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IN SEARCH OF AMANDA

Marilyn Grall

ISBN 1-891020-32-3 Copyright 1998, Marilyn Grall Cover Art by Eliza Black New Concepts Publishing 4729 Humphreys Rd. Lake Park, GA 31636 www.newconceptspublishing.com

OTHER NCP TITLES BY MARILYN GRALL: Taming the Lion Conquest of the Heart

PROLOGUE

North American Black slavery was still thriving in Southern Louisiana in the Summer of 1830. The abolition movement was gaining strength in the Northern states, but almost all Southerners held to their right to own slaves with fierce tenacity. Part of their justification was, of course, economical, since slave

labor kept the huge plantations profitable. But, human nature being what it is, part of the reason was a lust for power. Having absolute power over others' lives was a heavy inducement to many men to keep their slaves. The power to buy the slaves, to sell them, to use them in any way the master desired--including in the bedroom. Labreaux Plantation was no better and no worse than any other huge plantation, but it was still the site of dawn-to-dusk, back-breaking labor by field slaves; men, women and children who had no choice but to tend the crops that would maintain their owners' wealth. House slaves had an easier life than field slaves--certainly better living conditions--but female house slaves often had a secondary duty to perform. And it was not only the master these women were expected to please, but often his friends, as well. Beautiful, privileged Amanda Labreaux had been born into this slave-holding society. She'd never given much thought to the abolitionists' ideas, not when she had a plantation to run. How could she do that without slaves? But certain events in Amanda's young life soon changed her opinion of slavery...completely.

CHAPTER ONE

Labreaux Plantation, Louisiana, 1830 "She's a fetching little tart, isn't she?" Jason Harding said, sipping his wine. Harold Labreaux nodded his agreement. He admired the voluptuous curves of the mulatto slave, Fancy, as she worked her way down the long mahogany table, refreshing his guests' after-dinner wine. Harold had sampled Fancy's feminine charms many times--as had Jason and most every other red-blooded male in the parish--but when she bent to pour rich burgundy into his own crystal glass, her maid's uniform gapped just enough to give him an enticing view of her full, round breasts. His loins tightened painfully, and he groaned. Grabbing the newly-poured wine, he gulped it down. Appeasement would have to wait until his guests were gone. Jason, seated to Harold's right, laughed at his obvious discomfiture, then swallowed his laughter when Fancy bent even lower to refill his glass. Devouring the sight before him, he cleared his throat...then smiled. Leaning over, his voice low, he said, "I have a need for the wench, Harold. Do you mind?" His lascivious smile broadened. "What better dessert can you offer?" Harold enjoyed power. He particularly enjoyed the power he held over his slaves. He might not be able to use the wench for a few more hours himself, but why shouldn't his friend indulge? With a negligent gesture to Fancy, he said, "Go with Master Jason, girl, and see to his needs." Well used to such commands, Fancy set the wine carafe on a sideboard, then quietly left the room. She had no choice in the matter, of course, but she was happy to oblige. Pleasuring a man was far easier duty than waiting on fifteen dinner guests. She'd been a frequent choice for bed sport since her thirteenth year.

As Jason Harding rose to follow Fancy, Amanda Labreaux came into the dining room--just in time to

hear Harold's command. Being Harold's younger half-sister, and knowing him all too well, she was not terribly surprised, but giving such an order during a dinner party was beyond unseemly. Worse of all, some of the other guests had heard the command--including Mrs. Leverton, an outspoken opponent of slavery. Of all people to hear such a thing! Amanda blushed as she caught the stern expression on the older woman's face. She knew Mrs. Leverton would admonish her for Harold's words, and she hesitated to take her seat beside the lady. But Amanda was the hostess of this gathering. She must be polite to her guest. "Amanda Labreaux, did you hear what your brother just told that slave to do?" Mrs. Leverton hissed angrily, as if on cue. Amanda sighed heavily. "Yes, Mrs. Leverton," she replied, knowing she was about to be lectured--again--on the injustices of slavery. "Well, what are you going to do about it, young lady?" Mrs. Leverton persisted. "Nothing," Amanda admitted. Mrs. Leverton's eyes darkened with anger. "You won't even countermand the order?" "No, I will not," Amanda said. Fearing the lady was becoming apoplectic, she touched her arm and added, "Not when it would do absolutely no good, Mrs. Leverton. Don't you see? Harold would simply leave the room and give the order again." Mrs. Leverton nodded, accepting that inevitable truth. Then she raised her chin, and her gaze narrowed. "Slavery should be abolished," she said with conviction. "A woman should never be ordered to...well, you know." Red splotches appeared on her wrinkled cheeks, but then she tilted her chin even more. Regaining control, she added, "I know you don't agree that slavery is wrong, Amanda, but it is true nonetheless." Amanda sighed again. It was her duty to be polite to Mrs. Leverton, but the woman's outspoken opinions were rather ridiculous. Who could run a plantation without slaves? Abolishing slavery would mean financial disaster for Labreaux Plantation. Amanda could not allow that to happen. Labreaux Plantation was her home, her future. And besides that, Amanda prided herself on fairness. She was a good mistress. Why, she'd only taken a whip to one slave in her entire life--and that woman had been caught red-handed in thievery. There were far too many other things for Amanda to think about, since she owned half of this plantation and took an active part in running it, than whether or not the institution of slavery was right or wrong. It was just the way things were, and the way they probably always would be, despite the Northerners' political rhetoric. But Mrs. Leverton was still speaking, and Amanda forced her mind back to the conversation. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Leverton," she apologized. "What was that you just said?" "I said, Amanda," Mrs. Leverton replied a little tersely, "that your opinion of slavery might very well change if you yourself were to experience the life of a slave." Amanda was very tempted not to reply at all to that ludicrous statement. A free white woman could never experience the life of a slave. But good manners prevailed, and she said, "Yes, Mrs. Leverton, I suppose you could be right."

Harold saw Amanda just as Jason and Fancy were leaving. He watched her waltz into the dining room, her silk gown swaying gently over a multitude of rustling petticoats, and he frowned. She was innocent, lovely, an absolute beauty. And he hated her. Amanda was the product of his father's second marriage to a young Cajun beauty--who had died giving birth to the girl--and Amanda had inherited her mother's dark, lustrous hair and golden skin. In fact, the only thing Amanda seemed to have gotten from her father were her sapphire-blue eyes. Harold's skin was pasty-white, just as his father's had been, and his hair was blond. He felt far superior to his half-sister, however. Amanda's coloring was just a little too golden; in fact, not even a shade different from that of the mulatto slave, Fancy. Of course, Fancy looked far more white than Negro, but she had been born a slave, and to Harold's way of thinking, Amanda--with her slightly dark skin--should be one, too. As he watched Amanda take her seat beside one of their guests, Mrs. Leverton--a woman with the incredibly stupid opinion that slavery should be abolished--he overheard their conversation. Harold's mouth curled into a derisive smile as Mrs. Leverton stated her opinion that a slave should not be ordered to pleasure a man, though she was far too genteel to actually say those words. He knew Fancy had absolutely no objection to pleasuring men, but even if she did, it would make no difference. She would have no choice but to obey her master, and Harold liked it that way. He loved having absolute power over other people--though it was stretching a point to call slaves "people." Farm animals was more nearly correct. Harold smiled. And the female farm animals were his favorite kind. Harold's eyes narrowed as something Mrs. Leverton said jolted his mind back to the conversation. She was suggesting that perhaps Amanda's opinion of slavery would change if she herself were forced to live the life of a slave. And in that moment, a delicious thought entered Harold's mind. Fancy and Amanda could be sisters. Almost twins, in fact. Only on close inspection was it apparent that Amanda was far more beautiful than the mulatto slave. Except for Fancy's deep brown eyes, their characteristics were really quite similar. Their hair was the exact same shade of rich mahogany and the same length, their figures nearly identical. Of course, Harold's oh-so-innocent sister would never even dream of spreading her thighs before marriage. But other than their vast differences in sexual experience--since sensuality fairly oozed from Fancy's pores, whereas Amanda was the epitome of feminine innocence--the two women could easily be mistaken for one another. If you didn't see their faces, that is, especially their eyes. Was it possible? Could he sell his own half-sister into slavery using the mulatto slave's papers? It certainly was, he decided. Oh delicious, delicious thought. How wonderful it would be! He would be free of her! Free of the charming, popular half-sister that everyone loved--who also happened to be quite a good businesswoman. Amanda Labreaux could run a plantation as well as any man. That was the main reason Harold hated her so much. A woman should be a pretty bauble, a useless ornament meant to serve a man, to please him in bed and to bear his sons--not a highly intelligent business partner.

Partner. Yes, damn her soul, Amanda was his partner. She owned half of Labreaux Plantation, despite the fact that she was a mere female. Even if married, she would retain her share. Their father had decreed that in his will. And with her keen intelligence, much as he hated to admit it, businessmen tended to value Amanda's opinion more than his own--which angered him even more. Simmering now, Harold remembered how many times Amanda had tried to overrule his orders, especially orders having to do with punishing slaves. Harold truly enjoyed wielding a whip, but more often then not Amanda would try to talk him out of the whipping. She seldom succeeded, but remembering those times, Harold felt his plan growing stronger with each passing minute. He'd need an accomplice. Jason would help--if he paid him enough. And Fancy would have to die. There was no way around that, though it was a shame to waste a good whore. He'd need to kill her in some way that would disfigure her face, especially those deep brown eyes...He'd have to be careful, of course, but the plan forming in his mind would work. Yes, indeed, the plan would most definitely work. He would kill Fancy, claim that she was Amanda, then feign utter remorse that his dear half-sister was dead. How simple, and how delicious. Amanda, of course, wouldn't really be dead. Harold's lips curved into an evil smile. Oh no, she wouldn't be dead, but she would be gone--sold as a slave. He would have to be careful about that, too. Amanda should be sold to an outbound slaver, not a New Orleans merchant. Perhaps she could be sold to a slaver headed for Jamaica, since they had such a thriving market there. Selling her anywhere in the South just might come back to haunt him. Yes, seeking out a slave ship headed for Jamaica would be the best bet. Jason could handle that. And then the best part. After Amanda's "death," Harold would inherit the entire plantation, and he could run it any way he saw fit, without interference. His smile widened as an image entered his mind, an image of his innocent little half-sister being sold on the slave block. What a wonderful thought--that Amanda, a very proper, utterly polite Southern belle could very well become the unwilling whore of some Jamaican plantation owner. And he dearly hoped the man would be primitively savage and unspeakably cruel in his dealings with the slave. How many years could Amanda survive such torment? Harold hoped she would survive it for a very, very long time. He smiled again, enjoying his hatred. He would be rid of her at last.

CHAPTER TWO

Amanda felt cold fingers of fear crawl up her spine as Jason Harding guided the carriage into the dense forest behind Labreaux Plantation. He had invited her out for a Sunday afternoon carriage ride, and--until now--she had believed he would behave as a gentleman. The invitation had been extended in front of Harold the night before, just as the dinner party was ending. Amanda didn't really care for Jason, but Harold had insisted that she accept the invitation. And though Amanda knew what Jason had just done with the slave, Fancy, she had reluctantly agreed. Keeping

peace between her half-brother and herself was more important then losing one afternoon to Jason's company. No matter what he did with female slaves, he was a Southern gentleman, after all. Surely, he would behave himself with a proper lady. At least that's what Amanda had thought before he'd left the road and entered this dark forest, a place dripping with dense Spanish moss...and known to be inhabited by vicious, wild dogs. "Why are we here, Jason?" she asked a little breathlessly. "Why have you brought me to this place?" In response to her question, Jason merely laughed...and then Amanda heard the neighing of another horse, saw Harold driving a wagon toward them, and felt Jason's iron-hard grip come around her arms, imprisoning her against his side. It all happened so quickly, Amanda was rendered helpless before she could even scream. "What are you doing?" she finally cried out, desperately struggling against Jason's brutish strength. "Shut up, Amanda," Jason hissed, dropping his gentlemanly behavior altogether. "Shut up and quit fighting me." Amanda continued struggling, despite Jason's demand, but to no avail against his far greater strength. But as Harold's wagon came to a stop beside them, Amanda finally did quit fighting Jason. Her eyes widened with shock. The mulatto slave, Fancy, was in the back of the wagon...bound and gagged and obviously very, very frightened. Amanda's fear soon matched Fancy's. Despite her renewed struggles, Amanda was stripped of her clothing--in front of her own half-brother!--then tied to a wheel of the carriage once she was completely nude. Then Harold and Jason turned to the helpless slave. Amanda was hoarse from screaming for help by this time, but even she knew her cries were useless. Very few people ever ventured into this dark and dangerous forest. And then the horrible, unbelievable nightmare became even worse as the men dragged Fancy from the wagon, untied her and then stripped her of her clothing, too. Binding Fancy's wrists behind her again, they threw her to the ground and raped her brutally while Amanda watched with ever increasing terror. Would she be next? Jason was the first to finish with Fancy. As he rose to his feet, leering at Amanda, Harold stopped his own brutal thrusts into the helpless slave to remind Jason that Amanda was not to be touched. "Why not?" Jason sneered, approaching Amanda with fingers splayed, clearly intent on fondling her breasts. "She'll be a whore soon enough. Why not let me be the first to take her?" "Because," Harold hissed, resuming his thrusts, "I want to savor the thought of Amanda having to obey her master's command to spread her thighs for the first time." Jason reluctantly turned away from Amanda, scowling in disappointment. "I suppose I can give you that one concession, Harold," he said, "since you're giving me the profit from selling Amanda, not to mention what you've already paid me." Amanda's breath came in on a gasp. Selling me? Is that what this is all about? Then even that incredible thought left her mind as Harold stiffened, grunted his pleasure, then clamped his

hands over Fancy's nose and mouth, deliberately letting her strangle to death still joined to her helpless body. Oh my God! Amanda cried silently, too shocked to say the words aloud, even if she could have forced them past her raw throat. She had just witnessed a hideous murder! Poor, poor Fancy--who'd never done anything to hurt a living soul. She'd never even had a chance. As her master, Harold was perfectly within his rights to kill her. How unjust that was! The thought formed in Amanda's mind with crystal clarity, but she pushed it aside. The sheer horror of the slave's death was still paramount in her tormented thoughts, as well as terror for her own safety. Sagging against the carriage wheel, Amanda watched in horrified silence as Jason handed Harold a jar filled with animal blood...and Amanda blanched as Harold smeared the blood on Fancy's face. It didn't take any imagination to realize what would happen when the wild dogs found Fancy's body. Her face would be mutilated, probably stripped to the bone in a matter of minutes. The thought was simply too much. Amanda fainted.

When Amanda regained consciousness, she found herself dressed in Fancy's simple cotton dress. Her own clothes were now on the slave's body...and Amanda was bound helplessly and lying on the ground beside her. Taking stock of her own body, Amanda realized one comforting fact--she hadn't been raped while unconscious. Thank God for that, at least. The thought of Fancy's rape and murder struck her mind again. There was something terribly wrong with a system that allowed such things. "Why, Harold?" Amanda managed to whisper through her raw throat. This was all so confusing. "Why are you doing this to me?" "Because I hate you, Amanda," Harold replied quite calmly. "I've always hated you, and now I will be rid of you. The fine, upstanding citizens of this parish will have no trouble believing that Fancy's body is really yours...what's left of her body, that is, after the dogs get through with it. And while you're enjoying your new life as a slave, I'll be inheriting your half of the plantation. It's a very good plan, don't you agree, little sister?" "My God, Harold...please...don't do this," Amanda pleaded, tears filling her eyes as full realization of Harold's treachery sank in. "Please don't do this." Harold reached into the nearby wagon, retrieving Fancy's ownership papers. "Why not, Amanda?" he asked. "Why shouldn't I sell you as a mulatto slave? You're skin's golden enough to be one. Why shouldn't I profit from it?" "But I'm not a slave!" Amanda cried hoarsely, desperately trying to reason with Harold. "My skin is a little darker than yours because of my mother's coloring, but I'm--" "As of this moment, Amanda, you are a slave named Fancy," Harold coldly injected, cutting off her words. He laid the papers against the wagon seat and signed his name across the bottom. "I have just signed you over to Jason, Fancy, although I've predated your sale by two years just for good measure."

Amanda searched Jason's face, hoping to find human charity, but finding none. "This is wrong, Jason. Terribly, terribly wrong," she whispered, her throat closing in fear. She knew he wouldn't listen to her. "And terribly profitable," he replied, smiling cruelly. "You see, Fancy, I, in turn, will sell you to a slaver in town, preferably one heading for Jamaica, and I will pocket the money. You should bring quite a good price, my dear," he added, allowing his lecherous gaze to roam over her feminine curves. "A very good price, indeed." "Enough of this," Harold said. "We need to leave before the dogs come. Where's the laudanum, Jason?" "Right here," Jason replied, pulling a silver flask from his vest pocket. "There's enough to keep her drugged for several hours." Amanda gasped again, then clamped her lips together, her only possible defense while bound and helpless. But just as before, her struggles were futile. Harold merely laughed as he forced her lips apart and poured the potent opium elixir down her throat. And the last thing Amanda heard as she felt first incredible lethargy, then decided dizziness, and finally nothing at all was Harold's malevolent laughter.

"Pleasant dreams, little sister," Harold said softly as he watched Amanda's body go limp. "From now on your life will be a living nightmare, and mine will be pure pleasure. No one will even search for you, since they'll all believe you're dead. I've won, Amanda. I've won it all." Smiling thinly, Harold watched as Jason loaded Amanda into the wagon, concealed her beneath a blanket and then slapped the reins and drove out of the forest. He could hear distant howling, signaling the wild dogs had begun picking up the scent of blood. Looking once more at the body of the mulatto slave--who was now Amanda for all intents and purposes--he climbed into the carriage, then calmly headed back to the plantation. His plan had worked perfectly so far, and Harold had no doubt that the rest of the plan would work just as well. People saw what they expected to see, and what they would see in another day or two was a grieving brother burying his dear little half-sister, having discovered her mutilated body in the forest and lamenting the fact that she'd always been too stubborn and independent for her own good. Only a woman who'd insisted on taking an active role in running a plantation would have been foolish enough to venture into such a dangerous forest alone. No one except Jason would ever know that Amanda was not buried in the family plot, that she was instead on her way to a life in hell.

CHAPTER THREE

The New Orleans docks were hot, smelly and overflowing with the refuse of mankind. Beggars and drunks were plentiful, as were sweaty, heavily muscled workmen. And, of course, there were seamen by

the dozen. The mighty Mississippi welcomed all kinds. As Jason Harding drove the wagon onto one particular dock--that of a slave ship destined for Jamaica--he patted the ownership papers tucked in his vest pocket. He would earn a good deal of money by selling Amanda--correction; by selling Fancy--and then the men hounding him for gambling debts would be appeased, since he could finally pay them. He even anticipated having enough money left over to thoroughly enjoy himself in the infamous brothels of New Orleans. The trip had been uneventful. Labreaux Plantation wasn't really that far from the New Orleans docks, less than two hours by wagon, and Fancy had slept the entire trip. In fact, she was still sleeping, even as Jason stopped the wagon and set the brake, which was just fine with him. He had no intention of allowing Amanda Labreaux to say anything at all in her own defense.

Captain John Davis swaggered down the gangplank as a wagon pulled to a stop beside his ship. The man driving the wagon was gesturing to him and alighting from the driver's seat, then walking around to the back and uncovering something...or someone. John Davis had owned a slave ship for thirty years--just as his father had before him--but the business was getting harder all the time. The British Parliament had passed a law against slave trade in 1807, and the U.S. Congress had prohibited the importation of African slaves into the United States since 1808. It was still done, of course, but it wasn't technically legal. And despite the British law, there was still a thriving slave trade in Jamaica, which was his destination. The Brits still allowed slavery in their colonies. Now, as he approached the wagon, Captain Davis truly hoped the stranger had something good to offer him. This voyage had been rather disappointing, and he still had quite a bit of room in the hold of his ship. The man extended his hand. "Name's Jason Harding," he said, shaking Davis's hand, then gesturing toward the wagon. "Would you be interested in purchasing a fine little mulatto slave?" Davis could see the man's confidence. His interest piqued. Looking into the wagon, he saw a young female of about twenty years--an excellent breeding bitch. She was very fair skinned, so fair, in fact, that she could be mistaken for a free white woman if not for the ownership papers Jason Harding was now thrusting at him. This one would bring a very good price on the block. To say the least, Davis was pleased. He scanned the documents, then looked back at the girl and frowned, realizing she must have been drugged, but her breathing was even. She was simply in a deep sleep. "Why did you drug this...Fancy?" he asked, pausing to refer to the papers for her name. "Because she's a habitual liar," Jason replied smoothly, "as well as a troublemaker. She can't seem to help herself. I've tried to be patient, but now I'm simply fed up. That's why I'm selling her. I didn't even want to hear her begging me not to; hence the drugged sleep." The captain nodded. That made perfect sense. "What kind of problems has the wench been causing?" he asked, more from curiosity than anything else. He bent into the wagon, pried open the slave's mouth and examined her teeth, then ran his callused hands down her long bones, grunting his approval. The bitch was in prime condition. "She's tried to escape more than once," Jason lied, "and she keeps telling this ridiculous story about being a free white woman to anyone who will listen to her...even me, though you can see by the papers that I've

owned her for two years and that before then she was born and raised on Labreaux Plantation." The captain nodded again, understanding perfectly. She certainly wasn't the first mulatto to try to lie her way to freedom. Lying slaves could be dealt with easily enough, though...and there was no escape from a slave ship. With little emotion, he pulled up her dress, baring her completely, then examined her firm young breasts, flat belly and smooth thighs. She truly was prime. He as tempted to use her himself, but... "Has she been well used?" he asked bluntly. "No sir," Jason replied, seemingly embarrassed. "She's still a virgin." He shuffled his feet and looked down at the dock, obviously hesitant to continue. "Her master at Labreaux had intended to use her for his own pleasure," he finally said, "but then he had an...accident...and, well, he couldn't..." Captain Davis winced at the thought, then asked, "But what about you, Mr. Harding? Why haven't you made good use of her?" Jason actually blushed. "My wife would never approve of...such a thing," he murmured. "Ah, I see," Captain Davis replied, then shrugged his massive shoulders. It was no business of his why this man hadn't at least put this prime breeder under a strong buck, but he would profit handsomely from that oversight. "I'll just put her in the hold with the others, then," he added, his tone regretful. "A virgin brings a much better price than a well-used bitch, so I'll not be able to use her myself--unfortunately." Jason murmured his agreement, consoling the captain for his loss, and Davis signaled for a sailor to come and lift the unconscious slave out of the back of the wagon, then paid Jason a fair price and bid him farewell. Captain Davis smiled as he followed his man to the ship. Fortuitously meeting Mr. Harding had indeed changed a disappointing voyage into a satisfying one, since the profit from selling this one incredibly beautiful, virginal mulatto slave would improve his cash flow considerably. The owner of the Jamaican slave auction where he traded had a particular talent for displaying such delectable merchandise, thereby ensuring the highest price possible, and Captain Davis could almost hear the groans of pleasure the bidders would utter when this particular bitch was put on the block. He could almost feel the cool, crisp bills being counted into his hand at the end of that sale, when some lucky man would have bought the privilege of taking the little slave's virginity. Jason watched Captain Davis and the sailor carrying Amanda until they were out of sight, then smiled his success. It had been so incredibly easy to sell her--the captain had swallowed his lies without question--and her virginal state had brought him a good deal extra. Now he was glad he hadn't raped her. His troubles would soon be over. He sighed his relief. The men he owed had been threatening bodily harm, and Jason Harding had no desire for pain. Now he could spend some time in the brothels...and gamble again.

