Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Fantasy  ➡  Paranormal  ➡  Romance  ➡  Fantasy

Slave to a Vampire - Book 1 Catherine

p={color:#000;}.

Shakespir Edition

 

 

Table of Contents

 

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 1

[]

The chill of the night air swept across Catherine’s face and she turned, pulling the rough wool blanket up around her neck. Her face scrunched as she tried to cling to the last remnants of sleep before they were yanked away. It was not yet morning, the birds had not yet started to chirp and the moonlight shone through the window. She reluctantly let her eyes open just a sliver and glanced around. Her twin brothers were both breathing steadily nearby, every now and then a snore. Better than most nights when she would have to kick either Liam or Dan to get them to stop.

She rolled over, hoping to fall back into a deep slumber when a wolf’s howl broke the silence of the night. It wasn’t what she wanted to hear. Tomorrow was her wedding day, she was to marry Michael and her nerves were on edge as it was. She didn’t need to hear the cries of a wolf out on the moors.

“Enough with you,” she whispered and placing her hands over her ears she tried to block out the noise.

But the cry only grew louder. Picked up by another, and another. Catherine sat up slowly, blinking in the darkness of night. Something was amiss. As the wolves continued to howl and the hair on her neck stood on end, she stood up and nudged her brother Liam awake with her foot.

“What, what’s wrong,” he asked as he shot up. “Catherine? It’s the middle of the night. Get some sleep before the Fae take you.”

“It’s not the Fae I’m worried about,” she whispered. “Liam…something’s out there.”

He grumbled but sat up listening. “Just the wolves, sister. Go back to sleep. You don’t want bags under your eyes for your wedding.”

Catherine glared at him, but didn’t move. She glanced around their small bedroom in their two-room home. Liam settled back down on the floor as she crept into the main part of the home where her mother slept. But she was nowhere in sight.

“Mother,” she hissed in the darkness. There was no response.

This wasn’t right. Her mother never ventured from the house in the middle of the night. Catherine was about to fetch her brothers when she heard the first screams. At first she thought it an animal, the way it screeched and howled in pain. But then it was followed by another and another. Liam and Dan were at her side a moment later.

“What was that?”

Through the slats of the walls they saw lights flickering. The sharp taste of smoke hit their mouths and Catherine ran to open the door. Fire, the village was on fire! The siblings stood there in a panic as they watched those they’d known all their lives scream and run through the night, now lit with the flames of evil. Catherine had heard of these raids farther up the coast, but she never thought it would happen here. Not to them.

“Dan, we have to find mother,” Liam yelled as the boys raced outside. “Catherine, move, you can’t stay in there, the fire is spreading!”

She ran and joined her brothers, not sure where they were going, but Liam took her hand and they dashed between others racing for cover. Over her shoulder, Catherine saw large men in uniforms chasing the villagers down. The young were scooped up, thrown over shoulders and hauled off. But the others were not so lucky.

“Liam! Oh my God!”

He paused when she came to a sudden stop. They watched as the old couple, Paddy and Alice, were surrounded by three men, swords held at the ready. As the two clutched each other tightly, begging for their lives, the three moved in, running through them over and over until they fell, bloodied and dead to the ground. The men laughed as they removed their blades and wiped the blood on their sleeves as if it was nothing.

“Catherine, Dan,” Liam hissed. “We have to hide! They’ll take us away if we don’t!”

Too frightened to do anything else, Catherine stumbled over her feet as she followed her younger brothers through the village. Smoke blinded her and burnt her eyes, tears streamed down her face. She coughed harshly and all around her were the screams of the dying. Blood splattered up her legs from the muddied ground. And the bodies…so many already dead. How had they not heard any of it? How had this happened so quickly? Liam yanked her down, they were hiding behind the church, the one building left untouched by the raiders.

Hands shaking, Catherine sat beside her brothers, listening to the carnage around them. Tomorrow was supposed to be her wedding day and now here she was, squatting in the shadows like a rabbit cornered by a wolf, waiting to die. She closed her eyes and did the only thing she could think of…pray.

“How dare you slaughter these innocents,” a voice cried out and Catherine’s eyes shot open. “Put down your swords at once or you will face the wrath of God!”

Father John had rushed from the church bearing nothing but a cross in his hands.

Two soldiers stalked towards him, leering at the priest. Catherine held her breath, wanting him to turn around, run and hide like they were doing. But Father John held his ground and continued to yell at the men, damning them for their deeds.

“You know what I think you need, father,” one of the soldiers sneered as his companion loomed closer. “I think you need a good tongue lashing yourself! Grab him!”

Father John was no match for the soldier. The larger man grabbed him from behind and his metal cross fell to the ground. Catherine felt her heart thunder painfully in her chest as she watched, helpless to do anything for the man that had practically raised her and her brothers. Liam started to rise, but Dan yanked him back down. The other soldier had drawn a dagger and as they watched, reached into Father John’s mouth and gripped his tongue.

In one swift movement, he brought the dagger down. Catherine whimpered and felt sick as the piece of flesh fell to the ground. Father John reached up to hold his bleeding mouth, sputtering and gurgling as the soldiers laughed.

“There, priest, now you can speak no more of heresy to us,” the soldier mocked as he sheathed his dagger.

Before Catherine knew what he was doing, Liam was on his feet and charged at the soldiers. He yelled as he leapt on the first one’s back. The soldier tried to fling him off, but Liam held on tight. He lowered his mouth and bit the man’s ear until he screamed in pain.

“You little bastard!” The other soldier rushed over and yanked Liam off, tossing him hard to the ground. The soldier pinned Liam to the ground with his huge body and put his hands around his throat. Liam struggled, but it was obvious that soon his fight for air would be over. Dan took my face in his hands, “Stay hidden Catherine,” and he ran to try to save his twin brother. Rushing at the soldier on top of Liam, he smashed into the man’s body, pushing him off Liam.

Father John bleeding and badly hurt ran to try to help the boys, but the other soldier drew his sword. The moment he ran him through, Catherine felt her heart break. The breath went out of her and she stared in stunned silence as his body was shoved mercilessly off the blade, even before death had fully taken him. The first soldier had now recovered from the shock of Liam biting him and angrily stalked towards Liam, sword held high as he wiped the blood from his ear.

“You little mongrel! I’ll teach you some manners,” he yelled and raised his sword above his head.

Catherine grabbed the first thing she could find and ran out from her hiding place. With a yell, she crashed into the soldier, sending them both to the ground. Before he could react, she picked up the rock in her hands and bashed it into the soldier’s head until he stayed down.

“Catherine,” Liam whispered her name. “Well done girl.”

Her eyes widened in horror as she stared from the dead man beneath her to the bloodied rock in her hands. Suddenly numb, her fingers let it fall and Liam hauled her to her feet.

“We have to go! Now!”

They ran as the screaming continued around them, but by then most of the village was on fire. Catherine slid to a stop and frantically searched for their Dan and her mother. Liam yelled at her to keep moving, but she wasn’t going to leave without trying to find them.

“Caught me another one!”

Catherine screamed as strong arms roughly grabbed her around the waist. A short sword appeared at her throat as Liam whipped around to save her.

“One step, boy, and I’ll slit her throat.”

“Liam run! Please run!” Catherine gasped as the blade pressed against her skin hard enough to make her bleed.

“One more word and I’ll slit it, too.”

Another soldier hurried over and punching Liam in the head and knocking him to the ground. Liam tried to rise, but his hands were clasped in irons before he was roughly pulled to his feet. Catherine was also put into irons. She felt her entire body shivering as they were dragged away from her village with so many others. Catherine’s eyes wandered back to the burning homes and saw bodies being tossed onto the fires. Tears streamed down her cheeks at the sight of so many she knew and loved, dead.

The soldiers roughly pushed them all towards the jetty where a ship waited for them to be loaded onto. Catherine felt her heart leap into her throat. They were taking them away. She didn’t want to leave her home!

“Move out of the way,” a voice cried out as a horse pounded over the ground and down the jetty. “What are you doing? Release these people at once!”

“Charles?” Catherine squinted against the torchlight blurring the man’s face, but it was most certainly Charles. “Help us!”

Charles moved the torch then jumped down from his horse. “Catherine? Where are you taking her?”

“That is none of your concern. Get back on your horse and ride off,” a soldier snapped, giving him a shove, but Charles didn’t move.

“I demand to see your Captain at once! These people are not slaves! They are free folk.”

“Not what our Captain says,” the soldier spat at Charles’ feet. “Says they’re nothing more than peasant waste needing to be relocated for better use.”

Charles glared at the man then thrust his torch in the soldier’s face, so close the man jumped back with a shriek, fire narrowly missing his face. “The Captain. Now!”

The man cursed, but yelled at another to fetch the captain as a second rider appeared at the end of the jetty and rushed forward. “Son, what are you doing here? Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

“These are our people, we can’t just let them be taken away,” he snapped as he rushed to Catherine. “I’m going to get you out of here somehow,” he whispered as he worked at the iron cuffs on her wrist. “I will not let them just take you.”

“I’d thank you to get your hands off my cargo.” Charles and Catherine turned to see a man standing on the gangplank. Scars covered his face and he walked with a bit of a limp as he made his way to the jetty. There were two short swords sheathed at his hips and a pistol already in his hands that he pointed at Charles. “Back away lad if you know what’s good for you.”

Charles’ father reached out and dragged his son back. “Begging your pardon, sir, my son is young and doesn’t understand.”

“No! You can’t take them!”

The captain leered, flashing a mouth of yellowed teeth as he glared at Charles. “I can and I will. You will not be stopping me. Load them up! We are leaving!”

Catherine screamed as a soldier moved her forward and she tried to shove past him, needing to get to Charles. He yelled her name as their hands nearly met, until the Captain himself picked her up and tossed her over his shoulder.

“Catherine! I will find you again I swear it! I’ll find a way to save you all!”

“Charles!”

“Shut your mouth, girl,” the Captain snarled, “or you’ll be my entertainment tonight.”

Catherine clamped her mouth shut as he carried her up onto the ship, then without any warning at all, flung her off his shoulder and down into the darkness of the hold. The others were being tossed into the hold as well, chains clinking together as they tried to climb back up, screaming for mercy. There were already other prisoners down there and as Catherine looked at their frightened faces, she knew they had been captured this night as well.

When the last person was thrown down, the Captain leaned over and grinned wickedly. “The voyage is long, my friends. Take heart. When you arrive, your life will be forever changed and my pockets lined with gold.” He tipped his hat to them and had the hold closed.

What little light had come from the torches and moon disappeared and Catherine widened her tearful eyes as she tried to see in the darkness. She knew that Liam was on board and she needed to find him. Others were calling out names, searching for who might have made it aboard and who was just another dead body tossed onto the fire. The hold stunk of fear and sweat as Catherine gingerly moved through it, trying not to step on anyone, but the going was hard.

“Catherine!”

“Liam! I’m here,” she cried out as a hand found hers. “Liam. Oh thank God!” They held each other close and she felt his body shivering from fright just as much as hers. “Did you find mother or Dan?”

“No not yet,” Liam looked despondent. “But I did find Michael, he’s unconscious. Tried to fight ten of them off from the look of it.” Carefully Liam guided her through the hold to Michael’s body, propped up against the side of the ship. His face was a bloodied mess and he was falling in and out of consciousness. “He should be alright soon enough.”

They sat down on either side of him, Catherine pulling his head close to rest on her lap. Numbly she smoothed his hair back over and over, feeling the drying blood that covered his head. Oh how her life had changed so quickly. Trapped on a ship bound for she knew not where, it was a nightmare of darkness and despair. Catherine listened to the cries of the crew up above then felt the ship start to push through the waves. She closed her eyes and tried to picture her home, the beautiful green lands that she would probably never see again.

One more tear slipped down her cheek and Catherine vowed to the darkness it would be the last.

Chapter 2

Catherine’s stomach felt as if it had plummeted through the bottom of the ship and she rocked forward then back, bashing her head on the planks behind her. At some point exhaustion had caught up with her and she’d fallen asleep until the violent rocking of the ship woke her. Now all she wanted was to fall back into that mindless sleep. At least there she didn’t feel every single wave that lifted the ship, tossing it around like a piece of cork in a stream.

“I don’t think I can stand this for long,” Liam muttered on the other side of Michael.

“Breathe through your nose,” she whispered. Taking in too much air made her feel as if she might lose whatever was left in her stomach. Michael twitched against her, face scrunched in discomfort, but he had yet to awaken.

Somewhere in the darkness around them came the sound of retching. It did not take long for the foul smell to travel and Catherine fought against the bile rising in her throat. She closed her eyes and hummed a lullaby her mother used to sing to them, anything to distract her from getting sick with the rest. But it was hard to breathe in the cramped space and the smells of the sick and sweating, the horrible fear that clung to everyone made it nearly impossible to keep her concentration and she lost track of the music.

“Damn,” she heard Liam curse and a moment later heard him heaving.

Catherine bit her tongue and prayed in her mind. She did not want to be sick. Not here. She did not want to give these men the satisfaction of seeing her dirtied in her own vomit. She ran her fingers through Michael’s hair and prayed that soon they would be past this wretched night, the whole journey, and land safe on whatever shore they were bound for.

