Author's Note: So, quite a few years back, I wrote a story vaguely similar to this one (read: barely). It's now off fictionpress but I do hope you enjoy this story! I worked hard and please don't hesitate to leave a review! I love reviews! Thank you!
Chapter One-Sweet and Forbidden
Her hands were not a lady's hands. They were calloused and scarred from countless accidents. They were raw and often bruised. They were not the lily white hands of a duchess nor were blue veins visible on such weathered hands. Soft velvet gloves never graced such small, beaten hands. They experienced the warm sun, the cold snow, the cool rains. They had touched hay, raw meats, and the barrels of liquor which her father seemed to be so fond of. Her hands were not the hands of a lady. No, they could never be the hands of a lady. For they were the hands of a woman who had seen the pain, suffering, and chaos that humanity had created.
The night was a cold one and the little inn provided weary travelers a small respite of warmth. However, there were few travelers out on the road tonight. The only people who occupied the inn's large dining room were Mr. Shepherd and his friends, drinking and playing poker-or rather, their own bastardized version of it. Mr. Shepherd's daughter remained in the kitchen, eating leftovers as she always did. The night was silent, save for the raucous laughter coming from the common room. The daughter, smiling at her father's amusement, continued to eat in peace.
"Bess!" her father's loud, gruff voice interrupted the little peace she was enjoying. "Bess, get ya'self over here. The whiskey won't refill itself!" Bess, who had half a mind to ignore his request for a moment, only let out a small sigh in response. "Bess, now!" She stood slowly and smoothed out her old, worn apron with grease stained fingertips before picking up the large pitcher of whiskey and heading out into the common room. It was a large room with many uneven, cheaply made tables and chairs scattered across it. Throughout the summer months, people would dance and play their fiddles as the children scurried towards the kitchen, eager to hear Bess' stories of wolves, vampires, and other supernatural creatures that her own mother had told her when she was but a child. "There ya are, Bessie. Com on, now!"
"Patience is a virtue, Papa," was Bess' gentle reply as she walked past the warm, dancing flames of the fireplace and towards the merry group of ragamuffins. She gently refilled their glasses and turned around.
"Stay a while, Bessie!" her father cried out, raising the glass to his lips. "The men would like a dash of a lady at the table tonight." Bess obliged without any visible dissatisfaction, but her mind wished to be left alone. Wished to go back into the small, cramped kitchen and fall asleep among the pots and pans. "There ya go, my good girl!" The men cheered as she sat down beside her father. "She grows to look more like her mother each day, I tell ya lads." The men nodded and Bess could only grace them with a small smile. There had been no lie in her father's words. She had grown to look like her mother. She was small in height and build and possessed eyes the color of coal; they were so dark that her pupil could not be distinguished from her iris. Her hair was the same color as her eyes and fell to her waist and her lips were the color of a fresh morning rose. Her skin was light and fresh and her expression always a pensive one. Yes, she had grown to resemble her gorgeous, wild mother. Her gorgeous, wild, dead mother. As this thought crept into Bess' mind, she shivered slightly. "What's wrong, Bessie? Caught a chill?"
"No, Papa. I apologize, just felt something crawling on my skin." The man let out a raucous laugh at her words and Bess could only raise a brow in slight confusion. When the men had composed themselves (which took about six minutes), they looked at the innkeeper's daughter with hungry eyes and grinned, showing off their yellowed, rotting teeth.
"When are ya going to marry, Bess?" one of them asked, the hunger in his eyes growing. "You're nineteen already! Practically an old maid!" The innkeeper through a cold glance at the man,but the daughter forced herself a laugh. Marriage. It was not a topic that she was fond of. For no man had ever proposed to her. Why would any man ever propose to her? She was an innkeeper's daughter who lived in a desolate, nearly empty street in the middle of Nowhere, Massachusetts and the only men she knew well were Papa's friends. No, she would never marry. For she was an innkeeper's girl-his only child-and had practically nothing to her name. "Ah, Bess, don't look so sad. My comment was only jest."
"Sad? I'm not sad at all!" Bess exclaimed, unaware that her pretty smile had fallen and had been replaced with a rather poignant visage of sadness. "I'm just rather tired, that's all." She turned to face her father with large, sorrowful eyes. "Papa, may I please be excused to my quarters? Her father, too inebriated to even open his eyes, only nodded at her request. Bess stood and quickly climbed up the stairs, waked across the creaking floorboards, and finally made her way to her bedroom-an old inn room-and locked herself inside the room before falling onto her worn, narrow bed and sobbing. Whether it was due to sorrow or joy, she could not tell. All she knew was that she was sobbing. And she sobbed until sleep gently pressed his lips against Bess' and the gentle night came to share a bed with her once more.