A throbbing headache and terribly dry mouth finally pulled Amanda from her drug-induced sleep. Slowly opening her eyes, she tried to understand where she was, but the place was dimly lit. A single, sputtering oil lantern hung on the far wall. Then horrid scents assailed her nostrils--the smell of filthy bodies and human excrement--and Amanda abruptly realized where she was.

In the hold of a slave ship. He did it! she thought, truly incredulous. Harold actually sold me into slavery! As if needing further confirmation of that horrendous fact, Amanda tried to move. Her upper body was free, but her ankles were shackled, and as her eyes grew more accustomed to the dim light, Amanda realized she was lying between two other bodies, similarly restrained. I need help! she thought, desperate now, sitting up very quickly. Someone's got to believe I don't belong here! I am not a slave! A violent wave of nausea drove Amanda to her back again. She turned to her side as best she could and retched into the rotting hay. Dimly, she realized she was ill from the laudanum; then she lost consciousness again. The illness persisted for three days. Amanda's consciousness waxed and waned...her memory coming and going with it. Except for that brief flash of clarity upon first awakening, for the first day of her illness, Amanda couldn't even remember her name. By the second day, she had a vague awareness of who she was, but she was so sick that where she was just didn't matter. Sometime during those awful first three days of the sea voyage, through her haze of misery, Amanda became aware of being cared for by gentle hands, of being coaxed to drink tepid water from time to time, and of soothing words of comfort. Finally, on the fourth day, her mental clarity returned...and with it came the despairing knowledge that she was aboard a ship that was far, far away from land. If not for her illness, she might have been able to convince someone of her true identity before they'd left New Orleans. Now her only hope for rescue would be the captain of this ship. Intent on finding that help, Amanda slowly, carefully turned her head, testing her ability to move...and found herself looking into the smiling face of a middle-aged Negress with frizzy, graying hair and two missing teeth in the very front of her mouth. "Are you coming back to us, child?" the woman asked. Amanda immediately realized this was the woman who had been caring for her during the illness. She recognized her voice, and as the woman brushed hair away from Amanda's forehead, she recognized her gentle touch as well. "You've been taking care of me, haven't you?" Amanda said, answering the woman's question with one of her own. "Yes, child," the woman replied. Shifting position, the shackles on her ankles rattled. Amanda looked down at those restraints--and her own shackles--and the reality of the situation exploded in her mind again. Slavery! Dear God, she'd had no real idea how these people were forced to live...But she couldn't think about that now. Right now she needed help. Biting her lower lip, she willed herself not to cry. That wouldn't help anything. "My name's Olivia," the woman added. She cocked her head to one side. "What do they call you?" Suddenly determined, Amanda answered with all the strength she could muster. "My name's Amanda Labreaux," she declared. It was time for someone to hear the truth. Surely that would help. "And I am not a slave, Olivia," she continued, her determination growing. "I'm a free white woman, a victim of kidnapping."

Olivia clamped her hand over Amanda's mouth. "Don't lie that way, girl," she hissed "Do you want to be whipped?" "It's not a lie," Amanda mumbled, then pulled Olivia's hand away. "My half-brother murdered a mulatto slave named Fancy. He sold me into slavery using her papers." "Shush, Fancy," Olivia reaffirmed, her voice harsh. "You know what happens to troublemakers. You must not tell such tales, no matter how much you want to be free!" Amanda sat up as quickly as she dared in her weakened condition. She simply must convince someone of the truth! "Don't you understand, Olivia?" she pleaded, grasping the woman's hand. "It is not a lie! I truly am Amanda Labreaux!" Olivia sighed heavily, obviously doubtful. "I don't know if that's the truth or not, Fancy," she finally said--insistently using Amanda's slave name--"but all the owners care about is your papers, and those must say you're the property of Captain Davis." Undaunted, Amanda leaned back on her elbows. Hadn't she already decided the captain was her only hope of rescue? "I want to speak to this Captain Davis," she said simply. "No, you don't," Olivia said with finality. "The last person in the world a slave on a ship ever wants to see is the captain. It can only mean trouble." Realizing Olivia could not, or would not, help her, Amanda decided to forge ahead on her own. Looking around, she picked up a tin cup, then banged it against the ship's wall again and again, at the same time demanding to see the captain in the loudest voice she could manage. She continued the disturbance relentlessly, valiantly ignoring her exhaustion, until a seaman finally came into the hold to investigate the trouble. Seeing the sailor climbing down into the hold, Olivia turned away and rolled herself into a ball, making herself as small as possible. Clearly, she wanted no part of Amanda's disturbance. Amanda gulped, new realization searing her soul. A slave's very life was dependent upon the master's good will. Olivia's obvious fear of reprisal was horrifying. How did these people survive such a life? But she already knew the answer. They survived because they had no other choice. All choice had been stripped from them--by the institution of slavery. She gulped again. Dear God! "What's going on here?" The sailor's shouted words yanked Amanda from her painful reverie. He was standing before her, hands on hips, glaring sternly. "Why are you making such a ruckus, girl?" "I need to see the captain--immediately," Amanda answered a little breathlessly. Her energy was flagging, not only from her determined noise making, but from a dawning burden of guilt she didn't yet understand. "You'll see him when we dock in Jamaica," the sailor replied. Then he grinned lasciviously, his eyes devouring her body. "And we'll see more of you in Jamaica. Surely such a pretty wench will go to the special block." Amanda had no idea what the man meant by "special block," but she felt her opportunity slipping away. Nearly desperate, she said, "You don't understand, sir. I must see the captain. A terrible injustice has been done, and he is the only one who can make it right." The seaman shrugged his shoulders noncommittally. "I'll see what I can do," he muttered, then turned and left the hold without another word.

He had no intention of telling the captain the slave's demand. He'd only wanted to quiet her before she earned severe punishment. Captain Davis didn't like disturbances on his ship. The thought of seeing that beautiful face or voluptuous body bruised or whipped was truly repugnant to the young man. The pretty wench would most definitely go to the special slave block--the block reserved for the very best merchandise. And if she was virgin...Oh, yes. That would be even better. His groin tightened. Virginal merchandise had its own special block. Since there was only one reason for a man to want a beautiful virgin, the owner of the auction had decided long ago the best way to display the merchandise. Virgins were sold without a stitch of clothing on their lovely young bodies. The sailor groaned audibly, adjusting his tight breeches. Finding a quiet corridor, he quickly eased his need, imagining all the while seeing Fancy nude on the block.

For the first few minutes after the sailor left, Amanda felt absolute relief. Surely the captain would come to see her immediately, or call her to his cabin, she thought. She had never been refused anything in her young life, and the notion that her demand might have been totally ignored never even entered her mind...until the minutes stretched into hours, and then, finally, into days. Olivia would barely speak to her now, obviously so shocked by Amanda's outburst and demand that she wanted little, if anything, to do with her anymore. The only good thing about the next two days of interminable waiting was that Amanda's strength began returning. The food was truly awful, but at least it was edible, and by the end of the second day, Amanda felt very nearly as strong as she had before this nightmare began. With her returning strength, however, came anger, not only anger from waiting, but another kind of anger she couldn't even name. In her heart or hearts, she knew it had to do with the squalor, the stink and filth of the ship's hold--and with the innocent victims of that prison. But her primary thoughts were still on salvation, on her own need to be free. Amanda Labreaux was not used to being ignored. So she caused another disturbance, even more loudly than the first time...and this time she got results. The grim-faced young sailor returned to the hold. He took a large iron key from his belt, bent down and opened the shackles around Amanda's ankles. When she was free of the chains, he roughly pulled her to her feet and said, "You wanted to see the captain, girl, and now you'll be getting your wish...though I doubt you'll thank me for it afterward. This time the captain himself heard your disturbance, and now he wants to see you, instead of the other way around." Amanda was too busy concentrating on retaining her balance after being off her feet for so many days to understand what the sailor was implying. Since this was her only experience with a slave ship, she was blithely unaware that Olivia had been completely correct in her statement that the last person a slave wanted to see was the captain of the ship. Amanda, in fact, thanked the sailor for removing her chains, then started toward the steep stairs leading out of the hold, grateful for the seaman's firm grip on her arm, blissful in her ignorance. The very moment she reached the deck of the ship, her mouth curved into a delighted smile. She blinked several times, helping her eyes adjust to the bright sunlight of mid-afternoon. The sea breeze was so fresh, the air so clean, and the blue sky with fluffy white clouds so pleasing to her senses, Amanda felt the first glimmer of happiness she'd had in all the days at sea, and she wasn't even sure how many days

that was anymore. She didn't realize she'd actually stopped walking, admiring the gently rolling blue ocean, until her arm was gripped more strongly than before and the sailor said tersely, "Get going, girl." Amanda didn't care about the sailor's gruffness, not knowing, of course, that he was truly regretting what the captain was about to do. She was so glad to be out in the fresh air that by the time they reached the captain's cabin, her steps were light and her spirit was happy, thinking that surely now her nightmare would end. Surely the captain would understand the truth and apologize for the terrible ordeal, perhaps even give up his own cabin for her comfort for the duration of the voyage. She might even sit down with him over a cup of tea and have a serious talk about the conditions on this ship. They were deplorable, the slaves treated far worse than she had ever imagined... All such naive thoughts stopped abruptly the moment the sailor opened the cabin door, then shoved her into the room. She nearly lost her balance, caught it again, then watched the sailor close the door behind him and assume a wide-legged, arrogant stance in front of the door, massive arms crossed over his equally massive chest. Amanda gulped, then slowly turned around. The man she found herself facing looked anything but understanding. He looked angry...dangerously angry, perhaps even furious. He was about sixty years old, with bushy gray eyebrows and very long side burns. Despite his age, his body was quite obviously well toned, undoubtedly from his arduous, seafaring life. Her happy glow popped like a soap bubble...but her determination did not. "Captain Davis," she said, raising her chin, trying so very hard to sound confident and assured, "I must speak with you. I am not who you think I am. I am not--" "Silence!" Captain Davis growled, fists clenched at his sides. "I did not have you brought her to hear your filthy lies, girl. Your former owner, Jason Harding, told me all about your ridiculous tale of being a free white woman. He also told me you were a troublemaker. That claim has certainly proved true." Amanda gasped again, truly frightened by his tone of voice...and completely confused. "If you already know my story, and you don't believe it," she asked, frowning, "then why did you have me brought here, Captain?" "I had you brought her to show you just exactly what happens to lying slaves who cause disturbances on my ship!" he bellowed in answer. Then he did indeed show Amanda what happened to "lying slaves." He struck her with a savage, backhanded blow, followed by a second blow and then a third...finally shoving her so hard, she crashed into the wall of the cabin and slumped to the floor. "On your feet, slave!" he thundered when she simply sat there, too dazed from the blows to even think straight much less move. "Get up, girl, or I'll use a whip on you instead of just the back of my hand." That threat brought Amanda out of her momentary stupor. The thought of being whipped was alarming enough that she found the strength to crawl to her knees and then slowly pull herself up, using the captain's sea chest for support. But as soon as she regained her footing, he struck her again, sending her back to the floor. Three more times, Amanda struggled to her feet at the captain's terse command, and three more times he struck her down. Finally, breathing heavily, Captain Davis turned to the sailor and said, "Return her to the

hold. She is to receive no rations--not even water--for two days." "Why, Captain?" Amanda gasped out through her pain and confusion. I only told the truth! her mind screamed in self defense. "Why did you beat me?" she continued, nearly too dizzy to stand. "And why must you starve me, for God's sake?" "Troublemakers--or liars--are always dealt with through harsh punishment on my ship, Fancy," the captain informed her. "And by the time you've spent two days without rations, I'm quite sure you will have learned a very good lesson." Amanda knew her face was already swelling and bruising from the beating, and tears threatened to fall. She blinked them back, fiercely determined. She would not cry! And by the time the sailor had dragged her back to the hold, shackled her ankles again, then turned to leave her in her pain and misery, Amanda had indeed learned an important lesson. She'd learned that telling the truth would get her nothing but punishment. And with that realization, the tears Amanda Labreaux had been holding back for days and days on end finally fell.

CHAPTER FOUR

The two days of starvation would have been far worse for Amanda if not for Olivia, who came to her aid again. The older woman snuck Amanda portions of her own meals--and of her own meager ration of water--even though such defiance could have resulted in severe punishment for Olivia, even death. Amanda wanted to refuse Olivia's kind offer, but she'd never before had to go without food--save for the days when she was so violently ill, and at that point, she'd been too sick to care--and she simply did not have the moral fortitude to refuse the help. Olivia explained that Amanda was really quite lucky to have received only a few backhanded blows and a two day starvation as punishment for her actions...and her "lies." The captain could very well have flayed her with a whip. In fact, that was what Olivia had expected him to do. Upon hearing all this, Amanda became very quiet, extremely subdued. She touched her face, which was healing remarkably well and, according to Olivia, bore only faint bruises. She had indeed been lucky. In her naivet, Amanda had truly believed the captain would help her. The fact that he could have whipped her--but hadn't--gave her a measure of comfort. And a feeling of immense relief. The worst punishment Amanda could even imagine would be a lashing with a whip...or a riding crop. That was the very instrument she herself had used on that one thieving slave at Labreaux Plantation, and the thought of being on the receiving end of such a brutal punishment brought bile to her throat. No matter what, Amanda knew in her heart of hearts that she could never, ever, wield a whip against a slave again. Once the two days were over, Amanda's rations were returned. And as time passed--though she'd lost all track of time by now, suspecting, however, that they had already spent at least two weeks at

sea--Amanda recovered completely from her beating. She had made a firm decision to keep her truth to herself. Trying to tell her story would only result in cruel punishment. She simply couldn't bear that again. There must be some other way to escape this nightmare. It was just after rations had been served one morning that Amanda realized the ship had quit moving. She tilted her head to one side, and then she heard it...the faint sound of the ship bouncing against a dock. "We're here, Olivia!" she cried out to the woman who had become her only friend in the entire world. "We've reached Jamaica! We're finally getting off this horrid ship!" Olivia smiled endearingly, but then her smile abruptly faded. Amanda wondered why. "Fancy," she said quietly, "have you ever been sold at auction before?" Amanda's face lost all color. Now she understood why Olivia's expression had changed. She shuddered. "No." How could she have ever been sold at auction when she was not a slave? Wisely, she kept that question to herself. Olivia had never accepted Amanda's truth. Amanda didn't blame her for that. The kindly older woman had been born and raised a slave. The idea of someone being kidnapped and sold by her own half-brother was simply too ludicrous for her to accept. Olivia took a deep breath. Amanda knew she was going to prepare her for this next horrid step in her life...but then the door to the hold was suddenly thrown open, and several sailors quickly descended the steep stairs. Olivia quickly shook her head. No further conversation would be tolerated now. It was time to leave the ship, undoubtedly to go to the slave auction. Now Amanda would have to find out for herself what would happen. She saw Olivia's eyes fill with tears, and suddenly realized that she and Olivia would not be allowed to speak to each other again. Not even to say goodbye...or "thank you." A terrible lump formed in Amanda's throat, and she wanted to shout, "No!" But the sailors were moving down the sides of the hold now, unlocking shackles and pulling slaves to their wobbly feet. There was no leniency in their actions, no mercy. Risking the wrath of the sailors, Amanda opened her arms. Words were not allowed, but she and Olivia shared one simple, desperate hug. Then Olivia eased away, and a serene, fatalistic expression crossed her face. She was about to be sold again, but she had accepted her fate. Amanda knew then that she would never see Olivia again, and she wished with all her heart that she could somehow help her friend, that she could give Olivia the precious gift of freedom. She couldn't do that, of course. She couldn't even help herself. How could she ever hope to help someone else?

Even under such terrible circumstances, Amanda's first sight of Jamaica caused her breath to draw in on a gasp of sheer delight. She'd known their destination. Olivia had told her quite a lot about the island, having been sold here before, but Jamaica was far more beautiful than Amanda had ever imagined. On one side of the gently rolling ship was the main harbor of Kingston, with the normal swell of people and bustling activity of any other harbor in the world. But on the other side of the ship was the glistening blue Caribbean Sea and around that--since Kingston sat at the top of a protected inlet--were verdant, rolling hills covered with thick foliage. The sky was crystal clear, so bright an azure blue that Amanda

couldn't think of words to accurately describe the incredibly beautiful color. And everywhere she looked, even on the crowded docks, there were tropical plants bursting with thick blooms. "You, you and you." The captain's deep voice abruptly brought Amanda back to reality. He was walking down the deck--where the slaves had already been divided into male and female--and pointing a finger at certain female slaves, addressing them simply as "you" as he commanded them to move off to one side. He reached Amanda and gave her the same command as the others, and she soon found herself standing with a group of young women ranging in age from about thirteen to nineteen. She herself seemed to be the oldest "choice," being twenty-one, but all of these female slaves had one thing in common. They were all extraordinarily beautiful--or at least they would be if they weren't covered with filth. Looking down at her own tattered garment and smelling her own body odor, Amanda was momentarily distracted again. God, what she wouldn't give for a bath! Amanda had no idea how truly beautiful she was--despite the rags she was wearing and the layers of dirt and grime covering her slender frame--but when she noticed Captain Davis's appreciative glance, she knew he saw her as a pretty, and therefore profitable, slave. She bit back a groan of humiliation when she and the other young women were once again put in chains--this time wrist and ankle shackles with another length of chain joining them to each other. Tears sprang to her eyes as the caravan started down the gangplank, but she knew they were useless and blinked them away. At least for the moment, her personal choices were gone; the only thing left was her dignity. She would not cry! When Amanda and the others reached the dock, an official-looking man in a stark white suit approached Captain Davis. "Are these the slaves for the special block, Captain?" the man asked. "Yes," the captain replied, nodding. "I don't know the status of most of them"--he came to stand beside Amanda-- "but this one is virginal, or so I've been told." Amanda blushed upon hearing the captain's blunt assessment of her sexual experience. Then her knees turned to jelly as she realized that that was an important factor in the selling of female slaves. Harold had always seen to the buying and selling of slaves at Labreaux Plantation. Until this moment, Amanda truly hadn't known this simple fact of slave life. A virgin was a highly profitable commodity. Captain Davis caught her arm in a brutal grip as Amanda's knees gave out. "On your feet, girl!" he growled, just as he had during her beating. Amanda responded with instant, reflex obedience, forcing feeling back into her limbs, fervently praying he wouldn't beat her again. The man in the white suit slid his gaze over Amanda, and she shivered. She could almost feel him stripping her naked. Then he smiled and nodded. "She'll have to be examined, of course, but with those looks, if she truly is a virgin, she should be your most profitable sale today, Captain Davis." "Yes, I think so," the captain calmly agreed, then moved on to the next slave, leaving Amanda in a state of shock. She stumbled along as the caravan slowly began moving, led by several sailors, each armed with a whip. As the minutes passed, Amanda's numb shock receded, only to be replaced by a keen sense of humiliation. She was being shuffled through the streets of Kingston in wrist and ankle shackles, her destination a slave auction. Again, her soul was pierced to its very core. She had once thought there was

nothing wrong with treating people this way, but never again... But nothing, nothing, could have prepared Amanda for what she would soon be facing. In blessed ignorance, she reached the auction compound. The slaves were led into a low, rough wood building. Their chains were removed, then the guards systematically stripped them. Their tattered clothing fell to the floor; no modesty of any kind was allowed. After that utter debasement, Amanda and the ten or twelve other young women were allowed to bathe communally in the largest wooden tub Amanda had ever seen. The bath was wonderful--just what she'd been praying for such a short time ago. In the worst of situations, the smallest comfort becomes indescribably precious. Once the bath was over, a female servant spread perfumed oil on her naked body, making her skin smooth, glistening and satiny, polishing her as if she were a piece of furniture for display. Amanda shuddered. The analogy was all too true. Then she was strapped to a table for examination. There were four tables in the long room, each of them now holding a fully-exposed female slave. A woman came into the room; a midwife who would ascertain virginity--or lack thereof. With expert, emotionless probing, she quickly examined Amanda, declared her virginal, then moved on to the next table. The entire ordeal took less than five minutes. Amanda breathed a shaky sigh of relief, grateful for the small comfort that the examination had been brief. She was given a simple cotton dress to wear, then found herself in a holding cell, along with the others who had proved virginal. The women with sexual experience were led to a different cell. Suddenly appalled, Amanda realized just how young her fellow "inmates" were. On the ship, it had been hard to tell anyone's age. But here, bathed, perfumed and wearing clean clothes, the youth of the girls was evident. Amanda was undoubtedly the oldest one in the group. She shouldn't have been surprised. As a slave owner herself, she knew well enough that young girls were often forced to begin breeding soon after their first menses. In the past, the thought hadn't bothered her. Now she found another piece of her soul chipping away--or perhaps her soul was being reshaped, sculpted by a painful emotional knife. Stark emotions closed her throat, and she swallowed hard. Some of these girls were no more than twelve or thirteen years old. Then the auction began. Amanda sucked in a ragged breath, wishing she could run, hide, flee! She could hear the sounds of the sale--the auctioneer's voice, the rattling of chains, the crack of a whip, a muffled groan from a slave--and the inevitable bids for human lives. She wanted to vomit. And she herself was to be sold... A guard opened the cell door. With terse commands, she and the others were led to a separate area from the main auction. And, abruptly, Amanda understood what the sailor had meant by "special block." In this more secluded area, beautiful females were being sold--strictly to men. No free women were in attendance at this sale. Amanda didn't have to be told why things were being done this way, but her jaw dropped open when she realized one other very important fact. The women who were not virginal were being sold with their clothes on. Virgins were being sold in the nude. As Amanda watched in numb silence, each female slave who had shared her cell was stripped again and chained to a pole before the crowd of prospective buyers. One after another, the girls were "examined," tears streaming down their cheeks as the men pinched and prodded and fondled, often two or three men at a time. And one by one, the young girls were bid upon and sold. Bile rose in Amanda's throat. Dear God, most of them were barely women, still children! This was so very, very wrong!