But by the time the sun rose the next morning, Catherine was on her last bit of will power, struggling not to vomit. Just when she thought she would lose it all, the call to drop anchor came and her body sagged in relief.

“We haven’t gone far, perhaps we can escape and make our way home,” Liam whispered weakly as he peered up through the planks. The night had been hard on him. He’d finally passed out from sheer exhaustion after heaving so much. “Where could they have taken us so close to home?”

Catherine slowly got to her feet, making sure Michael’s head didn’t hit the planks, and tried to see as well. But there was nothing except a bit of sky and sun. Then the hold was thrown open and the Captain appeared at the edge. He shouted orders to his crew and several ropes were lowered down amongst the captives.

“Everyone on deck, move quick and you’ll get a bit to eat,” the Captain said, his smile mocking as the hungriest of the captives rushed towards the rope to make their way up.

Catherine knelt down beside Michael, gently tapping his cheeks. He needed to wake up so he could climb. “Liam,” she hissed. “He won’t wake. What do we do?”

Her brother glanced around then with nothing else to do, pinched Michael’s nose closed. Catherine panicked and tried to pry him off but Liam yelled at her to wait. She watched as Michael’s face grew red and then redder still, before finally his eyes shot open and he gasped for breath, Liam releasing his nose.

“What happened,” he asked hoarsely. “I feel like I’ve been trampled by a horse.”

“We’ve been taken captive,” Catherine told him. “I don’t know what’s happening now.”

“Captive by who?”

“English dogs,” Liam hissed. “It’s only been a night.”

“Then where are we now?”

Catherine and Liam did not have any answers and helped Michael stand so they could make their way up the ropes. By the time they reached the deck, the other captives were eating a hunk of stale bread and the captain was speaking with another man, ruggedly dressed. Catherine tried to get her bearings and turned to see them anchored near another ship. It was massive, easily three times the size of the one they stood on with three large masts and two decks of cabins. Catherine had only ever seen one like this before, sailing past their village, but never had she been close enough to actually realize how large it was.

“Eat up my captives,” the captain yelled. “We set sail soon enough!”

Catherine glanced from him to the other man and the ship beside them. “I think we’re switching ships,” she whispered to her brother. “Why would they do that?”

Liam stared at the tall ship and nearly choked on his bread. “Catherine I think we’re going across the waters,” he whispered in disbelief. “We’re leaving these shores forever.”

“Across the waters?”

“West, I’ve heard rumors about these ships sailing across the horizon to a land far away.”

Catherine wasn’t hungry any more as she stared out over the railing of the ship, into the nothingness beyond. How could they survive a journey beyond the horizon? It wasn’t possible! She was going to die on a ship in the middle of nowhere. This wasn’t how her life was supposed to end. It couldn’t be!

“Get moving, now,” a sailor said as he suddenly shoved her forward. She reached out for Liam, but the sailor jerked her hand away. “No, males and females separated.”

“He’s my brother,” Catherine argued.

“I don’t care, woman. Follow my orders now!”

Liam tried to reach her again, but the sailor smacked him hard enough to send him flying across the deck. Catherine screamed, but another sailor slapped her face bringing tears to her eyes.

“Mouths shut! Get in line, move and do what you’re told you little bitch!”

Catherine opened her mouth then saw the whip coiled in his hands. The sailor gripped it tighter and laughed when he saw her looking. She quickly averted her gaze and followed the other women. They struggled up the wobbly gangplank that spread from one ship across to the other. Catherine looked straight ahead, not wanting to see the waves just feet below them, waiting to pull her under if she fell. When they made it across, she watched as the males were sent below through a hatchway at the far end of the ship while she and the rest of the women were ushered to another. One girl stumbled and fell, she was sobbing so hard that she couldn’t see where she walked. Catherine hurried to get her to her feet as a sailor yelled, letting his whip fall to the deck.

“What are you stopping for? Move!”

Catherine kept her gaze lowered and hunkered her body over the young girl to protect her in case the man let the lash fly. Once they were below deck, Catherine started to move away from the girl, but she reached out a hand.

“Thank you,” the girl said. “I just…I don’t know what’s going on.”

Catherine pulled her close and hugged her as best she could with her chained hands. She wanted to tell this girl that everything would work out, that they would be returned to their village as it was all a mistake, but Catherine knew better and didn’t want to give the girl false hope.

“I’m Mary,” she said.

“Catherine. Did you have any family on board?”

Mary swallowed hard and Catherine could tell she was trying not to cry again. “No, no one.”

As the hold was closed off and the women tried to find places to sit that weren’t soiled from previous occupants, Catherine kept hold of Mary. “I’ll be your family then. We’ll get through this together.”

She felt bad saying such words, not knowing what might lay ahead of them, but as the anchor was raised and the ship began its movements again, Catherine knew the only way any of them were going to get through this was to stick together. They would find strength in each other somehow. Her thoughts turned to her brother Dan. Had he been captured as well or was he now dead? And her mother, where had she disappeared to? She hoped that Liam and Michael were on the same ship and prayed that her reckless brother would not do anything stupid and get himself killed.

Chapter 3

Days past, how many Catherine wasn’t sure. She’d tried to keep count, but it was hard just to not get sick most of the time. The seas were rough and unkind to the ship with its many captives. They were only brought up out of the hold once a day and never at the same time as the men. Catherine looked frantically around for her brothers anyway, but deep down she knew she might never see them again.

When they weren’t up on deck, Catherine spent her time huddled next to Mary, the young fifteen-year-old girl from a village to the north of Kilkenny, where Catherine was from. For the first few nights, the girls barely spoke. Too frightened of what was to come to even form words. Then one night, Mary had woken herself from a fitful sleep and glanced around hopeful, as if she would appear back at home in her bed.

Catherine knew the feeling. She’d woken up many times praying it had all been a nightmare.

“When will it ever end?” she groaned, laying her head back against the rough splintered planks.

“Maybe we’ve died and this is Hell,” Catherine mused, thinking back to all of Father John’s sermons. “Maybe God has decided to punish us.”

“Then he punished me the night they first attacked and I watched my parents killed,” Mary whispered. “Right before my eyes. Killed like sheep.” Her bright green eyes were suddenly staring at something far away on a distant, dark night. “We were such a wee village. There was no reason to attack us, but they did. Snuck out of the shadows like ghosts.”

Catherine closed her eyes remembering the attack on her own village. The screams, the heavy stench of smoke on the air and the blood. Mary kept talking, muttering on and on about the horrors she saw.

“My father, they cut him down when he charged out of our house with a pistol. Sliced his head clean off. And my mother, she screamed and cursed until three men carried her off into the darkness.” Mary’s eyes closed and a tear slipped down her cheek. “I heard her cries until they took me away. But she wasn’t on board when we left.”

“I think they killed my mother too,” Catherine said. “I never even saw what happened to her.”

“Probably for the best,” Mary said. “Then you can’t have nightmares about it.”

Part of Catherine agreed with her, but the other part wanted to know desperately what became of her mother. Why hadn’t she been in the house to begin with? She wanted to think that her mother had somehow survived the attack and was safe. Maybe she got out with several others and they were all rebuilding the village. Catherine knew they were only far-fetched dreams but she clung to them like a blanket.

“You know it’s funny,” she mused to Mary as the ship rocked back and forth and back and forth until she thought she would lose her mind. “I would have been a married woman by now.”

“Was the lad a good one?” Mary asked.

“Hopefully he was better than mine,” a voice on the other side of Catherine said. She hadn’t even noticed another girl was beside her listening. “I saw mine cut down in the attack. Good riddance to him.”

Mary gasped at the woman’s words as she leaned forward and shoved her dirty blond hair from her face. “That is a terrible thing to say about your dead husband!”

The other woman leaned forward too and smirked. Her pale blue eyes narrowed to slits as she said, “Not when the bastard used me as his personal hitting post for three years. No, I was happy to see him go.”

Catherine wasn’t sure why, but she started laughing. She laughed long and loudly…she couldn’t stop and was holding her side, aching from the use of muscles she hadn’t felt in a very long time. The other woman joined in until they were both cackling like old hags while Mary looked on confused.

“I’m Charlotte,” the woman said and held out her hand.

“Catherine. And this is Mary. I am sorry it seems you fell from one bad life into another.”

“Life is always full of its ups and downs. At least now before I die I can say I went on an adventure in the belly of a great beast, across the vast waters, and landed on a faraway shore where I met a handsome lord. We fell madly in love and lived happily ever after in his mansion,” she said then sighed. “That is the story I am going to tell myself every day of this God forsaken journey.”

Catherine smiled, closing her eyes to picture such a future. If only that was what would happen. There was always a glimmer of hope that they weren’t going to be taken somewhere dreadful. It was a very tiny glimmer that grew dimmer every day they were out to sea. None of the women seemed to have any ideas as to where they were headed. Who would want a ship full of young men and women? Catherine had grown up on stories of people being kidnapped and taken away in the night, but she’d never learned where they actually wound up.

She just knew they never came home.

When the last bit of laughter died down and the smile faded from Catherine’s face, she wondered how her brother Liam was holding up. He was a tough lad, but he was impulsive to a fault. She prayed that he would survive the journey and they would be reunited again when they landed.

A sharp cry cut through her thoughts as Charlotte groaned next to her and muttered. “Not again.” Shaking from the rocking of the ship, Charlotte got to her feet and found her way around the other women in the hold. Curious, Catherine followed her and Mary too.

At first, Rose’s whimpering and constant crying was annoying, but she really couldn’t blame the girl. She had no one left to look out for her and though Catherine was alone in this hold, she at least still had a living sibling.

“Rose, we talked about this,” Charlotte was saying quietly. “You can’t keep getting on like this. It’s not good for you.”

“Just kill me now and be done with it,” she sobbed.

Catherine peered around Charlotte to see a girl around her age with long, tangled red hair and eyes that were filled with tears as they darted back and forth. Her whole body shook as she rocked herself, crying as if she would never be able to stop.

“What’s wrong with her?” Mary asked, and Catherine hurried to shush her.

“It’s alright, Mary,” Charlotte said. “This is Rose. She’s taken this all a bit harder than the rest of us.”

“I can’t do this, I just can’t,” Rose whispered. “I don’t want to be here!”

“Look around us Rose, do you really think any of the hundred or so women in this stinking hell hole want to be here?” Charlotte said sarcastically as she sat down beside Rose and held her close.

Catherine and Mary sat in front and reached out to rest their hands comfortingly on her arms. “We’re all here together, though. You’re not alone.”

Rose glanced around at their faces and Catherine could see a bit of the panic slipping away. But she could tell the girl was weak minded. She’d seen one like her before in their village. The girl had lost her entire family to sickness. Father John had tried to help her through it, but the pain had been too much and the girl had died of a shattered heart. If the other women did not find a way to pull Rose out of this darkness, she would die before they ever reached their destination.

After a while the four girls drifted off to sleep, still holding onto one another as the waves rocked the ship, moving them ever closer to where destiny awaited them. Catherine struggled to keep her eyes opened, but they slid closed and she dreamed of home again, the green fields in the morning and the barley that surrounded their village. She wanted nothing more than to be home again and feel the soft earth beneath her fingers. It was all she could hope for now.

More days passed and the women fell into the same daily routine, numb to all else around them. Several women fell sick, coughing and hacking, crying out for mercy day and night. At first they had torn at Catherine’s heart, but after a few more days, weeks, she just wanted them to die and be done with it. They were horrible thoughts and she hated herself for them. When the women did finally pass, the sailors would crawl down into the hold and take their thin and wasted bodies up above to be thrown overboard along with the buckets of waste. It was like nothing Catherine had ever thought to experience.

Once a day they were brought up above to eat the tiniest amount of food possible, if it could even be called food. It was a hard and stale bread of sorts, barely filling their stomachs. Catherine ate what she was given. Water was sparse as well. A few large gulps and that was it for the entire day. Every time the ladle was taken away from her, Catherine wanted to follow it and drink the whole bucket, but she saw the other women around her were just as desperate. They were all in various degrees of starving and sickness. She wondered if the captain even cared that half his cargo might be dead before they made it across the ocean.

She only wished they were able to see the others, but the men were always brought up after the women had been returned to their hold.

Catherine took what she could get from their time above, letting the harsh sea wind blow across her face. Some days it chilled her to the bone, but it kept her alert, let her know she was still alive.

Though like Rose, she was starting to wish she was dead. This was not a life. This was merely surviving and as their time above deck ended once more, she wondered if maybe it was even worth it to try and stay alive.

Chapter 4

A hand reached out in the dark to grab Catherine’s, startling her from her dreams. “Catherine?”

“What is it, Mary?”

“I can’t sleep anymore,” she whispered. “All I see are their faces, leering at me from the darkness. I don’t want to see that.” She started to shake and Catherine knew the poor girl was crying. It was starting to happen to them all. One by one, they were falling into despair and misery, just like Rose. That girl hadn’t spoken in weeks.

“Think of something that makes you happy,” Catherine said.

“I don’t think I can.”

