Authors: Alice Ayden
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 201
3 Alice Ayden
All rights reserved.
To my parents – always – for believing me, supporting me, encouraging me, allowing me to follow my dreams, supplying me with care baskets full of chocolate and putting up with my craziness, obsessions and dreams. Thank you mom and dad for keeping me sane, making me laugh and letting me believe in a world full of wonder and good.
Thank you also to my family (both by blood and by choice and both living and passed) for their unflinching support.
Thank you to my writing family. To Melissa Foster (awesome writer’s champion and fellow chocolate fiend) and everyone at the World Literary Café, Fostering Success writer’s groups and #GoTeamPIF, for answering my questions and mentally supporting me. You kept me off the ledge during the difficult times. I’ve met amazing writers who have generously shared their knowledge and taught me so much.
Special thanks to Natasha Brown, extremely talented and very patient cover designer, for Beautiful Whispers.
There are words once spoken which haunt forever. They attach to the soul and echo during every argument, every misunderstanding until they darken all that is good, but his smile...
made me forget I was destined to marry someone else. His smile brought back the memories...all of them. Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t have pushed. I should have listened to the warnings. Secrets and dangers lurk in unexpected places.
I needed chocolate. I listened for whispers as I rushed down the stairs. Whispers would tell me if the staff lingered, if a tourist had wandered to the wrong place or, most importantly, if I could pursue my chocolate in peace.
Careful not to knock my boots against the bare wood, I quickly glanced at my watch. 8:30.
In the living room, I accidentally bumped into the new couches Mrs. Kiness, the head housekeeper, arranged to barricade the chocolate containing cupboards. I cringed at the eye gouging pink flowers assaulting me from the side tables.
“It’s not there,” Mrs. Kiness announced.
I sighed and tried to pretend I had no idea what she meant. “What?” I knew she’d hidden the chocolate. Again. “Can’t get through another tour without chocolate. That last guy yesterday? Guy gave me the stink eye for two hours straight then stared at my ass for another half hour. I’m going for full on chocolate coma.”
Mrs. Kiness grasped a bit of hair that tried to loosen her tight gray bun and snuck a peak at her slight gold watch she kept hidden underneath her sweater sleeve.
I grimaced as Mrs. Kiness’ silence tensed the atmosphere. I needed chocolate. Now. Footsteps reverberated above us. “Shi...” A quick look at Mrs. Kiness, and I swallowed the rest of the word. Mrs. Kiness had been the housekeeper to Ausmor Plantation longer than most had been alive, and she despised foul language of any kind. Pissed me off.
A thud rattled the ceiling fan. I braced myself while Mrs. Kiness folded her hands behind her normal barely brown skirt and scanned for dust.
Lillia, my seventeen year old cousin, slomped down the stairs and stood in front of us with her usual wide mouthed expression like a seal waiting for a snack. I wanted to throw something in like maybe arsenic or thumbtacks, but I didn’t.
“Jane Eva!” Lillia screamed.
“What the...” A quick glance at Mrs. Kiness, and I changed course. “Why the scream?”
A grown up version of Shirley Temple, my cousin was everyone’s favorite. Cute and petite and dumb as a pitchfork.
Was there anything beyond her dull eyed expressions and bouncing blonde ringlets?
I jumped at my sister’s belch. “Christmas morning with a worm eaten cracker. Why’s everyone screeching today?” I waited until my heart stopped exploding. “I’m going by Eva now, remember? Not Jane.”
Karenda’s oceanic blue eyes narrowed on me. While my brown, blah hair dangled in semi haphazard waves over my shoulders and
ricocheted down my back, my sister’s perfectly molded blond perfection danced in place. We obviously looked nothing alike.
Lillia and her eye ripping yellow dress twirled in front of my sister. “Hey, Karenda. How’s it going today? Are you good today? You weren’t good yesterday.” Lillia stopped twirling and waited for Karenda to notice her. “Are you better today? I hope you’re better today.”