And her turn was next. Amanda bit her lip to keep from crying out the truth as she was stripped and chained to the pole. The truth would earn her nothing but punishment. Even as she had the thought, a whip cracked against a defenseless slave, who groaned in agony. Amanda kept her silence, but her lip swelled with the effort as she bit down hard. Hot shame flooded her cheeks and the fierce Jamaican sun beat down on her naked body as the auctioneer listed her "attributes." How she was a fine age for breeding, with generous breasts for milk, an adequate pelvis, good teeth and solid bones. The rest of her stated attributes were considerably more crass. Amanda's face turned scarlet. She could feel the awful heat. Then her heritage was given--or Fancy's heritage--that of being a mulatto slave who was more white than Negro, which increased the opening bid demanded by the auctioneer considerably. White men preferred nearly-white slaves for their beds. The fact that Amanda was not a mulatto slave named Fancy, that she was, in fact, a slave owner herself, had little to do with the brutal, inevitable reality of her life. She closed her eyes and said a silent prayer for strength as the auctioneer invited the men to "inspect the merchandise" before the bidding began. And in the deepest part of her soul, Amanda Labreaux--now known as Fancy--wanted to simply die before the first man actually touched her.

CHAPTER FIVE

Jackson Carlyle had a problem. His cook, Mammy, who had also been his nursemaid and who had practically raised him, was simply too old to work in the kitchen any longer--at least not without considerable help. She was also the most stubborn old woman he had ever known. She had simply refused his kind offer to retire her to a cabin--even with a little garden patch for her own pleasure and use--stating she had been useful thus far in her life, and she wanted to continue that way until the Good Lord called her home. Mammy, being who she was, had no fear of telling Jackson just exactly what was on her mind. He grimaced at the thought. No other slave would get away with such audacity--they wouldn't dare even try--but Mammy was special. And so, here he was at the auction on a decidedly hot summer day, intending to purchase a helper for Mammy. He could have simply assigned a female slave to that position, of course, but he was hoping a fresh young face would help Mammy accept help. Mammy was such a motherly sort. Surely she would take the new slave under her wing, and after that, Jackson hoped, she wouldn't mind the girl's help in her domain--the kitchen. Stopping his carriage near the back of the auction compound, Jackson's intended destination was the main slave block--until a sight at the virgin's block caught his attention. An incredibly beautiful young slave--a very light-skinned mulatto by the look of her--was just now being

auctioned. Her hair was a lustrous, deep brown, her nude body so delectable he felt his throat go dry. Her breasts were full, upthrust and firm, her hips delightfully rounded. Her thighs were tapered, her waist so small he could span it with his own large hands. And the sight of those dark curls between her thighs--which were trembling with fear--caused hot blood to rush through his veins. The auctioneer was listing her "attributes," and Jackson knew what would happen next: The free-for-all fondling session by prospective buyers. That thought angered him; he didn't even stop to question why. The idea of that innocent, frightened young woman being molested by men--several men--brought a string of curses from Jackson's mouth. Before he could reconsider the action, he found himself walking toward the girl with determined strides, already pulling his wallet from his vest pocket.

Amanda heard vile curses, and she opened her eyes. She had not been touched yet, but she knew it would soon happen. Her prayers for strength had been useless. Her thighs were trembling so badly, if not for the chains holding her up, she would have sagged to the rough wooden planks of the slave block. Blinking in the bright Jamaican sunlight, she saw a very tall man approaching the block with angry strides. He was starkly masculine--all strength and sinewy power--and he seemed determined to reach her before any other man could. In one corner of her mind--the part that was purely feminine and did not feel the abject, mortal fear the rest of her did--Amanda realized he was the most handsome man she had ever seen. His hair was as black as a raven's, slightly wavy and a little too long to be fashionable. His eyes were dark brown, and flashing with anger. His mouth was set in a grim line of determination, his chin thrust forward...and he was drawing the auctioneer's attention. The stranger shoved some money at the man, at the same time saying, "There's at least two thousand pounds there. That's twice what you'd probably get for this slave," he gestured toward Amanda, "but I'll pay it if I can buy her right now, before any man touches her." She heard murmured protests from the other patrons, but the auctioneer ignored them and smiled at the stranger. "Of course, Mr. Carlyle," he said smoothly, "I'll gladly accept your generous offer." Clearly, he was pleased by this turn of events, no doubt by his own increased profit. Then the auctioneer's lascivious gaze roamed over Amanda's nude body, causing her scarlet flush to increase. Turning back to Mr. Carlyle, then winking, he added, "I hope she gives you a great deal of pleasure." Mr. Carlyle had the good grace to flush a little himself at the man's pointed innuendo, but he nodded curtly then handed over the money. In return, the auctioneer handed him some papers--Fancy's ownership documents, Amanda realized. Amanda was nearly faint with relief. This man--whom she now considered her knight in shining armor--had kept her from being molested by all those other men. She wanted to thank her benefactor, but the words wouldn't form, and before she could find her voice, she was being unchained from the pole, dressed again and handed over to the man--whom she realized with a sudden jolt of reality was now her master, not a knight in shining armor at all. He scanned the slave papers, then looked up as the auctioneer's helper manacled her wrists again. She was too numb to even protest, but when the helper bent to apply shackles to her ankles, Mr. Carlyle said, "That won't be necessary." His voice was deep and quiet, but the authority was unmistakable. The

helper merely shrugged and walked away, and Mr. Carlyle placed a hand under her elbow. Amanda gulped. His skin was hot, searing her skin, and his touch was commanding. She had no doubt he could easily hold her prisoner, shackles or not. He didn't speak as he led her through the gawking crowd, not until they had reached his carriage. After settling her onto the seat and climbing in himself, he finally said, "My name's Jackson Carlyle, Fancy. Most of the slaves simply call me 'Master Jack.'" "I'm very pleased to make your acquaintance," Amanda replied automatically. Obviously, he'd read Fancy's name on the papers. What was the use of correcting him? He aimed a warm smile at her, and Amanda's heart pounded. By any definition, he would be considered handsome, but he was devastating when he smiled. "You're very polite, Fancy," he said. "And your voice is quite cultured. Have you always been a house slave? Is that where your manners were refined?" The question brought Amanda back to reality--again. How could she be have been affected by this man's smile when he believed her a slave? She nearly blurted the truth, despite her vow to never do that again. Would he be different than the others and actually believe her? He had, after all, saved her from being pawed by countless men. Perhaps he was truly interested in her welfare... He bought you for his own use, her mind retorted, and Amanda blushed hotly, deciding the truth would be useless. He'd saved her for his own selfish purposes, not because he cared. "Yes...Master Jack," she finally answered, swallowing her humiliation at using the term. "I have always lived in a plantation house." That, at least, was a truth she could tell without fear of retribution. He nodded, tapped the reins against the sturdy gray gelding pulling the carriage, and then--to Amanda's great relief--they left the slave auction behind. Looking down at her shackled wrists, she couldn't help a little cry of dismay. Hearing this, Mr. Carlyle stopped the carriage again, turned to Amanda, studied her quietly for a time, then simply removed the manacles. "Thank you," she murmured, rubbing her chafed wrists. He smiled, and her traitorous heart pounded again. Slapping the reins against the gelding, he set the carriage in motion once more. "I trust that little bit of freedom won't temp you to do something foolish, Fancy," he said, raising one raven brow. The warning was given lightly, but the underlying iron was unmistakable. "No," Amanda murmured, lowering her gaze to her raw wrists. What could I do anyway on an island hundreds of miles from home? "You'll be working in the kitchen," he continued conversationally. "My cook, Mammy, needs help,"--he chuckled just the littlest bit--"though she won't admit it. I was hoping a fresh new face might encourage her to accept that help without argument." "You allow slaves to argue?" Amanda said without thinking. She had never allowed such a thing. "No...that is, not usually," he replied, slanting another devastating smile at Amanda, "but Mammy is special. She practically raised me, and I guess I'm a little softhearted where she's concerned." The smile faded abruptly, and Amanda saw the true steel beneath his handsome facade. "But don't mistake me, Fancy," he added. "I expect absolute obedience from most slaves. And that is just exactly

what I will expect from you." Amanda nodded, blinking back tears. The warning was very, very clear. Absolute obedience. Dear God. Unable to look at him anymore, she turned her head away, trying to concentrate on the bustling city they were passing through. She must familiarize herself with her surroundings, if she ever hoped to escape. But escape to where? That she didn't know. Try as she might, however, Amanda couldn't concentrate for very long on the throngs of people in their lightweight, colorful cotton clothes. Not when her thoughts kept returning to what her future with this man--her owner!--would hold. She'd directed kitchen slaves for years at Labreaux, so she knew what the work would be like. Back-breaking labor twelve to sixteen hours a day, six days a week, and half that much on Sundays. She chewed her lower lip, dismayed at the thought. Could she even survive that kind of life--the life of a slave? She wasn't sure that she could. All her life, she'd been pampered and waited upon. All her life, she'd been the one giving the orders, never the one receiving them. And, quite naturally, all her life she had expected her slaves to toil endlessly to provide her with comfort. And now she would be doing those very things for this man's comfort...and to help the woman named Mammy.

As the well-appointed carriage trundled along, approaching the outskirts of Kingston, Jackson Carlyle's mind was also filled with thoughts of the future. He had told Fancy of his plans to assign her to the kitchen, but he hadn't told her what else he fully intended doing, probably because he'd only realized it just now. There had to be a logical reason why he'd willingly paid a fortune for this particular female slave. He was a very healthy male--he'd been hard ever since seeing her lush body so provocatively displayed. Paying two thousand pounds for a lovely young bed slave was a lot easier to justify in his mind than paying that much for a mere kitchen wench. Surely that was why he'd paid so much for the girl--to put her in his bed. Glancing at her now, he bit back a groan of pure pleasure, seeing her ripe young breasts moving gently with the sway of the carriage. He wanted to bare those breasts, to suckle her nipples, to pull her beneath him and thrust home in her satiny heat. She was beautiful. There was no other word for it, and Jackson knew without a doubt he would make her his mistress. He groaned softly at the thought. Yes, his mistress. There to serve him whenever he wanted, perhaps every night...and every day. Most owners bedded their female slaves with great regularity. By and large, Jackson generally didn't, but for Fancy, he would make an exception. A very enjoyable exception. The debutantes of Kingston, the women Jackson was used to bedding--when they were willing--quite literally paled in comparison to Fancy. Her skin was golden, just dark enough to announce her mulatto heritage, but on the other hand so light that she must have had a mulatto mother, too. Technically, she was probably a quadroon, but whatever she was, he wanted her. She would have no choice about sharing his bed, of course. Jackson truly felt no guilt about that. It was

just the way things were. Slavery was as old as the Bible. He hadn't invented it, but he'd always lived within the system. It was simply there. Why shouldn't he enjoy this delightful benefit of being Fancy's owner? He couldn't fathom how such a beautiful girl had been allowed to retain her virginity for so long, since most female slaves were set to breeding by their fourteenth year, but the fact that she had always been a house slave might explain it. Her master must have been saving her for his own pleasure, and then lost interest somewhere along the way, unbelievable as that seemed. Fancy's papers indicated that she had been born and raised at a place called Labreaux Plantation until two years ago, and then she had been sold to a man named Jason Harding. Those men must have been either blind or feeble to have left her a virgin, but Jackson Carlyle had no intention of making the same mistake. He groaned softly again. He would make her his tonight.

As they left Kingston, Amanda's thoughts finally did settle on her surroundings. It was impossible not to appreciate the breathtaking beauty of the island, and she found herself admiring the countryside--the flowering plants, tall, tall palm trees, everything. All the verdant vegetation of this steamy tropical paradise. Ahead and to the right, off in the distance, she could see the peaks of mountains piercing the crystal clear blue sky, and she remembered Olivia telling her of the Blue Mountains. They were indeed blue, nearly purple, in fact, and Amanda smiled. At least the name fits, she mused wryly. At the thought of names, however, her smile died. He had called her "Fancy." And no matter what the truth really was, for all practical purposes, that was her name now, and Jackson Carlyle was her owner. In fact, he'd paid a good deal of money for the privilege--nearly a fortune. Would she truly be simply Mammy's helper...or did he have other "duties" in mind? A hot blush tinged her cheeks. Surely not, she rationalized. He probably had a pretty wife and several children. Surely he had no need of a slave in his bed. An hour later, the carriage turned into a drive. A sign on the wrought iron gates said "Carlyle Plantation." And Amanda got a whole new perspective on Jackson Carlyle. The plantation was obviously well managed, clearly quite profitable. They passed sugarcane fields, citrus, mango and banana groves and countless coconut-bearing palm trees, all of which were well tended and ripe with the promise of bountiful harvests. The familiar sight of Negro field hands tending crops was a potent reminder to Amanda of her own slaves back home, and that searing emotional knife chipped away at her soul again--but she couldn't think about that now. The farm implements in use on the plantation represented the very latest innovations in modern farming equipment, and Amanda found herself smiling wryly again. She could probably learn a thing or two about plantation management from Jackson Carlyle. On the other hand, she might be able to offer him a point or two of advice...not that he'd be interested in the opinions of a mere slave. Then the carriage rounded a curve in the drive, and the mansion came into sight--and Amanda's heart thudded in her chest. Starkly white, with graceful Grecian-style columns all across the front, the house stood three stories tall, with a wide veranda along the front and both sides. It was so typically Southern, Amanda could have been in Louisiana instead of Jamaica, except for the riotously colorful tropical plants and the palm trees, some of which stood even taller than the house. Worse of all, the mansion could have been a replica of her own home. Amanda gasped softly in dismay. Would she ever see her home again?

The carriage stopped, and Mr. Carlyle alighted, relinquishing the reins to a young boy. The child happily accepted his duty, holding the horse steady while Mr. Carlyle lifted her down, his hands possessively on her waist. Amanda shuddered, seeing the intense look on his face, fearing she understood that look only too well. Another shudder rippled down her spine, and she turned to watch the young boy leading the horse to the whitewashed stables, anything to divert her unsettling thoughts. Upon entering the stately mansion, the first thing Amanda noticed was the magnificent foyer, with its two crystal chandeliers, veined marble floor and winding staircase at the far end of the entryway. But Amanda, her elbow held in her master's firm grip, was not led to the lavishly appointed drawing room off to the left side. Nor was she invited to share afternoon tea in the sumptuous dining room they soon passed through. Amanda was not offered any of the amenities she was so accustomed to enjoying...instead being led directly to the kitchen. Mr. Carlyle pushed open the swinging kitchen door. "Mammy," he called. Almost immediately, an elderly Negress appeared, wearing a broad smile on her wrinkled face. The very first moment Amanda saw the cheerful old woman, she felt an undeniable sense of comfort. Mammy fairly exuded warmth and hospitality. Amanda breathed a sigh of relief. If this was who she was to help, the dark cloud hanging over her life might be lifting. She had no idea how to escape her slavery, but perhaps she could at least find some small measure of happiness in this ample woman's kitchen. "This is your new helper, Mammy," Jackson Carlyle said with quiet authority, "and you will accept her help." Amanda realized then that he was not going to allow the old Negress to argue with him--no matter that he'd admitted to often allowing this one slave that unusual luxury. She bit her lower lip, wondering what would happen if the woman did try to argue the point. But Mammy didn't argue at all. Instead, her frizzy gray head nodded enthusiastically. Ebony eyes bright with keen intelligence taking Amanda's measure, she summarized her acceptance with a single word. "Yes." Mr. Carlyle threw back his head and laughed. "That was easy," he finally said. "And here I thought I'd have to push you into accepting the girl, Mammy." "No, Master Jack," Mammy replied, her eyes still on Amanda, "this child will suit me just fine." He nodded, obviously happy, and Amanda could see how much he cared for the old woman. She couldn't help smiling a little herself. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Mammy," she said, meaning it. "And I'm pleased to meet you..." Mammy hesitated, and Amanda realized she needed a name. She gulped. No, no! She couldn't say it! But did she have any choice? "My name is..." Her voice cracked. This was incredibly hard--almost tacit acceptance of this horrid reality. Amanda took a deep breath and tried again. For the moment, at least, there really wasn't any choice. "My name is...Fancy." "Fancy," Mammy repeated. "What a lovely name. Perfect for such a pretty girl." She turned to Mr. Carlyle. "Isn't she lovely, Master Jack?" "Beautiful," he murmured. His dark gaze roamed Amanda's face, finally settling on her mouth. Slowly, lazily, his gaze dropped to her breasts. "Simply beautiful."

Amanda had the most intense feeling of being caressed without even being touched. Shudders ran all the way to her toes. In sudden, instinctive self-defense, she crossed both arms over her bosom. His mouth crooked up on one side, and he smiled. Amanda shuddered again. The air crackled with unspoken tension. Quite clearly, Mammy felt it, too. "My, my," she murmured. "I think Master Jack's taken a shining to you, girl." Amanda wanted to fall through the floor--or simply die of acute embarrassment. Her cheeks flooded with scarlet heat again, just as they had on the slave block. It was becoming quite obvious that she would not simply be helping Mammy. Jackson Carlyle wanted a bed slave, too. Suddenly desperate, Amanda tried to flee. She must get away! With easy strength, he merely grasped her elbow again. "I'll show you to your room now, Fancy," he said, calm steel lacing his voice. "You can learn your kitchen duties...later." Amanda blanched, then shook her head. She knew very well why he wanted to get her alone. His intent was unmistakable. Her knees felt like jelly, but if he noticed her trepidation he simply ignored it, relentlessly leading her to a small, sparsely furnished bedroom behind the kitchen. Once they were in the room, he closed the door, still holding Amanda in a firm, uncompromising grip. She tried to back away, but he wouldn't allow it. Instead he pulled her into his arms, lifted her chin and covered her mouth with his own. Amanda had never been kissed before. At the first touch of those firm, sensual lips to her soft mouth, she felt sudden unbidden sensations she had never felt before. His tongue insistently parted her lips, and she sighed, almost unwillingly, but opening her mouth to his erotic invasion. As he explored her velvety recess with darting, thrusting strokes of his tongue, his hands came up to gently cup her breasts, and Amanda gasped, instinctively arching her back. Something was happening to her--something she felt totally powerless to control. Warm tingles ran up and down her spine, and her nipples puckered tightly. The sensation was nearly painful and yet oh so very delicious at the same time. He was possessing her, claiming her, dominating her mouth with his hot, sultry kisses, drawing the rest of her body toward mindless passion with his fondling hands. Her knees felt like jelly again, but she didn't care. She was becoming lost...she was becoming his. He unbuttoned her dress, baring her breasts, and Amanda found no strength to deny him, not even when he captured a taut nipple, sucking gently. But perversely, the wholly erotic sensation of his lips tugging on her nipple abruptly brought Amanda back to reality. No gentleman would ever treat a lady like this. With a gasp of utter dismay, she backed away from him, pulling the edges of her simple cotton dress together, vigorously shaking her head and saying, "No...no," repeatedly, almost as a litany or a fervent prayer. She was a lady, not a slave! "Don't fight me, Fancy," he murmured, his voice husky, ragged with lust. Crossing to where she stood, he drew her into his arms again, ignoring her resistance. "I know you're a virgin, and I promise to be gentle. But I will have you, Fancy. In fact, I will have you tonight." "No," Amanda repeated, struggling against his embrace. "Please...no." He speared his fingers through her hair, then closed his fists to hold her captive. Tilting her head back, his lips hovering a breath from her lips, he said, "I don't know where you ever learned that saying 'no' to your master was acceptable behavior, Fancy. But whenever you say 'no' to me, I will find a better use for your sweet mouth then insolence."

And he claimed her again, plundering her mouth with a fiercely possessive, nearly punishing kiss. Desperate, fearing ravishment, Amanda redoubled her efforts, pushing against his broad, muscled chest with all her strength. She managed to break contact with his mouth, and then she screamed--loudly and shrilly--in primal reaction to her burgeoning fear. Mammy came running immediately, evidently on instinct, having heard Amanda's scream. Then she took in the sight of Amanda's unbuttoned dress, disheveled hair and swollen lips, and she nearly left the room again, clearly embarrassed for having interrupted her master's amorous pursuit. Tears of anger, fear, frustration--even unbidden desire--filled Amanda's eyes. She tried to blink them away, but Mammy saw them, and her motherly instincts evidently took over. Instead of leaving the room, she pulled Amanda into her arms, cradling her head against her shoulder--and Jackson sighed. Quite naturally, he assumed Fancy was responding to maidenly fear. Female slaves grew up knowing they might well become the master's bed mate. Fancy almost acted as though she hadn't been trained to accept that possibility, but that made no sense. No, her reluctance to obey must be simple fear of the physical act. He could understand that, but he'd promised to be gentle, and forcing her to face her fear was the best way to defeat it. Besides that, he had no intention of waiting to bed her. She would get over her maidenly fear soon enough. Assuming his most authoritative stance, Jackson raised one raven brow and glowered at his old cook. "Have her in my room at nine o'clock, Mammy," he said quite firmly. Fancy raised her head. "No," she said, just as firmly. Angered by her continued belligerence, holding her gaze, but addressing the cook, he added, "Find her something truly sinful to wear, Mammy. I believe there's a delightful French confection in the wardrobe." She actually raised her chin, then said, "Won't your wife object to my wearing her gown, master?" She'd fairly spat the title, her voice dripping with sarcasm. Even though he recognized her sarcasm as a defense against fear, Jackson was so astounded by her audacity, his jaw literally dropped open. Regaining control, his gaze turned glacial. "No, Fancy," he coolly replied. "I have no wife. The gown was left by my last bed partner...and tonight you will take her place." Then he turned on his heel and left the room, hearing Fancy's gasp of dismay but ignoring it completely--or at least trying to. By God, if she insisted on being insolent, he would have to punish her. It was as simple as that. A master must maintain absolute control over his slaves. In her first few minutes in his home, Fancy had proven extraordinarily willful, actually saying "no," not once, but many times. No slave had ever done that before in Jackson's experience. As he left the mansion by the kitchen door, his thoughts already on tasks still left to do this day, he couldn't help wondering just what kind of masters Fancy had had in the past. Surely they hadn't encouraged such disrespectful behavior. He had no way of knowing, of course, that Amanda Labreaux had never, ever had a master in her young life...until now.