Catherine shifted closer and put her arm around Mary’s shoulders. “Try. It’s the only way you’ll get through this alive.”

Mary nodded against her shoulder and moved in closer. “Is that what you do? You think of the man you were supposed to wed?”

She started to say yes, but then realized her thoughts hadn’t turned to Michael as of late, but another young man she’d fallen in love with; one she’d dreamed would take her away from her poor village life. She was not in love with Michael and was fairly certain he did not love her either. There’d been another girl he’d wanted in the village, but she’d already been promised. Well, not anymore. Catherine did not recall seeing that girl on board the ship. Her body was probably in a grave somewhere back along the coast of home or it had been burnt to ashes in the fire that night.

“Catherine?”

“Sorry, Mary. No, it was not Michael I was dreaming of.”

“What…do you love another then?”

Catherine couldn’t see any point in denying it so she nodded. “Yes. I love another. Charles. I have loved him for a long time and I do believe that he loved me too.”

“Why were you not going to marry him then?”

She shrugged as she remembered back to the conversation with her mother about it being time to find a husband. Charles was the son of a wealthy farmer and of English descent. There was no chance he would be allowed to wed a poor Irish peasant, no matter how much they cared for each other. Her mother had arranged for Catherine to wed Michael instead. He was a good man and friendly. Catherine knew he would take care of her if they were to be together. Despite what her heart wanted, she did not have a choice in the matter. It was either agree to marry Michael, or not marry at all.

“It was an arranged marriage,” she finally said. “To another lad, Michael. He is a sweet young man, but not the man I loved. Charles was of a higher class than I. There was no chance I’d be allowed to wed him.”

Mary sighed and Catherine felt her slump against her shoulder. “I wish I had been betrothed to someone. Had a lad to dream about.”

Catherine put her arm around her. “Thoughts of Charles help me get through the nights.”

That, and thoughts of home, lately it was all she’d been dreaming about. What her life might have been if the village hadn’t been raided. She would have wedded Michael and been living as his wife now, maybe even be with their first child on the way. It was all any of the other girls could dream about…having a family of their own. Catherine had sworn she would teach her children, girls and boys alike, to read and write as she could. It was not taught usually, but she had not been raised in normal circumstances.

A famine had hit home hard and though she’d only been a wee child, she remembered the hunger pains, watching her mother cry and worry day and night as she carried her twin brothers in her belly. Her father did what he could to find them food, but everyone in the village struggled to survive. Catherine had only learned of why her father had died when it came time for her to wed Michael. She’d shared her fears with her mother of marrying a man she did not love or long for. How could that make a marriage as loving as her mother’s and father’s had been? But Margaret had sat her eldest child down and told her what her father did to save them all.

“Catherine, my daughter, there was a time when I did not love your father.”

“But how can that be?” Catherine had asked. “I have seen the way he looked at you when I was little. How much you laughed together.”

Margaret smiled, “I grew to love your father after all he did for us. He worked hard to provide a roof over our heads and food for us. During the famine, your father let himself starve so we would not go hungry.” She’d hung her head as tears slid down her cheeks. “He sacrificed himself to save me and the babies I was carrying, to save you. How could I not love a man with such a heart as he had?”

Catherine had never known what her father did for them. She just thought he grew ill like so many others in the village. She respected Michael already and if her mother could marry a man she did not love, then she could too. It was her duty as a daughter. And though Michael did not love Catherine, she knew he respected her, mostly admired her for being able to read and write. After her father died, Father John had helped raise her and the twins, giving lessons to Catherine until she could read the bible front to back, and write for others in the village. He also taught her how to balance the money ledgers. It had helped her stand out and bring in coin when her mother struggled to find work.

Writing important letters for Charles’ father was how they’d met.

“Catherine?”

She glanced down at Mary and smiled. “Sorry, just thinking about my father is all. And my brothers.”

“What are they like, your brothers?”

“My brothers are twins, they are fifteen years old. Liam is a child who will never grow up,” she laughed. “With an impish grin and a much too impulsive attitude. And Dan is quieter, more serious but with a heart of gold,” a tear fell down her cheek as she wondered if Dan was still alive.

“They sound charming to me.”

Catherine shrugged. “My brothers are both lovely lads. I tried to teach both of them how to read and write, but they’d rather go off on adventures, climbing the high cliffs overlooking the sea or slip into the pub and see how much beer they could manage to sneak away before getting caught.”

She couldn’t count the number of times her brothers had come home covered in muck and grime, talking so fast about where they had been that Catherine could barely keep up. She’d covered for them most days so they wouldn’t get in trouble from either Father John or their mother. Liam with his quirky sense of humor had been the one to make her laugh when the day seemed too hard for Catherine to handle.

Catherine felt Mary shift beside her before her breathing changed. The girl had fallen asleep at least. Shutting her own eyes, Catherine willed sleep to come as her thoughts drifted to memories of her brothers’ grinning faces. With her last bit of wakefulness, she prayed to God that Liam was keeping his head down and not getting into trouble. And she prayed that Dan and her mother were still alive.

 

***

 

For Liam, seeing his brother in the cramped and dark hold was bitter sweet. He was happy that his brother was still alive, but at the same time he had hoped that Dan had escaped. For the past weeks the two brothers had been inseparable.

Ever since Liam was taken captive and thrown into this dark and miserable prison, he’d been plotting a way to get off this ship. But the others were not with him, not even Dan. His brother had fallen into a deep depression during the past few weeks. Most days he sat next to Liam, not talking, with his head bent forward staring at his feet. Liam glanced up through the small holes in the hatch cover and grimaced. Soon enough they would be calling the men up to deck for feeding time, as the sailors called it. Degrading was what it was and Liam was tired of it. For weeks they’d been forced to live like animals. He was sick of watching those around him fall ill and die then tossed overboard like they were nothing, just a piece of rubbish to discard.

Liam asked the boys to gather round so they could discuss escaping. “Where do you think we’ll go,” Michael hissed. “We are in the middle of the ocean, Liam!”

“Then we take the ship. We outnumber the crew. I’m sure the women and my sister wouldn’t mind getting out of their hold, too.”

“You are a mad man to think we can succeed.” Michael rested his head back and closed his eyes. “If you do this you will die and I will not be the one to deliver that news to Catherine. It will break her heart.”

Liam frowned. “Why do you care if she is heartbroken? You don’t love her.”

“No, but I care enough about her not to see her be hurt because of her brother’s foolishness. Do not attack them, I beg of you.”

“I will not just sit here and do nothing.”

“Listen to your friend,” an older boy said, propped up on the other side of the hold. “There is no escaping this hell and there is no chance you can take the ship. Leave it be, lad, and accept your fate.”

Liam quieted down, but he was not going to give up so easily. The others might have lost their will to get out of this hellhole, but he had not. For the past two weeks, he’d plotted revenge against the men that had taken them from their homes. He knew what time of day they brought the women up and then the men. He knew how many sailors would be present on deck as they were fed and watered. The captain was never anywhere in sight, but that didn’t matter. All Liam had to do was get enough men to follow him, find a pistol and then he’d take care of the captain. Make him surrender the ship.

Only four sailors carried pistols up above. The rest held only daggers and short swords, hardly enough defense if all the men decided to rebel. He needed to convince the others that the time was right to strike. They’d already lost too many men and each day Liam felt himself growing weaker. If he was going to strike at their captives, it had to be soon.

He was about to tell Dan and Michael of his plan again when the hold was pried open.

“Move you rats,” a sailor yelled down as he lowered a ladder. “Hurry up. If you’re not up here fast enough I’ll throw your portion to the sharks.”

The men scrambled as fast as they could in their weakened state up the ladder to the deck. Liam blinked against the brightness of the sun, trying to focus on what he still needed to figure out. Dan in his daze struggled to get up the last few steps of the ladder and lunged forward, knocking over a sailor.

“Begging your pardon sir, he didn’t mean to, he’s sick,” Liam said as he tried to help Dan get up.

But the sailor cursed and slapped Dan across the back of his head. “My pardon is what you’re after is it? You’ll have to do more than just ask for it. Grovel, man,” he leered as he got in the Dan’s face. “Get down on your knees and beg for me to give you my pardon. “Liam tried to reason with the sailor but was shoved away and Michael moved to his side and put a warning arm on his shoulder.

Another slap from the sailor saw Dan fall to his knees, his head hung down and he gave no response.

The sailor scratched at his stubble then backhanded the Dan so hard he flew backwards. “Answer me scum!” the sailor bellowed. He moved forward and dragged an unresisting Dan upright by his hair. “Ask me,” he demanded.

Dan just hung there with glazed expression on his face, the sailor punched him in the face again and they all heard the Dan’s nose crack. Blood trickled down his face as he struggled to keep his eyes opened. The sailor dropped him as the others laughed. Liam’s fury raged. Despite Michael holding him firmly, Liam pushed him off and started to move forward.

“Don’t,” Michael whispered.

“Why not? They can’t treat us like this? He’s my brother! “You’ll do Dan no good, you’ll only make it worse and get yourself a beating too,” warned Michael.

The sailor had started kicking Dan until he cried out in pain, curling up in a pathetic ball on the deck. Liam couldn’t watch it anymore. These men were not humans, they were animals! Barbarians who needing to be taught a lesson. Slowly Liam crept away from Michael’s side ‘til he stood beside one of the sailors that had a pistol tucked at his hip. The gun would have one shot and he would need that to kill the captain.

Dan had fainted and the sailor ordered two others to pick him up. He wasn’t finished teaching him a lesson. He pulled a whip from his side and uncurled it as the other sailors splashed water on the Dan’s face to wake him.

“Now then, ten lashes should be enough to teach you about respect.”

“No,” Dan groaned, eyes wide as he focused on the whip. “Please, I beg of you.”

Liam reached out and snatched the pistol just as the sailor whipped around to smack him. Keeping the weapon gripped tightly in his hand, he ducked under the man’s fist then head-butted him, sending the sailor stumbling back. All the others jumped into action, pulling their swords and pistols as Liam waved his around.

“What you going to do lad?” the sailor with the whip asked. “Kill us all with one bullet?”

Liam glanced frantically around, wanting the others to step in and help him, but Michael only stood there shaking his head, and the others were already defeated. Too tired and wane to do much more than stand and watch. He gripped the pistol tighter as he moved away from the sailors towards the captain’s cabin.

“I’ll kill your captain,” he threatened, hating how his voice came out high-pitched and shaky.

“No you won’t. You will put that damn pistol down and get back over there.”

But Liam didn’t move. The sailor he’d taken the pistol from had regained his balance and headed straight towards him.

“Give me my pistol back, boy, before I knock your teeth in!”

“No, I won’t! You can’t treat us like we are animals!”

“Give it to me!” The sailor lunged forward and Liam did the only thing he could think of: pulled the trigger. The resounding echo was louder than he’d expected as the pistol recoiled in his hand. The man standing before him…looking confused for a moment as he stared from the smoke trailing out of the barrel then down at his chest. “Bloody hell,” he muttered. Then his eyes rolled back into his head and he fell to the planks, dead.

It was the first time Liam had killed a man. The pistol fell from his limp hand as all his anger suddenly evaporated in a rush. He’d killed a man. Point blank shot him. He barely felt it when two men grabbed his arms and dragged him towards the main mast where they tied him up.

“Hold him steady, boys.”

The whip hit the deck and Liam didn’t even have time to brace before he felt the sharp lash across his back. He cried out from the pain, burning across his flesh. Something warm and wet trailed down his back. Blood. So much blood from only one strike. Then Liam saw Dan stagger to his feet and stumble towards the ship’s rail. Unnoticed by anyone else as all had their eyes on Liam as the whip ripped into his back, Dan unsteadily climbed on to the rail teetering on the edge above the blue water rushing past. “No,” screamed Liam but both sailors and captives thought his scream was an attempt to stop the whipping. The whip struck again and he clung to the mast, trying to absorb the pain, trying not to cry out, his eyes locked on his beloved brother swaying above the water. Then suddenly Dan dropped from sight over the edge, frantically Liam strained to turn his head to look out over the back of the ship. The last he saw of Dan was his head bobbing in the wake of the ship. Liam’s head slumped down as tears poured down his face, his brother was gone.

“How many for poor old Willie’s death?” the man with the whip snapped as he let it fly again and again and again. Liam screamed with each hit as the lash ripped into his raw flesh, opening new wounds and making the other ones wider. “Ten? Twenty? Think he’d live through a hundred?”

Liam’s eyes shot wide open. A hundred lashes! That would kill him, he wanted revenge and he had to survive. He struggled like a rabbit caught in a trap, trying to get loose from his bindings. The sailors in their haste hadn’t tied the knots tight enough and he managed to slip through them just as the whip made to strike again. It hit his shoulder and he fell to one knee.

“Get him tied back up!”

But Liam rolled away from their grasping hands. He kicked and punched with everything he had, pushing himself towards the railing as the other prisoners yelled his name, begging for them to spare the young boy. Liam glanced this way and that. There was nowhere to go…no one to save him.

“Just throw him overboard and be done with it!”

“Food for the sharks then!”

“Grab him, quickly!”

