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My fingers gently worked circles against my skin, trying to ease the pain in my jaw from hours of misuse. Mary would have been proud of me that I had kept my promise to her to give my back a rest, though I was not proud of myself for the alternative I had provided.
Sighing and reaching for the still steaming cup of tea I had fixed myself, I sipped, holding the warmth in my mouth for a moment until it reached the sore muscles. It was almost pleasant, sitting in dim candle light, staring down into my cup and appreciating the few hours during the day that I was able to be alone.
I didn’t mind that my quarters were below the manor, down in the lowest floors among the storage rooms and the wine cellar where the air was cool and smelled of damp earth. It was peaceful down here, down where only a few other staff besides myself resided. Quiet, a place where I could sit and think after a long day, when intrusive thoughts would run through my mind incessantly and pick at my sanity.
It always bothered me. He always bothered me. Even when he wasn’t near me, he was constantly on my mind. I supposed that was part of my job though, thinking about my master, planning his schedules, making sure he was living properly, groomed into a gentleman that would run his father’s company once it passed into his hands. It was my duty as his butler, and also the misfortune that filled my life. For, as a mere servant, I was to be neither seen nor heard, to be at beck and call, to obey and never question, principals that were the heart of my training.
It was these principles that bound me to this existence, one that had provided me with a home, education, and peace of mind in knowing that my family would not starve in my absence. The only thing it asked for in exchange was my life. At least, it did for now.
When I had come into the manor, I had been blatantly told that I was not the first butler to come through my master’s hands, and now I believed I knew why. There was no way of knowing how many others had undergone the same attention that I had, or how many had refused and been fired for the same reason. Sometimes I wished that I had a way of knowing the others, that I could ask them what had happened to them. I wondered if they had undergone the same treatment at his hands, and if they had, how they had lived with it.
Other times I wish I had just stayed on the street where they had found me. When I thought about it, in my darker moments, I struggled to see how that life was truly worse than this one.
It was the first thing I thought the next morning after waking to the sounds of Mary making her morning rounds, knocking on everyone’s door to make sure that we all woke at exactly five to begin our days. After dragging myself out of bed and dressing with a quickness that could only come from years of practice of doing so in the dark, I made my way up, stopping off in the kitchen while tying my hair back to find our simple breakfasts waiting.
I ate quickly, and after enjoying a short, but pleasant conversation with one of the gardeners, I was off again, climbing up to the third floor to wake my master. Pausing for a moment after knocking lightly at his door, I steeled myself, taking in a deep breath and preparing for today’s routine.
Today though, he played a different game. There was no “convincing” of arguing with him to rise as there usually would be, something I believed he deeply enjoyed on any other occasion. There wasn’t even choice in the matter when I opened the shades and gently urged him awake. He simply woke, waited for me to finish assembling his clothes for the day, and grabbed my wrist when I reached for the blanket still covering him. There was no teasing, no soft yet mocking words said as he simply looked up at me, his meaning clear. Biting back a sigh, I obeyed, repeating the morning ritual that I was accustomed to up until it was time to stand by in the uncomfortable purgatory between release and waiting.
“What is my schedule for the day?” he asked, speaking at last as he tucked his tie into the neck of his vest, examining himself in the polished silver looking glass.
“R-riding lessons after breakfast, then… a visit into town to see the tailor…then… t-then…”
I cleared my throat desperately, trying to stop the stutter in my words, knowing that I was forgetting something, but unable to think of whatever it may be. A pressing need was still clouding my mind, making it hard to think about anything other than that desperate urge for privacy.
He turned to me. “Then?” he prompted.
“Then…” I echoed, thinking frantically as he stepped slowly closer, pausing before me and stuttering my mind into blankness as he touched me.
“Why do you look so nervous Henry?” he asked, his fingers sliding under my chin.
He made me look at him, tilting my face up, no emotion other than indifference meeting my gaze. “I don’t… I don’t know what you mean, sir,” I replied softly.
“Are you afraid of me?”
I swallowed thickly. “No, sir.”