It was the dancing sunlight that awoke her. It danced across her bed, onto her body, and quickly made its way towards her eyelids. She awoke, blinking once or twice before realizing that a new day had begun. She stood slowly and made her way to the cracked mirror which was pushed against a dark corner of the room. She was still in her day clothes from yesterday. With a soft sigh, she went to her drawers and pulled out clean, or as clean as old clothing was, clothes and began to change quickly. As she retied her corset, so tight that her breasts were forced together and pushed up, she pondered the man's comment. 'Practically an old maid!' Bess certainly did not feel old; she was young and, beneath her pensive demeanor, full of vibrant life. If she had been allowed to, she would have gladly run across the hills, shouting and screaming with joys that were unknown even to her. If she had been allowed to, she would have lived.
After dressing herself, she walked down to the kitchen and began to prepare breakfast for the guests. The positive thing about the wintertime was that few guests occupied the inn, which meant less food for Bess to make. She allowed herself a sigh of relief when she saw that there was no guest inside the dining room. She had woken on time. She began to bake the bread and started the tea kettle, humming an old song that her mother had taught her when she was a small child. For her mother had taught her so much. She had taught her songs and the myths of the Romani people. Her mother's people. She had taught her to dance like the flames did and had taught her to sing like a hummingbird. She had taught her to write her name in fine India ink and-
"Good morning, Bess!" Bess looked up from the bread and found a smiling Mr. Lawrence standing at the doorway of the kitchen. Mr. Lawrence was an old man, a widower, who spent all his winters at the Shepherds' inn. He had known Bess since she was but an infant and the girl regarded him as the grandfather she never had. "How's you doing?" Bess smiled at the sweet old man as she walked towards him.
"I suppose I'm doing alright, Mr. Lawrence," she began, taking his wrinkled, leathery hand in her own calloused one. "It's nice not to have so many guests around. I feel like I can breathe for at least a moment. I just haven't been able to sleep at all...but I'm alright, I suppose."
"I can tell, lass. There are circles under those pretty eyes of yours. You'll get sick as a dog if you don't get your sleep." He chuckled, his blue eyes twinkling with delight. "Bessie, you're overworking yourself. A girl like you should be livin' like a queen, not a pauper...why aren't you married yet?" Bess' raven eyes became wide at this question, but she only allowed herself a pretty laugh in response to the old man's question. She knew why she wasn't married yet. For she was poor and alone. No man wanted a poor, lonely girl who had a father who spouted at the mouth about defeating those nasty Brits. No one wanted a drunk rebel's lonely daughter. But she admitted none of these things to old Mr. Lawrence and only laughed. "Oh, Bess, you need to leave this place."
"I could never, Mr. Lawrence. I was born and raised here. This is where Papa lives and I have to take care of him." She went to check on the bread for a moment before turning to face Mr. Lawrence once more. "It's my duty."
"Bess, you aren't happy here. I heard you crying last night." Bess moved her black gaze to the tea kettle, refusing to respond to his comment. "Bess, you need to find happiness. You've got to leave this place."
"Someone should teach those damned redcoats a lesson-marching up and down this place as if they owned it!" Mr. Shepherd yelled from his seat, nursing a large glass of ale. Bess, who sat across him, looked up from her needlepoint and raised a dark brow. The father and daughter spent all of their afternoons in such a manner. They would sit by the warm fire in the common room, Mr. Shepherd drinking and raving and his child sewing or knitting, and pass the days. "I tell ya, girl, one day we're gonna snap. We'll take arms up against those blasted monsters and we'll win. We'll show them that they're trespassin' onto our property." Bess said nothing, preferring not to remind her father that the British did own them. For her father was an old hound and Bess found it impossible to change his thoughts, no matter how persistent she attempted to be. "You're awfully quiet today, Bessie. What's wrong? Something bothering ya?"
"No," was her soft reply. She had lied to him. Everything seemed to be wrong. The air was stale, the room was far too hot, and her stomach ached. Everything seemed to be wrong, yet Bess could not locate an exact source of worry. "No, Papa. Just concentrating on my work. I'm almost done."
"Good girl...I don't tell ya this often, Bessie, but you're the best thing that's ever happened to me." The girl looked up from her needlework, rubbing her blistered fingers, and managed a gentle smile at her father. She knew that he was a kind man and only meant the best, but his judgement was often clouded by the sweet taste of liquor and his words slurred by his glass of whiskey. Slowly, she extended a hand out onto the old old table and allowed her father to squeeze it gently. "You work so hard around here and ask for nothing in return. Take the night off, Bessie. You deserve it."