CHAPTER SIX

Mammy led Amanda to the small bed, gently pushed her down, then sat beside her. "What is it, child?" she asked kindly. "Why are you so afraid?" Amanda sniffled, then wiped her hand under her nose. She knew she must look a sight, crying like she was, but Mammy's kindness had broken through her defenses, causing the flood of tears. "I'm a virgin, Mammy," she finally replied. "And I don't want to sleep with...your master." Mammy placed an arm around Amanda's shoulders, hugging her affectionately. "So that's all it is," she said, sighing in obvious relief. "You're just experiencing natural fear, child, and that fear will pass with your first mating. Don't you know it's a privilege to be asked to share the master's bed?" "He didn't ask me to share his bed, Mammy," Amanda retorted, unable to stop herself. "He told me." Mammy shrugged, and Amanda knew the older woman couldn't possibly understand her feelings. "Of course he told you to come to him, Fancy," she said. "What else would you expect? That he would ask permission to bed his own slave?" Amanda bowed her head, her humiliation so acute upon hearing that simple question--and knowing the answer as well as Mammy did--that she could no longer meet the cook's gaze. Looking down, she realized her dress was still unbuttoned, causing another rush of shame. She tried to button it again, but her fingers were shaking too badly to accomplish the task. With a whimper of defeat, she gave up--her thoughts already moving on to a more important issue than her state of undress. Mammy evidently believed her master was in the right, but Amanda knew he was not. Should she tell Mammy the truth? At least she wouldn't be beaten for telling her story to the kindly woman. It might not help, but what could it hurt? Suddenly needing very, very much to get someone to believe her, Amanda raised her eyes again and said, "My name is not really Fancy, Mammy...it's Amanda. And I'm a free white woman, not a slave." She paused for a moment, then added, "I'm a victim of kidnapping." Mammy bristled and sat up very straight. "Are you accusing Master Jack of kidnapping, girl?" Her voice was rigid with indignation, and anger. "No, no," Amanda said quickly, holding up both hands to emphasize her denial. "Your master didn't kidnap me, Mammy. My half-brother, Harold, did, along with his accomplice, Jason Harding. They drugged me, then Jason evidently sold me into slavery using the real Fancy's papers...after they both raped Fancy and Harold murdered her." She took a deep breath. Please, God, let someone believe me! But Mammy rose to her feet as fast as her massive bulk would allow. She walked straight to the door, pushed it shut, turned back to Amanda and said, "Have you any idea how much trouble you can cause yourself by lying that way, Fancy?" Amanda buried her face in her hands. Mammy's words were almost identical to Olivia's. She didn't believe her, either. "I'm not lying," she mumbled against her hands. Mammy was silent, and Amanda could almost hear her thinking. "It's because you're so light skinned, isn't it?" Mammy finally asked. "That's why you've made up this fantasy about being a free white woman. You're hoping to lie your way to freedom."

"No," Amanda replied wearily, lifting her face from her hands. "That is, yes, I do want my freedom back, Mammy. But no, my coloring is not light. It's actually a little dark...for a white woman. It's from my Cajun mother. But I'm telling you the truth." "Does Master Jack have your ownership papers?" Mammy asked shrewdly. "Of course he does," Amanda answered on a heavy sigh. "That's just the problem, Mammy. He does own a mulatto slave named Fancy, or he would if she were still alive." She raised her chin determinedly. "But his ownership of me is morally and legally wrong, since I'm not Fancy at all. I'm a kidnap victim named Amanda Labreaux." Mammy's expression closed as soon as Amanda said those words. "Master Jack is not a criminal," she said flatly. "He may be sinful--as all men are--in his desire to bed you, but he is not a thief, and he would never condone kidnapping. If you were telling the truth--which you're not--and he knew it, he would return you to your rightful home immediately." She staggered a little, causing Amanda to frown in concern, then continued in a quieter but still determined voice. "Stealing is against the Good Book, Fancy, and that's what it would be if you really were a free white woman. Master Jack would be stealing your freedom, and that is something he simply would not do." She paused again, drawing in a rasping breath, and Amanda rushed to her feet. Mammy's breathing was erratic now, her old face bathed in sweat. She was seriously ill! But she was also fiercely determined to defend her master. Evidently her loyalty to Jackson Carlyle was absolute. Despite her harsh breathing and obvious weakness, she finally rasped out, "In most ways Master Jack is a good, God-fearing man. I should know, Fancy. I raised him." "I didn't mean to upset you, Mammy," Amanda said, approaching her quickly, truly alarmed by her condition. "I just wanted someone to believe me and--" Mammy held up a hand to stop her words, shaking her gray head. "I don't want to hear any more lies, girl," she rasped hoarsely. "I have work to do, and you're supposed to be my helper. Come along, Fancy, and I'll show you what to do." Mammy reached for the doorknob, but her hand was trembling so badly, she couldn't grasp the knob. Afraid she might collapse and fall to the floor, Amanda went swiftly to her side, then grasped both her arms, hoping to steady her. "Are you all right?" "I will be," Mammy gasped out. "In just a minute." She took another harsh breath, then continued. "These spells come on whenever I get agitated. It'll pass real soon. Don't worry about it, child." "Does Master Jack know about these spells, Mammy?" Amanda questioned, resolutely leading Mammy to the narrow bed and easing her down to the straw-filled mattress, then coaxing her into a lying position and raising her feet. "No, he doesn't," Mammy answered, reluctantly accepting Amanda's help. "And no one's going to tell him about them, either," she added, her breathing returning to normal as she relaxed against the thin mattress. "He'd put me in a cabin for the rest of my days, and idleness would kill me far more quickly than these spells will." "Kill you?" Amanda whispered, falling to her knees beside the woman, shocked by that admission. "You already know these spells are killing you?"

"We all die eventually, child," Mammy replied, patting Amanda's hand. "I know the spells are killing me because they get a little worse each time I have one. But I'm not ready to go to my reward just yet, so stop looking so worried. I'll rest for a few minutes, but then we need to get to work." "You're not going to work any more today, Mammy," Amanda said firmly, using the tone of voice she'd always used when dealing with her own slaves. "I will do your work today. Just tell me what to do." Mammy looked at her quizzically. "I'd almost swear you were telling the truth when you talk like that, Fancy," she said, frowning. "You sound just like a slave owner, instead of a slave." "Yes...well, we'll talk about that later, Mammy," Amanda temporized. If her "lies" were going to upset Mammy, she just wouldn't mention them again. Not when they could hurry the poor old woman to her grave. Mammy was the only bright spot so far in this nightmare, and Amanda needed her. In fact, they needed each other. Amanda felt a surge of emotion. Yes, they needed each other. Mammy's eyelids were getting heavy; she was falling asleep. "Just a few minutes of rest, Fancy," she mumbled. Then, with forced determination, she added, "Don't tell him, Fancy. Don't tell Master Jack I'm sick." "I won't," Amanda promised, pulling a sheet up to Mammy's chin. "I won't tell him a thing." "Thank you, child," she murmured. Seconds later, she was snoring peacefully. Amanda watched her for a few minutes, making sure her breathing was normal, then rose to her feet and went out to the kitchen. She'd directed kitchen slaves in her life at Labreaux, of course, but she'd never actually worked in a kitchen before. Mammy hadn't told her what needed to be done before falling asleep, but Amanda had two eyes and two fully capable hands. She was determined to figure out what Mammy would do...then do it for her. With one hand on each hip, she looked around the large, airy room. The action of putting her arms akimbo caused her dress to gap, since it was still unbuttoned, and Amanda felt a telltale blush rise in her cheeks again. Jackson Carlyle had opened her dress, and--for a few moments at least--she had responded to his passion. And tonight he would take her virginity. Feelings of shame, humiliation--even desire, remembering his kisses--rushed through Amanda's mind, but she pushed the thoughts aside. It would do absolutely no good to think about that situation right now, and there was work to be done. Buttoning her dress, Amanda set herself to the task of dealing with Mammy's kitchen. Looking at the clock on the fireplace mantel, she realized supper should be served in less than two hours. How many people did Mammy usually feed? She'd only seen this one room, except for passing through the others, so Amanda could only guess how many household slaves were fed from this kitchen. Judging by her own experience at Labreaux Plantation, she decided to prepare a meal that would easily feed twelve to fifteen people, but could stretch to feed twenty if need be. At Labreaux, there were two chambermaids for each story of the house, equaling six; two kitchen helpers and a cook; a butler and an assistant butler. Not to mention the stable hands and the gardeners. All those people were served their meals in the slaves' dining room at Labreaux. Did this house have a similar place for feeding slaves? Intending to find out, Amanda walked to the back of the kitchen, opened the first door she came to, and

found herself looking down a flight of stairs, apparently leading to the lowest level of the house. Thinking that level would be a likely place for housing slaves, Amanda descended the stairs. She entered a large room, dimly lit by small windows high on the wall, finding a scarred oak dining table with benches, as well as two dormitory-style bedrooms beyond the eating area. She'd found the house slaves' quarters. Satisfied with her discovery, Amanda returned to the kitchen, quite certain her estimated number of mouths to feed had been correct. Then she went to the back yard, in search of a chicken coop. Finding the coop easily enough, Amanda picked out several likely "victims," then simply wrung their necks--feeling quite proud of herself for not retching while doing the hideous task. Heading back toward the kitchen again, she was determined to pluck the birds, clean them and gut them, then prepare her own cook's specialty--fried chicken.

Jackson came out of the stables just as Fancy was wringing the necks of several chickens. He ducked behind the stable door, wanting to watch her without being seen. He stifled a laugh at the expression on her lovely face while she killed the chickens, then saw her give a nod of approval--as if of herself--before returning, dead chickens in hand, to the kitchen. Coming out from his hiding place, Jackson frowned as a thought occurred to him. Fancy had looked for all the world like she'd never wrung a chicken's neck before. Then he shrugged and headed for the house. He had a great deal of paperwork to do, and wondering about the little mulatto's kitchen experience wouldn't get it done. Neither would thinking about tonight, but he seriously doubted he could push those thoughts from his mind. At least Fancy seemed to have gotten over her fear. Mammy'd probably had a motherly talk with her. Jackson smiled at the thought. He'd wanted Mammy to accept help--and she had--but she might have just repaid the favor by helping him in return. If she'd been able to ease Fancy's virginal fears, tonight's coupling would be far more enjoyable--for master and slave alike. Jackson knew the sensual benefits of giving as well as receiving, and he fully intended giving Fancy incredible pleasure. Once the deflowering was accomplished, he had no doubt the pretty little slave would become a warm and willing mistress, happily accepting the nights spent in his bed. Anticipation tightened his loins, and Jackson smiled. It had been a long time since he'd looked forward to a bedding this much. Keeping his mind on paperwork would be difficult, indeed. He gave no further thought to Fancy's obvious but incongruous lack of experience at wringing a chicken's neck. Amanda made it...just in time. As the clock on the mantel chimed the dinner hour, she was just taking hot, fluffy biscuits from the wood stove's oven. The lard-fried chicken was ready, the carrots she'd picked from the kitchen garden steamed to perfection. Amanda hadn't realized how much she'd actually learned about cooking while directing others. She'd done a creditable job of preparing a meal, and she felt enormous pride in the accomplishment. Hearing a sound behind her, she turned and saw Mammy coming into the room. She looked well rested and refreshed, and Amanda smiled. "Feeling better?"

Mammy nodded, her eyes widening with surprise at the fully-prepared meal laid out on the work table. "You did all this by yourself?" "Yes," Amanda replied, suddenly self-conscious. "Did I do something wrong?" "No, child," Mammy quickly assured her. "You did fine, just fine." Amanda murmured her thanks, more pleased than she thought she'd ever be to receive a compliment from a slave. My God, how arrogant can I be? she admonished herself. Then, quite suddenly, a huge piece of Amanda's soul chipped free and fell away. She was being reshaped, sculpted. For the first time in her life, Amanda Labreaux asked herself painful questions--questions about her life-long belief in the institution of slavery. Was it right for one race to enslave another? Was is right to feel superior to an entire civilization? It had been that way for hundreds of years, and yet... "We'd best get this food down to the dining hall," Mammy said, interrupting Amanda's thoughts. She lifted a heavy platter and walked toward the stairs. "Wait, Mammy!" Amanda declared, seeing what she was doing. "I don't think you should be climbing stairs after your spell this afternoon." Mammy gave her a baleful gaze. "Don't start coddling me, girl. I'm not doddering yet...at least not all the time." Amanda nodded, hearing the fierce pride in the old woman's voice. "Very well," she acquiesced, "but I will carry the heavy platters. Agreed?" Mammy nodded, too...reluctantly. "Agreed," she said.

Before very long, sharing the work, Mammy and Amanda had every household slave fed and happy...or perhaps satisfied would be a better term, since Amanda was beginning to wonder how anyone could be truly happy while enslaved. She'd never wondered about a slave's happiness before this nightmare began, but as she helped Mammy serve that meal--as she met fifteen people who had absolutely no choice about being where they were--Amanda's thoughts kept returning to her soul-searching questions. Was the very institution of slavery wrong? Were the beliefs she'd held all her life completely in error? Amanda had no answers to those questions--at least not yet--but she knew one thing very, very well. She had changed during these past weeks, weeks where she had seen the squalor of a slave ship and known Olivia, and she'd most especially changed during these last few hours, helping Mammy. Amanda's entire belief system was shifting. And she knew she'd be doing a great deal more soul searching while living this new reality--her own enslavement. She had a feeling she'd be searching for herself.

CHAPTER SEVEN

The clock on the mantel chimed eight times just as Amanda sank down wearily into a kitchen chair. Her arms were sore from lifting and carrying, her back ached, and her knees felt jittery from climbing stairs. But she was happy, she realized. Exhausted, but happy. How can that be? she asked herself. How can I be happy when I'm a slave? Wasn't I just realizing that no one could be truly happy while enslaved? And then she knew the answer to at least that question, if not the others. She was happy because she'd helped Mammy. She'd helped another human being in the way she'd needed it most. It didn't matter that Mammy was a slave--her supposed inferior. She was a human being in need of assistance, and Amanda had come to her aid. She smiled, placing both hands at the small of her back, slowly easing cramped muscles. It felt good, really good, to have helped so much. She'd never even considered doing such a thing for a slave before, but-"You'll be needing a bath before nine o'clock, Fancy." Amanda heard Mammy's words, spoken from behind her, and all her happy thoughts abruptly vanished. She'd forgotten about nine o'clock--and what the hour would bring. Slowly turning around to face Mammy, she felt an all-too-familiar blush of shame. Apparently Mammy had been to her master's wardrobe, because she was holding a nightgown, if one could call it that. More like a diaphanous, lace-trimmed piece of nothing, really. "Master Jack left orders, Fancy," Mammy persisted quietly. "The bath is ready for you now." Amanda slowly rose to her feet and nodded, feeling the sudden calmness of inevitability. What was the use of arguing? She took the nightgown from Mammy's hand, then left the kitchen without a word, too lost in her own thoughts to realize that bathing in the master's tub was considered just as much a privilege as sharing his bed.

The bathing room was luxurious. Amanda was sorely tempted to lie there in the perfumed water for hours on end...far longer than nine o'clock. Then, abruptly realizing that Jackson Carlyle probably wanted a bath, too, Amanda sat up arrow straight, sloshing water onto the floor. He could come into this very room at any moment. Quickly leaving the huge tub, she dried herself on a soft towel, then slipped the truly sinful nightgown over her head. The house slave who'd directed Amanda to this bathing room had also shown her which room belonged to the master. Amanda literally ran across the hall to that door, hoping against hope that no one--absolutely no one!--would see her near nakedness. Upon entering the room, she gratefully closed the door behind her and leaned back against it, catching

her breath. Thankful to find herself alone, she ventured a look around Jackson Carlyle's sumptuous bedroom. It was a purely masculine domain, with massive mahogany furniture, including an incredibly large four-poster bed, heavy velvet drapes of deep burgundy and--Amanda's eyes widened in surprise--sheets so smooth and glossy, they must be made of silk. She'd never seen such a thing before, and curiosity overcame her fear. Crossing to the turned-down bed, she sat down on the edge and brushed her hand over the satiny, soothing material. It felt heavenly. With a soft sigh of pure delight, Amanda lay down upon the bed full length, just to feel more of that wonderful material against her nearly naked body. The nightgown was so thin, she might as well not be wearing anything at all, so the sensation of silkiness easily filtered through to her tender skin. How wonderful it would be to sleep on sheets like these every night! And how different they felt from the rough cotton sheets on her own bed in the small room behind the kitchen. The thought of having to spend the rest of her nights sleeping in that tiny room brought Amanda's happy reverie to a screeching halt. She stood up from the sumptuous bed as if it were on fire, not realizing how long she had been lying there until she heard a clock chime nine times. Nine o'clock. Oh my God. My time is up. Those disturbing thoughts ran through Amanda's feverish brain just as she heard the door latch click open. There was no where to run, nothing she could do, and Amanda found herself standing stock still in the middle of the room--her master's bedroom--wearing nothing but a sinfully low cut, tantalizingly sheer nightgown. And in another moment, she would no longer be alone. In another moment, Jackson Carlyle would open the door and enter his room--fully intending to enter her body, as well. Amanda stood there, frozen to the spot, as the door slowly opened and he did indeed come into the room. Apparently fresh from his own bath, he was wearing a midnight blue dressing gown, loosely belted at his lean waist, and Amanda shuddered. Between the robe's edges, she could see his strong chest. He was naked beneath the dressing gown. He didn't see her at first. He was walking blindly, arms raised, vigorously drying his hair on a towel. Then he lowered the towel, saw her, and stopped dead in his tracks. His chest expanded on a slowly indrawn breath, his dark eyes becoming intent, completely focused on her. Amanda swallowed hard. His gaze devoured her from head to toe, taking in the lacy French nightgown, which barely covered her breasts, then moving slowly down to the visible dark hair at the juncture of her thighs. Reacting instinctively to such bold masculine perusal, her nipples peaked, and he smiled. Amanda shuddered again. "Turn around, Fancy," he demanded huskily. "Slowly." Amanda blushed crimson. She could feel it. The moment of truth had arrived--or more correctly the moment of no one believing her truth. With his demand, she felt like she was on the slave block again. Slowly, reluctantly, she obeyed the command, turning and displaying herself for her owner. Dear God, how she hated that thought! And yet, save escaping, there was nothing she could do about it. Absolutely nothing. For all intents and purposes, she was the mulatto slave, Fancy. Turned away from him now, she felt his hands on her buttocks through the gauzy, sheer material. The

heat in her face doubled. Then he lifted the nightgown and caressed her bare bottom, and her breath came in on a gasp of dismay. If he heard her distress, he ignored it, lifting the gown higher, clearly wanting to remove it altogether. "Raise your arms, Fancy," he said. Amanda complied. What else could she do? The beating by Captain Davis had taught her what happened to troublemakers, and fighting wouldn't change a thing. In a matter of moments, she was completely nude. She heard a rustle of material, and closed her eyes tightly. He was removing his robe. She felt something hard and warm, throbbing with urgent life, pressed against her bare buttocks, and her throat went dry. His hands came around to cup her breasts, his fingers and thumbs toying with her nipples, and Amanda bit her lower lip, trying not to cry out, trying not to beg him to stop. This is what female slaves suffer at Labreaux, she lamented, biting her lip even harder at the thought. I've been a slave owner all my life, but until these past weeks I never understood the horror, the absolute helplessness of being one. The words of her dinner guest suddenly came back to haunt her. The day before this nightmare began, Mrs. Leverton had said that Amanda's opinion about slavery might change if she herself ever experienced it, and now Amanda knew Mrs. Leverton was right. Absolutely, irrevocably right. That's what had caused her to change during these past weeks, and especially today, Amanda realized. She was no longer the privileged slave owner; now she was the slave. And in that moment, her soul's reshaping became complete. The institution of slavery was hideously, grievously wrong, for master and slave alike. "Turn around again, Fancy," her own master said then. "I want to see all of you." Amanda obeyed, her thoughts so troubled, the action was automatic. But as she turned and saw the passion blazing in his dark eyes, her feeling of shame returned, and she lowered her gaze. That was a mistake. His fully aroused manhood was directly in her line of vision, deeply veined, pulsing...threatening. My God, she thought, he'll tear me apart! "Get in the bed, Fancy," he quietly commanded, raising her chin and kissing her gently. "I want to make love to you now." Amanda shook her head--her first small act of defiance. The sight of his naked arousal had truly frightened her, and she could not, simply could not, obey his command. "Get in the bed, Fancy," he quietly repeated. "Now." Amanda heard the authority underlying his softly-spoken words, but her feet felt glued to the floor. And her throat was far too dry to speak. She shook her head again. He stood there for a moment, studying her, then muttered a quiet oath and simply scooped her up in his muscled arms, carried her to the four poster, then laid her down again. Amanda scooted to the far side of the bed, her eyes widened with fear. I can't do this. I just can't!