He planted a hand against my chest, pushing me back until he pressed me up against the hard wood of his wardrobe, the handle uncomfortably jammed just next to my spine. The discomfort was only a fleeting feeling though, replaced as he dropped the hand from my chest to insinuate itself against my trousers, groping me as a shock of pleasure shot up my spine.
“Are you certain?” he asked.
A sharp breath left me, part of me urging him to stop while the rest begged him to keep touching me. “Y-yes,” I said, trying to keep my voice from shaking. The last thing I wanted to do was encourage him.
He frowned slightly, palming me firmly until I stiffened against the cupboard with a soft grunt. “Pity,” he murmured, a small frown tugging at his lips. “I had more fun with the ones who were.”
“M-master,” I said weakly, showing the smallest hint of submission to regain his attention, “your mother will come looking for you if you are late to breakfast.”
“I suppose you’re right,” he sighed, easing his grip against me. He stepped back, a rush of relief flashing through me before it was crushed with overwhelming need, heat flushing over my face as a slight whimper left my throat. I didn’t realize my breathing was coming quicker until I looked back up at him, seeing a smirk replace the frown as he lifted my chin again, looking down at me with an air of superiority.
“You will wait for me tonight after dinner,” he said, issuing his first orders of the day. “I will meet you here, and we’ll see just how long that resilience of yours lasts you.”
I shivered, not liking what he was implying one bit and knowing that there were worse things to suffer from then soreness when it came to him. “Yes, master,” I obediently replied, trying to keep my voice steady as his finger trailed off my skin.
“Good,” he said, smirking at me again and leaving me leaning heavily against his wardrobe as he left the room, off to begin his morning. I listened to his fading footsteps before I even dared to move, escaping through his door and walking shakily down the hall, moving far from anything that would remind me of him as I cast a glance behind me, making sure I was alone. It was easy to go unnoticed at times like this, early in the morning before the maids were flitting through the higher floors, making my escape into a small storage closet almost second nature.
It was black as pitch with the door closed, and so cramped that I could not turn, but they were the last things on my mind as I trembled, biting my glove to silence myself as my bared hand worked slowly. Gradually, the dusty air around me became thicker, stiflingly hot as I allowed myself just a little freedom, just a little laxness to let the softest sounds free as I leaned heavily against the closet’s wall. As frustrating as it was, my mind wandered back to him as I let my head fall back against the wood behind me. I hated that it always came to that in the end, thinking about his voice when, soft and low in my ear, the teasing, torturously slow ways he would touch me when my release finally took me, voice muffled into my sleeve to hide my actions.
The flood of pleasure that sang through my veins as I tried to catch my breath was wonderful, the aching need sated as I pulled off my other glove, folding it over its soiled twin, and sliding them into my trouser pocket. Taking a deep breath, I took a second to enjoy the ability to think again, finally able to remember the final item on his schedule. Pausing for a moment to recompose myself, I felt for the door’s handle, opening the closet and stepping out into the hall only to have every single shred of relief that I may have felt immediately drop into horror.
“Good morning, Henry,” Peter said, his voice regarding me as coldly as it had since my first day. “I hope I haven’t interrupted you.”
I couldn’t answer. I froze, my face burning as he stared back at me over the golden rims of his spectacles.
“Don’t you have better things to do with your time?” he asked.
“Y-yes, sir,” I choked out, dropping my eyes to the floor in lieu looking at him.
“Then why are you not doing them?”
“I-I… I was…” I stammered, trying to find some excuse to cover up the painfully obvious fact of what I had been doing.
“Pleasuring yourself?” he supplied, making the heat spread to the very tips of my ears. Hearing those two words from the mouth of the head of staff was something I had never thought even possible, and he continued on seemingly without thought as to what he had said when I failed to answer. “Henry, I do not care what you do in your free hours, but it would be better if you kept your… ‘extra activities’, to yourself. Perhaps in your quarters instead of with the linens?”
I swallowed hard, nodding. “Yes, sir. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize to me,” he said, “just carry on with your duties. Our young master requested to know the rest of his schedule from me this morning. It is your duty to inform him of that, not mine.”
“I… I’m sorry sir. I forgot part of his‒”
“I do not want to hear excuses, Henry,” he interrupted sharply. “If you cannot remember a simple list, then I will find someone else who can.”