"Papa, I couldn't-I mean, the guests won't have anything to eat and I've got to start making supper."
"I'll heat up the leftovers, dear. You need rest. You've grown so tired lately. Go on, take a rest. You deserve it."
She was woken by raucous laughter. Papa's friends were present in the inn once more. She attempted to close her eyes once more, but it was a futile attempt to do so. The laughter seemed to grow only louder and Bess got up from her bed and walked down the stairs and into the common room. The laughter ceased as soon as she walked in and the mens' eyes became wide with surprise and lust. For the innkeeper's daughter was dressed in only a thin, canary colored nightgown. Her shoulders were partially exposed and her raven hair, always kept underneath a white cap, was let loose and wild. Her father, noticing the girl's ill state of dress, stood up with the fury of a thousand armies present in his eyes.
"Go back to bed," he said, his voice hardened with anger. He turned to face his friends. "And you, stop staring like hungry dogs."
"I'm not tired," Bess began, crossing her arms and looking up at her father. "I fell asleep quite early tonight and feel refreshed. I would like to keep you company."
"Then change, lass...just wrap a shawl round yourself or something." He managed a small smile at his daughter as she climbed up the stairs. She returned moments later, a blanket covering her small body. She took a seat besides her father and silently watched the men play poker, heard them laugh and curse, and felt a man's tough against her thigh. The night continued in such a manner, uninterrupted for what seemed like ages. And then, there was a knock on the door.
Bess sat up, but awaited instructions from her father. The men, seemingly unaffected by the knock, continued to enjoy their drunken game. Then, another knock. Without any instruction from her father, Bess stood, clutching onto her blanket, and walked to the main entrance of the inn. She opened the door slowly and her face became white at the sight. Scarlet coats, holding muskets at their sides, and the distinguishable smell of powdered wigs were the first to register in Bess' mind. And then, the wolfish grins.
The British had arrived.
"Can I help you?" Bess began in a voice barely louder than a whisper. The men looked at her, then at each other, and then back at her. They remained completely silent. Bess, believing that her voice had been inaudible, repeated her question once more. "Can I help you?" Still, no response. Bess, growing annoyed at the unresponsiveness of these brutes, had half a mind to slam the door in their faces. But before she could do so, a creature pushed itself in front of the men and walked towards Bess.
"Do you live here alone, Miss?" the creature asked, his voice deep and well accented. It was the accent of a British business owner rather than a cockney school boy.
"No, sir. This is my father's inn."
"Of course. How foolish of me to believe a creature such as yourself could run an inn." Here, the creature laughed and his men laughed in unison on his cue. Bess ffelt anger swelling in her bosom. "Let me speak to your father then, girl." Bess nodded, hiding her anger, and the creature watched her with hungry, alert eyes. She returned with a man, small in stature, with grey hair and dark brown eyes. "And I assume you are this young lady's father?"
"What's it to you?" he sneered, staring at the troop of men with the utmost disgust. The very thought of redcoats made the innkeeper's blood boil with vivid anger. And now, there they were, standing in front of him and his daughter, holding muskets and wearing vicious grins on their thin lips. "It doesn't matter...what you want, anywho?"
"A few rooms," the creature responded. From her position, Bess could see that he was extremely tall-taller than the rest of his troops. He was pale and had been graced with fine, thin features, bright blue eyes, and ginger eyebrows, which Bess could only assume to be the color of his hair that was hidden underneath the white wig. "Pardon me, I have not introduced myself. I am Captain Howard Reginald and we have papers, from the king, that will allow us to take respite in your inn for a few months-perhaps until the summer is over."
"No. I won't allow it. I won't allow no filthy blueblood to even step foot in my inn." Bess' eyes widened and she rushed to her father, tugging on his arms. She knew that his words were due to his passionate anger rather than the fiery whiskey. He immediately stared down at his daughter and attempted to wriggle himself free from her grip. Bess, seeing grins grow upon the soldiers' faces, assumed that the daughter and father must have looked quite comical, but she could find nothing amusing about their situation. "Ya want in my inn, ey? Well ya can't stay! Get out!"