He couldn't hear her fearful thoughts, but he followed her, easily pinning her to the bed with his large frame. "Quit fighting me, Fancy," he said. His voice was soft, but utterly commanding, and Amanda nodded, still too frightened to speak, but knowing from experience that a slave must obey. She'd expected no less from her slaves, why should Jackson Carlyle be any different? "That's better," he said. "Much better." His powerful chest pressed against her naked breasts, and Amanda felt his manhood lengthen even more. She wriggled helplessly, and he groaned, then bent to kiss her. But at the last moment, he pulled back and simply gazed into her eyes, a slight frown of puzzlement puckering his brow. "Your eyes are so blue," he said, "almost sapphire. I've never seen a mulatto with blue eyes before, Fancy. You are a unique treasure." Before Amanda could even think of answering, he slanted his mouth over hers, kissing her deeply. His tongue forced her soft lips apart, then explored her velvety depths with expert thoroughness. He cupped her breasts, tugging at her nipples, groaning with obvious pleasure when the small pink buds tightened under his touch. Just as she had been earlier, Amanda was lost to the sensual power of his fiercely demanding kiss, and she gasped in helpless pleasure as he fondled her breasts. Then his hand moved down her body, and he touched her in the most intimate place. Amanda clamped her thighs together as a pure reaction to fear. "Spread your thighs, Fancy." Amanda shook her head once more, and she heard him sigh. "I'm trying to be patient with you, Fancy," he said. "But I cannot tolerate disobedience in a slave. Open your thighs." That stark reminder of the very things Amanda had been thinking about shocked her into compliance. She'd never tolerated disobedience in a slave; why should he? No owner tolerated disobedience. Slaves were merely property, possessions, lowly chattel who must above all obey every command given them. And that was the worst thing about slavery--forcing fellow human beings into utter subjugation. Slowly, knowing she had no choice, Amanda parted her thighs. She felt him touch her again, then shut her eyes, awaiting the inevitable painful thrust. But there was no pain, at least not yet. His fingers began stroking her intimately, exploring her femininity with a gentle, knowing touch--and Amanda responded instinctively, moaning softly and arching her hips against his hand. She didn't want to respond to his seduction, but her body had a mind of it's own now. Soon her fear was completely gone, replaced by a deep yearning she did not fully understand. Then his rigid sex pressed against her moist entrance, and her fear came back in a rush. He's too big! She wanted to shout the words, but her throat constricted--and then there was no time. He thrust into her, breaching her maidenhead with a mercifully quick, powerful stroke. The pain was instantaneous. My God, he is tearing me apart! she thought on a desperate gasp. But he had prepared her quite thoroughly, and her body soon accepted his length. The pain was still there, but it was bearable, and her breathing evened out. His strokes were deep and rhythmic for a time, his murmured words of reassurance strangely soothing. Then he muttered something dark and unintelligible, stiffened and groaned

with pleasure. Amanda felt jetting, pulsing wetness all the way to her womb...and she cried. She had become his whore. "I'm sorry, Fancy," he said then, withdrawing and rolling to the side. "I know I hurt you. I didn't mean to, but you're very small. It will be better the next time, I promise." That was the last thing Amanda needed to hear. Curling into a ball, she turned her face to the pillow and cried tears of bitter remorse. He was very quiet for a few minutes. She finally heard him leave the bed. Soon returning, he said, "Turn over, Fancy. Let me help your pain." Amanda obeyed, too lost in misery to care what he might do to her now. But when she felt him part her thighs again, then felt a cool, moist cloth pressed to her womanhood, her breath came in on a gasp. "Please don't," she whispered. He ignored her, continuing his gentle ministrations. "I'm sorry I hurt you," he repeated. Finishing the task, he lay down beside her again, pulling her into a gentle but firm embrace. "It won't be like that the next time, Fancy," he reminded her. "Virginal pain is a one-time ordeal. The next time it won't hurt. I really do promise you that." Amanda burst into tears. "Is that why you're crying?" he asked, and she heard the surprise in his voice. "Because I'm going to make love to you again?" Amanda nodded against his chest. Obviously, no other slave had ever objected to his lovemaking. Leaning back, she looked directly into his eyes. "I don't want to be your whore." He brushed her tears away with the pad of his thumb, then bent to kiss her. "You're my mistress, Fancy, not a whore. There's a difference." "Is there?" Amanda returned. "Is there really, Jackson?" He stiffened at her use of his given name, then said, "When we're in this room, Fancy, I will allow you to be informal. But in front of others, you must address me with proper respect. Do you understand?" "You mean I must call you master," Amanda murmured. Of course he does, her mind affirmed. Didn't my slaves always address me as mistress? "At the very least, 'sir,'" Jackson answered. Amanda nodded. That, at least, she could do without feeling such awful humiliation. She'd addressed men as sir all her life, through simple politeness. But he had not answered her question yet. "What is the difference between a whore and a mistress, Jackson?" she asked again. "A whore serves the pleasure of many men; a mistress serves only one man." Amanda bristled and tried to pull free of his embrace. "And should I be grateful for that distinction, master?" she asked sarcastically. What difference did it make now how many men she served? Her virginity was gone. She was irreparably ruined. Jackson propped himself up on one elbow and simply looked at her for a time. "Your former masters must have been very lenient with you, Fancy," he finally said. "You speak your mind like a free woman,

instead of a slave." Amanda lay back on the pillow and stared up at the ceiling. Should she tell him the truth? She'd tried to tell Mammy--which had brought on that awful spell--but Mammy had no power to hurt her. Would Jackson believe her, or would he beat her, like Captain Davis had? Maybe it was worth the risk. Mammy had said Jackson Carlyle would never condone kidnapping... "I speak that way because I'm not a slave," she finally answered, turning to face him again. "At least I wasn't until a few weeks ago." Jackson sat up, pulling her with him. Grasping her shoulders, he said, "What nonsense is this? I have your papers, woman. You've been a slave all your life. A man named Jason Harding was your last owner. Why are you lying to me?" "I'm not lying," Amanda gasped out, wincing from the strength of his grip. "Jason Harding is my half-brother's friend. They killed the real Fancy and sold me into slavery using her identity." "I cannot abide lies," he thundered, raising his hand, clearly intent on striking her. Amanda shut her eyes, awaiting the blow. It was worth the risk, she told herself. He might have believed her... Two crystal tears slid down her cheeks. But the blow never fell, and Amanda finally opened her eyes again. He had the strangest look on his face, and he was lowering his hand, slowly, almost as if he didn't understand his own actions. Then, taking a deep, obviously calming breath, he said, "Tell me the whole story, Fancy...from the beginning." Amanda felt a new glimmer of hope. Pulling the sheet up to cover her nakedness, she told Jackson Carlyle the entire story. But when she was done, he merely shook his head. "Fancy," he said quietly, "your story is implausible. For one thing," he touched his index finger, "your so-called half-brother would have to be insane to commit such a crime. For another," he touched a second finger, "this Jason Harding would be just as guilty, and no man is that greedy. And for a third," he counted yet again, "surely no one would believe that a dead slave with a mutilated face was really this Amanda Labreaux you claim to be." He patted her hand. "I'm sorry, Fancy. I can understand a slave's wish for freedom, but no one would believe that story. I certainly don't." Amanda's shoulders slumped in defeat. "It was worth a try," she whispered, her heart breaking. He didn't believe her, either. But Jackson wasn't quite finished yet. "Now that we've cleared up this nonsense, I don't want to hear about it again," he said quite firmly. "No more lies, Fancy. If you tell another lie, you will be punished. Do you understand?" Drowning in a sea of hopelessness, Amanda said, "Yes, master." Her voice was flat, lifeless. "I understand." "Good," Jackson replied. He reached out and eased the satiny sheet down to Amanda's waist. "Are you less sore now?" Shocked out of her listlessness, Amanda gasped. He was cupping her bared breasts now, his thumbs stroking her nipples. "You mean you want to...again...now?"

"Of course, my little mistress," he murmured, lowering her to the bed. His mouth closed on her nipple, sucking strongly, and Amanda arched her back, moaning, her traitorous body responding to the wholly erotic sensation. "My appetites are quite healthy, Fancy," he continued as her mind whirled. "I'll need your sweet body more than once each time I call you to my bed." His fingers trailed down her soft belly, then moved into her tangled pubic curls, and Amanda moaned again, already moistening, becoming receptive. "Open for me," he demanded, his voice a husky whisper. "Open your thighs, little mistress. This time you'll feel only pleasure...no pain." Physically, he was probably right. But even as Amanda obeyed his demand, even as she accepted his ardent caresses, felt him drawing unwilling responses from her trembling, quivering body and then felt him enter her with no discomfort--just as he'd promised--she felt a different kind of pain. The pain of regret...remorse. Not so much because she was a slave now, but because she had owned so many slaves herself in the past. And as Jackson used her body a second time, Amanda Labreaux made a vow. She had come to an important crossroads in her life--and she had made a decision. I will escape, she vowed silently. Tomorrow, somehow, I'll find a way back to Kingston. I'll stow away on a ship, and I will go home. And when I get there, I will defeat Harold. Surely, after what my half-brother has done, he will be forced to relinquish his share of our inheritance. And then I'll do two more things. Two very important things. I will free all the slaves at Labreaux, then sell the plantation. If I've learned anything--anything at all--from this nightmare, it's that slavery is an abominable institution. Just like the Northerners say. Just like Mrs. Leverton said. My body is no longer my own; it belongs to Jackson now. But my mind is still my own. And with my mind, I can escape. With my mind, I will succeed. Fiercely determined now, Amanda didn't protest--didn't even say a word--when Jackson rolled to her side again, turned down the bedside lamp, then pulled her up against him with one arm possessively draped over her body, caressing her bare breast even as he fell asleep. Tomorrow, she promised herself. Tomorrow I will be free again.

CHAPTER EIGHT

In what seemed like the middle of the night, Amanda heard a soft knock on Jackson's bedroom door, followed by Mammy's muffled voice. "Fancy? It's time to get up, child." Amanda groaned almost silently, not wanting to awaken Jackson, but knowing she had no choice but to arise at this ungodly hour, even though she'd had precious little sleep during the night. Jackson still had his arm draped possessively around her body, and Amanda eased out of his embrace as carefully as possible, then left the bed and padded across the thick carpet in her bare feet.

By the time she got to the door, she'd remembered a very important fact. She was still completely nude--and she had left her one simple dress beside the tub. Opening the door just a crack, she whispered, "Mammy, can you get my dress? I left it in the bathing room." Mammy's dark eyes held a definite question, and Amanda suspected what it was. The concerned older woman wanted to know if Amanda was over her fear, now that she'd been deflowered, but Amanda had no desire to say anything about last night's ordeal, not even to Mammy. The second mating--and the third--had been completely free of pain; she'd even felt something indescribable, seemingly unattainable, low in her belly. But no amount of tenderness or seduction could change her sense of humiliation. No, she didn't want to talk about it. Tomorrow I will be free again. Those words of the night before replayed themselves in Amanda's mind, and she steeled her determination as she waited for Mammy. The quicker she got on with her day, the quicker she could devise an escape plan...and carry it out. Mammy returned shortly, handing Amanda the only article of clothing she had to her name--save for the leather slippers she'd been wearing that fateful day of her kidnapping. Dressing quickly and slipping on her shoes, Amanda thankfully left Jackson's bedroom, hoping she would never have to return there again. It wasn't really the middle of the night, Amanda soon discovered. The mantel clock in the kitchen read five a.m. Close enough to the middle of the night, though, since Amanda had very seldom left her bed at Labreaux before eight or nine o'clock. But that very fact helped her determination grow. It was one thing for farmers to rise with the roosters, since farming was their chosen life. But forcing people to arise at such a hideous hour just to see to their master's comfort was a truly repugnant practice to Amanda now. Preparation for the morning meal was simple enough, consisting of thick oatmeal and leftover biscuits for the house slaves, and then--hours later, of course--fresh eggs, newly-baked biscuits, coffee, squeezed orange juice and breakfast steaks for Jackson. Mammy was a little winded by the time the breakfast work was done, so Amanda was the one to serve Jackson his sumptuous meal. Delectable aromas wafting up from the tray set Amanda's stomach to growling as she pushed open the swinging dining room door. Like Mammy, she'd only partaken of the normal slave's fare, and that had been hours earlier. Amanda didn't want to see Jackson this morning, or any other time for that matter, but just as she'd had no choice about sharing his bed, she had no choice about serving him.

Jackson looked up from his newspaper as Fancy walked into the dining room, carrying a heavy tray laden down with food. He felt an incredible urge to get up and help her with the burden, but quickly pushed the thought aside. If he treated Fancy differently than the other slaves--except when they were in bed together--it would only cause friction in the household. And that would be no better for Fancy than it would be for him.

She'd tied back her dark hair with a scarf, and her face was flushed from the hot kitchen, but to Jackson, Fancy was still utterly alluring this morning, so completely feminine he felt another kind of urge as she lowered the impossibly heavy tray to the dining table. He'd had her three times last night, and yet he would gladly take her again right now--if his day wasn't already fully planned, with no room for amorous diversions. He would be spending the entire day with Bull Smith, his overseer, checking the condition of various crops. He wouldn't be back before dark. But tonight...ah, tonight. Tonight he would see her luscious curves again--devoid of that simple beige dress. Tonight he would kiss her generous, sweet lips and suckle her firm young breasts. And, most importantly, tonight he would experience again the sheer erotic joy of thrusting into her silky, moist femininity, driving into her until he exploded with sexual bliss. And there was one more thing Jackson wanted to do tonight. He wanted to give Fancy ecstasy, too. Last night had been painful for her the first time, which he truly regretted, but then apparently far less than satisfying the second time, and even the third. Tonight he was going to use every sexual skill he possessed, relentlessly if necessary, until she, too, experienced ultimate bliss. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth with those thoughts, and he said, "Good morning, Fancy," as she poured his coffee, hoping she would return his smile. "Good morning, sir," she dutifully replied, then looked quickly away. Jackson's smile faded as he realized she had no intention of returning his smile, but he still wanted to draw her out, to see her blue eyes sparkle before he had to go about his own work. "Did you sleep well, Fancy?" he asked pleasantly, never suspecting that that was the last thing he should have asked her. Amanda stiffened. Was he making fun of her now? she wondered. How could she have slept well? He himself had awakened her from a deep, dreamless sleep that third time, and she'd never achieved blissful oblivion again. Then she realized something which tempered her burgeoning anger. Jackson had fallen asleep again within minutes of satisfying his lust, so he truly wasn't aware that she'd simply lain there in his arms as quietly as possible for the rest of the night. His words were not meant as intentional ridicule. And she realized something else. No matter how much she wanted to deny it, Jackson Carlyle was an exceedingly handsome man. He was dressed in riding attire this morning. A soft cotton shirt strained across his broad shoulders, and tight breeches hugged his long, muscular legs. His riding boots were knee high, made of leather so supple she wondered how they stayed upright on his legs, and the collar of his shirt was open, framing a small tuft of his dark, curling chest hair. Amanda felt her face heat, remembering that hair brushing against her taut nipples last night. No! she screamed silently, desperately wanting to stop that thought. She had not enjoyed his lovemaking. Not at all. It had been painful, humiliating, devastating. She'd hated every moment of it...hadn't she? Her blush deepened. Of course she had. In any case, it didn't matter because she was leaving today--somehow. She would never have to feel his weight pressing against hers again, would never have to submit to his erotic kisses, would never have to-"Fancy, aren't you going to answer my question?" Jackson persisted. "Yes, of course," Amanda murmured quickly, grateful for the interruption to her painfully confusing thoughts. She took a deep breath. "I slept as well as could be expected, sir."

Jackson frowned. "Are you terribly sore this morning?" "No," Amanda admitted, touched by his obvious concern. "I just couldn't get back to sleep after..." She bowed her head, embarrassed. "Ah, I see," she heard him say. Then, "Would you like some coffee?" Amanda very nearly did smile with that offer. How she did love coffee! But the thought of having one precious cup of her master's coffee--when she'd enjoyed a custom blend each and every morning at Labreaux Plantation-quickly quelled any possibility of smiling. "No thank you, sir," she finally replied, then bent to pick up the serving tray. "Sit down, Fancy," he said with firm authority. "Have a cup of coffee with me." Her pride pricked, she said sarcastically, "Is that a command, master?" "Yes." Amanda plopped down in a dining chair and glowered at Jackson, not caring if he would consider her behavior "insolent." She might have to obey him, but, by God, she didn't have to like it! Jackson watched her, hiding a smile. He was breaking his own rule, he realized, by asking her to have coffee with him--treating her differently than the other slaves--but he didn't care. There was such fire in her, such spirit! He wanted to see her smile--really smile--in genuine happiness. Ignoring her glowering expression, he said, "Would you like me to pour?" "Yes, please," Amanda replied politely, and Jackson reached for an extra cup from the cabinet behind him, then poured two cups of the rich, aromatic brew. He added two teaspoons of sugar to each, and handed one to Fancy. "To your health," he said, lifting his cup. Amanda took the first sip of coffee she'd had in weeks, and sighed in contentment. She took another sip. This was dangerous, she realized, watching Jackson across the table. He was being so damned pleasant, it was becoming hard to maintain her emotional distance. And she needed that distance. It was her best defense against his undeniable sensuality. But she still didn't smile, not knowing, of course, how disappointed Jackson was by that fact. Finally, setting down her cup, she said, "I have finished the coffee. May I be excused now, sir?" He sighed heavily, a reaction she didn't understand. "Yes, Fancy, you may go," he said. Amanda hesitated, wondering at his sudden dejection, but then she shrugged and rose from the table. "Thank you, sir," she said, picking up the breakfast tray. He nodded, his face somber, and Amanda felt the strangest urge to tell him goodbye. Mammy had told her he would be out on the plantation for the rest of the day, which was perfect for Amanda. With any luck, by the time he returned, she would be long gone. For a fleeting moment, she thought she might miss him, then she shook the thought aside. How could she miss the man who had so cruelly taken her virginity? But he hadn't really been cruel, just...determined.

Leaving the dining room, she shook her head again. It didn't matter. She must escape. She must be free.

Over the next several hours, Amanda learned a great deal more about the life of a slave. She scrubbed pots until her fingers were raw, scoured the kitchen floor on hands and knees, cleaned out the wood stove and refilled it, then weeded the vegetable garden until she was quite certain her fingernails would be permanently imbedded with dirt--all of which was accomplished just in time to begin preparing the noon meal. And when she realized that all these chores would have to be done again tomorrow, she very nearly cried--which gave her added motivation to escape. The only consolation of the back-breaking work was being so helpful to Mammy, and that was also Amanda's single regret. Mammy was such a wonderful, kind soul. Amanda knew she would sorely miss the old cook. If only there were some way to free her, too! After the noontime meal, once the clean up work had been done, the customary two-hour rest period began, for every slave on the plantation. This was a practical consideration more than anything else. Working in the mid-day tropical sun could cause more harm than good--slaves dead from heat prostration were useless. But on that particular day, rest was the farthest thing from Amanda's mind. She had devised a plan. First, she would need a horse. With the entire plantation resting, going to the stables proved no problem at all. She found ample fine horseflesh, as well as suitable equipment, and she tried very hard not to think of the punishment for horse theft. In Louisiana--and probably in Jamaica, as well--a slave caught stealing a horse would be hung. Amanda's throat went dry. She must not be caught! Of course, a runaway slave, horse thief or not, faced the same sentence...if the owner decided to carry it out. Publicly hanging an incorrigible slave could bring the rest of the poor chattel to heel. Amanda had seen it done in Louisiana more than once. Her throat constricted a little more. Even knowing all that, Amanda felt she had no choice. Hands trembling, she picked out a gentle, middle-aged gelding--one she hoped would not be missed--then bridled and saddled him, soon leading him to a thick stand of trees well behind the mansion. No one stopped her. Even the stable boys were in their quarters, resting. She had no idea what she would do if the horse was discovered, but she needed to leave him in those trees until very nearly dusk. Sneaking back into the house, Amanda checked on Mammy. She was sleeping soundly in her own room--and Amanda breathed a sigh of relief. Now she could think about the second part of her plan...stowing away on a merchant ship, hopefully one destined for New Orleans, or anywhere else in the United States. Most ships set sail with the morning tide, but some set out at night. She was hoping against hope that she could find one of those--that way she might be safely at sea long before Jackson discovered her missing. And she truly hoped the stolen horse wouldn't be missed until she was long gone. Once safely away from Jamaica, Amanda intended to come out of hiding, then make arrangements to pay for her passage at the end of the trip. She did have a considerable bank account in New Orleans,

after all. She could offer double--even triple--the going rate to a cooperative captain. Memories of Captain Davis suddenly intruded, and Amanda felt fear clutching her heart again. Was he still in Kingston? Other than Jackson, he was about the only man in Jamaica who would recognize her as Fancy...but she certainly wouldn't stow away on a slave ship. Surely she had nothing to fear from him.

Tropical sunsets are incredibly beautiful but amazingly fast. Amanda was trying to say goodbye to Mammy--without telling the woman anything of her plans--and by the time she'd thanked her for being so kind and hugged her affectionately, it was very nearly dark. Jackson could return at any moment. Amanda hurriedly finished her goodbyes, tucked Mammy into bed for an early night's sleep, then snuck out the kitchen door. Heart pounding, she made her way to the trees, a rising tropical moon lighting the way. Her only hope of success was that she didn't look like a runaway slave. If she passed anyone on her way to Kingston, they should have no reason to stop her. The placid gelding was still there--thank God! Amanda mounted without hesitation, then stayed close to the tree line for as long as possible, finally taking off at a full gallop when she reached the main road, not slowing until she was well away from Carlyle Plantation. The trip into Kingston was so uneventful, Amanda felt her confidence soar. She passed a few people, but they merely smiled and nodded, and Amanda returned the gesture. Luckily, soft cotton clothing was not unusual wearing apparel in Jamaica. By the time she reached the bustling town, her heartbeat had returned to normal. No one had followed her. She was free! Her plan was working perfectly. As she made her way to the harbor, she decided to leave the gelding somewhere it would be easily found, and returned to Jackson. She had no intention of truly being a horse thief; she had simply borrowed the animal out of necessity. Now all she need do was find sanctuary on a merchant vessel. Unfortunately, finding a ship proved to be much harder than Amanda had thought. She snuck aboard three different vessels...and three times she was found and immediately put ashore. Amanda's simple clothing didn't bother the captains, but her lack of ready funds certainly did. Money was the deciding factor every time. Although she told all three men who she was and that she would gladly pay her passage after the voyage, none were terribly impressed with her claim. Discouraged, Amanda retrieved the placid gelding and began walking down a thoroughfare about a block from the harbor. She was seriously considering riding back to Carlyle Plantation until she could think of a better plan. This one obviously wasn't working. She only hoped she could sneak back on the plantation as easily as she had snuck off it. With all her heart, she didn't want to go back there, but with no money, what else could she do? There really wasn't any choice-Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a meaty fist grabbed hold of Amanda's shoulder from behind. She gasped with pain from the brutal grip. Then she was spun around...to face Captain Davis. "What are you doing here, girl?" he growled. "I...I'm...on an errand for my...m-master," Amanda stammered, desperately groping for a plausible excuse. Dear God, it was just as she'd feared earlier! Captain Davis had caught her!