Karenda opened her compact, reapplied an even redder shade of lipstick, slammed her compact shut and glared through Lillia to me. “We discussed it and decided you would go by your first name and not—”
“No. You ordered as you always do.” Even though the family name was Austen, our mother wanted to name me after the middle name of her favorite aunt. I preferred Eva Austen to Jane Austen. No offense to the writer, but going through life with the name of Jane Austen with squeally fans and tourists asking about Mr. Darcy - as exciting as a long hair lodged in the ass.
“It’s better for business. With grandfather dead, it’s up to us to maintain the plantation.”
“No, it’s up to you as the oldest Austen. I don’t have to do anything.” I cringed at my own words. A bit harsh, even for me. I actually managed to irritate myself.
Karenda sighed loud enough to dislodge a sliver of yellow flowered wallpaper our grandmother had chosen for the hallway. “Why is it so damn difficult to do something for once? Go by your first name.” Karenda started her finger count as she always did when compiling a list of my day’s orders. “Dress Regency. Spill out some Austen prose.”
“Austen prose?” I rolled my eyes. I know I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help it. Eye rolls came easy around Karenda. “What am I supposed to say? Wither art thou and hast you shagged a Darcy yet?”
Lillia clapped and giggled like a howler monkey, and I wondered if she needed medication for her rabidity.
Karenda threw a piece of paper my way, and Lillia and I watched as it floated to the ground like an unwanted feather. Karenda cleared her throat when I didn’t immediately lunge to pick up the note. “Your list. You will secure the invitations.”
“Secure them? Are they under house arrest or in witness protection?” Now, I wasn’t conscious of the look I flashed my sister, but it must have grated because she noisily folded her arms across her enormous chest and glared. Note to self: remember the look and repeat as often as needed.
“For the Christmas party! Just pick up the damn things. Take five minutes out of your precious day and think of something other than yourself.” Karenda didn’t wait for my response. Her high heels barked across the wood floor until she reached the back door. A few hinges might have been harmed when she heaved the door open, stomped outside and slammed it shut again.
I glanced at Mrs. Kiness who slightly smiled at me. She’d never admit it, but I believe she completely respected my ability to irritate my sister. Most of the staff spent their waking moments devising Karenda irritations, but things like that always came easy for me.
Someone slammed through the back door, and footsteps down the hall vibrated closer.
“She didn’t double round, did she?”
Mrs. Kiness clutched the small golden cross she always wore around her neck to defend against
A man turned the corner and stopped.
Looking at his honeyed hair and green eyes, I caught my breath and stared at him for about three days. “Alexander,” I muttered. I didn’t say it as a question or even a statement. It was more of a relief. I hadn’t seen him for so long. Not since his dad died, and he and his mom left for Williamsburg.
He smiled. “You remembered.”
How could I forget?
“Wow.” Lillia stumbled from a misguided twirl. “Mr. Ravenswirth.”
“Child,” Mrs. Kiness said, as her slight English accent introduced itself. “Please minimize your twirls.”
Lillia’s eyes slowly shifted up and down Alexander. “You are definitely a man, aren’t you?”
I tried to roll my eyes but found the easiest way to deal with Silly Lillia was to close my eyes, take a deep breath and count to four or four thousand - whichever number made me forget about her.
Lillia continued to twirl as the frills and layers of her pink and yellow antebellum dress rose higher and higher. “Don’t you wonder why they say, ‘back in the day?’ You ever say, ‘back in the day?’ I normally don’t but sometimes can’t help myself, you know?” Lillia twirled close enough to Alexander that he had to catch
her. “Wow. Strong arms. You still have that southern accent?”
Alexander blushed. “Yes, ma’am.” He oozed with that slow
cowboyie drawl that birthed swooners.
Mrs. Kiness grabbed Lillia and pulled her back from Alexander. “Child, let us not accost Mr. Ravenswirth on his first day.”
