and you can tell me what happened.”
With her hands wrapped around the glass of two fingers of a dark amber liquid, Miss Julie told a story in explicit detail of a man raping and sodomizing her. Every so often her eyes would fill and she would look right at Lucian, her message to him so keen--so cunning--he felt as though she’d ripped his heart out.
His hands moved in slow circles on the Baron’s boots while he swallowed his gorge again and again.
The clock in the hall struck eight and Lucian’s blood drained. How fitting that he had spent his last few moments stroking and shining the high, black boots that would kick in his face then smashing his windpipe.
Miss Julie’s tale grew more sordid with every passing minute. Her face flushed with the drink and the decanter sat nearly empty in front of her. Mrs. Porter patted her arm and mumbled there there a few times, before announcing she would take care of it.
She pulled out a chair, sat her rotund body down, and gathered yesterday’s mail to her ample bosom.
“And then he lifted my skirts, and his dirty hands touched my thighs. I shrieked! I hollered! I told him no, a thousand times, no! But he did it anyway. I kicked him and scratched him!”
Mrs. Porter slit an envelope with a paring knife. She nodded and said soothing things and slit open another envelope.
Lucian watched with horrible fascination as Mrs. Porter opened every envelope with that knife, but didn’t read any letter. She merely stacked everything in a neat pile, then slid the knife closer to Miss Julie.
Loud footsteps sounded in the front hall. Lucian dropped the polish. Miss Julie groaned, a hand to her throat in a final flourish. Mrs. Porter slid the knife closer.
“I would think it would be easy to spot that man that did this to you, Miss.” Mrs. Porter’s lowered voice raised the hair on the back of Lucian’s neck.
The footsteps came closer.
Miss Julie turned and looked at the cook, her eyes wide and shiny. “Do you think so?”
“Oh yes. It’s a good thing you put up such a fuss fighting for your life. The man will have cuts and bruises everywhere, probably looks as beat up as you do, Miss Julie.” She grabbed the younger woman’s wrist. “I’ll bet you even have his skin underneath your fingernails still. I think if you take that knife there and scrape under your nails gently, you’ll find it.”
Miss Julie’s eyes flickered to Lucian then back to the cook. “Well, I…” She picked up the knife.
A figure darkened the doorway. “What the hell is going on in here?” The Baron stepped into the kitchen and the sight of him gutted Lucian. He pulled in a breath so sharp his lungs touched his spine. The Baron’s double-breasted suit coat had torn at the sleeve, his dark hair disheveled, his face unshaven and scored with red lines.
Lucian stood, the boots clunked to the floor. Mrs. Porter pushed back her chair, stood, and pressed her hands to her mouth.
Miss Julie screamed.
A blazing inferno roared up Lucian’s shins, his thighs and settled deep in his belly. The scenes that Miss Julie had described about her attacker flared in Lucian’s mind. He ran across the room and tackled the Baron, the older man’s hulking frame fell with a tooth-jarring thud.
“Over my dead body will you ever touch Miss Julie again!” Lucian’s fist found the Baron’s nose and crushed it. Blood spurted the front of Lucian’s fresh white shirt and sprayed his face. The Baron groaned and held his arms up to block the blows. Lucian’s vision blurred until all he saw was Julie’s attacker. When the Baron became still, he slid off the man and sat huffing on the floor, staring at his bloodied knuckles.
“Good Lord Almighty! Did you kill him?” Mrs. Porter rushed to the Baron with her ridiculous dish towel and checked his pulse. Her sigh brought a rush of relief to Lucian that turned his body to water. He glanced at Miss Julie who stood staring, the knife still in her hand.
She came to Lucian and used a corner of her night dress to wipe Lucian’s face then she kissed him. A slow kiss that Lucian could not return. Confusion numbed him. What just happened?
Miss Julie held the knife out. “Lucien, we can be together.”
“What?” His skin prickled. The rich, salty tang of blood made him cough and gag. The smell of the Baron’s injuries thickened the air and turned Lucian’s stomach.
Miss Julie knelt next to Lucian. “Just take this,” she whispered and pushed the knife into his hands, “finish him off and we can be together.”
“I don’t understand…” Lucian pushed the knife away.
“He didn’t touch her!” Mrs. Porter stood, her face crimson, anger narrowing her raisin eyes. “The Baron didn’t do anything to his daughter! He just happened to fit in with her plan is all. Isn’t that right, Miss Julie?”
The cook grabbed the young woman’s arm and pulled at her.
“What are you on about, old woman? Get off me!” Miss Julie slapped at Mrs. Porter’s hands. Lucian stared at the two women struggling. Miss Julie dropped the knife. Lucian sprang for it, but his addled mind slowed his movements. Miss Julie snatched the knife and pushed Lucian aside. With a downward thrust she plunged the paring knife into her father’s chest.
The clock chimed in the parlor.
Mrs. Porter collapsed.
Lucian cried out, “what have you done?”
Miss Julie released the knife. It stood straight up from the Baron’s chest like he was a piece of fruit. Or a vegetable.
A burble escaped from the Baron’s open mouth.
Miss Julie wrapped both hands around the handle of the knife again, wiggling it like she was wanted to take it out.
“Stop! For the love of God, please stop!” Lucian reached for her.
Footsteps thundered down the hall to the kitchen. “Mrs. Porter! Has the Baron called the police yet? There’s been an accident down the lane. The Baron stopped to help, but the injured man…he lost his mind! Clawing and screaming. Won’t let anyone help… what the devil…” Lucian’s father stopped short at the sight in the kitchen entry.
Lucian swallowed bile. He shook his head.
Lucian’s father looked at his son who had a fistful of Miss Julie’s nightshirt, and he looked at the Baron who gurgled on the floor, then at Mrs. Porter who came to and sat up. She dabbed her face with the bloodied dish towel leaving crimson streaks on her cheeks.
Finally, Lucian’s father looked at Miss Julie, her hands still on the knife sticking out of her father.
“Julie,” he said in a calm voice that made Lucian shiver, “you shouldn’t interfere with those of a different class. Light doesn’t mix with darkness, because good will always triumph over evil.”
Lucien’s father motioned for Lucien to check the Baron’s pulse. Satisfied that the good man was still alive, Lucien called the police.