His hold on her arm tightened. "Sure you are, Fancy," he sneered. "Jackson Carlyle always sends pretty little slaves out in the middle of the night...on horseback." Amanda paled. The horse really was damning evidence. And he knew Jackson! He even knew she'd been sold to him... Deciding her only hope was to convince the captain of her true identity, she said, "I know you didn't believe my story on the ship, Captain, but I was telling the truth! I am not the mulatto slave called Fancy. That women is dead, and Jason Harding witnessed her murder. Jason's the one who was lying to you, Captain, not me!" His grip became so cruel, she whimpered with pain. "Lies!" he bellowed, "Filthy lies!" "No...no!" Amanda gasped. "They're not lies. Please, believe me!" "Useless wench!" He grabbed the gelding's reins from Amanda's hand, then began dragging her along beside him. "What are you doing?" Amanda cried. "Where are you taking me?" His reply was curt. "I'm returning you to Jackson Carlyle." Desperate, knowing what could happen to a runaway slave, Amanda pulled back so hard, she forced Captain Davis to stop. "Let me go, Captain...please!" she begged, looking down at his strong, immovable arm. His face implacable, he shook his head. Amanda sucked in a ragged breath, trying to calm herself. "Please, Captain, listen to me," she said shakily. "Just let me go and pretend you never saw me. I was going back anyway...I promise to go back. You're right, I was trying to escape, but my plan failed. Please...just let me go back on my own!" He laughed mirthlessly. "I wasn't born yesterday, wench. Once a runaway, always a runaway." He shook her roughly. "I'm taking you back, Fancy. That's what the law requires, and you might even be worth a reward. Whatever punishment you're given, it's no more than you deserve." He began pulling her toward the harbor again. Numb, nearly in shock, Amanda followed docilely. Within a short time they reached the captain's ship. He bellowed for a seamen to bring a set of chains, and despite Amanda's whimpered pleas, she soon found herself shackled hand and foot, lying in the back of a wagon. And as they left the Kingston docks, the gentle gelding trailing behind the wagon, Amanda wondered what would become of her now. By rights, Jackson Carlyle could take her life. Would he do that? Would that be the ultimate end of this nightmare? She shivered, icy fear clutching her heart. Dear God, I'm not ready to die!

CHAPTER NINE

By the time Captain Davis turned into Carlyle Plantation, Jackson had already started a search for his missing slave. One of his horses was missing too--which made the crime even worse--so when he saw a vehicle trundling into the stable yard, the gentle gelding trailing behind, Jackson knew exactly what he would find in the back of that wagon. His anger knew no bounds. Reaching the stables just as a familiar sea captain was lifting Fancy to the ground and removing her chains, Jackson called over two nearby field hands. "Take her to my room," he ordered, glaring directly at Fancy, "then stay there with her." The field hands immediately grasped her by both arms. Jackson could see the fear in her sapphire eyes--so much fear she could barely catch a breath--and it suddenly occurred to him that she was afraid for her life. He nearly shook his head, nearly reassured her, then decided against it. Death would not be her punishment, but a healthy dose of fear would do no harm. He turned to the seaman as soon as Fancy was led away. "Captain Davis, isn't it?" The man nodded. "Thank you for returning her, sir. I appreciate the effort you went to on my behalf." He reached into his wallet and pulled out a generous reward. "Just doing my civic duty, Mr. Carlyle," Captain Davis replied, smiling, glad to accept the money. "We can't have the little wench running free and telling lies now, can we?" Jackson was putting his wallet away, but his head snapped up upon hearing that comment. "What did she tell you?" he ground out. Had she lied again, even after being warned? "Just the same story she told me on the ship, or rather, I should say tried to tell me before I gave her the good beating she deserved. She tells that lie to everyone she meets, according to the man who sold her to me." Jackson's lurid curse colored the tropical night. Quickly bidding the captain farewell, he picked up a riding crop and headed straight for his room. His anger had lessened by the time he reached the bedroom, but his determination had grown. He opened the door, then closed it behind him again. He'd warned Fancy not to lie anymore, but she had, and she'd become a runaway slave--as well as a horse thief. Now he would have to punish her. He regretted that, but actions demanded consequences. As a master, he had no choice. The two field hands still held her in a tight grip. "Strip her," he said with quiet authority. "Strip her and lay her face down on the bed." Amanda felt all color drain from her face. She'd seen the riding crop in Jackson's hand. That was the very instrument of punishment she feared the most; the same weapon she herself had once used on a slave. Numb with fear--would she be beaten, then hung?--she didn't even fight the two men as they pulled off her dress and then pushed her down on the bed, holding her securely by the arms and legs. "When you've been here for a while, Fancy," she heard Jackson say, "you will learn that I very seldom resort to whipping slaves." He paused, and Amanda's heart pounded. "However," he finally continued, "you were warned not to lie again, but you did, telling Captain Davis your ludicrous story. Even worse, you stole a horse and ran away. Do you know what I could do as a result of those crimes?" Amanda said nothing. She couldn't; her heart was in her throat.

"Answer me, woman," he demanded. "What is a common punishment for horse thieves or runaway slaves?" "Death," she finally whispered. "Yes," he replied, then paused again. "I truly regret what I must do now, Fancy...but you will have to agree that being whipped is far better than dying." Amanda choked back a sob and nodded. She did agree. At least her life had been spared. If only her escape had been successful! If only she'd been able to stow away on a ship, like she'd intended...she might even now be sailing away from this damnable island. She might be on her way home-An ear-shattering scream rent the air. Vaguely, Amanda realized it had been wrenched from her own throat, as the riding crop came in contact with her bare buttocks. The pain was bone deep and as hot as fire. My God! she thought, when she could think at all, is this what that one slave felt when I used a crop? This horrid, burning, searing pain? How could I have been so cruel? Maybe this beating is God's punishment for my own past! Lost in guilt, she didn't even realize the beating had already ended. But Jackson had heard that piercing scream, and his hand had stopped in mid-air, before the second blow could land. He'd intended applying three strokes as just punishment, but Fancy's fierce cry had stayed his hand. It was as if she'd never been punished before, as if she'd never in her life been whipped. That was ridiculous, of course...but he couldn't strike her again. Her anguished scream had felt like a mule kick to his gut. He threw down the riding crop, cursing his own weakness. "Leave us," he told the field hands curtly. They immediately obeyed. Perhaps he couldn't punish her physically...but emotional punishment was often just as effective. Thumbing open the buttons on his pants, he said, "Turn over, Fancy." She raised her head and looked at him over her shoulder. When she saw what he was doing, her eyes widened. "You wouldn't," she said, incredulous. "Not after...not after what you just--", "You are a slave, Fancy, a runaway slave, nothing more than a wench to be used for my pleasure." He opened his fly completely, freeing himself. Her eyes widened even more, and her lower lip trembled. Jackson felt a second mule kick to his gut, and he hesitated. Then, firming his resolve, he said, "Turn over, woman. I'm going to use you right now." Still on her belly, she simply stared at him, as if she couldn't believe he was actually serious. Jackson bent and picked up the riding crop. "Do I have to repeat myself, Fancy?" "No," she whispered, her eyes on the whip. "I will obey you." She rolled to her back, wincing. Jackson swallowed hard. He dropped the crop again, then joined her on the bed. Hooking his elbows under her knees, he pushed her thighs apart until she was completely open to him, entirely vulnerable. Intending to show her just whose property she was, he guided himself to her entrance...but then he cursed.

He couldn't do it. Her femininity was fever dry, probably from fear, without a hint of preparatory moisture. If he took her this way, the act would be devastatingly brutal. He simply could not intentionally cause her that kind of pain. Rising from the bed with jerky motions, he readjusted his clothes, then pushed a hand through his hair. Had he become an utter weakling? Perhaps, but he could do no more. The punishment was over. Cursing softly, he crossed to the dresser, then rummaged through the top drawer. Going back to the bed, he said, "Turn over again, Fancy." "Why?" she asked, obviously confused by his behavior. Then a shudder ran through her entire body. "Are you going to whip me again?" A jaw muscle twitched in Jackson's cheek. "No," he said gruffly. "The punishment is finished. I simply want to treat your welt." He held up a glass jar, filled with salve. Shocked, Amanda complied, again reminded of her own past. She certainly hadn't offered salve to the woman she'd whipped that one time. She'd never even thought of such a thing. The punishment is finished, Jackson had said. It had been a far more lenient punishment than Amanda had expected. He'd even backed down from his threatened rape. Amanda felt humbled. And ashamed. Jackson had shown her far more mercy--and for a far worse crime--than she had shown her own house slave. Then, as he applied the soothing balm to her single welt, Amanda's determination began growing again. There was only one way to make up for her own past mistakes--she must, simply must, free Labreaux's slaves. Her first escape attempt had failed, but her second would not. She'd at least learned that it could be done--with proper preparation. She would bide her time and devise a better plan, watching for opportunities. And then, eventually, she would indeed escape--not only for her own sake, but for the sake of others. Amanda smiled to herself as Jackson completed his ministrations. Many things were beyond her control at the moment, but she had one thing no one could take from her: A purpose. And that gave her hope.

The next morning, Amanda arose from her bed at five a.m. again, just as Mammy had done for most of her life, and she helped her with all the kitchen chores, just as she had for the past two days. The work was exhausting, of course, but the company was congenial. Amanda soon learned everything there was to know about Mammy, since the old woman simply loved to talk, and she also soon learned more than she really wanted to know about Jackson Carlyle. He was thirty-two years old, and he'd been running this plantation since his father passed away ten years ago. Since his mother had died when he was only five, Mammy had quite literally raised him. She'd been

his nursemaid from the day he was born, because her own seventh baby had died at birth and there was no use wasting good breast milk. Then, after the young Mrs. Carlyle's passing, Mammy had happily assumed the maternal role. At this point in the story she took a deep breath, and Amanda smiled. Mammy loved Jackson a great deal. That was very apparent, and Amanda knew she could never tell the old cook about her escape plans. No matter how much she liked Amanda, Mammy would undoubtedly report those plans to Jackson. Her loyalty to him was absolute. The one redeeming factor to Amanda's continuing slavery was that she could still help her friend. Mammy had an extremely sharp mind, but it was all too apparent to Amanda that the old woman was indeed dying. Mammy couldn't do chores without stopping in between to rest, and her breathing was often erratic. Hard physical labor was simply out of the question. Amanda wondered how Jackson could have missed all these obvious signs of imminent bodily failure, but she had promised Mammy not to tell him about her condition. She would keep her word. Despite her desire to help Mammy, by the time the mid-day meal was ready to serve, Amanda was looking forward to the afternoon rest period with weary gratitude. The house slaves would eat a simple, nutritious meal consisting of cornbread and chicken stew, while Jackson would feast on thick, juicy steaks, garden vegetables and crusty, oven-fresh bread smothered in butter, all of which would be topped off with hearty red wine...oh, and several slices of pound cake for dessert. His appetite for food was nearly as healthy as his appetite for sex, Amanda thought wryly, looking down at the laden tray. But at least he'd left her alone last night. She had spent the night in her own little bed. She had no desire to serve him another meal, but knowing she had no choice, she simply lifted the tray, firmed her chin and pushed open the dining room door. She carried out the task with as much dignity as possible, flatly refusing his offer of coffee and silently daring him to force the issue--which he did not--then, once the kitchen was spotless again, she sighed with relief, collapsing on her bed. Her tired body needed this two-hour rest period, and Amanda intended taking full advantage of the time. She was just drifting off to sleep when the door to her room opened...and Jackson came in, closing the door behind him. Amanda bristled at the utter lack of privacy--he hadn't even knocked!--but then she shrugged resignedly. Until she escaped, there was nothing she could do about these deplorable conditions, and she was simply too tired to fight. "What is it, Jackson?" she asked wearily. "I really would like to rest for a while." Jackson raised a single brow at her insolent tone, but then he frowned. She looked utterly fatigued. Why? he wondered. She had admitted to being a house slave, and yet the work seemed too hard for her. The Jamaican climate wasn't really that different from Louisiana's, so it couldn't be just the heat that had sapped her strength--and she certainly hadn't been a master's spoiled, pampered lover, since Jackson himself had taken her virginity. So why wasn't Fancy used to hard work? Determined to solve the mystery, he sat down on the bed. Reaching out, he pushed dark tendrils of hair off her flushed cheeks, then bent to kiss her very gently. "Tell me about your life with Jason Harding, Fancy," he said, sitting up again. "What did you do in his home?" She looked surprised, even shocked by his question, and she didn't answer at first. Was this really such a difficult issue? He couldn't know, of course, that she'd never done anything in Jason Harding's home; she'd never even been there. "Answer me, Fancy," he persisted, with just a touch of impatience. "When I you ask a question, I expect

an immediate answer." "Jason Harding was not a very kind...master," she finally said. "Could I tell you about Labreaux Plantation instead? I was much happier there." "Very well," Jackson conceded. "Tell me about the place where you were raised." She did. Over the next half hour, Jackson heard everything he could possibly want to know about Labreaux Plantation. And by the end of the conversation, he was more confused than ever. For a house slave, Fancy had an amazingly good grasp of plantation management. Some of the things she'd described could only be learned by actually running a large farming estate. That, of course, was ridiculous. Not only was Fancy a slave, but she was a woman. And women, in Jackson's experience, knew next to nothing about business. The flirtatious debutantes of his social set were far more interested in other things--like catching a husband. She was exceedingly clever, he finally decided. In her work, she must have overheard the conversations of many planters, and she'd obviously absorbed some knowledge. He was actually quite pleased with the discovery, since he admired quick intelligence. Nodding, that rationalization easing his mind, he patted her hip. "Turn over, Fancy," he said. She actually smiled. "You say that so often, Jackson. Is it your favorite phrase?" Jackson smiled with her. She seemed much more relaxed right now, having talked about her childhood home. And he'd finally gotten her to smile--purely by accident. Her smile was delightful; generous pink lips curved upward, sapphire eyes sparkling with merriment. He wanted to kiss her again, wanted to do far more than that, in fact. But he'd come to this room for a purpose, and that should be taken care of first. Reaching into his coat pocket, he produced the same jar of salve he'd used the night before. "I don't know if that's my favorite phrase, Fancy," he said, "but having you turn over is why I came into this room. I want to treat your welt again." "You really don't have to do that," she said, blushing. "It's much better now--nearly healed, in fact." "I'll be the judge of that." Heaving a sigh of resignation, she rolled over and then shifted positions until she was bending over the bed. "Will this suffice, master?" she asked, and Jackson knew her sarcasm was a defense against embarrassment. He decided to ignore that small defiance. "Very nicely," he said. She was blushing all the way to her rounded, bare bottom by the time he lifted her simple cotton dress, exposing the welt--and Jackson felt his heart pound. He swallowed hard and very deliberately opened the jar, scooped out some salve, then smoothed it over the thin red stripe, which did indeed look much better today. But even while he continued his gentle ministrations, he wondered why he was doing this...again. Out of guilt? No, not guilt. He'd been perfectly right to punish Fancy after what she'd done. Was it affection, then? That was certainly a possibility. A man should feel affection for his mistress...even if she wasn't very

happy about being his mistress. Yet. Then Fancy shifted her knees, unconsciously spreading her thighs, and Jackson's thoughts abruptly changed from affection to something far more primitive and elemental. She stretched just a little--as if to ease her lower back--and her soft, round bottom arched enticingly. Jackson's throat went dry. He set the jar of salve on the floor, then caressed the shadowy cleft between her buttocks...once, twice, his fingers moving ever closer to her dewy pink core. She stiffened, immediately trying to rise from the ignoble but provocative position. Jackson placed a large hand against her back and held her down. "Lie still," he demanded huskily, knowing just exactly what he was finally going to do as he kneed her thighs farther apart. "You have yet to experience a woman's full pleasure, Fancy...and I'm going to give you that pleasure right now." "No," she whispered. "Please...no." But Jackson was already doing it, already exploring her softness, bringing fresh dew to the dusky pink petals. "Please...stop." He heard her repeated plea. Clearly, she did not want to respond to this seduction...but he didn't stop. Couldn't stop. Not now. "Hush, little mistress," he said instead. "Relax and enjoy it." Then her breath broke on a groan of raw pleasure, and Jackson smiled. This was what he'd wanted her to feel. He slipped a finger into her softly quivering sheath, and she arched against his hand, moaning. Breathlessly, almost against her will, she said, "Yes, Jackson...oh, yes!" He slipped a second finger into her moistening depths, gently moving in and out, his fingers becoming slick and wet. Fancy moaned again. She was nearly there, Jackson knew, and his fingers moved a little faster, a little deeper. Her satiny sheath tightened perceptibly with the soft tremors of impending climax. Then he touched her tiny, swollen nubbin...and she convulsed fiercely with ecstasy, crying out with sexual joy. "Now, Jackson...now," she gasped, panting. She was defenseless, he realized, riding the crest of unbearable pleasure. As he watched, she arched more deeply and spread her thighs wide...instinctively, primitively...needing him. "Come into me now, Jackson...please," she rasped. He ripped two buttons loose in his haste. Finally freeing himself, he entered her quickly, deeply, burying himself in the continuing convulsions of her fierce release. "Yesss..." he hissed as she clamped around him so tightly he nearly spilled his seed. "Oh, yes." But he was determined to take her there a second time. Forcing restraint, he took her with slow, deep thrusts, pulling out nearly all the way, then driving back in to the hilt. He placed one hand on each of her buttocks, then watched his slick manhood sliding into her again...and again. The sight was purely erotic, and he bit back a groan, knowing she was nearing that wondrous pinnacle again. He wouldn't take his release until she'd achieved hers, he vowed. This was what he'd wanted to give her...incredible ecstasy. And then she came, violently, literally screaming with pleasure. Jackson roared, too, his own culmination pulsing out, filling her...and in that instant Amanda heard the door fly open as Mammy rushed into the room, responding instinctively to her scream, just as she had once before.

Horrid, vivid reality came crashing back in on Amanda. She knew the picture she presented--a helpless slave, bent over a bed, impaled by her master--and hot shame flooded her cheeks, bitter tears blurring her vision. Mammy very quietly closed the door again, too discreet to say even one word, but Amanda thought she might die of humiliation. She almost wanted to die. Oh God! She felt Jackson quickly withdraw from her body, then pull her dress back down. He seemed embarrassed himself, but nothing mattered to Amanda. Nothing would help. For several moments there were no sounds in the small room, save their shared harsh breathing. "I'm sorry, Fancy," he finally said. "I didn't know she would--" Amanda sobbed brokenly. "Just leave, Jackson," she whispered, cutting off his apology. "Please...just leave." He hesitated, then patted her back rather awkwardly and quietly left the room. Amanda stayed just as he'd left her--on her knees--for the longest time. It could have been hours...it could have been days. She didn't know and she didn't care. She felt embarrassed, mortified, humiliated...but she felt something even worse. She felt completely fulfilled, utterly satiated. No matter how often she told herself she hated what Jackson had just done, she knew she was lying. And that was the most humiliating thing of all. She had loved what he'd done, had loved being used by her master...by the man who already owned her body and perhaps was now moving in on owning her soul. That's what it had been, after all. Soul-deep pleasure. Wanton pleasure. Surely the kind of pleasure only a whore would enjoy. But Amanda Labreaux wasn't a whore...was she? She just didn't know anymore.

CHAPTER TEN

Amanda didn't see Jackson even once for the next several days, but she knew he was somewhere on the plantation because he was still taking his meals in the dining room. Mammy was serving those meals now, and Amanda didn't know if that was Mammy's decision or Jackson's, but she was glad she didn't have to face him--not after what had happened in her room. The very next day after that embarrassing, troubling experience, Mammy'd handed Amanda a package, saying it was from Master Jack. Upon opening the brown paper parcel, Amanda couldn't help smiling. He had bought her three more simple beige cotton dresses, identical to the one she already owned, but he had bought something else, too. There were also three pairs of serviceable cotton pantalets in the parcel, and Amanda realized then that he was trying to lift her spirits, to ease her feelings of humiliation. Apparently, he'd realized how embarrassed she'd been by her lack of underwear.

All of which made her like him a little for showing such consideration...and since she didn't want to like him at all, that only made her more determined than ever to escape. Her days were busy, full of work that should have allowed her to fall into exhausted sleep, but Amanda's nights had been fitful. Each time she fell asleep, she would dream of the erotic pleasure Jackson had given her, and she would awaken suddenly, nipples erect, womanhood swollen, aching and empty--silently wishing him in hell at least three times a night. A proper lady never would have enjoyed what he'd done, and Amanda Labreaux had been a proper, gently-bred Southern lady...until she'd met him. Now she was nothing but her master's wanton whore. With that thought, Amanda uttered a small whimper of dismay, and Mammy immediately noticed the sound. "What's troubling you, child?" she asked kindly, leaning over to pat Amanda's hand. They were in the kitchen--of course--peeling an incredibly large pile of potatoes for the evening meal. Amanda set down her paring knife and placed her hand over Mammy's. "It's nothing," she lied, not wanting to burden her friend. "I'm just a little tired today." Nodding, Mammy resumed her peeling chores. "Being tired, that I can understand," she said. "Are you tired today, too?" Amanda asked, frowning. Mammy did look more fatigued than usual. The older woman shrugged. "A little," she admitted, then added, "I worry about you a lot, Fancy. It makes it hard to sleep." Amanda was surprised. "You worry about me, Mammy? Why?" Looking up from her work, Mammy searched Amanda's face for a time, then finally said, "I worry that you'll try to run away again." Amanda chewed her lower lip, knowing she would have to lie. "I'll never do that again, Mammy," she said, hoping she sounded sincere. "I was just...upset...about that first night, and I behaved very foolishly." Mammy held Amanda's gaze unwaveringly, shrewdness crystal clear in those ebony eyes, and then she sighed. "I'm not sure I believe you, Fancy, but I can only hope you learned your lesson. Considering what you did, Master Jack was very lenient." Amanda could only agree with that. A runaway slave at Labreaux Plantation would be lucky to have an ounce of skin left on his back after Harold got through with him, if he even survived the punishment. But that very thought reaffirmed Amanda's determination to defeat her half-brother, and she could only do that by escaping. Deciding she'd better change the subject, feeling very uncomfortable lying to this woman who was her only friend, Amanda said, "What are your plans for this mountain of potatoes, Mammy?" "Soup," Mammy replied, smiling. "Potato soup is one of my favorite meals, and the others like it--" Mammy's words abruptly halted as she suddenly went rigid and began gasping for air. She tried to talk, but couldn't, and stark terror filled her eyes. Her dark lips turned pale, then blue, and before Amanda could do anything at all, Mammy slumped over in her chair, then fell heavily to the floor. "Oh my God!" Amanda cried, immediately falling to her knees beside the stricken woman. "Mammy, what's wrong?" There was no answer; she was as still as death.