“Yes, sir,” I murmured weakly. “It will not happen again.”
“See that it doesn’t,” he replied, looking me over with disdain one last time before he turned away.
I waited until he walked further down the hall, disappearing around a corner and out of sight until I let out a long breath, burying my flaming face in my hands. I tried to lose myself in my work after that, concentration fixated on task after task until I had no time left to think. The last thing I wanted to do was remember the events of this morning. Unfortunately, no matter what I wished, there was the problem of my master.
“So, tell me Henry,” he mused, making me pause in the middle of preparing his tea, “how was your morning?”
“Fine, sir,” I replied, fixing the cup with just the right amount of sugar before handing it to him and willing the slight heat rising over my face to die.
“Did Peter find you alright?”
I stared back at him questioningly, a creeping unease slowly making itself known over my skin.
“I asked him for the rest of my schedule you know. I wouldn’t want to upset mother by missing something now, would I? So I sent him up to find you.”
He smiled at me wickedly, sipping at his tea as my stomach began to churn. How long had he known I had been slipping away to that cupboard?
“He did find you alright, didn’t he?” he prompted.
I swallowed hard, turning from him to place the teapot back on the tray. “Yes, sir,” I said softly.
“I’m glad,” he mused. “I do hope he didn’t interrupt your morning routine or anything though. I know how hard you try to fit that into your day.”
The china clattered as I nearly dropped the pot against the silver tray, a flush burning full force over my face. It was against my training to raise my voice against my master, ruthlessly biting my tongue and holding my words. I fully knew the repercussions for such an action, and as much as I wanted to rage at him, to call him out for what he had done and curse his name, I couldn’t.
“However, we now need to discuss something, Henry,” he continued, voice turning stern as I looked back at him, that nervous tug beginning in my stomach anew. He placed his cup on the low table next to his chair, folding his hands together in his lap as he addressed me. “Now, remind me… was there ever a time that I gave you permission to do such a thing?”
My blood ran cold. “S-sir?”
“You know what I mean,” he said, “and look at me when I speak.”
I returned my gaze from the floor back to him, wilting against his hard stare. “N-no, sir.”
“No, what?” he asked.
“You’ve… y-you have never…” I said slowly, finding it increasingly hard to speak.
“Don’t stutter like a child,” he said sharply, sending a spark of fear rushing up my spine.
I braced myself, trying again. “You have never… given me permission… sir.”
“So you have been going about without permission, doing heavens knows what in that cupboard, when you should have been working?” he clarified.
This was a trap. Pure and simple. There was no answer that would spare me, nothing I could say that would ease the way of what would undoubtedly happen now. “Master…” I tried, “I‒”
“You must be punished?” he supplied, receiving no answer, yet carrying on. “Why yes, I believe you should be. Now, in what way should we accomplish this this time?”
He paused for a moment, a slight tremble working over my spine as his eyes lit up with whatever dreadful things he was imagining.
“Master… I don’t‒”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll think of something for you so you don’t have to,” he mused. “And here I was looking forward to testing your resilience tonight.” He sighed, standing from his chair and looking back at me once more. “Then again, it might be fun breaking it too. I guess we’ll see, won’t we?”
I looked away, staying silent until he made me look back up at him, tipping my chin up with one fingertip. I shivered, looking back at his soft, sadistic smile.
“We will, won’t we?” he repeated.
“Damn it!” I cursed, looking down at the shattered remnants of porcelain at my feet as I braced against the wall. Pain curled around my spine, digging its clawed fingers tightly in and leaving me cursing everything in the world in a desperate attempt to get it to stop. Something was very wrong, but I needed to‒
Clipped, clicking footsteps met my ears as they rushed towards me, a soft, concerned voice following them as I tried to straighten up. “Henry! Are you alright?”
I looked up to see Mary, hovering worriedly next to me as I pressed against the wall, trying to give her a smile to calm her down. “Y-yes,” I replied shakily, my voice tight, sure my face was flushed from pain. “I’m fine. I just dropped‒”
“Don’t you dare lie to me,” she interrupted, blue eyes looking sharply over me. She was stubborn, always trying to take care of the other servants like she was all of our mothers, even if she was hardly in her thirties. She had become especially fond of me over the past few years. Maybe it was because I was a member of the youngest on the staff, along with a few of the newer maids, or perhaps because I reminded her of her own son.