"Is that so?" Captain Reginald's tone was one of mocking pity, as if he had been speaking to a spoiled child. "We have papers, sir, and if you'd be brazen enough to defy the king's orders, we'd just have to throw you into jail. And then what would happen to you? Your inn? Your daughter?" He smiled sweetly, a smile of rotted sugar, at the innkeeper's young daughter. "I will state this again. We will occupy your inn and you will quarter us until the summer is over. If you fail to comply with this, we will throw you into jail, demolish your inn, and-well, heaven help your daughter." There was silence for a minute as the chilly draft entered the inn, chilling Bess' bones. "I forgot to inquire your name, sir."
"Marcus Shepherd." His voice was but a whisper, but it held the anger that the winds that night seemed to hold. Slowly, almost hesitantly, he looked up at Reginald with angry eyes, burning with hatred and passion and pain. Burning with the emotion that his glass of liquor had repressed for so long. "My name is Marcus Shepherd and this is my daughter, Elizabeth. And we don't invite ya into our house. You may come into our house because 'tis the law, but ya are not our friends...and this house shall never support ya filthy Brits."
"That was a lovely monologue, Mr. Shepherd. Splendid." Without another word, Reginald flicked his wrist and the men began to march into the inn, pushing past the seething father and his irritated daughter. And as they flooded into the inn, Bess became livid with the realization that they now occupied her home. Where she learned to walk and play. Where she had met the loveliest of people. Where her mother had danced without restriction and where Bess had learned happiness after the most painful of tragedies.
They had invaded her home and had turned it into a place where she could no longer call it her safe haven.
The guests, upon seeing the men in their scarlet coats at the breakfast table, all left the inn in silence, only giving Bess a mournful look as they left. The only one who stayed was Mr. Lawrence, but even he did not eat breakfast in the common room. Two days after the occupation, Mr. Lawrence requested that his meals be taken to his room. Papa's friends came, but they no longer laughed and only whispered among themselves in a corner of the room, eyeing the redcoats with vicious hatred. Bess grew exhausted for they demanded that she wait upon them hand and foot. If their meals were burnt, they complained. If it was too cold outside, they complained. If Bess' hair fell out of its cap, they complained. If she even entered the common room while they feigned discussing politics, they complained. By the end of their first week there, Bess' hands bled often and she had fainted on more than one occasion.
But this was life now and Bess' only comfort was that Christmas was near and her best friend would come to visit her. Her only friend. And so, as Bess served the ill mannered soldiers their ale and heard them whisper rude remarks about her, Bess only smiled, knowing that Christmas would come again and she would be graced with the company of another woman for a few weeks.
Her friend arrived four days before the holiday, dressed in the newest fashion (imported from Paris, of course), and perfumed with the scent of violets. Her family descended from their extravagant carriage and entered the inn. There were four of them: Mr. Fredrick Wilmington, Mrs. Anne Leigh Wilmington, and their two children, Baxter Lewis and Virginia Priscilla Wilmington. They all held their noses high in the air, pleased to find the king's men playing cards and drinking in the inn. And, in a moment, they saw Bess run out of the common room, her face flushed and her hair let down. And then, Virginia ran to Bess and wrapped her arms around her.
"Oh, I'm so glad you've come!" Bess cried out, staring at Virginia for a moment. Then, with a smile, she turned to face the family. "Your usual suite has been prepared. I do hope you find everything to your liking." The Wilmingtons nodded gracefully and began to climb up the stairs to their suit. But Virginia remained, pulling Bess towards the common room. Virginia was a small creature, smaller than even Bess, and was extremely thin. Her skin was pale, the only color she held was the rosy hue in her cheeks. Her skin was freckled, a trait her parents found unbecoming for a lady such as herself, and her eyes were a bright blue. Her hair was golden and she wore it down to her shoulders, always loose. Virginia reminded Bess of a porcelain doll, her features so small and fine. So delicate, so easily shattered.
"Since when did your father become loyal to the crown?" Virginia asked as the two sat at one of the common room's tables. Her eyes scanned the room, pleased by the sight of the handsome redcoats. "I mean, I always thought him to hate these men."
"He does," Bess replied, allowing herself a sigh. "But he cannot deny them a place. King's orders. We're quartering them until the end of August." Virginia smiled at this information, knowing that she and her family would be returning during the summer. "Virginia, don't."
"They are quite handsome-perhaps one of them could make a wife out of you." Bess grew a bright crimson, disgusted by the thought of being married to a redcoat. But she dared not say it. "Maybe one of them could make a wife out of me!" She giggled in delight and slowly composed herself. "Oh, Bess, don't look so cross. I merely jest."
"I know...it's just that...that these men drive me mad. Look at my hands. My legs are bruised and I feel week. I fainted three times last week. I've never fainted in my life. They've driven out the rest of the guests from this place and always seemed attention starved."