Just as the sailors moved in and Liam yelled, another gunshot echoed across the deck of the ship. All the men stilled as they turned to see the captain standing there, pistol raised into the air, smoke trailing up from the barrel.

“What in God’s name is happening on my ship?”

“Nothing, captain, we were just taking care of a little problem,” the sailor with the whip said.

The captain’s narrowed gaze glanced at Liam then at the dead body of Willie nearby. “How did this happen?”

“This boy got his pistol, shot him. We were going to punish him for it.”

“By throwing my precious cargo overboard?”

The sailors all shifted at the hardened tone of his words. “He shot Willie.”

“Then Willie should not have let a child get his pistol. You will not toss him overboard and you will not harm him further. A lad in that shape, that young, will fetch a pretty penny at auction.”

Despite the pain flooding his body, Liam perked up at that and turned to find Michael. His eyes were wide with panic as the captain continued to berate his men for trying to throw away something that could very well make a lot of coin.

“Captain, my brother jumped over the side we need to turn around and go back and get him,” begged Liam. The Captain, not unkindly, said, “Lad your brother is dead, the sharks that follow the ship would have had him by now, he’s had his burial at sea…best to say a prayer for him.” Liam buried his head in his shoulder as sob’s wracked his body.

“We have good stock this time. Do not touch them again or allow any to jump overboard or it will come out of your pay. Feed them, water them, and get them back in the hold. We’ll be docking in two weeks’ time if this wind keeps up.”

“Yes, Captain,” the sailor with the whip, said as he wrapped it back up and placed it at his hip. “You heard him. Get about your duties and someone take care of Willie’s body before he starts to stink!”

As Liam had food and water shoved at him, he tried to think of what this might mean. An auction. They were being taken to an auction?

“Liam,” Michael whispered as he managed to get beside him. “Are you alright, you must be strong, Dan would want you to go on?” Liam, replied in a hard cold voice, “I’ll survive and one day I’ll return to this ship and make them pay.” Michael nodded.

“Did you hear them Michael? An auction, we’re going to be auctioned off,” Liam whispered.

“Sssh…eat your food and drink your water. I’ll have to tend your back somehow when we get back in the hold.”

“Did you not hear me!” he snapped.

“I did, Liam, but there’s nothing we can do now.” Michael glanced around and for the first time since they were aboard the ship, there was a glint of determination in his eyes. “When we land however, that is another story entirely.”

Liam kept his head low as he ate and drank his share. The pain in his back was brutal and he could feel it starting to clot and scab, tugging every time he moved. But the pain didn’t matter, his brother was dead. Somehow he must keep his sister and Michael safe, with an effort he swallowed his grief and thought of the future. They knew where they might be headed now and Michael was on his side. They were going to make land and then they would escape.

Chapter 5

Catherine had been in a state of panic since they’d all heard the gunshots days before. There had been no news from the other sailors and when she’d opened her mouth to ask, she’d been slapped into silence. Whatever had happened must’ve been bad. Her gut told her Liam had been involved. She was sure sensitive and sensible Dan, if he was onboard, he would have kept out of trouble. But not Liam with his fiery temper! She could not even contemplate losing her last links to home.

“Get up!”

Catherine stood as the hold was opened. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“Can’t you tell the ship’s dropped anchor? We’re here. Now stop talking and get a move on.”

“What’s going on?” Mary asked in a frightened voice. “Catherine where are we?”

“Somewhere very warm,” Charlotte said as she stood beside them. “We must be across the ocean.”

One by one they left the hold and came up on deck. The sun beat down on them. It was hot and Catherine started sweating immediately, trying to let her eyes adjust to the violent sunshine. She heard another sailor yell at the men. She turned, trying to catch a glimpse of her brothers. But she didn’t get to look long before she and the other women were ushered off the ship on wobbly legs. It was the farthest she’d walked since they left her village and Catherine wasn’t sure she’d make it to down to the dock they were anchored at.

White sandy beaches stretched out as far as she could see and everything was bright green. The flowers were reds and oranges like a sunset, nothing like back home in Ireland.

“Welcome,” the captain called out from the end of the dock, “to Jamaica!”

“What,” Charlotte muttered behind Catherine. “Jamaica? They brought us here?”

“What’s wrong?” Catherine asked. “Charlotte, what do you know?”

She hesitated before she told her quietly, “Everything I’ve heard of this place is bad, Catherine. I’m afraid we’re never going to leave this island again.”

The horrible truth she’d been trying not to let herself believe had just come true. So far from home. Charles would never find her now. She was going to waste away here until she died. The sailors shoved the women and men along until they were lined up on the beach. The sand burned their feet, but the sailors didn’t care. She searched the lines of men and finally spotted Liam, but he didn’t see her. When he turned around, she gasped at the sight of his back. He’d been whipped. Frantically her eyes searched for Dan but couldn’t see him anywhere.

The shots she’d heard…now she was certain that Liam had been involved.

“Get your hands off me!”

Catherine whipped back around to see a sailor tugging at Charlotte’s clothes, tearing off her skirts, shift, and blouse until she stood naked in the sand.

“Strip! All of you now or we’ll do it for you!”

Covering herself the best she could, Charlotte glared at the man who’d taken her clothes. He inhaled deeply, holding them up to his face. “Nothing like a woman’s warmth. Be lucky that’s all I’m allowed to take from you,” he muttered then moved up and down the lines, yelling at the women.

Catherine’s hands shook as she reached for the ties that held her shift. She was barely wearing anything to begin with, being captured in the dead of night. But to be naked, completely exposed in front of all these men? A shadow loomed over her and when she lifted her head, the captain leered down at her.

“Come on then, lassie. Get a move on or I’ll do it for you.”

Fear of him touching her made her lower her head as her cheeks burned red and she pulled her shift from her body, letting it fall to the sand, exposing her pale and naked skin. The captain made a grunt of approval, “She is definitely a virgin and quite beautiful, we’ll get good coin for her,” then he moved on. Further down the line, Catherine heard Rose crying and sobbing. She refused to remove her clothing. A sailor tore her clothes from her body so hard that she fell to the sand.

“Get up, woman. Time for a wash.”

Sailors took buckets of water and dumped them over the captives, washing the dirt and grime from their days stuck in the ship’s hold. Catherine sputtered as the water was poured over her head and tried to get her hair out of her face.

“Now then, you are to stand here until they’re ready for you,” the captain said. “Welcome to your new lives ladies and gentlemen.” He laughed as he walked away, leaving his men to guard us.

Catherine heard voices calling out nearby, but there were trees in the way. All she could see was the dock and the beach they stood on. The sun beat down on their shoulders and before long; she was dripping with sweat, panting from the horrid heat, wanting nothing more than to curl up into a little ball and sleep. This was dreadful. Standing there naked as the sailors eyed her and the other women. She didn’t think the humility could get any worse.

She was dead wrong.

“Put your hands out,” a new man said, dressed in fine linens with a blackened tooth smile. “Come on then, we don’t have all day.”

“What’s going on?” Catherine asked Charlotte.

But the other woman was too shaken to say anything. Numbly Catherine held out her wrists. She was chained to the four women in front of her, Charlotte to the others behind her. Once they were all grouped together they were led down the beach, up a dirt path to a large square beside what looked like a small town. There was an wooden stage set up nearby with another man dressed in rich silks, the like of which Catherine had only ever seen on nobility. Before the stage was a large group of men and several carriages behind them.

“Men first then, let’s go you lot, up onto the auction block,” the new man said and pulled a group of five men, naked and weak, up the stairs, so they were in full view of the scores of men below. The man had said auction block and with these two simple words, the captured peasants froze with fear…auction block, what did that mean.

Once they were lined up, the man in silks opened his mouth. “Fresh from Ireland across the sea, I bring you five men of strength who know what a hard day’s work means. Let’s start with this young lad on the end!”

The men in the crowd started yelling out numbers and everything closed in around her as Catherine realized what was happening.

“Slaves, we’re being sold as slaves,” she whispered.

Charlotte nodded. “It’s just as I feared.”

The group of five men were bought and taken off the auction block. Several more groups went up as those left behind started to panic and cry, as the enormity of what was going to become of them set in. Michael and Liam were in the last group of men to be sold. Catherine took a step forward, wanting to go to her brother. He stood tall and strong, glaring at the men as they bid on the others.

“Look at these two,” the auctioneer called out as he pointed to Michael and Liam. “Both strong lads. Good bodies, nicely formed muscles. They will be able to do a great deal of work on any plantation!”

Numbers were shouted, going up and up. Catherine felt tears prick her eyes. Her brother and betrothed were being auctioned off as slaves. It wasn’t fair. What had they done to deserve this? The numbers climbed higher and just when Catherine thought it would never stop, a deep booming voice called out over everyone else.

“I’ll pay three for them both!”

“Three hundred,” the auctioneer repeated with a large smile. “Sold to Dion!”

The rest of the crowd turned to glare at him. Michael and Liam were taken from the auction block and led to the back of a large, black carriage. Catherine stared at it, trying to see who was inside as the curtain fluttered, but they kept their face hidden. Who had that much money to buy her brother and Michael? The women watched as the auctioneer’s helper started to pull the first group of women onto the stage. It was nothing like with the men. The women’s faces burned bright red as the men leered and stared at their bodies openly, making gestures that had Catherine burning with hatred and shame.

“I’ll be, that one’s good for a ride or two,” a man called out. “Wonder how long she’d last?”

“Nah, go for the other one. She’s a bit fuller up top. Better to hold onto.”

The remarks didn’t stop and Catherine heard the others around her cry as they shook with fear. They were going to be sold to these horrible disgusting men. It didn’t take much of an imagination to know what would happen to most of them.

The bidding started and the numbers went up much quicker than they had for the men. The first group of women was auctioned off in mere minutes. The second group was led up and Catherine watched as poor Mary and Rose were shoved forward. Rose hadn’t stopped crying and the auctioneer gave her rump a good smack to try and shut her up. Mary’s eyes were wide as she stared at the men, licking their lips and making gestures towards her body. She shook so hard the chain rattled. Catherine watched as the bidding went back and forth, before the man who had bought Liam and Michael, raised his hand and bid on Mary, Rose and one other from the group.

It ended and the three were led off towards the others behind the black carriage.

“Catherine whatever happens, just stay strong,” Charlotte whispered as her group was led onto the auction block. “You must!”

When Charlotte reached the auction block, several of the men fell silent. She was a beauty, something Catherine hadn’t noticed while they’d been down in the dark hold and covered in grime. Dion immediately bid for her and two others from the group. His numbers started so high, it was over before it barely began. Charlotte gave Catherine one last sad look before she too was dragged off.

“Last group for bidding today,” the auctioneer called.

Catherine staggered forward with the rest of the women attached to her and tried to keep her head held high. She had to make that man bid on her. She had to ignore all the other men and just have him bid on her. She did not want to lose her only chance to stay with her brother.

But just as the bidding began, the man started to walk away.

“Dion, my good sir, there are still some fine women up here,” the auctioneer called.

“My master is done for the day,” he yelled back.

Catherine’s heart sank. “No,” she whispered. Men stared at her, eyes wide with lust and hunger as they took in her body. The auctioneer went on, stating which ones were most likely virgins and the numbers went up again. The man was almost to the carriage. She stared at it intently…there! On the side of it was a plaque. It was her only chance. “Mr. Lavelle! Mr. Bastian Lavelle, please choose me! Please, I beg of you!”

The auctioneer paused as he stared from her to the carriage. “So, the girl can read it seems.”

“I can,” she said trying to sound strong. “I can read and write. Mr. Lavelle, you can have use of me!”

“So can I,” a man in the crowd grunted as he thrust his hips forward. “I’ll give you one hundred for her!”

The bidding went up and kept going up as Catherine kept her eyes locked on Dion and the curtained window. His lips moved and then the curtain parted, a white-gloved hand reached out and waved, pointing at Catherine. Dion bowed his head then made his way back through the crowd.

“Five hundred and that is my final offer,” Dion yelled.

The auctioneer looked as though he might faint as he repeated the number. “Any other bids?”

The men in the crowd cursed and glared at Dion, but they couldn’t compete. The auctioneer nodded and one of the men unchained Catherine, escorting her to the others attached to the rear of the carriage. Charlotte, Mary, and Rose stared at her in amazement, but it was her brother who grinned the most.

“I couldn’t let you leave without me,” she told him.

“Dan’s dead,” Liam blurted out, “he couldn’t take it any longer and he jumped overboard”.

He didn’t get to say anymore before Dion yelled at them to be silent. The carriage started to move as he walked beside them and they were pulled along, away from the auction and off down the beach. Catherine cried quietly for her brother as they trudged along drawing on her inner strength to overcome her sorrow, now she had only Liam left and she was determined to survive for him.

They moved in silence down the dirt path through the trees and heat. Animals called out around them, birds that Catherine didn’t think could possibly exist and what she thought was a monkey. She’d heard of them but seeing one up close was amazing. For a few moments, she was able to forget the horrid situation she’d found herself in.