“It’s nothing, I swear. I’m just a little sore. Don’t worry.”
“It’s my place to worry,” she said, placing a hand on my shoulder and letting me take her hand as she helped me from the wall. “If I didn’t watch over us, who would? Certainty not Peter, and do you think that any of the other maids are as nice as I am? Because I can tell you that they most certainly are not. Oh dear!” I stumbled slightly, holding in the gasp that threatened to escape as I leaned against her.
“Thank you for your concern, Mary, but I assure you that I’m fine.” I was lying through my teeth, and damned if she couldn’t see through every word.
“At least sit down for a moment,” she suggested, sending a spark of alarm through me.
“No,” I said, apparently too loudly and too quickly, as she looked back at me strangely. “I mean, no, thank you. Please, stop fussing over me.”
She stared at me for a moment, making me uncomfortable as I remembered what had happened last night, the way he always stared, studying me in a way. Then her eyes narrowed, her face darkening. “The back room.”
“Oh, no Mary, it’s nothing like that‒” I started.
As much as I didn’t want to, and with a string of begging protests leaving my lips, she drug me unwillingly into the room she had specified, forced to wait as she locked the door behind us. Merely an unused storeroom, the back room consisted of nothing more than a small table and a few chairs that the cook liked to use to gamble his pay away with the some of the other maids and gardeners with low morals in their off hours.
“Now, take off your coat, your vest, and your shirt,” she ordered, hearing my beginning protests and telling me to just hurry up and stop prolonging the inevitable.
“This is not necessary,” I tried to tell her, slipping off my gloves before slowly unbuttoning my coat, folding it and setting it on a slightly dusty shelf. She only stared back at me, blocking the door with her arms crossed firmly over her chest as I started on my vest. “I don’t think that anything is wrong enough that I need you to‒”
“Stop speaking,” she replied sternly as I placed the vest on top of my jacket.
“But Mary,” I objected desperately, starting on my shirt and stopping again.
“All the way off.”
I hesitated, closing my eyes and sighing as I finished off the buttons and let the fabric drop down my shoulders, ignoring the little gasp I heard as I opened my eyes again, folding the shirt carefully and placing it on top of the rest.
I knew what she was seeing. I had looked over myself in a mirror this morning before I went to wake my master again. My skin was peppered with a mixture of nail marks, bites, bruises, and scratches, all results of what had happened that night before, telling the tale of just what had happened to cause me such pain.
I heard her draw a slow breath of air, waiting for the criticism, the scolding that I was bound to receive, but it didn’t come. Instead, I heard, “Stretch against the table.”
Obeying her order, I placed my hands against the table, slowly easing myself down until I could not stand to move anymore. Her hands were cool as they appeared against my skin, gently feeling along my back and pressing along my spine until she touched the place that made me see stars. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t hold in the broken gasp that escaped me, squeezing my eyes tightly shut as she asked, “There?”
“There,” I gritted out, preparing for her to press both hands against it.
“Breathe out,” she instructed, waiting for my lungs to empty before she pressed, hard and sharp against the little section with a small pop that left me groaning in pain and relief.
Before she had come to work at the manor as a maid, Mary had lived with her father, husband, sister, and son in a small set of rented rooms. Her father had spent his entire life studying medicine, and had practiced it until he had lost his sight to age. Mary had learned everything she knew from him. She understood the human anatomy better than any person I had ever met, and with the knowledge she had gained from her father, was able to feel when something was wrong. She even knew how to press and manipulate against bone to make the pain stop. It was strange, and no one at the manor understood how she did it, but if ever there was pain among the servants, Mary was there to help, mothering over us all.
“Oh, thank god,” I breathed, feeling the worst of the pain finally dissipating, leaving me able to breathe deeply again without my breath hitching.
“He hurt you this time,” she said sharply, not even giving me a moment of peace. “If I hadn’t made you come back here so I could fix it, it would have only gotten much worse Henry, and knowing you, you would have just sat there waiting for it to stop hurting too. Am I right?”