"I've got to find Jackson!" Amanda cried out again, desperate, surging back to her feet...but before she could reach the dining room door, she heard Mammy whisper "no." Amanda spun around, quickly returning to the old cook's side. She knelt again, confused, but realizing the spell must already be passing. Determination fueling her words, she said, "Mammy, I must tell him about these spells. You lost consciousness this time, for God's sake! You need a doctor." "No," Mammy repeated, a little stronger this time. "Just help me get into bed." She took a harsh breath. "I'll rest for a while, and then I'll be as good as new." Amanda felt torn between her friend's wishes and what she knew was right. She decided on compromise. "I'll help you get into bed, Mammy, but if you're not fully recovered by morning, I'm going to tell Jackson about these spells." "Don't be so disrespectful, child," Mammy admonished as Amanda helped her to a sitting position. "I'll tell Master Jack about these spells, then," Amanda corrected, frustrated that Mammy should care about his damned name at a time like this. "That's better," Mammy said, rising to her knees. "Just help me get to my feet, Fancy. I think I can walk on my own." She couldn't, though. She was far too weak, and Amanda helped her all the way to her room behind the kitchen, and into bed. After settling her comfortably and watching her ease into sleep, Amanda returned to the kitchen. Arms akimbo, looking at the huge pile of potatoes on the work table, she muttered, "I only hope I can figure out how to make potato soup."

The Jamaican sun beating down on her blond head, Elizabeth Carrington slapped the reins against the horse's back again, hoping to get the dull-witted animal to pull the carriage a little faster. The damn heat was wilting her stylish hairstyle, and she would simply die of embarrassment if she should actually perspire before reaching Carlyle Plantation. She knew it had been foolhardy to decide on impulse to pay Jackson a visit, but he had been ignoring her for days and days, and Elizabeth wasn't used to being treated that way. Especially not by her latest lover. Patting her blond curls and licking her dry lips, she hoped she would still look sensually pleasing to Jackson when she finally got to his home. They'd been having a delightfully torrid affair for weeks...until he simply quit coming to call several days ago. Needless to say, Elizabeth was just a little miffed. "Finally," she breathed, fanning herself, as she pulled the carriage to a halt in front of Jackson's house. "Now I might find out why that man has had the audacity to ignore me." A young groom came from the stables upon seeing Elizabeth's carriage, and before very long she was being greeted at the front door by the intimidating bulk of Jackson's butler, Toby. "I've come to see Mr. Carlyle," Elizabeth said haughtily. "Find him for me immediately, boy."

"Yes ma'am," Toby replied, pulling the door wide and gesturing Elizabeth inside. "If you'll just wait in the drawing room, I'll fetch Master Jack." Elizabeth settled herself on a delicate settee, tugging down the bodice of her watered silk gown, revealing more bosom. Jackson was especially fond of her generous breasts. Her nipples hardened, and she squirmed deliciously. What she really needed was a good dose of cock. Hopefully, Jackson would be in the mood for some hot afternoon bed play...but she must remember to play the innocent with him. The poor fool believed he'd been her first, and only, lover. Ha! That was about as far from the truth as a lie could get, but Elizabeth chose her lovers very, very carefully--only sleeping with men known for absolute discretion, like Jackson Carlyle. When she eventually tired of him and went on to another man, her virginal reputation would still be intact. She smiled. Men were so easily fooled. "Elizabeth, how nice to see you again," Jackson said politely, coming into the drawing room. Elizabeth rose to her feet, then sauntered toward him, hips intentionally swaying. "Yes, it is nice to see me again, isn't it, Jackson?" she cooed. He seemed untouched, and she frowned. "What brings you out in the heat of the day?" he asked, but his words were merely polite, even though he lifted her hand and kissed it. Elizabeth pouted, not liking how this was going at all. "I came because I've missed you," she said, her voice sulky. "Why have you been ignoring me, love?" Jackson wondered the same thing. Why had he been ignoring her? Then the obvious answer occurred to him. Fancy. He'd completely forgotten Elizabeth because of the sweet mulatto slave. Fancy had been so upset by their last encounter that he'd purposely stayed away from her for several days now, but even with that forced celibacy he hadn't given a single thought to Elizabeth Carrington. "I've just been busy, Elizabeth," he finally answered, kissing her cheek. "Please accept my apology." She stiffened, obviously not satisfied with that explanation. "Are you sure you've just been busy, Jackson?" she asked, her tone decidedly catty, "or did you find another innocent girl to seduce?" Yes, I did, he almost said, since that was exactly the truth--except that Elizabeth was anything but innocent, as he well knew--but undoubtedly that explanation would suit her no better, so he said instead, "Of course not, my dear. Would you care for some refreshments?" "Coffee would be nice," Elizabeth replied. "And perhaps some supper later and then a little...dessert?" Jackson caught her innuendo. But--amazingly-he felt absolutely no desire to bed the woman again. Elizabeth's feigned act of virginity the first time he'd taken her had been so patently false, he'd nearly laughed. But, following society's ridiculous gentlemen's creed, he'd held his tongue and allowed her falsehood to stand. An image of Fancy came into his mind--a true innocent, a sweet virgin with no knowledge of men before him; so unlike the lying tart standing before him now. Suddenly wanting to rid himself of Elizabeth as quickly as possible, Jackson walked to the bell pull and summoned Toby. Surely Fancy had gotten over her embarrassment by now. He needed her back in his bed.

Exceedingly tall and dressed in severe black, the butler came into the room. "We'll be needing some coffee, Toby," Jackson told him, "and a few of Mammy's delicious tea cakes." "Yes sir, Master Jack." Toby headed for the kitchen.

Amanda stirred the contents of the large pot, nodding her approval. It certainly looked like potato soup, and it tasted like it, too. She had indeed figured out the recipe. Now all she lacked was baking the cornbread and boiling some green beans, and this meal would be perfection itself-"Except that I forgot all about Jackson's supper!" she said aloud, snapping her fingers, but then she shrugged. "I guess the master will just have to be satisfied with a slave's meal...at least for one night." "Are you talkin' to yourself, Fancy?" Amanda heard that booming voice, turned and smiled broadly at the tall, tall man. She truly liked Jackson's butler. Huge, hulking and incredibly strong, Toby was nevertheless a very likable fellow. "I guess I was talking to myself," she admitted, laughing. "Can I help you with something, Toby?" "Yes'm" Toby replied. "Master Jack wants coffee for two in the drawing room. And some of Mammy's tea cakes." Amanda chewed her lower lip. Mammy was still sleeping, which meant she couldn't possibly serve refreshments to Jackson and his guest. Amanda would have to do it herself. How she hated that idea! She didn't want to see him... "Are you all right, Fancy?" Toby asked, and Amanda realized she was frowning. "Yes, yes, just fine, Toby," she answered, forcing a smile, but her thoughts were already moving on to making coffee and setting out tea cakes. If she must do this task, she wanted it over with as quickly as possible. "I'll see to the refreshments," she assured him. "Will you tell Master Jack they'll be ready in just a few minutes?" "Sure, Fancy," Toby agreed. Then, almost hesitantly, he added, "He's entertainin' Miss Elizabeth." He ducked his head, and Amanda thought he actually blushed. "Chances are, she'll be staying the night," he continued, talking to the floor. "So I guess she'll be needin' supper. I sure hope you can stretch Master Jack's supper to feed two." And with that message delivered, Toby left the kitchen. Amanda watched the dining room door swing shut behind him, and she nibbled her lip again. "How do I stretch nothing?" she muttered. "I can't very well serve a slave's meal to Jackson's guest. What would Mammy do?" She gave the soup two or three more stirs, then shrugged her slender shoulders again. "I guess I'll just have to kill more chickens," she said. Then, with a sudden realization, she smiled. If Jackson's guest was staying the night, then he already had a mistress for his bed--and Amanda would be free of his attentions for at least another day. Free of his attentions, and free of her traitorous body's reaction to him.

A short time later, arms aching, Amanda made her way to the drawing room, carrying a heavily-laden tray. Toby opened the doors, and she took a deep breath, then walked into the room where the last person she wanted to see on this earth was waiting for her to serve him. Seated together on the rose brocade settee, Jackson and his guest both turned as Amanda came into the room. Amanda tried not to look at Jackson, but she couldn't resist...and she caught the look of pure, raw hunger on his handsome face. Apparently, his blond lady friend saw it too. Her eyes narrowed in anger. Amanda's arms were literally trembling by the time she reached the mahogany serving table. Gratefully, she set down the heavy tray. She didn't dare look at Jackson again, but his masculinity was nearly tangible--his undeniable virility, and the scents of leather, musk and man. Her senses traitorous, her hands still shaking, Amanda poured two cups of steaming coffee from the silver urn, added sugar, and then finally turned to look at him. "Will that be all, sir?" she asked politely, hoping against hope that he and Miss Elizabeth wouldn't need anything else. Jackson didn't answer at first. He had been watching the sweet slave as she crossed the room, watching the graceful sway of her delightful, round bottom--remembering the feel of her buttocks in his hands as his manhood slid in and out of her slick, satiny heat--watching the gentle bounce of her breasts beneath her dress. And he'd watched her soft lips form the question she'd just asked--but for the life of him, he couldn't remember what it was. God, she was beautiful. And he wanted her now. She was just standing there, awaiting his answer, looking pale and fragile and like she'd rather be anywhere else but here. But there was a smoldering sensuality beneath that fragile, innocent surface, and Jackson knew it. Like an animal sensing its mate, he could even smell it. Yes, her feminine scent...clean, fresh, womanly. Wonderful. And then he saw it--the moment her body betrayed her, the moment she began responding to his heated gaze. Her nipples peaked, her cheeks flooded with color, and her hips undulated just the littlest bit. Even her scent changed. Ah yes, her scent was seeking now...seeking him, needing satisfaction. He wanted to ravish her on the spot, to devour her whole, and she knew it. Her lips trembled, parted...and she moaned. It was an utterly helpless sound. "Is this why you've been ignoring me, Jackson?" The screeching, jarring voice of Elizabeth Carrington abruptly broke the spell, as she jumped up from the settee in a swirl of silk and petticoats. "Have you been bedding this little slut instead of seeing me?" Jackson tore his gaze from Fancy and turned a cool stare on his former lover. "What did you just say, Elizabeth?" he asked quietly. "What did you call her?" Jackson saw her realize her mistake. Obviously wanting to make up for it, she sauntered to him and placed a small, well manicured hand on each lapel of his frock coat, then toyed with his silk cravat. "I was just commenting on this slave's obvious sexual experience," she said, her voice placating. "I know men have certain...needs...and that they often use female slaves to see to those...needs." She produced a well-practiced blush before continuing. "But, Jackson, ever since you took my innocence, I naturally assumed that you would be faithful to me. That's all I meant by what I said." Suddenly very tired of the strumpet's lies, Jackson said, "Your innocence, Elizabeth?" He raised a single brow. "What innocence?" She looked shocked at the question, but continued her act anyway. "Why, Jackson, you should know," she murmured, lowering her eyes as if embarrassed. "You were the one who...took it."

He'd had enough. Sighing, he said, "My dear Elizabeth, have you any idea how easy it is for a man to know if a woman is virginal...or not?" She stiffened and raised her chin. "What are you saying?" "I'm saying you're a liar, Elizabeth," he answered quite calmly. "I seriously doubt you've had an intact maidenhead since you reached puberty." Caught, Elizabeth dropped the act. "At least I'm not a sluttish little slave who spreads her thighs to gain favors from the master," she hissed venomously. "How do you pay your whore, Jackson? Do you give her extra food or maybe let her sleep at the foot of your nice, soft bed like a favored pet?" He slapped her then. Good and hard. "There is only one slut in this room, Elizabeth," he growled. "And she is leaving right now." He didn't even bother with the bell pull, simply bellowed for Toby. "Yes sir, Master Jack?" Toby calmly responded, immediately coming into the room. "See Miss Elizabeth to the door," Jackson said tersely, his eyes still on the harlot. "And see that she never comes into my home again." Elizabeth put a hand up to her stinging cheek. She looked at Fancy, obvious hate in her eyes, then looked back at Jackson. "You'll regret this someday," she promised, her voice shaking with anger. "You may be satisfied with your whore right now, but someday you will regret not having me in your bed." "The only thing I regret, Elizabeth," Jackson replied, quite calmly, "is ever having met you." And with that, Jackson signaled Toby, who gently but firmly took hold of Elizabeth's arm, then led her away. Fancy hadn't moved an inch during the entire episode, Jackson realized, and she certainly hadn't defended herself, but he could see the pain in her sapphire eyes. She'd told him that first night that she didn't want to be his "whore," and she'd apparently taken Elizabeth's cruel words to heart. He swallowed hard. Even he had said she was merely a wench for his pleasure while punishing her. Now he regretted those words. Wanting to comfort her--needing to comfort her--he opened his arms. But instead of running into his embrace, she backed away. He held firm. "Come here, Fancy," he said. "Come here to me now." She capitulated on a little sob, and he knew he'd been right. She did think of herself as a whore, which was the farthest possible thing from the truth. Closing his arms, he held her tightly. "I'm sorry you had to hear all that, Fancy," he murmured, stroking her back, determined to ignore the soft, sweet breasts pressed against his chest. "Don't let her words hurt you. None of them were true." She raised her head to look into his eyes. "But she was right, Jackson," she said so softly he could barely hear. "I am a whore." Jackson felt emotions he didn't dare define. "Little mistress," he answered, purposely using the gentler title, "you were an innocent until the moment I first touched you. And you could never, ever be a whore." No longer able to resist, he kissed her then. Slowly, searchingly, languorously, gently urging her lips to part for his tongue. She shuddered and obeyed, and he penetrated deeply, taking her mouth with the

fierce, vibrant passion he could no longer deny. "Little mistress," he said against her parted lips. "My mistress...mine." Amanda's resistance shattered. "Damn you, Jackson," she murmured as he trailed hot, sultry kisses down her throat. She was becoming lost again, utterly lost to delirious sensation. "Damn you for making me want you." "Such insolence," he said softly, smiling, moving back up to her lips, his nimble fingers unbuttoning her simple cotton dress. "Do you remember what I promised to do if your sweet mouth was insolent again?" "Yes," Amanda whispered, knowing he would kiss her again, feeling her buttons opening but simply not caring anymore, not with the maelstrom of erotic sensations coursing hotly through her veins. The second kiss was even more devastating than the first. Jackson's mouth was fiercely demanding, intensely sensual, utterly dominating. Amanda wasn't even aware that all her buttons had been undone until she felt his hands cup her bare breasts--and then she trembled from head to toe, moaning softly against his lips. She felt the dress leave her shoulders, felt it slip to the floor, then found herself standing before him wearing nothing but her cotton pantalets. The kiss ended, the sensual spell nearly ending with it, but then Jackson crossed to the drawing room doors--and locked them--and Amanda's femininity quivered, becoming moist with need. She knew why he wanted privacy. "No one will disturb us this time," he promised, quickly removing his own clothes. Amanda nodded, still trembling softly, simply standing there--waiting. She didn't even try to dissuade him from his obvious goal. What was the use? She had no power to stop him in any case, but even if she had, Amanda knew in the very depths of her being that she wouldn't have refused him now. "Did you like my small gift?" he asked then, untying the drawstring at her waist, his own body completely naked now. She nodded again, blushing, suddenly embarrassed at being so totally exposed. He didn't seem to notice as he eased the pantalets over her hips, then let them drop to the floor. Within moments, she found herself scooped up in his muscled arms, then seated on the mahogany serving table, facing him, the tray holding now-cold coffee set out of the way. He spread her thighs wide...and the heat in her cheeks doubled. His gaze was fastened on her most intimate place. "Lean back on your elbows, Fancy," he said. She complied, having no idea why he wanted her positioned that way but too embarrassed, too mesmerized to attempt arguing. But then he knelt between her legs, his thumbs gently parted her feminine folds...and she thought she understood what he intended to do. "No, Jackson...please!" she gasped, shocked. "You can't kiss me there--" "I need to taste you, Fancy," he replied, his voice thick with passion, his face moving inexorably closer to her feminine core. "No...I can't...please don't," Amanda persisted, but he held her thighs wide in a gentle but uncompromising grip, his mouth descending completely to her womanhood.

His hot tongue touched her then, began exploring, delving into the soft folds, flicking over the tiny button that seemed to be the center of all her erotic sensations. Amanda whimpered, melting, surrendering. Then his tongue penetrated the very core of her desire, thrusting, withdrawing, penetrating again--and Amanda gasped with raw ecstacy, climaxing against his mouth in convulsive waves of utter rapturous bliss. Her head fell back, her throat worked, and a million rainbow colors danced behind her closed eyes. She had never felt such joy. "Oh my God, Jackson," she gasped, breathless. "Oh...my...God!" He stood, and before Amanda could take another shaky breath, he entered her deeply, fully, impaling her to the hilt on his rigid, pulsing sex. She could feel his heartbeat in the very core of her womanhood, and she whimpered again. Opening her eyes, she watched him as he took his pleasure--and gave her such undeniable pleasure in return. The rippling muscles of his abdomen shifted with each thrust of his powerful hips, the muscles in his upper arms bulging as he gripped her buttocks. Then his features distorted with stark, raw passion as his thick manhood convulsed in orgasm, and the pure, unadulterated joy on his face sent Amanda over the edge again. She couldn't name the feeling blossoming in her heart, but seeing the utter bliss in his expression doubled her own joy. They had shared a wonderful moment together. That she simply could not deny. Still in the soft afterglow of lovemaking, she felt him gather her in his arms. Her thoughts were fast coming back to reality, and she didn't want that. She didn't want to wake up from this delicious feeling of peace and fulfillment, didn't want to remember that this man had absolute control over her life... But as he lowered her to the thick Turkish carpet, then lay down beside her, the languorous spell finally ended. Amanda stiffened in his arms, trying to pull free. "Don't, Fancy," he murmured, pulling her close again and draping one long, muscular leg over her body. "Don't pull away from me. We aren't finished yet." Lifting her chin, he kissed her--and Amanda gasped. "You can't mean it!" she exclaimed, struggling against his strength. "You've just now...you cannot possibly want me again so soon!" "Ummm, yes I can," he assured her, nuzzling her throat, subduing her struggles with devastating ease. "It's been several days since I've had your sweet body, little mistress. I can take you again right now, and I will." Amanda felt the burgeoning, lengthening evidence of his renewed passion against her thigh, and a low sound escaped her throat. Was the sound pleasure, or dismay? Even she didn't know...but he was kissing her again. Caressing her. Stroking her intimately. Driving her to incredible heights of mindless erotic need. And Amanda heard herself saying, "Yes, Jackson...yes. Take me again...please." "Touch me first," he murmured, placing her hand on his rigid arousal, curling her fingers around his massive length. "Move your hand up and down along the shaft." Amanda was beyond arguing. She obeyed, stroking him as instructed, gasping with awed delight as he hardened and thickened even more in her hand. "Straddle my thighs," he demanded, his voice rough, husky. He lay back on the carpet, his manhood

standing at attention, awaiting her compliance. And she did comply. Seeing that jutting hardness, knowing she'd help create it with her own hand, Amanda obeyed again--immediately--moaning with pure erotic joy when he grasped her hips and impaled her with a single, powerful thrust. He watched her. Pumping into her sweetness, Jackson loved seeing Fancy like this; nude, undulating, serving him so well. She was a perfect, innocent nymph, matching his rhythm instinctively, grinding against him, and he groaned, finally capturing her pretty breasts, rolling her little pink nipples between his fingers and thumbs. She moaned again, arching, her nipples becoming harder, even more erect, and he smiled. He did so love giving her pleasure. Somewhere in the midst of this erotic indulgence, one small thought crept into Jackson's mind, gradually forcing its way to the front of his brain...He'd never before seen a mulatto with pink nipples. If he hadn't been so nearly to the peak of sexual bliss, Jackson might have realized that this fact--along with Fancy's sapphire-blue eyes--gave great credence to her story, to what he thought of as her lie. But just as his mind began grasping that fact, Fancy bent over, offering her breasts to his mouth. With a deep groan, he answered her silent plea, swirling his tongue around those taut, pink buds, sucking, then licking again, no longer thinking about her dissimilarities to other mulatto slaves. Amanda was lost to the sexual joy of the moment, too. No longer worrying about sin or shame, she was reveling in the feel of Jackson's mouth on her aching nipples, glorying in the deep thrusts of his powerful sex. Hips moving, breathing in the musky scent of their lovemaking, she was searching for that explosion of ecstasy just beyond her reach. And then she found it, touched it, reached that ultimate state of bliss, enthralled by the knowledge that Jackson had joined her there again. Too sated to even move, she collapsed atop his chest, feeling him run his hands up and down along her back in a gentle, surprisingly tender caress. If only she could just stay here like this, the rest of it wouldn't matter... Slowly, inevitably, reality crept back in, and along with it came self-loathing. Amanda didn't blame Jackson for his lust. He was a man, after all, and men really did have certain "needs," just like Elizabeth had said. But Amanda was a lady--or at least she used to be--and a lady wasn't supposed to revel in erotic bliss, especially not with a man who would never be her husband. Then another thought occurred, and Amanda sat up abruptly, smiling wryly despite her troubled soul. Raising one brow, smiling himself, Jackson said, "Why are you grinning like an imp, woman?" Still joined with him, now straddling his hips, Amanda didn't answer immediately...but her smile widened. She'd just spent the better part of an hour making glorious, passionate love with her master, and as a direct result of that, he would most definitely have to eat the simple food usually served to his slaves. It was nearly supper time, Mammy might well sleep until morning, and Amanda would be far too busy with the very chores Jackson had assigned her to make him any kind of special meal--even fried chicken. He frowned, obviously not pleased that she hadn't answered his question immediately--but Amanda didn't care. Feeling like she'd somehow won a small victory, she said, "I hope you like potato soup, Jackson."