When Catherine reached the point when her legs were going to give out, Dion called for them to stop and detached them in groups from the back of the carriage. There was a dock up ahead and another boat, but this one was much smaller. A few of the captives begged not to be thrown back into a hold, but Dion told them that it was only for a one-day journey. Catherine breathed a sigh of relief at that, even though she dreaded being locked away from the sky, sun and fresh air again.

The men and women were separated once again and Catherine found herself sitting beside her new family in the hold. Their skin was hot and clammy as they leaned against each other, having to sit so close in the small area. Baskets of fresh fruit were lowered down along with water and another bucket for their needs.

“Eat and drink,” Dion called down to them. “We will arrive at the plantation soon enough.”

Without another word, he closed the hold and the women dug into the food. No one spoke. There was really nothing to say. They’d been sold at an auction to a man they did not know. As of this moment they were nothing more than slaves. Catherine tried her best to stay positive. It was better than being bought by one of those dirty men that wanted to use her in the most disgusting ways. Those other girls, bought by the depraved men, she prayed for them.

She repeated to herself over and over how lucky she was. The fruit tasted tart against her tongue and the acid stung the ulcers in her mouth.

It was such a change from the stale bread they had been fed for the past weeks. Thoughts of the others filled her mind and the horrible realization that where she was going could be even worse. After a while, they felt the ship start to move through the water. The rocking was gentle compared to the rough waves of the ocean and soon Catherine felt her eyes close as she finally gave in to her exhaustion and fell into a troubled sleep. A nightmare of Dan jumping off the ship woke her. Her dear sweet younger brother had cracked and she lay there wondering if he had made a wise decision.

 

***

 

Voices close by. Catherine’s eyes fluttered open as she tried to listen. Men spoke overhead, saying something about a girl…the one who could read. She tried to lift her head to hear more, but the creaking of the boat muffled their voices. A horrid stench hit her nose and she fought the urge to vomit.

“What is that?” she whispered.

“Vomit,” Mary said close by. “Some of the women grew sick from the fruit.” She herself sounded as if she was about to be ill. “They’ve been up there talking for hours it seems.”

Catherine peered up again. It was dark. Night had fallen. Soon enough they would be off this boat and maybe she’d be able to stay on dry land for a while. The rocking started to make her nauseous too and she cursed herself for waking up. If she’d just kept sleeping, she would’ve been fine. Heavy footsteps sounded overhead and a new voice met her ears. She focused on the man’s smooth tongue, the way the words flowed from his mouth. She couldn’t hear them all, but just the sound was enough to distract her.

They were all rocked forward as the ship hit a soft thump.

“Land,” Mary said hopeful. “Did we land already?”

Overhead heavy steps stomped across the deck before disappearing once more. A moment later the hold was opened and Dion yelled for the women to get out. One by one they were led off the ship and shoved into two cage-like enclosures. More water was tossed on them making Catherine and several others cry out. The night might have been warm, but the water was freezing. Shivering, she wrapped her arms around herself as they were told to get some sleep.

Catherine, Charlotte, Mary, and Rose sat close beside each other throughout the rest of the night, needing the comfort of another, knowing tomorrow their lives were going to change forever.

Chapter 6

Somewhere there was a voice yelling. Catherine stirred and tried to open her eyes, still heavy with sleep. She nudged Charlotte and the others as Dion and more men and women approached their cage-like prison. In the light of day, they had a better view of their surroundings. Last night they had indeed made it to the plantation. It stretched out behind the cage as far as Catherine could see. Fields upon fields filled with men and women working.

“Up! We do not have all day!” Dion growled, as their cage was unlocked.

Not even caring anymore about her nakedness, Catherine followed the other women out and lined up beside the men. Women and men of all colors stood before them holding piles of clothes and pairs of boots and sandals.

“Now then, you are to bath and dress over there,” Dion said, nodding his head to the side. Several metal tubs were filled to the brim with steaming hot water. A few women waited by them holding linens and what looked like bars of soap. “Once you are cleaned up and presentable, you will be welcomed officially into your new lives.”

Catherine got in line with the women. Nobody spoke, fear and distress was etched on their faces. While the tubs were being used, the others were offered more fruit and bread, fresh milk and juice. At first Catherine was confused. Why they were being treated well if they had just been bought at an auction? She wanted nothing more than to talk to her brother, but he was too far away and Dion watched them all with narrowed eyes. Was this man the same as the horribly cruel men on the ship?

His gaze turned and locked onto Catherine’s. She tried to look away, but couldn’t make herself turn. His lips twitched in a smile and she blinked, wondering what his smile meant. The last thing she wanted was to draw attention to herself from such a man who terrified her. Someone grabbed her arm and she was yanked forward and very unceremoniously pushed into the metal tub. The water wasn’t very clean anymore, but it was still warm and it felt good to scrub her skin and hair with the soap and a rag. Anything was better than being back in that ship’s hold.

When she was finished, a young woman with dark skin helped her out and handed her a damp piece of linen so she could dry. The woman behind her handed Catherine a rough sewn skirt of dark green, a corset and a plain white blouse to wear. The sandals she was handed were way too small, but at this point Catherine didn’t want to open her mouth and say something out of line.

Rose sobbed the whole time she was bathed and dressed even though Mary did her best to comfort her without speaking. The other slaves looked on with blank faces. They didn’t pity them at all. They didn’t feel anything for these newcomers.

“Girl if you do not stop your sobbing I will tie you up and gag you until you learn to be quiet,” Dion snapped as he stalked towards her and took her chin in his hand. “Stop your tears. You could be in far worse places than here.”

He shoved her roughly and she stumbled into Mary and Charlotte.

He straightened his shoulders and yelled at them all to line up. The other slaves stood nearby, heads bowed as he spoke. “I am the Overseer here. You will call me Overseer. This is the plantation of Master Bastian Lavelle. He is a man of high regard. You should be grateful that you are now under his care.” He grinned but no one else joined him. “Those of you who are strong will work in the sugar cane fields. It is hard work but you will be fed well and treated fairly. We will need several girls for the main house. The rest of you will be transferred to the other island.”

“What island?” Catherine heard Michael ask and immediately turned her worried face towards him. What was he thinking?

Dion grit his teeth, but simply pointed behind him. “That island. Our masters here are different. They are much more powerful than any men or women you have ever met before. They have no patience for misbehavior,” he said and glared at Michael. “Do the right thing and you will survive and live a decent life. You are lucky Master Lavelle bought you. Others in these parts are not as kind and certainly not as generous.”

Catherine heard the whispers around her as the last bit of hope was shredded. They were slaves. They had been bought by this man and now they would work for him until they died. End of story. End of life. Catherine hung her head as she tried to stay strong. Dion described this Master Lavelle with such a tone of respect, she had to believe that maybe he was telling the truth and that life here would not be a nightmare.

“What right do these people have to be our masters?” Michael yelled so loud even the other slaves glanced up at him. “We were stolen from our village, we aren’t slaves. We are free men and women!”

Several others yelled with him and Catherine watched her brother amongst them. Even with wounds still on his back, he dared to raise his voice! She wanted to silence him, but when she made to move, Charlotte reached out and grabbed her.

“Don’t!”

“I have to stop my brother and Michael!”

“He’ll just hurt you too,” she said. “Please, don’t.”

Catherine shook her head and turned back in time to see Dion raise his hand. He backhanded Michael hard enough to send him to his knees in the sand. He landed with a painful thud as Dion called for three men to grab him. As Catherine watched, her heart pounding in her chest from fear, Michael was hauled to his feet and his hands bound with rope.

“You can’t keep us here! We are free! Get your hands off me!”

“Gag him! And tie up and gag his friend.” Liam was still weak and had no fight left in him. The men subdued him quickly.

Michael continued to fight as hard as he could against the gag, but Dion had heard enough. He grabbed his shoulder with one of his huge hands and with the other hit him again and again and again until his body sagged against the men.

“Let him go,” Catherine yelled as she took off towards them. “Get your hands off him!”

Charlotte cursed behind her, but Catherine ran to Michael, trying to protect him. Dion grabbed her by the hair and yanked her back hard enough to make a sharp pain ricochet through her body. Her eyes crossed as he gripped it hard and pulled her up until she could barely stand on her toes.

“You will learn to keep your mouth shut, girl, or it will be a very painful life for you,” he growled in her ear. “Take him to the island! And you my sweet, maybe a night tied to the stake will teach you some respect. Take her, but do not harm her. She is too valuable,” he said then tossed Catherine into the hands of two more men.

She screamed and fought, but Dion smacked her and everything went dark.

Chapter 7

By the following morning, Catherine’s throat burned from being so dry and her wrists were chaffed from where she’d rubbed them against the rope, trying to get free. It had been no use and sometime during the night, she’d finally collapsed from exhaustion. An older woman with grey hair and a gentle face untied her and helped her stand.

“Been a long night for you child,” the woman said, eyes crinkling as Catherine nodded. “Next time, it be best if you behave yourself in front of the Overseer.”

“I didn’t want them…to hurt Michael.”

“Is he your love?”

Catherine shook her head weakly. “No, just…just a friend from home.”

The woman nodded and Catherine glanced around. She’d been placed out in the middle of the sugar cane fields. Now they headed up the main dirt path between the fields towards the large house. She’d only been able to catch a glimpse of it before being tied to the stake facing out into the tropical jungle that surrounded the plantation. The house was a mansion, made of large, white rocks that glistened in the sunlight. It was the biggest building Catherine had ever seen before and despite how terrible she felt, she couldn’t help but be amazed by it.

“Quite a sight, isn’t it,” the old woman said. “You’ll get used to it once you start your work there.”

“I’m working in the house? Even after yesterday?”

“Yes, it seems you have special instructions to be in the house. But if you ever need anything, please ask me, child. Rennie is what they call me. Just ask for old mama Rennie.”

“I’m Catherine. Have you been here long?”

Rennie sighed. “Nearly all my life, Catherine, nearly. Now then, here’s the house. I’ll leave you to another, to find your room. Stay out of trouble child, although I fear that your nature may attract it.” She cupped Catherine’s cheek. It felt as if her own mother was standing there. Rennie patted her gently on the head and headed off.

Catherine wasn’t sure where to go and then she saw another woman approaching her.

“Ah! There you are, perfect. Let me show you to your room. The others are waiting for you,” the woman said brusquely. “I am Maxine and I am the head slave of the house. Hurry along now, you’re already late.”

Catherine muttered an apology and hurried after the woman, her tight sandals rubbing against the skin on her feet. The skirt at least was short enough she didn’t have to hold it as they rushed around the back of the house and to some rough looking quarters near the trees.

“This is where you and the others will call home from now on. Learn to make it so.”

“It looks lovely,” she said trying not to sound disappointed. She’d hoped for some reason they’d be allowed to stay in the mansion. But a roof over her head was better than nothing and she mentally scolded herself to accept it and move on. There were other things that were more important.

Maxine reached the third door in the row and pulled a key from her pocket. As she unlocked it, Charlotte, Mary, and Rose all emerged. They ran to hug Catherine briefly before Maxine cleared her throat.

“Now then, as you can see when you are not going about your chores at your designated times, your door will be locked. That is until you have proven that you will not cause trouble. Is that understood?”

They all bobbed their heads. A locked door? Catherine didn’t really like the sound of that. What if they had to get out? If something happened? But then again…at least no one could get in unless they had a key. She’d seen the way some of the overseers and other slaves had looked at her, staked out in the middle of the field. Maybe a locked door was for the best.

“Now then to your duties. Listen close, I will only tell you one time. You are to clean the mansion from top to bottom and you will cook for all those of his house, along with the other slaves on the plantation. It is possible once the Master sees you at your tasks that he may choose you for other things based on your…talents,” she said and let the word hang on the air.

Catherine swallowed hard, wondering what that might mean, but Charlotte only stood taller beside her, a sparkling glint in her eyes.

“You will dress in the clothes that will be brought to you and you are not to wear anything else. Your hair must always be down. Do not look at the Master directly, no eye contact of any kind is permitted. You will not speak or ask questions unless spoken to directly. Curtsy when you enter a room where the Master or those of his like are present,” she went on and paced back and forth in front of them. “Now, for your working hours.”

She turned around and motioned towards the sun still high in the sky.

“You will not start your duties until four in the afternoon, when the sun hits the tops of those trees there. You will be required to work through the night and will return here once the sun has risen.”

“May I ask why we keep such strange hours?” Charlotte ventured.

Maxine glowered at her. “No, you may not. You are to do as you’re told.”

Catherine frowned at Charlotte, shaking her head as her friend looked like she was ready to ask another question.

“Your new clothes will be brought to you shortly. I expect you to be dressed and ready by four. Someone will come and escort you to the house. Until then, I suggest you rest to ensure you have enough strength for the night.”

Maxine waited for them to head back into their small shack of a home. She started to close the door then stopped and stepped inside. Catherine backed up, not sure why, but the woman made her feel the same as Dion had. Something was off about the woman and until she knew what she was truly like, Catherine did not want to be near her.

“When you bleed during the month, you are not to work in the mansion. There is a smaller house on the far side of the fields that you will use during this time,” she said tightly. “It is essential you follow this rule. Do I make myself clear?”

Timidly, Mary raised her hand. “I uh, I’m bleeding now, ma’am. Started this morning.”