I reluctantly nodded.
“And you would have even let him do it again while you were still like this, wouldn’t you?”
I hesitated, then, looking at the ground, nodded slowly. There was no point in lying to her. This was not the first time she had fixed my pain. She knew the nature of the “special” relationship I had with my master, the only one who I had trusted enough to tell the truth to. It had taken her a while after the first day she insisted she help me before she finally worked up the nerve to ask about the bruises. I had tried to lie then, but she had insisted, angrily at first, and then gently, with a concern that I had dearly missed before I found myself spilling the truth.
“Henry, you must stop this,” she said softly, reaching out to gently place a hand on my shoulder, careful to avoid pressing on a bruise.
“But if you continue to let him do this‒”
“Then I continue my employment here,” I interrupted, looking up at her again. “And I continue to send money home to my family.”
She looked as though she wanted to protest, but stopped, pulling her hand away and knowing that she couldn’t say anything against me. She was doing the same thing that I was. It was the same thing that most of us were doing here, working to make sure that our families did not starve, even if by doing so it meant that we wouldn’t see them more than once, maybe twice a year. It was the life one had to accept the moment they came through the pristine halls and found their place in the manor. An existence of hard work, long days, and a deep-set feeling of loneliness that slowly crept over them, day after day, until it settled into their very bones.
I reached for my uniform, redressing carefully in silence. It wasn’t until I was making sure my jacket was straight and free of wrinkles and dust that I heard her speak again.
“You need to let your back rest for a few days,” she said, making me turn to look at her again. “I mean it.”
“Henry?” came a voice from the other side of the door. “Henry, you’ve been called.”
“Coming!” I replied, nodding my understanding at Mary and unlocking the door to see one of the younger maids waiting for me.
“Your master asked me to summon you,” she said, “and he wanted me to relay a message.”
“What is it?” I asked, feeling the frown tug at my lips at the thought, dread already pooling in my stomach.
She produced an envelope from one of her apron pockets, handing it to me and accepting my thanks before leaving to continue her duties. I hadn’t even broken the seal before Mary was brushing purposefully past me, giving me a stern look before leaving me alone again. Shaking off the feeling one gets when they had just been scolded like a child, I broke the wax, wondering why he had even bothered to go to such lengths as to write my orders down until I read what was on the page.
Black ink stood out against the creased paper, flowing in his tight, disciplined script across its surface to cut the page in half.
I’m bored. I cannot wait to see how you choose to entertain me today.
I sighed, looking at the words and wishing that I could travel back a few years to the blissful time of illiteracy I use to live in. There was no escaping an order though now that I had no excuse to defend myself with, looking over the page one more time before folding the paper in half and slipping it back into its envelope.
At least the order gave me some form of leeway. In a way, I would still be doing what Mary had advised me to, assuming that my master did not expect a repeat performance of last night.
Walking swiftly through the kitchen, I paused only to open the oven, making sure that no one noticed when I slipped the envelope inside and waiting for it to begin curling into gray ash before shutting the door and setting on my way again. Relief flooded through me as I climbed the stairs to the third floor with practiced ease, not feeling the need to stop to wait through the wash of pain that had gripped me earlier. Making my way through halls that would have confused any unguided visitor, I paused outside of his door, straightening my uniform and my posture to be sure that I looked nothing less of presentable before knocking softly on the wood.
“Enter,” I heard, reaching down to gently grip the handle and open the door as silently as possible. Slipping in and shutting the door just as silently behind me, I slowly stepped closer to my master, currently looking harmless sitting in his favorite reading chair, one leg crossed over the other with a large tome balanced on his lap. Perhaps the entertainment he meant me to provide was not what I had originally thought.
“I received your message, sir,” I said, seeing his eyes flick up to me before looking away again in disinterest as he turned a page.
“I… I was wondering what exactly it was that you wished me to do, sir,” I said, slightly confused at the lack of direction I was receiving.
“Were my orders not clear enough?” he mused. “I told you to entertain me.”
“If you wish me to fetch another book‒”
“I do not.”
“I can bring the chess set if you‒”
“Perhaps a walk around the garden will‒”
“Come here,” he said, finally issuing a command.