Lillia righted herself and huddled towards me. “That accent always makes me want to fling my lacy panties to the chandelier.”
I curled my lip and backed away from her praying she wouldn’t say anything else.
Then, she screamed a hollowed, ear pinching yelp that I hoped didn’t wake our dead ancestors buried on the property.
I’d gone deaf in one ear, and the ringing in the other hadn’t subsided.
“Saints be forgiven!” Mrs. Kiness grabbed at her heart and closed her eyes in silent prayer.
“I’m going to be a tour guide here, and I practice giving my kvetch,” Lillia said, beaming at Alexander.
concentrated on her rosary to pray for a return to her hearing.
Lillia scrunched her face up like a used soda can and tried to figure everything out. Then she shook her head with such force it gave me a headache. “Ausmor Plantation. Built in—”
“Mr. Ravenswirth is very familiar with the house,” Mrs. Kiness said. “His mother used to live here. His father worked here, and he, in fact, was born here.”
Lillia ignored her. “Frank Austen and his sister, Celia Austen Morgan, somehow found the land in 1798.”
Mrs. Kiness glanced at me. ‘Somehow found the land’ translated to stole it from the rightful owners. Poor bastards.
“Then the house gave birth to itself.”
I frowned and glanced at Alexander who smiled at me.
“It’s now three stories with two wings jutting out either side like broken wings. Or maybe broken legs. Or...” She shook her head and continued. “The family lives in the New Wing, and the staff, which there are thousands...”
I shook my head. More like a few dozen.
“They live mostly in the Old Wing. Don’t know if they live in it together.” Lillia stopped and stared at us as if she’d uncovered a deadly government conspiracy. “I mean like if they sleep together. Is there some kind of law against staff doing the dirty, Mrs. Kiness?”
Mrs. Kiness blanched. I hoped she wouldn’t pass out.
Lillia ignored her own question, checked her pink nails and continued. “Anyway, they finished it in 1814 and named it Ausmor after the Austen and Morgan families. You know. The ‘Aus’ in Austen and the ‘
Mor’ is Morgan?”
I did a double eye roll and sigh. Unfortunately, Lillia’s off button had long ago malfunctioned, and she now ran without batteries.
“Even though we’re like the same family sorta, but the Austens are pure Austen. The Morgans...me.” Lillia pointed to herself. “We’re mixed with all sorts of deadly atrocities like Dragoo Morgan my great great whatever who killed all those people back in whatever the date was. Hacked one to death while they were eating stew in the dining room! Can you imagine eating stew in the dining room? I like to eat while I’m watching TV or taking some kind of walk in the garden.” Lillia twirled, opened the door and continued to twirl outside.
“Of all the heavenly saints!” Mrs. Kiness cried.
I quickly ran to the door and locked it. “There. A few minutes of peace.” Mr. Ravenswirth’s iridescent green eyes lingered on me, and thoughts of Lillia left my chaotic brain. I smoothed my hair back behind my ears and hoped it didn’t look like I’d used a spatula as a brush. I glanced down at my grayish sweater and jeans. Should I have worn something else? What else? What do you wear when you meet your—
“How’s it going, Eva?” His southern accent spilled smoothly like warmed maple syrup.
Loved the southern accent, and he remembered I liked to be called by my middle name.
Alexander re-introduced me to his easy, crooked smile. That was the smile that made me forget I was destined to marry Byron Bashley. That was the smile that could make me remember everything – even the painful t
“Mr. Ravenswirth has joined the staff. He is quite an expert at fixing things,” Mrs. Kiness said.
He studied the floor as Mrs. Kiness detailed his various skills as my eyes took a tour of him. Jeans, brown cowboy boots, black belt with a white t-shirt tucked in tight – just enough to ripple each muscle perfectly which I’d like to do with my tongue.
Crap. Did I say that out loud? I’m always doing that. Saying what I should be thinking and thinking what I shouldn’t be saying.