Maxine frowned and reached out for Mary’s hand. “Come along then. You will not return until your bleeding has fully stopped.”

Catherine told Mary it was going to be all right as the frightened girl was dragged out of the shack and the door was locked in their faces. There was a window by the door, blocked by bars, but Catherine was able to see out and smiled so Mary could see her. Then Maxine pulled her along, towards the sugar cane fields, and disappeared out of sight.

“Well she is just a wonderful woman isn’t she,” Charlotte muttered. “What is their problem with blood? Does the master not want us bleeding on his precious furniture?”

Catherine shrugged as she backed away from the window. “It does seem a bit odd.”

“A bit? It’s a natural course of nature and instead we have to be locked up in a house. Poor Mary.”

“She’ll be fine. They won’t hurt her,” Catherine said, hoping she sounded surer than she felt. Truth was she had no idea what was going to happen to them now. Working in the mansion wouldn’t be bad, but that meant being close to the master and his associates. They hadn’t had a chance to speak to any other slaves, except Rennie. There’d been something in the old woman’s eyes that made Catherine think something else was happening on this plantation.

“I don’t think I can do this,” Rose whispered from the far corner. She sat on the cot and rocked back and forth. “I don’t want to be around some strange man and clean his home.”

“We don’t have a choice,” Charlotte snapped. “We’re slaves. We either do as we’re told or we get tied to a stake, like Catherine did,” she added with a wink. “How bad was it?”

“Honestly I think I passed out after a while,” she said. “Rose, we’ll be fine as long as we stick together. You just have to be strong.”

But Rose wasn’t listening. She kept muttering to herself and rocking back and forth.

 

Charlotte took Catherine’s elbow and pulled her out of earshot. “We need to start speaking with the other women as soon as we can.”

“Why? You planning an escape into the ocean?”

“No, but don’t you find this place a bit odd?”

Catherine had been taking note of the island. Besides them arriving at night and the master keeping out of sight, there really wasn’t anything too terribly odd. Except for the mysterious island Dion had mentioned. The place where Michael had been shipped off. And the bleeding, what was wrong with a woman’s monthly bleeding?

“I do find it strange that we are to be at the mansion through the night,” she admitted. “What man likes his house cleaned while he sleeps?”

“Unless he doesn’t sleep at night, but during the day,” Charlotte mused. “Nothing makes sense.”

“What about the island? I need to know where they took Michael. Did you see where they took my brother Liam?”

Charlotte assured Catherine, “He was put into the group that are to be field slaves.” Catherine gave a small smile of relief. Charlotte peeked out the window, “For now we should get some rest, but the moment we’re in that house, we need to get some answers. Agreed?”

Catherine nodded. Normally she would’ve just tried to sit back and mind her manners, do what she was told. But the three months at sea, watching those around her grow sick and perish, watching Michael be taken away, it was too much. Those men had attacked her village. They might not have physically killed her, but her hope and resilience was slowly diminishing. Bit by bit her innocence was slipping away and she had a feeling before long, she would lose it completely.

Chapter 8

It had been a week, or at least Catherine thought it had been, since they’d arrived at the island. Mary had thankfully been returned to them unharmed, though she said the house had given her nightmares. Catherine was glad to see her returned to their little shack no worse for wear.

“Have you seen the master yet?” Mary asked as she dressed in her new clothes before they were escorted to the mansion. “There were two other girls with me in the home and they said he was different.”

“Different how?” Catherine asked as she helped Mary tie up her corset.

“Just, not like any man they’d ever met.” She glanced down at her tunic-styled long dress, frowning. “Is this really what we must wear every day?”

It was the same question the girls had asked themselves back on that first day when the clothes had been delivered. Catherine had assumed she’d be wearing rags to clean in, but that was far from the case. Instead, they’d been given soft, silky black and silver dresses, pleated here and there to expose the various shades when they moved. The sleeves were tight and black, edged with lace and ended at the elbow. The black blouse was also tight, fitted over the corset so Catherine felt as if her breasts would tumble out if she bent over too far. The best thing about her new set of clothing was a pair of shoes that actually fitted her feet, they were made from fine leather. It was the most elegant set of clothing she had ever owned. And to think, all she had to do was get herself kidnapped and sold as a slave.

“How do you clean in this?” Mary laughed as she spun around, letting her skirts fan out around her. “I’d rather be dancing in the fields!”

Catherine caught her hand and laughed with her as they twirled and danced. Charlotte joined in, too. It was only Rose that kept herself pressed into the corner. She ignored the girls just like she did every other day. Catherine had tried to speak with her, to reassure her that they would make it, but Rose refused to listen. Every day it was as if more of her life was being drained away until she feared the girl would crumble and disappear altogether.

“We best let your hair down Mary. It’s nearly time,” Catherine said as the spinning stopped. “Wear it down and let it drape, that is also a requirement. I saw one girl put it up the other day and Maxine smacked her hard enough to leave a bruise.”

Mary’s eyes widened and she hurried to pull her hair down so it flowed down her back. “Like that?”

Catherine nodded. “You look perfect.”

“What do you do in the house? Do we get to cook?”

“No cooking so far, though Maxine said that would be one of our chores, we have yet to step foot in the kitchens,” Charlotte said. “Fine by me. I was never very good with food.”

“Then what do you do?”

Sighing, Catherine frowned. “We clean, we clean an already perfectly clean home. It’s as if no one lives in it and yet we are there every night to clean. It’s strange.” A whole week in the house and they had no answers from any of the other girls. Apparently the slaves in the mansion hardly spoke at all.

Whatever was keeping them silent should have been enough to deter Catherine, but the fire they’d started inside her was not going to be put out so easily. She needed to know what had happened to Michael.

A key grated in the lock and the door opened as Maxine stepped aside and let them exit.

“You four are to meet with the Master this evening before your duties begin,” she said then hurried off towards the house. “Try to keep up. He does not like to be kept waiting.”

Catherine hiked up her skirts and hurried after Maxine, the others close behind. All her strength seemed to leave her as she realized they would be coming face to face with the man who had bought them and made them his slaves. Would he be like Dion? Tall, strong and fierce, looking like he was ready to strangle the first person that crossed him? She nearly tripped up the stairs as they entered the mansion and Maxine directed them to a room that none of them had entered yet. She slid the wooden doors aside and led them in.

They entered and Catherine was immediately elbowed by Charlotte. Curtsy! Catherine quickly fell into a curtsy and stayed that way, not sure if she should straighten or not. The others didn’t so she waited, keeping her eyes downcast towards the floor.

“Master Lavelle,” Maxine said. “I have brought the last of the new slave girls as asked.”

“Good,” a voice Catherine immediately recognized said, “Bring them forward if you would.”

Maxine told them to stand up straight and walk. Catherine lifted her head enough so she could see the room and where they were going. It was a large dining hall, decorated in deep golds and reds with a wooden table in the center, large enough to hold at least fifty guests. There was only one seat occupied at the moment, a tall backed chair at the head of the table. The room was lit with candles. All the shutters had been closed and the last remnants of the sunset seeped through the cracks. Usually the house was humid, but for some reason this room was cold and Catherine fought the urge to shiver as a chill set into her spine.

They came to a stop and stood, faces down, waiting for what would happen next. Master Lavelle stayed seated, but Catherine heard him shift in his chair. His voice…she recognized it from the sound of the smooth words she’d heard that night on the boat. The master had been present then and it had been him in the carriage. The thought that she was so near the man that saved her from worse masters and doomed her at the same time made her heart race in conflicted anger.

How dare he sit there before them, in this room, and speak so warmly as if he had a heart. But this man had no heart. He couldn’t.

“Well now let us start with the first girl. Tell me, what is your name?”

“R-r-rose, Master Lavelle,” Rose gasped.

“Yes and you are how old my child?”

She told him, answered all his questions about where she came from, what her life had been before coming here. The whole time she sounded on the verge of tears. Catherine chanced a glance to see Maxine glaring at the back of Rose’s head.

“My dear girl, you look unwell. Do you not find this climate appealing,” Master Lavelle finally asked of her, his tone slightly mocking.

Lie to him, Catherine thought, praying Rose would hear. Lie to him! You must not let him have reason to harm you!

But Rose was too far gone to care. She broke down into heaving sobs, falling to the floor. “I miss my home! They killed my family, everyone I loved! I just want to go home!” Her sobs echoed around the room as Maxine yelled at Rose to get back on her feet, apologizing profusely to the master.

“No need to apologize, Maxine. The girl is clearly distraught. Perhaps she is in need of being moved somewhere else where she can pull herself together,” he said without feeling. “Please, see that she is tended to. I will remain here with the rest of the girls.”

Catherine wanted to yell and scream. Where were they taking Rose? But she couldn’t find the will to speak. Charlotte shifted beside her, but it was as if she too had suddenly lost the will to speak. Rose continued to sob as she and Maxine left the dining hall and walked through the mansion. The chill in her spine spread throughout the rest of her body as Master Lavelle stood and paced around the other side of the table.

“Some that come here find it hard to transition to this new life,” he said and with every word Catherine found it harder and harder to keep her eyes towards the floor. “Now then, what about you child?”

Mary answered the same questions that Rose had, but unlike Rose, she didn’t let herself cry when he asked what happened to bring her here. She did however show just a hint of anger at how she’d been bought like cattle, but all Master Lavelle did was laugh.

“I’m afraid it’s the business I’m in. Not the most saint-like behavior, but alas the world must have villains, too. And you my dear?”

Charlotte gave very short answers and Catherine could tell she was struggling to contain her curiosity. She wanted to ask questions and for her sake, Catherine prayed she’d just keep her mouth shut. It was bad enough Rose had been taken from them. She did not want to lose another friend so quickly on the whim of this man.

When Charlotte finished her brief tale, Catherine felt his gaze land on her. It was heavy and though she could not see his eyes, she knew they were taking in every inch of her face and body. “You are the girl that can read. Catherine, I believe Dion said your name was.”

She nodded once in answer.

“Tell me, how is it that a poor Irish peasant girl is able to read and write like she is of noble birth?”

Catherine took a deep breath and tried to keep herself calm. After listening to him ask all those questions, his voice had started to get to her. Her skin felt clammy and cold. She tried to find the words and struggled to get air. He moved closer as he waited for her answer and she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to say what she needed to.

“A priest in my village taught me,” she said quickly. “After my father died, he helped raise me and my brothers.”

“Quite nice of this priest. Did you learn quickly?”

“Yes, Master Lavelle. I was able to read the bible within a year, front to back.” She licked her suddenly dry lips and went on, not sure what more he wanted to hear. “I wrote letters for those that could not and helped a few men of noble birth with their contracts and the like.”

“Is that so? And they trusted you to do this?”

Why does he sound so interested? It was just letter writing. “Yes,” she said, wondering what he was trying to decide about her. “I did as I was asked to do and learned to balance the books for the church. I managed to earn extra coin that way.”

“And your brother, is he here on my plantation?”

That question angered her and without thinking, she raised her head to glare at him. “Yes, he is. You should know, your man…paid a…a pretty penny for him,” she finished lamely, her words growing quieter as she met his eyes.

Bastian Lavelle seemed as startled as she was to have her staring at him. His eyes were like crystal, so light blue at first glance they looked almost white. His skin was smooth and Catherine had to fight the sudden urge to reach out her hand and touch his cheek, his delicate, ivory colored cheek. His black hair was pulled back tightly from his face, held in place by a ribbon, but it too made her stare in awe. He was beautiful, for a man. There was no other word she could use to describe him.

A voice in her mind yelled at her to look away. She was breaking the rules, but she couldn’t do it. His gaze held hers fiercely. She forgot who he was, who she was and where they were. The only thing that mattered was his eyes and that he keep looking at her.

It was as if he didn’t just see her, the intensity of his gaze was looking straight into her soul. His perfect lips twitched in a smile before he blinked. Catherine managed to pull her staring eyes away and she felt light-headed. The room spun around her and hands reached out to steady her. She thought it was Charlotte, but when she glanced down, two white-gloved hands held her shoulders.

“Are you alright, Catherine?” he asked, his words a caress across her skin.

She shivered and nodded. “Yes, Master Lavelle. I am sorry, truly. Please forgive me.” Their eyes met again and he smiled down at her.

“No apology necessary,” he said and squeezed her shoulders. He started to lean in closer and Catherine’s breath caught, her eyes darting to his mouth then back to his eyes. Just when she thought his lips would meet hers, he pulled back and released her. “That will be all, ladies. Please, go back to your duties.”

Catherine’s heart sank as she curtsied with Mary and Charlotte then hurried out the door. The moment they were out of sight, she leaned against the wall, holding her chest with her free hand and tried to catch her flustered breath.

“What happened?” Charlotte asked. “Catherine, are you alright?”

“I don’t know,” she whispered. “I couldn’t look away.”

“You met his gaze?”

“I didn’t mean to, I just…his eyes. They were like staring into a star. So beautiful.” What was happening to her? She’d been so angry with that man. Ready to scream and yell at him, to tell him how horrible he was and yet staring into those eyes her anger simply melted away. “There’s something about him that’s strange, but I don’t think he’s a villain.”