I approached him, pausing in front of him as he looked up at me again, emerald eyes staring at me purposefully as he uncrossed his legs, lifting the tome from his lap to rest instead in his hand and on the arm of his chair. His eyes left me then, returning to his book as I understood the new order.
Carefully easing myself down, I rested on my knees, risking a hesitant glance up at him to be ignored before I took a silent breath, calming myself before I lifted my hands, beginning to release the buttons on his trousers before I heard him speak again.
“Gloves off,” he said simply, making me retract my hands momentarily to remove the white fabric. Folding them carefully and stashing them away in my pocket, I returned my mind to the task I had been ordered to.
“My apologies, sir.”
“It will not happen a second time,” he said, a stab of nervousness growing in my stomach.
“It will not, sir,” I replied softly.
“And Henry,” he said, pausing until I looked hesitantly back up at him, seeing that glint shining in his eyes again, the one that made my stomach tighten. “I will tell you when you are finished.”
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“Master, it is time to wake up,” I said, pulling the curtains to let in the morning sunlight. The windows were next, unlatched with a practiced ease and pushed open as the cool morning air flowed past me. The sun shone brightly this morning, the sky cloudless, lighting the lawn and showing the gardeners already hard at work weeding and pruning the ground’s many gardens. A fleeting glance over the lawn was all I had time for though. No admiring was in the schedule today.
I turned back to the room, looking slightly more inviting now that the sunlight had cut through the darkness. The light played over the dark, polished wood of tall bookshelves, a large reading chair resting in a corner amid a pile of clothing, thrown haphazardly on the floor, and, finally, the large bed that I had become too familiar with.
There was only a lump beneath the blankets to discern him from the rest of the bedding, soft snoring still coming from beneath the covers as I stepped up to the bedside. I sighed, rolling my eyes and reaching for the covers to pull them away, uncovering a tousled mess of auburn and pale shoulders.
“Master,” I repeated, making my words a little firmer, “it is time to get up. You have a full schedule ahead of you today.”
He let out a grunt of protest in response, telling me he was awake, though not happy about the fact. Crossing the room to the wardrobe to begin assembling his outfit for the day, I began listing his schedule.
“Following breakfast this morning you have tutoring with Sir Edwin, then Madam Kensington. After that you have riding lessons in the stables, followed by a trip to town with your mother before dinner, and afterwards your father has requested to meet with you in his study.”
“And before breakfast?” he murmured, voice still thick with sleep.
“You must rise for there to be a ‘before breakfast’ sir,” I replied, picking out a green tie for today and laying it over the rest of his clothes, draped carefully over my arm.
“Maybe you should convince me to.”
“Sir, please,” I said, setting the clothing on the end of his bed, careful to avoid any wrinkles, and moving back to his side of the bed. “Your mother will be disappointed if your tutors tell her you were late again.”
He yawned. “I don’t understand why she continues on with these ‘lessons’.”
“She only wishes the best for you,” I assured him, his attitude towards them nothing new.
“I don’t care. I am not a child anymore,” he argued, reaching for the coverlet in an attempt to go back to sleep.
Lightly swatting his hand away, I grabbed the blankets, pulling them down to his waist to get them out of his reach should he attempt to doze off again. “You may not care about keeping your schedule, but I do. It is why I was employed here. Now, please, sir, I have your clothing ready. If you will just‒”
He grabbed my wrist, startling me as he pulled me off balance with one hard tug, sending me sprawling on the bed before me and into his lap. I immediately looked away before I could even glimpse his face, not wanting to see him in this position as he spoke. “I will get ready, but first, I think you should convince me that waking up for these useless lessons is worth it.”
“Sir,” I said firmly, “Mary will be here with your breakfast at any moment. It is unbecoming of a gentleman to allow yourself to be seen like this by‒”
“Then you should hurry.”
I sighed, slowly forcing myself to relax and telling my mind to just think rationally. “May I at least lock the door?” I asked.
Of course. He wasn’t one to let modestly get in the way of anything that he wanted, especially if it wasn’t his to worry about. Nervousness lodged itself in my chest as I moved, familiar with the position I was about to take as I carefully maneuvered myself around to sit in his lap. This was hell on my suit.