"Darling, they're not attention starved. They're women starved. And you and I both know, there are no women in the army, and you know that they can't help but crave the attention of a young woman. Some want a mother, a sister, a daughter. And others want nothing more than a lover." Bess, once more, turned crimson at the sudden thought of a redcoat taking her as his own, or at least imagining it. For she was inexperienced, the most a man ever having done to her was place his lips against her own. And as she imagined herself being taken by a soldier in the roughest of ways, her eyes locked with Captain Reginald's and she quickly turned away. "Who is that handsome, tall one?" Virginia pointed to him.
"Captain Reginald," Bess responded in a soft voice, her cheeks still red. "He's nothing more than a-" she stopped herself as she watched the captain approach her and Virginia. Carefully, the captain sat at the table, across from the two ladies. "Hello, Captain."
"Good day, Miss Shepherd," was his reply. Virginia only watched the captain with a hungry gaze. "And who is this lovely young woman?"
"Miss Virginia Priscilla Wilmington," she began in a soft voice as she extended a pale, gloved hand, allowing the captain to lift it to his warm lips. "A pleasure to meet you, Captain."
"The pleasure is mine." He then turned to face Bess. "How are you faring, Miss Shepherd?" Bess said nothing and only nodded in response, refusing to speak to him. "Ah, I see. Not the talkative type. Shame, I wished to know you well...very well, I'll leave you be." Slowly, he stood, tipped his hat at Virginia, and allowed his eyes to linger on Bess for what seemed like ages. Bess averted her gaze, shamed and scared that if she even smiled, Captain Reginald would misinterpret her action. She only looked up once she heard his footsteps cease.
"Oh, dear," Virginia whispered, taking a stray strand of Bess' hair and wrapping it round her small fingers. "It seems like I've found the man who wants you as his lover."
The feast was prepared and the guests- Papa's friends, Mr. Lawrence, the Wilmingtons, and the redcoats-gathered in the common room, drinking rum and making small talk. Bess' father sat by the fire with Mr. Wilmington, discussing politics, and several redcoats were attempting to coax Baxter to join the king's army. Virginia and her mother chatted idly with the captain and Mr. Lawrence busied himself with a book.
But there was no Bess in sight. For she was still in her room, admiring herself in the mirror. She wore a dress of crimson satin, purposefully tight upon her frame. It was her single most expensive possession and it was her third Christmas in a row wearing it. She wore pretty slippers that pinched her feet and a necklace that weighed on her neck. Her raven locks were worn up, but left uncovered, and adorned by her mother's silver comb. She looked lovely, yet her hands were still scarred and red. For she had no gloves. She was nothing but a worker disguised, for one night only, as a lady.
She descended down the stairs, the floorboards announcing her presence. At the sound of the floorboards, Captain Reginald quickly excused himself from the Wilmington ladies' presence and slipped out of the common room. He wanted to watch her descend the steps. Wanted to surprise her with his presence and a gift. For he was indeed interested in the innkeeper's daughter. He was not madly in love nor infatuated by her, but he felt himself grow slightly aroused when she walked by, leaving a scent of sweet bread and coffee behind her. He would most certainly not deny a night with her. For it had been many moons since he had felt a woman's body, her touch. Her sweet words and kind eyes. Her hopes and dreams and sorrows.
"Merry Christmas, Miss Shepherd," the captain began, slowly making his way towards her, enjoying the sight of her tight bodice and her raven hair. Bess, slightly startled by Captain Reginald's sudden appearance, remained silent for a moment.
"Merry Christmas, Captain," she began, her onyx gaze shifting away from his face. "I hope you found the meal to your liking."
"Indeed." He only continued to approach her, wearing a sly grin on his lips. "Look at a captain in the eye when he speaks to you." Without protest or hesitation, Bess stared at him with a stoic countenance. "I got you a gift." Her eyes widened slightly and a half smile formed on her lips. But her smile faded away as soon as she felt Reginald's arms wrap around her waist.
"Captain R-" she was cut off by his lips. His arm around her waist became tighter and she could not free herself from his grip. Perhaps, she did not want to. His fingers tugged at her hair and her bodice and he pushed her against the wall, still gripping onto her waist tightly. And he allowed himself to drown against her lips, to gorge himself with well known lust, and to feed off of the creature who provided such sweet nectar. And as he felt passion engulf his senses, all the rest-the party, the guests, the shivering girl pressed against the wall-faded away into the starry night.
Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading again! As always, feel free to leave a review with anything you might want to say (even questions!). I hope to see you guys in the next chapter and make sure to check out my other stories! Thanks!