Charlotte’s eyes narrowed as she crossed her arms over her chest. “Why not? He’s the one who made us his slaves!”

“I know, but he looked…sad.”

“Oh don’t tell me you’re going to try and win him over,” she snapped. “Please, Catherine, you are stuck in the same horrible situation as the rest of us.”

Catherine shook her head. “What are you talking about? I’m just saying what I saw.”

Charlotte bit her lip then hung her head. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get mad. It’s just obvious that some girls will try to win his favor. Maybe to give them a chance to get out of here.”

“Is that even possible?”

Catherine listened to Charlotte and Mary go back and forth, but the words didn’t mean anything. She was too busy trying to remember Master Lavelle’s face and the haunted look she saw in the depths of those crystal eyes. Was it possible for a man who had so much to be unhappy?

It was all that was on her mind for the rest of the night as she went about her chores, cleaning the upper floor of the mansion. Mary and Charlotte were elsewhere and for once she was happy to be alone with her thoughts. Charlotte had started to change slightly since they’d started at the house. She was a few years older than the others, but her attitude was becoming distant, as if she didn’t want to be a part of Catherine or Mary’s lives. Was she likely to be one of the girls who would try to win favors from Master Lavelle?

Doesn’t matter, she thought as she scrubbed the floor, pulling her skirts up and out of the way. You are the one who can read and write. He didn’t even ask where you were from. He only wanted to know of your talents.

Had Master Lavelle wanted something from her? As Catherine worked, her thoughts drifted back and forth wondering if he was truly just interested in her talents, or if he did want something more. Her eyes closed as she thought of his lips against hers, his hands holding her tightly against him. His slightly cold hands. The scrubbing brush fell from her hands as she became lost in the daydream.

Would it be so terrible to let him kiss her? A floorboard creaked nearby jarring her from her dream and she quickly picked the brush up. That’s all it was, just a dream.

Just a daydream of a poor slave girl.

Chapter 9

For two months after her first meeting with Master Bastian Lavelle, all Catherine would see when she dreamed was his face, looming over hers. She would wake with the sun streaming through the window, her body covered in a damp sweat, and her hand stretched out as if she were reaching for him. But during all that time, she did not see him again. Not once.

Not seeing Bastian wasn’t the only thing that worried her. Though Mary seemed to be doing fine, Rose had yet to return to them and Charlotte had started to grow even more distant. Charlotte only seemed interested in speaking with the older girls of the house and only made time for Mary and Catherine when they were cooped up together in their little shack. Mary didn’t seem to notice, but Catherine did. She didn’t want to ask her friend outright what brought about the change, but she had a feeling she knew already.

Charlotte and several of the older girls had their eye on the Master.

Not that Catherine could blame them. Rumors were going around the plantation of what Master Lavelle and the others on the island did for those they favored. Better housing, higher quality food and it was rumored that they could pick and choose their jobs.

However, getting on Bastian’s good side, or any side of any masters, was not at the top of her list. She’d spent the last two months trying to catch glimpses of her brother in the fields and failing. He worked during the long hours of the day and her time spent being out of the shack was only once the sun went down. It was nearly impossible to catch him. Mary though had managed to see him when she’d been sent to the fields right at the end of their time to help get them water and a good meal.

From the way she returned smiling on those days, Liam and Mary were growing quite fond of each other. That thought at least gave Catherine comfort. She wished that Dan was still here with them, perhaps he could have found some happiness as well. Her other concern was Michael. No one had said anything about the island to her and she didn’t have the nerve to ask any of the other slaves about what was really over there.

“Catherine, Catherine, you’re doing it again,” Mary said and Catherine shook her head.

“Sorry, just thinking about Michael.”

She reached over and grabbed her hand. “You’ll get some answers soon.”

“I hope so. At least I know that Liam is doing well.”

Mary giggled as she brushed her hair back with her fingers and finished tying on her skirts. “He may or may not have kissed me the last time I saw him.”

Catherine frowned, worried they would get caught but the look on Mary’s face was too precious to ruin. “As long as you’re careful,” she warned.

“It’s just a kiss, Catherine,” Charlotte muttered form the corner. “No harm in it.”

“I never said there was, but I don’t know how the overseers would react to seeing it. I don’t want my brother being whipped again.”

“We’re careful, I promise,” Mary said.

A knock sounded at the door and the girls turned. It was still early for them to be brought to the house. Catherine said they were decent and the door was unlocked.

“Rose!”

“Hello ladies,” she said cheerfully as she entered the shack, Maxine right behind her. “How have you been?”

They stared at their friend confused as she went to her bed, humming merrily, and started to unfold her clothes, shaking them out to try and get rid of the wrinkles.

“Rose is doing much better now and will be rejoining you at the house for work duties,” Maxine informed them. “Since it is so close to your time anyway, I will leave the door unlocked. You may find your way to the house right as the sun sets. Understood?”

The four of them curtsied and she turned on her heel and left.

“What happened to you Rose?” Mary asked. “We were so worried they’d sent you to the island.”

“What? Oh no, they took great care of me,” Rose said as she started to change. “It was the best thing that could have happened to me.”

“Being taken away from us?” Charlotte asked confused.

“No, being brought here to this tropical paradise,” she said as if in a dream then began humming again. As she finished with her skirts and started on her corset the other girls exchanged a glance. “Could you help me with this, Mary?”

As she went to help, Catherine and Charlotte moved towards the door and turned away. “What did they do to her?” Charlotte whispered. “This isn’t Rose. How could they change her like this?”

“I don’t know,” Catherine said. “Magic? How else do you change a person?” Charlotte was right. Rose was no longer standing before them. Where was the girl who hated being here, wanted nothing more than to curl up into a ball and disappear from the world? This girl…she was happy to be a slave. “I heard from a sailor who brought a package to the mansion, that there was dark magic out here,” Catherine whispered. “Voodoo and he said something else about dealing with demons.”

Charlotte stared at her wide-eyed then laughed. “Next you’re going to tell me you believe in fairy folk.”

“What else could do this?”

Charlotte’s smile faltered for a moment. “Torture maybe? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was magic, Catherine. Really, what type of world do you think we live in?”

As she walked away, Catherine felt a sudden pang of anger towards her friend, but now was not the time to be annoyed. Rose had returned to them and no matter what had happened to her, she was safe and sound.

“What was it like?” Mary asked. “The house you were kept in?”

“Beautiful, much like the mansion except smaller and right on the beach.”

“And you just stayed there for two months and did nothing?”

“No, silly,” Rose laughed. “I did a few chores around that house, but they had a man there, a healer of the mind. He helped me accept my destiny and taught me how to bring out my inner happiness.”

Catherine met Charlotte’s eyes as she said, “A healer, really. That’s interesting.”

“He was a very kind man. And his eyes, I’ve never seen such light blue eyes,” Rose mused as Mary finished binding her corset. “It really was a wonderful two months. I now understand that it was always my destiny to come here.”

Catherine wasn’t sure how Rose could just accept the fact that she’d been taken far from her home, never to return, only to live out her days as a slave. Mary and Charlotte talked to her some more, but Catherine had stopped listening. Things on this plantation were strange and she was tired of not having any answers. Her brother was always the impulsive one and suddenly she wanted to take a page from his book, rather than simply accepting their fate.

A few days passed and Catherine had not come any closer to finding the answers she needed. Asking the overseers directly would just get her tied to a stake again, or worse, whipped. She wasn’t sure what to do when good news came…the following day she and all the other slaves would be enjoying a feast out in the courtyard for a solid harvest. Barely able to contain her excitement, Catherine curtsied to Maxine then hurried off to the kitchens.

Finally! It had been two months since she had spoken with her brother. She prayed she would have an opportunity to talk to him.

The cooks had been at work all day and she was tasked with helping to carry out the platters of fresh fruits, seafood chowders, large fish surrounded by tropical leaves, and breads fresh from the outside ovens. Everything smelled so wonderful, better than anything Catherine had ever eaten before. Tables had been set up and she joined the other house slaves behind them, ready to serve the men and women as they came in from the fields.

Everyone talked and laughed, enjoying the chance to eat a fine meal and relax after a long day’s work. Catherine served everyone who came to her with a smile, hoping that one of them would be Liam. She turned away, craning her head to try and see over the crowd when she heard someone clearing his throat. Standing to her right was Liam!

“Catherine!” he said joyfully, and reaching across the table, he did the best he could to hug her. Overseers walked nearby and they quickly broke apart. “I’ve missed you, sister.”

She nodded in agreement as she stared at the young man that stood before her now. He had grown in the two months since she’d seen him and his hair was cut very short. The muscles in his chest and shoulders were impressive and she felt as if she were staring at someone else, not her brother. He had tanned too from the long days out in the sun. No wonder Mary had enjoyed spending her time with him.

“What? I might have changed a little?” She smiled as he shrugged

“You have grown up, Liam, it’s not a bad thing. Look at you, you are so handsome!” She glanced quickly up and down the table. “Once everyone is fed I’ll be able to join you.”

He took his food then and headed off to a shady spot in the courtyard. It didn’t take long for everyone to be served and she was able to grab a bowl of chowder, a hunk of bread then headed off to find Liam beneath a tree, sitting on a short stone wall.

“Are they treating you well?” he asked. “You look good.”

“I’m doing fine in the house,” she said, totally ignoring her food. “But it’s boring after a while. The place is already so clean. It’s nearly impossible to make it any cleaner.”

“Mary says the same thing.”

She laughed when she saw the light in his eyes and the way he smiled. “Yes, she’s said some things to me as well. She’s quite fond of you, just so you know.”

“I’m aware. We have a plan,” Liam whispered.

Catherine’s stomach twisted in fear. “Please don’t tell you’re going to try to escape.”

“No, nothing like that. I’ve heard from the others that if I impress the overseers enough, soon I will be able to have my choice of wife.” His voice was filled with hope. “Mary and I have talked about it. We’d get to live in our own private shack. Maybe have a bit of a normal life, despite being slaves.”

Catherine swallowed hard. A normal life. Marriage. She would have been married already, for nearly half a year if they hadn’t been stolen away.

“Catherine, what’s wrong?”

“Have you heard anything of the island, or Michael?” she asked quietly.

Liam glanced around nervously then scooted closer. “I doubt if it will do you any good to hear it.”

“Tell me, Liam, please. What do you know?”

She saw the war raging in his eyes. It faltered between lying and being honest before he sighed and told her all he’d heard. “No one knows what happens over there, not even the slaves that have been here the longest. When they get too old to work or they grow ill, they’re taken away in the middle of the night and are never seen again.”

“And no one knows what happens? Do they kill them?” she asked with a trembling voice.

Liam shrugged then looked around again. Catherine checked behind him. Dion was nearby, but he was watching the house slaves gathered at the other end of the courtyard.

“We don’t know…there’s only rumors.” He opened his mouth to say something else then quickly shut it.

“Liam, don’t keep it from me. I need to know.”

He hung his head and when he raised it again Catherine saw something she’d never seen before on her brother’s face. Fear. “I have taken bundles of cane down to the shore when they are ready,” he said quietly. “Sometimes…there are things in the water and on the sand. Limbs of bodies. Decayed bodies.”

Catherine swallowed hard. “You think that they kill them?”

“Maybe when they die they feed them to the sharks. I don’t know, but it’s strange. Everything about that island, and about this place…it’s not right.”

“It’s the same at the house,” she said. “I have only met Master Lavelle once, but Liam, he’s not normal.”

Her brother frowned. “What do you mean? Did he hurt you?”

“No, he’s strange. Quiet, very pale and his eyes, they’re so light they’re almost white.”

“That sounds like the others.”

“What others?”

Liam nodded towards Dion, warning Catherine to keep her voice down. “They come when the sun has not yet risen to inspect the fields sometimes. Dion and the other overseers bring them around. They all look like that.” He took her hands and gently pulled her closer so he could whisper in her ears. “Listen Catherine, I’m trying to find a way to get us off this island.”

“I thought you said you weren’t going to try?”

“Not now, but soon, when I have enough information. Just keep your head down and find out as much as you can.”

Dion made his way into the center of the courtyard and hollered. “Dinner is over everyone. All the field hands are to retire for the evening. Move. Now!”

“Remember Catherine, find out what you can, but stay safe. I love you.” Liam said, then kissed her cheek and hurried off with the others.

Catherine gathered their bowls and made her way to the table to start helping clear everything away. Her mind reeled with what her brother had learned. Dead bodies washed up on the beach? Rose returning to them appearing a completely different person. And the pale masters with their light blue eyes. She busied herself for the rest of the night, cleaning the dishes and the courtyard along with the kitchens. All the while she knew somehow she had to find a way to get answers before her brother did something reckless and got himself killed.

Chapter 10

After everything was finally cleared away, Catherine was ready to make her way through the mansion with the other slaves when she heard someone curse down the hall. As far as she knew the house had been empty. Curious and too exhausted to really consider what she was doing, she lifted her skirts and crept down the hall towards the room.

“Those bastards think they can cheat me do they?” a man’s voice hissed, and Catherine froze.