I flinched slightly as he reached up, touching my cheek and turning my head toward him. My eyes remained locked on his pale chest, willing myself not to look up as I heard him absently remark, “Your hair is getting long. It suits you tied back like this.”
“Thank you, sir,” I replied automatically.
“Do you think I should grow mine again?” he asked, gently taking my chin in his fingers and tilting it up.
“It is not my place to say.”
“Oh please. If anyone would have a thought on how it would look, it would be you, Henry. Tell me honestly what you think.”
I shivered. He didn’t use my name often. It didn’t help that I could feel the tightness already starting in my stomach, afraid of what to say.
“I… I-I don’t…” I stuttered.
“Tell me,” he said. Even though his voice was soft, it was an order.
“I think… I mean… that is, cropped hair may not be exactly fashionable…”
“Oh yes, because I honestly care what is passing for ‘fashionable’ these days,” he scoffed, releasing my chin and trailing a finger down my throat.
I swallowed hard, feeling my breath becoming harder to keep steady as heat prickled up my neck. “But I think that it looks very fitting on you,” I finished, voice cracking on the last word in nervousness.
He shifted slightly under me, grabbing my vest front and pulling me closer to him. “Wouldn’t you like something more to hang on to?” he asked softly.
“I don’t need anything more.”
“You’ve become quite red,” he remarked, a smile in his voice. “How do you manage to remain so lovely in your age?”
“I am only two years older than you, sir.”
“So you are, and yet you’re still so submissive,” he pressed. “Tell me, was it part of your instruction that you be that way, or is it simply choice?”
I risked silence. Though it was part of my instruction to answer all direct questions, some of them did not require words as a response. I looked up instead, seeing the tousle of auburn, the sharp features, the piercing emerald eyes of my master, Jackson Hayward III, daring me to answer. I refused to give him the satisfaction though. I knew this game well.
“You know, Mary will soon be here,” he chided, smiling gently at me. The devil’s smile. “You have yet to convince me that this day is worth waking up for.”
“Yes, sir,” I said softly.
I shook slightly as I leaned in, waiting for the door to open, waiting to be found out in the moment before his mouth captured mine, but luck was not with me today. If I had known that below in the kitchen there had been an accident with burnt food and much foreign cursing from the cook, then I wouldn’t have cared. But as it was, the fear of being found like this overwhelmed me. The thought that at any moment that a maid, another servant, or, god forbid, one of his parents could open the door and find him so intimately attached to a lowly butler as myself was suicide.
The tightness in my stomach grew, slowly heating its way through my groin, the terror in my thoughts not enough to quell my body’s response as he continued. Weaving his fingers into my hair, he loosened the tie that held it back until strands of brown were hanging in my vision. I could only obey and accept, setting my hands on his shoulders and shivering at the rather developed skill he loved to show off. Why the French had developed something so absurdly pleasurable as this was as mysterious as how he had become so accustomed to using it.
It wasn’t until my lungs could no longer stand to be without air that I finally pulled away from him, gasping in a breath and feeling the burn across my skin intensify as I realized what new problem I was currently sporting. He knew too, because it always ended like this. He would decide that he was ready to get up, having me dress him and suffer through his morning routine until he began his day, leaving me to escape to some far off room or cupboard in the manor where I embraced the intensely needed urge for privacy until I could think again. That was only after I had stifled my voice in my sleeve and my breathing had returned to normal though, leaving me with the new need for a clean pair of gloves and shakily make my way on to my daily tasks.
It was only after then that I would serve him his afternoon tea, just after the final tutor had left and before his riding lesson would begin, that I was to be alone with him again. It was when he would give me a new order, to be thought of over and over until it became time to carry it out later in the evening. It was usually the same thing. He would remark on how well I had prepared the tea that day, how he didn’t think I would have lasted that morning while he had his breakfast, thinking I would have passed out from the pressure. He was crude in a way.
Then there was that familiar glint in his eyes as he finished his tea now, looking up at me again as the tightness in my stomach returned.
“I’d like you to prepare my bath slightly later tonight, Henry.”
“And when I am done, you are to stay with me.”
“After that, you are to do as I please. Is that correct?”