That voice, it sounded like Bastian but it was harsher…and he seemed to hiss. What man hissed when he spoke? Fear gripped her and she thought about returning to the others when something crashed into the door, slamming it open. Too shocked to move, she stood there as Bastian’s light blue eyes glared at her shaking form.

“What do you want, girl? Why do you stand there and quiver? Are you frightened?”

This was not the man she’d spoken with two months before. Her hands clutched at her skirts as she tried to form words or even lower her eyes, but she could do nothing but stare. He stalked towards her, boots heavy on the floor.

“Well? Answer your Master!”

“Yes,” she gasped, “I’m frightened.”

“Of me?” he asked, almost sounding pleased with himself.

Catherine began to respond, then stopped. She stared at him long and hard, focusing on his eyes, those eyes that had been so kind. Her heart rate slowed and she managed to loosen her hands. “No,” she said, surprising herself, but him even more.

“No? You’re not terrified of me?”

“No, I’m not.”

He glared at her and then at what he had thrown through the door. “Those books, pick them up and bring them to me,” he commanded.

Catherine bent down and cradled the books in her arms. They were heavy and leather bound, but she managed to grasp the three of them and followed Bastian back into the room. It looked to be a study, where he kept the records for the plantation. He pointed to the desk and she set them down. The top one fell open and she glanced at it and smiled.

“Look familiar? Have you seen my books before,” he snapped.

She quickly shook her head. “No, but I have seen ones similar. The man I used to write letters for. I took care of his books.” she glanced back down at the page.

“Can you look at these numbers and tell me if they are correct?” he asked.

She bit her lip and kept her eyes on the pages. After an hour of studying the numbers she replied to him, “Someone’s been skimming off the top of these shipments you have coming in. These numbers don’t add up like they should. It’s a small amount. If you weren’t really looking, you wouldn’t catch it.”

Catherine waited for him to say something, but it was quiet. She finally lifted her head to see him staring at her intently. Her breath caught in her chest and she took a sudden step back.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to speak out of turn.”

“You didn’t,” he said. “From now on when you come to the mansion you are to report to this room. Do you understand?”

“What of my other duties?”

“You no longer work under Maxine,” he said as his eyes zeroed in on her face. “You work directly for me. Understand?”

Catherine curtsied. “Yes, Master Lavelle, of course.”

“Good, now go back to your room. The sun is nearly up. You will also move out of your quarters tomorrow.”

“Where to, Master Lavelle?” she asked, worrying where he would make her stay.

“I will take care of that tomorrow. Good night, Catherine.”

She curtsied again then rushed out the door. He had remembered her name after all this time. Behind her in the study she could hear his laughter following her out of the room. By the time she reached their shack, Maxine was already waiting there. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Master Lavelle was speaking with me.”

Maxine’s eyes widened in surprise, but it was the look on Charlotte’s face that made her concerned.

“Well then, I guess your lateness is acceptable. As I was telling the other girls, your door will remain unlocked from now on. I am giving you my trust, don’t break it! Good morning ladies, I shall see you at four.” She headed off towards the mansion as Catherine hurried inside and collapsed on her cot.

“Were you really speaking with him?” Mary asked.

“I was,” she said. “I was looking over his books and now I think I’m going to be working for him.”

“What!” Charlotte snapped. “How did you manage that? What did you do for him?”

“Nothing, I did nothing,” Catherine said growing irritated. “He remembered that I can read and write and he asked me to look through his books. I noticed some irregularities with the numbers, that’s all. I’m sure it doesn’t mean I’ll be spending time with him…so you still have your chance.” She curled up on her bed and closed her eyes. The others whispered behind her, but she ignored them as a pair of pale blue eyes floated before her in her dreams.

 

***

 

As instructed, Catherine headed for Bastian’s study the following afternoon. The other girls muttered and whispered behind their hands, but Maxine shushed them and sent them to their duties.

“You will be working on the books for the plantation and any other writing task that Master Lavelle wishes to give you,” Maxine informed her as they reached the study. “Everything is ready for you. When you are finished for the night, you are to go to your new quarters. Up to the main floor and then to the attic room.”

Catherine stared at her confused. “I’m staying in the main house?”

“It is what the Master wishes, so yes. Tend to your work.” She did not say another word, leaving Catherine to settle in at the desk and begin her work.

She’d barely started when the door opened and Bastian walked in. Catherine jumped to her feet to curtsy, but he waved it away. “Please, continue.” He took a seat in the corner of the study. Catherine tried to do as he said, but she felt his eyes on her.

The night went slowly. The first few hours were very difficult, she struggled to concentrate with him in the room. She closed her eyes and pretended she was back in the home of Charles’ father, working in his study with the roaring fireplace and the scent of the sea air in her lungs. That smell at least was still here on the night breeze. A few deep breaths and she opened her eyes to begin her work again.

Before too long, the sun was almost ready to rise. She stifled a yawn and stood. For the entire night, Bastian had not moved from his seat in the corner. She remembered at the last second to curtsy to him before heading out the door. He didn’t say a word. Catherine heard the other girls down the hall, but she turned away from them and headed up to the attic room instead. There was a full-sized bed, small dresser with a mirror, a fresh set of clothes for her to sleep in and even a meal, steaming on a silver tray.

Maybe working directly for Master Lavelle was worth some of these new luxuries.

The next afternoon she went to work as before. This time, Bastian was already in the room waiting. She curtsied then went to the desk to begin. The whole night he sat there, not moving or saying a word. She felt his eyes on her the entire time. After the fourth night, she began to grow accustomed to his strange behavior and thought nothing of it. She allowed herself to become engrossed in the work, enjoying the feeling that she was actually doing something worthwhile, instead of cleaning an already clean house.

As the fifth night started, she once again entered the room to find Bastian seated in his usual spot. She curtsied and set to work, but only moments after, she found he’d moved the chair ‘til he was right on the other side of the desk opposite her. His gaze was intense and she found herself unable to concentrate.

Not entirely sure where her bravery stemmed from, Catherine set down her quill and lifted her gaze to his. “Master Lavelle, is there something I can do for you?”

His brow lifted as his lips twitched in a smile. “I thought you were already doing something for me,” he said softly.

“Yes, Master Lavelle, but you sit here every night watching.”

“Can I not watch a beautiful woman at work? Your handwriting is so delicate and the way you focus on your task, it is refreshing.”

She smiled and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Thank you, Master Lavelle.”

“Are you happy working in my study instead of cleaning?”

“Yes, I am.”

“And your new room, is it sufficient enough?”

“More than I’ve had before in my life, Master Lavelle,” she admitted. “But I’m afraid I do not understand your generosity.”

He sighed and stood, motioning for her to stay seated. “The other night, I’m afraid you saw me fighting my demons. There are times when I cannot control what rages inside me.” He stared out the windows, hands clasped behind his back. “You saw me at a bad time…and I admit there have been occasions when I have shed blood for being disturbed at the wrong time.”

Catherine felt her pulse quicken at the tone of his voice. It became deeper, more of the growl that she’d heard the other night. Slowly he turned. There was no smile on his face as he stared at her. Instead she saw something else in the deep recesses of his eyes.

Loneliness. Years and years of loneliness.

“But you,” he went on quietly, “you did not stand in fear before me. You did not run or cower. Why is that?”

She thought about it, trying to understand herself, why she did not fear this strange man who clearly had problems that she’d seen all too clearly. “I…I don’t know,” she told him slowly. “I saw something else in your eyes, Master Lavelle. Something that looked sad beneath the anger.”

For a moment his lip twitched and she thought she’d said the wrong thing. Then he laughed quietly and held out his hand. “Please, come with me.”

Catherine’s breath quickened. What could he want with her? Did he mean to take her? There were always rumors that the masters were looking for girls to keep them company. Her hand shook as she reached out for his. He pulled her to her feet then quickly led her from the study and down another hall towards the back of the mansion. His hand was cold beneath his glove and she tried to understand how that could be so. The weather was hot and humid all the time. How could he stay so cold?

They came to a stop outside a large set of mahogany doors. “This is my private room,” he told her, reaching for the silver knobs. “No one is ever allowed in here without my express permission. I want to share it, with you.”

She nodded as he turned to stare at her and his smile fell just a little.

“Are you frightened of me now, Catherine?”

“No, I’m just…I wasn’t sure where we were going, Master Lavelle.”

He laughed again. “Nothing to fear. Do you trust me?”

Did she trust the man who had bought her at a slave auction? Catherine wanted to say no, but all she could think to say was, “Yes, of course.”

Once again he turned to the doors then slowly pulled them open. “Welcome to my sanctuary.”

Catherine followed him inside and stared around at the shelves upon shelves of books. She smiled as she spun around, trying to take them all in. “Never before have I seen so many,” she whispered in awe. “These are beautiful. How did you come to have so many?”

“Many years spent collecting,” he said.

She turned to find him watching her, the smile gone from his face and the sadness had returned. There was a hint of anger in his eyes and she quickly lowered her gaze. “I’m sorry, Master Lavelle, I am not supposed to ask questions of you.”

Bastian’s frowned at her. She curtsied, not sure what she had just done to upset him so.

“Why are you frightened of me all of a sudden?”

“I don’t know, I’m sorry. It is just that I have seen the evilness of men over the past year.” As she finished speaking, her voice lowered to a whisper.

“Show me your eyes, Catherine.”

Suddenly he was in front of her and she hadn’t even heard him move. As the doors clicked closed behind them she realized she was entirely alone with him, this man she could not help but find oddly attractive with his pale skin and fascinating crystal eyes. He reached a gloved hand out to her chin and gently raised it up. The moment her gaze met his…it was like the first time all over again. She could not lower her eyes, even if she wanted to.

“That’s better. I am not like those men, Catherine. At least, not anymore.”

“I understand,” she said.

He stepped back from her, tilting his head as he picked up a strand of her hair and held it. “Since you arrived in my home, I have watched you closely. You are not like the other girls. There is a fire in you, a drive. Your intelligence fascinates me. Your beauty is an added feature I will admit, I enjoy staring at you. I can do this for many hours.”

She felt her face warm. “Thank you, sir.”

“Please, when we are together, you are Catherine and I am simply Bastian.”

She nodded, too stunned to say anything else.

“In this room, I have found peace on my worst days, but not until I met you and watched you stare down my demons did I realize what I was missing. Someone whom I could truly speak with, who would not judge me for what I am.”

Catherine frowned. “Don’t you mean who you are?”

His laughter filled the library and he reached out, touching Catherine. It warmed her to see him smile and his eyes come to life. “You make me smile. This is why it must be you who helps me.”

She took a few slow steps around the room, running her fingers over the books as she took in the titles, thinking over his words “And what exactly must I help you do, Bastian?” Just saying his name made her pulse quicken and she glanced over her shoulder to see that a more serious look had appeared on his face. Not anger, no it was something deeper. As if he wanted her.

“For a long time, I have been alone,” he said quietly.

“But you have a plantation full of people?”

“It’s not the same as having someone I can trust. Someone I can talk to. As you saw by my books, those around me are not always honest company.” He went to her and took her hand carefully in his. “I will admit my past is marred by various dark deeds, most of which I am not proud of, but alas I cannot change them.”

His other hand reached up and cupped her cheek. He held her so softly it was as if he wasn’t touching her at all, but she felt the presence of his hand as her eyes met his. Her head told her to run far away from this man, but her heart made her step closer into his touch.

“What is it you want me to do?”

He motioned her towards the other side of the room where a large ornate desk sat, hand carved with intricate designs depicting scenes from some dark devil world. On top was a black leather-bound book, but when he flipped to the first page, it was blank. Beside it was a black-feathered quill that he picked up and handed to Catherine.

“I need someone to write down my story, my whole story. And I want that someone to be you, Catherine. Will you do me this honor?”

What would Liam think? What would her friends think? Would they call her a traitor for siding with their Master, for being kind to him? She had seen his demons unleashed that night, had seen what his rage and strength could cause. Felt it lurking just below the surface.

But the man that stared at her now fought to keep the demons at bay. Slowly she reached out her hand and clasped the quill in her fingers, sat down behind the desk, and dipped the tip into the black ink.

 

Thank you so much for reading Slave to a Vampire – Catherine.

Reviews are like gold to authors and if you enjoyed this book, I would greatly appreciate if you could take a couple of minutes and leave a review.

Warm thanks

Katrina x

 

 

 

 

Book 2 – Is Out now!

Bastian tells his story to Catherine.

 

 

Have you read?

Angel – Book: Guardian

Available for FREE, click on the link below.


Slave to a Vampire - Book 1 Catherine

Catherine, a young Irish peasant girl and other young teens from her village are taken away by English slave traders. Thrown into a sailing ship and taken to the other side of the world, Catherine fears for her future. She is purchased by a mysterious man and taken to his sugar plantation. Will she survive? What manner of creature is this man they call Master Lavelle? This vampire romance is set in the mid-1600's in the Caribbean. Follow Catherine's journey across the seas to the hands of a vampire...where all is not what it seems.

  • Author: Katrina Kahler
  • Published: 2016-06-01 13:00:11
  • Words: 23474
Slave to a Vampire - Book 1 Catherine Slave to a Vampire - Book 1 Catherine