CHAPTER ELEVEN

It was a music room--a music room! She'd never noticed it before, but oh, how Amanda did love music! It was at the end of a long hallway, and until today she'd never even known it existed. The room was smallish, as if it weren't very important to the designers of the mansion, but to Amanda, music was very, very important. It was food for the soul. She'd come this way in search of Mammy, since she hadn't seen her for a couple of hours and she was becoming increasingly worried about the old woman's health. Then she'd seen Mammy at the other end of the hall, apparently just fine, and at the same moment she'd caught sight of a pianoforte--finding the music room. As she entered the room slowly, almost reverently, Amanda became engulfed in memories of her life at Labreaux Plantation. How many times had she enjoyed a quiet evening with friends, listening to the wonderful sounds of a pianoforte, a harp or a violin? More times than she could count, Amanda realized, because her father had truly appreciated music, and he'd taught Amanda to appreciate it, too. And those evenings had been more than just occasions to listen to music. Amanda had also entertained their friends, being proficient herself on the pianoforte and having a rather pleasing singing voice, or so she'd been told many times. Suddenly, Amanda's thoughts strayed to her half-brother, Harold, and how often he had sneered at her enjoyment of music. Harold had no time or patience for gentle, soul-nurturing pleasures, instead preferring much more bawdy pursuits, especially gambling and wenching...and another memory surfaced with that thought. A terrible, painful memory of watching Harold rape and murder the real Fancy. Feeling her knees go weak, Amanda sank down in an upholstered chair. For a moment she felt such utter despair, she couldn't even breathe. Harold had murdered Fancy, and then--with Jason Harding's help--he'd sold Amanda into slavery. If not for the two of them, Amanda would still be enjoying those wonderful evenings filled with music and friends. And Fancy would still be alive. Needing to comfort herself, needing to block all thoughts of Harold and what he had done from her mind, Amanda impulsively crossed to the pianoforte and sat down on the bench. She caressed the deep grain of the wood, running her fingers over the satiny mahogany, and then finally touched a single ivory key. The rich, clear, bell-like tone of middle "C" rang out from the keyboard, and for the first time since the flood of memories began, Amanda smiled. Then she placed both hands upon the keys, closed her eyes...and played.

Jackson's head snapped up when he heard the unmistakable sound of a pianoforte. He'd been immersed in paperwork for hours on end, sitting at the desk in his study, just down the hall from the music room. His father had always loved music, but Jackson had been told that his mother had loved it even more. He had vague memories of his mother's playing and much clearer memories of his father's fumbling attempts

on the instrument after her death. Playing it had seemed to ease his grief. But no one--no one at all--had played that pianoforte since his father's death nearly ten years ago. Jackson had kept the instrument tuned, in memory of his parents, but the music room had been silent for all those years...until now. He didn't believe in ghosts. Driven by a need to discover who was playing the thing--and playing it very well--Jackson rose from his desk and left the study.

Amanda was lost in wonderful memories now--no longer thinking about Harold--and tears of joy were streaming down her cheeks. She could almost feel her father standing behind her, looking over her shoulder and watching her hands gracefully flitting across the ivory keys, just as they were doing right now. She was playing a Strauss waltz, and the music brought a lump of emotion to her throat. This particular composition had been her father's favorite. Suddenly, Amanda's tears changed in character dramatically, becoming maudlin instead of joyful. She would never see her father again, of course, since he had been dead for several years, and now--because of what Harold had done--there was a good possibility she would never see her home again, either. No matter how much she wanted to escape and return to her former life--no matter how much she wanted to carry out her goal of freeing the slaves at Labreaux--Amanda hadn't come up with a single workable plan. And she had no idea when, or even if, an infallible plan would occur to her. Despondent now, but still unwilling to stop playing the wonderful instrument, Amanda closed her eyes again, let the tears fall...and began singing a ballad, hoping the moving words and haunting melody would somehow soothe her soul. Jackson was awestruck. He simply stood there in the doorway of the music room, listening to the most beautiful soprano voice he'd ever heard. The emotion the singer was putting into her words and into accompanying herself on the pianoforte were so deep, so palpable, he felt them all the way to his own soul. And that singer, that pianoforte player was Fancy. Fancy? How could that be? A house slave who knew how to play the pianoforte, and who had the singing voice of an angel? How in the world had Fancy managed to learn these things? A thought struck his mind--the thought that Fancy's ludicrous lie could actually be true--but Jackson dismissed it, out of an instinctual need for self-preservation more than anything else. His honor was at stake, after all. If Fancy were truly a woman named Amanda Labreaux, then he himself would be guilty of a crime nearly as heinous as the one her so-called half-brother had committed. He would be guilty of rape--and there was no gentler term to describe it--if the women he had forced to become his mistress was indeed a free white woman and not a mulatto slave. That thought was too painful to even contemplate. Jackson had never forced himself on a free woman, had, in fact, never had to do anything more than make a subtle suggestion to the few female slaves he had bedded in the past, and they would willingly, happily come to him.

Until Fancy, that is. The first moment he'd seen her, he'd known she was different, special. And he'd soon realized that he must, simply must, make her his own in the most primitive way--whether she agreed to his possession or not. And so he'd taken her that first night--against her will--but he'd taken her nonetheless, ending her innocence with one painful thrust. And he'd continued slaking his lust on her from that day forward...right up until what they'd shared in the drawing room yesterday afternoon. That would add up to six or seven assaults by now, if he were indeed guilty of rape. Jackson's mind slammed shut with that thought, closed down tight against that unthinkable, unbearable possibility. Fancy was not a free white woman named Amanda Labreaux, and therefore he had not raped her. No, he had merely used a female slave in a way that was completely within his rights as her master. He had not done anything wrong! Nearly convinced that his honor was still intact, Jackson moved on to the solution of this very perplexing problem. How had Fancy learned to play so well? The singing could be explained easily enough. Many a night he'd heard soulful hymns drifting on the evening breeze from the slave cabins. But until now, he'd never known even one slave who could play the pianoforte--and play it exceedingly well. Knowing there was only one way to gain the answer to that question, Jackson finally said, "I didn't know you could play, Fancy. How is it that a slave came by such knowledge?" Amanda's heart jumped into her throat when she heard that deep voice from behind her. She twisted around to face Jackson, moving so quickly there was no time to cover her tears or to mask her expression of utter despair. She had hoped the ballad would soothe her soul, but the effort had been futile. And now she was facing her master, and he had just asked her a question she couldn't possibly answer...at least not without telling the truth, which was something he wouldn't listen to, wouldn't tolerate, and would undoubtedly punish her for saying. "I asked you a question, Fancy," he persisted, his voice firm, authoritative. "And you know how I feel about your not answering my questions immediately." "I..." Amanda began, then faltered. What could she say? "I learned how to...play...at...Labreaux Plantation," she finally managed, hating herself for fearing Jackson but fearing him just the same. "My master loved music," she continued, feeling a little more confident with that admission, since a father was a master of sorts, "and he gave me lessons so that I could entertain him." Jackson nodded--and sighed with immense relief, since that made perfect sense. He smiled then, so grateful he'd been right to dismiss Fancy's story as a lie, he could barely contain his happiness. His honor was indeed still intact. But Fancy wasn't happy. The expression on her lovely face was so sad, so utterly despondent that Jackson's smile abruptly faded. He'd been so intent on getting an answer to his damn, troubling question that he'd failed to notice her look of abject misery until now. "Why are you crying, Fancy?" he asked quietly, coming to sit beside her on the piano bench. "Is something wrong?" She swallowed convulsively, which he didn't understand, then said, "Nothing is wrong, Jackson; really. I was just...responding to the music."

The statement was so patently false, he very nearly accused her of lying again, but something in her sapphire eyes stopped the admonition. Whatever was bothering her, it had caused a pain that was soul deep, searing, a pain so terrible it was nearly suffocating in its intensity. His own breath caught in his throat. Knowing he shouldn't, but knowing he must, he drew her into a gentle, tender embrace. "If you need to cry, Fancy, go ahead and do it," he said softly, kissing her temple. "I've been told I have very broad shoulders. I seriously doubt having a woman cry on them would cause me any permanent damage." Amanda realized what he was doing. He was being affectionate, of all things, even trying to lighten her mood through humor, just as if he truly cared. And with that realization, she fell apart at the seams. This man had saved her from being molested at the auction, then bought her for his own pleasure, forcing her submission and ending her innocence. Even worse, since that fateful night, she had learned to crave the sinful, wanton pleasure he was so capable of giving her. And worst of all, now he was being kind...incredibly kind. It was simply too much! Succumbing, Amanda leaned against Jackson's shoulder and sobbed her heart out; crying for the life she might never know again, crying for the bone-deep shame of having become his whore--his willing whore, now--and crying for Jackson himself, because he would never understand that what he had done to her was utterly, totally, morally wrong. Even if she'd been a true slave, his possession would have been wrong. Amanda knew that now, but Jackson didn't--and wouldn't. He was a slave owner to his very bones. And she could never be a slave owner again. Jackson heard her sobs, felt her shudders...and then, quite suddenly, his heart melted. Every event of the last few days replayed itself in his mind as Fancy flooded his coat with salty tears. Jackson examined it all, examined every moment he'd spent with this sweet mulatto slave. When he'd first seen her at the auction, chained to that pole and utterly helpless, he'd felt a surge of raw anger that she was about to be publicly fondled and then sold--perhaps even to a brothel. Most likely to a brothel as a matter of fact, considering the presence of one particular lecher in that crowd of appreciative men. Hamilton Brown was the owner of the most notorious brothel in Kingston, and a man with a good deal of money to spend. Brown could have easily outbid any other man at the auction that day--except Jackson Carlyle. Until this moment, Jackson hadn't realized that was just exactly why he'd stopped the sale. By buying Fancy himself, for nearly double the normal price, he'd most likely saved her from a life of whoredom to countless men. The big question was, Why? True, he'd soon decided he wanted her in his own bed, but why had he felt such a fierce need to protect her on the slave block? Because you already loved her, his heart answered quite simply. You fell in love with her on first sight. He stiffened. No! To Jackson--or any other man in his society--the idea of loving a slave was intolerable. Such things simply did not happen; they weren't allowed to happen. Masters could use female slaves for pleasure, but they could never, ever fall in love with them. Then why did you stop the whipping after she ran away? his heart quietly persisted. Why did you

find it simply impossible to continue her punishment? Certainly not because I love her... And then you treated her welt with salve--not once, but twice, his heart continued relentlessly. Were those the actions of a man with no deep feelings for his slave? Jackson sighed, then shook his head to clear it. Now he was talking to himself. And all because of the little slave who was still drenching his shoulder with tears. Almost absently, he patted her back. Of course he had treated her welt! That was merely a reasonable thing to do. He'd simply wanted to make sure her sweet bottom would bear no scar. His motives were purely selfish...nothing more. Liar, his heart insisted, but Jackson ignored it. Only a fool would fall in love with a slave. Society would rebuke such a man, banish him from their vaunted midst. Jackson had known no other life. He couldn't tolerate the thought of social ostracism. And what would happen to Fancy if he loved her? A mulatto could never be accepted by his friends; would never, ever be considered an equal, even if he freed her. So, if he loved her, wouldn't she suffer for it, even as he would? She stirred in his arms then, interrupting his thoughts, and he realized she'd finally stopped crying. "Thank you, Jackson," she murmured, sniffling. "I'm sorry I've been such a bother, but you've been very kind to help me this way." Without thought, automatically, he pulled out a handkerchief. "Blow," he said. She did, daintily, then looked up at him with those tear-misted blue eyes. And in that moment his heart melted all over again...which made him angry because he'd just spent ten minutes talking to himself, convincing himself that he was not in love with the little slave. She was merely his possession, his plaything, wasn't she? Feeling fear he wouldn't acknowledge, needing to reestablish his rightful mastery, Jackson very deliberately cupped her breast, thumbing the nipple. "No thanks are necessary, wench," he said with intentional coolness. "I simply wanted it out of your system. I'm in need of a willing, writhing bed slave, not one who will flood my room with tears. Go upstairs right now, and strip." She bristled and tried to push his hand away, but Jackson merely grasped her wrist, then fondled her again. "You have no choice but to obey, Fancy." His voice was as cold as ice. "This body belongs to me--you are my slave." Shocked by his sudden change in attitude, Amanda gritted out, "I know that only too well, master." Had she actually thought he was being kind to her...caring? "Why bother going all the way to your bed, master?" she continued with bitter sarcasm. She couldn't believe how easily he'd fooled her! "Wouldn't it be more convenient to use me right here on the floor, or perhaps atop the pianoforte? Or maybe I should just kneel and bend over! Make your choice, master. Your little whore is only too willing to oblige. Maybe, if you're lucky, someone will even walk in on us again." Jackson's eyes narrowed. "Insolence is very unbecoming in a slave, Fancy," he warned.

Amanda threw both hands up to her cheeks. "Oh dear, don't tell me the master is going to kiss his insolent slave into submission again!" Her sarcasm was thicker than sugarcane syrup. "Not this time, Fancy," he said flatly. "This time your insolence will be punished in a far less pleasant way." Amanda blanched. Dear God, she'd pushed him too far... "W-what do you mean by that?" In answer, he said simply, "Remove your clothes." Frightened, she didn't argue. In mere moments, she was naked. "Now play something for me," he said, calmly settling into an armchair, nonchalantly crossing one leg over the other, his fingers steepled. "Since you were trained on the pianoforte to please your master at Labreaux, you may use that training to please your new master as well." A blush of shame spread over Amanda's entire body. He was forcing her to play for him in the nude! Could anything be more humiliating? Probably not, which was exactly why he was doing it. The punishment was perfect...diabolically perfect, especially for a gently-bred Southern belle. Without a word, she complied, determined to survive the ordeal with dignity--and Jackson tried, truly tried, to maintain his anger while she played. He couldn't do it. She was obeying him, of course, playing beautifully, with her spine so straight, her chin held high, so very determined to hold onto her pride...and yet she was crying again, very, very softly. And those tears were ripping a huge hole in what would have been his heart, if he had one. Which he must not, if he could be so callous and cruel to this woman when he admittedly felt something for her beyond mere lust. Not love. Never that. But surely affection; yes, affection at the very least. "Fancy," he said, coming up behind her and holding out her clothes. "I'm sorry. This was rather cruel. Please accept my apology." She sighed and stopped playing, but she wouldn't look at him. Then, for the second time in several days, she said, "Just leave, Jackson. Please...just leave." He did, denying what his heart persisted in telling him. He was not in love with a slave!

CHAPTER TWELVE

"Fire! Fire in the fields!" It was a little past midnight, and at first Amanda thought she was dreaming. Then she heard the shouted words again, and she jerked upright with a start. Fire. One of the worst possible words for a plantation owner to hear. Not only could valuable crops be lost to a fire, but also animals, slaves' quarters, even slaves themselves while fighting the blaze.

Amanda pushed back the satiny coverlet, jumped from Jackson's bed and rushed toward the window, heedless of her nudity. The window was open, and she peered into the darkness. Far beyond the well-manicured lawn and beautiful gardens of the mansion, she could see the ghastly orange glow which reaffirmed that terrible word: Fire. Still thinking automatically, not even remembering yet where she was, or who she was for that matter, Amanda turned away from the window, intending to pull on her clothes and start directing the efforts to save her crops. Only then, when she saw Jackson leaving the bed, his magnificent body as naked as hers, did Amanda's reality return with a brutal jolt. She was not at Labreaux Plantation. She was not a plantation owner who had fought more than one fire in her lifetime. She was a mulatto slave named Fancy, and she was this man's property--as he had proven very well just hours ago. For two days after that humiliating punishment in the music room, he had left her alone. Apparently he did have a conscience of some sort, for he seemed truly sorry for what he had done. Then, last night, he calmly demanded her presence in his bed again, and Amanda simply obeyed. What else could she do? So here she was now, watching Jackson cross the room toward her, watching his lean, well-muscled body move with the grace of a jungle cat...and remembering the potent, erotic power of his lovemaking just hours earlier, though she truly wished she wasn't. "Was I dreaming, Fancy?" he said, reaching her side. "I could have sworn I heard someone yell 'fire.'" Before Amanda could reply, a heavy pounding on the bedroom door and Toby's booming voice shouting, "Master Jack, come quickly! One of the cane fields is burnin'!" answered Jackson's question for him. He immediately grabbed his clothes, quickly pulling them on. As he sat to pull on boots, he looked up at Amanda. She was dressing as quickly as he was. "What do you think you're doing?" he said. "I'm going to help fight the fire," Amanda calmly replied, buttoning her dress. "No, you are not," Jackson informed her, pulling on his second boot and then standing up to his full, intimidating height. "House slaves do not fight fires, Fancy. Field hands do that." Amanda rolled her eyes heavenward in exasperation. "I know field hands fight fires, Jackson, but someone has to direct them, and you simply cannot be in more than one place at a time. I'm going to help." The imminent danger to crops, animals and lives fueled Amanda's determination. No matter whose plantation this was, pitching in to save it was simply the right thing to do. Jackson frowned. "What do mean by that, Fancy?" he asked. "Are you saying you've directed slaves fighting a fire?" Still thinking of the danger--especially to lives--Amanda sat on the bed and slipped her feet into well-worn shoes. "Of course I have," she answered automatically.

He descended upon her like a darkly avenging angel, grasping her arms and pulling her to her feet. "Are you lying again?" Amanda winced from the strength of his grip, abruptly reminded of reality again. Jackson wouldn't accept her truth, and she'd forgotten to choose her words carefully. "N-no," she finally stammered, searching her mind for something he would believe. "It's just that my master trained me to--" "He trained you to fight fires, just like he trained you to play the pianoforte?" Jackson thundered, cutting off her words. "Do you honestly expect me to believe that, Fancy?" "Not fight fires," Amanda gasped out, "just direct others to fight them. It was his system, you see," she continued, licking her suddenly dry lips. "He trained house slaves to direct field hands just in case of such an emergency. That way there would be no confusion in a time of need." None of that was true, of course. Amanda had fought fires because she insisted upon doing so, despite Harold's vociferous objections...but Jackson loosened his hold and nodded, and Amanda breathed a sigh of relief. There were much more important things to do than argue with him about her lies. "All right, Fancy," he said, "I accept your explanation. I can use all the help I can get." Amanda sighed again, following him out the door. Nothing was important right now except saving lives and crops--all the other difficulties in her life would simply have to wait. They left the mansion by the kitchen door, walking straight to the stables, finding anxious hands and field slaves awaiting instructions. While Jackson dealt with organizing the men, Amanda took control of the fire wagons. In her most authoritative voice, which was--amazingly--immediately obeyed despite her slave status, she ordered horses brought to the tank wagons stored beside the stable. She'd noticed the wagons her first day at Carlyle. Their tanks always full of water, and operated by hand pumps, these fire wagons were an important weapon for saving crops. Wet sacks and backfires would add to the defense. Within a few minutes the wagons were hitched to harnessed horses, ready to go. Once everything was done, Amanda couldn't hide her wry smile as she realized which horse had been saddled for her. It was the same gentle gelding she'd stolen during her ill-fated escape attempt. Noticing that smile, Jackson nodded as he mounted his own piebald gelding. His thoughts were troubled--not only from the fire, but from what Fancy had just done. Her organizational skills were impeccable, superb. She had directed the slaves preparing the water wagons with expert proficiency. Her former master had trained her very, very well...almost too well to be believed...but Jackson couldn't think about that now. Fancy was a slave. His slave. And nothing more. His choice of the horse she was riding was completely intentional. A stern warning of what would happen if she tried running away during this chaotic night might be the best way to assure her continued presence come morning. "Why this horse, Jackson?" she asked. "Because, Fancy," he calmly replied, "I want you to understand that if this particular horse should leave the plantation tonight, the one having stolen him will not have an inch of flesh left on her back once she is found." She blanched, and Jackson felt that mule kick to his gut again.

"I won't run away...tonight," she said, her voice shaky. "You have my word on that, Jackson." Uncomfortable with her reaction to his threat--and his own reaction to her obvious fear--Jackson bristled at her public use of his given name. "We are not in my bedroom now, woman. Address me properly." "Yes, master," she corrected, and he could see a sudden flash of anger in her sapphire eyes. He nodded, much happier to see that than fear. The warning had been necessary, but he couldn't tolerate causing her any further pain. Grimacing, realizing the unlikelihood of ever laying a whip to her back, no matter what she did--and no matter what he'd just threatened--Jackson signaled the wagon drivers and the rest of the men. Kneeing his piebald, he headed for the burning sugarcane field, Fancy following close behind.

The next several hours were a blur of heat, exhausting work and unending orders. Jackson and Amanda functioned as a team; Jackson going to one side of the blazing field, Amanda to the other. The overseer rode in between, whip cracking, keeping the slaves moving and working. At about three o'clock in the morning, Jackson very nearly lost his life. He'd been riding his prancing, snorting piebald up and down along the edge of the field, directing the men operating the pumps on the fire wagons, when a burning ember suddenly blew into the gelding's face. Responding to pain and the smell of his own seared flesh, the maddened horse took off at a gallop. Blindly, mistakenly, he ran toward the inferno instead of away from it! Amanda saw it happen. Her side of the fire had been extinguished, and she'd been riding toward Jackson to tell him so when the gelding began his frantic run. Despite Jackson's strength, it was apparent he could not stop the horse's race toward certain death. And Jackson would die, too, if the horse wasn't diverted from the fire. Amanda felt a calm sense of purpose settle into her mind. She knew exactly what must be done. Urging her own gelding into a gallop, she chased Jackson's horse. Catching up to the piebald scant moments before he would reach the roaring flames, she cut in front of him, literally risking her own life, forcing the maddened creature to turn. The maneuver worked, slowing his frantic pace just enough for Jackson to regain control. Breathing heavily, seeing Jackson was no longer in danger, Amanda simply turned her own mount and rode back to safety. There was still work to be done, and she didn't want to think about anything else--certainly not why she had saved the life of the man who called her slave. As Jackson brought the piebald to a stop, safely away from the fire, he realized that fact, too. Fancy had saved him. Without thought to her own safety, she had ridden into the face of danger and saved her master from a fiery death. And for that act of heroism, he should free her. That mule kick he'd felt so often before hit him so hard, he nearly lost his seat. And he knew in that moment he could never free Fancy, no matter how brave she'd been--not when she would be out of his life in a heartbeat if she were no longer a slave. He had no illusions about that. Fancy had already run away once. She would never stay at Carlyle Plantation if she were free to leave.

And in that moment he also quit deluding himself. He loved her. Simply put, he couldn't allow her to leave because his life would be empty without her. The thought of that love didn't bring joy or happiness, however. Instead, it brought problems. Jackson was now in the untenable position he'd been trying to avoid--or at least deny. He was in love with a slave, but he could never tell anyone, could never publicly admit his love. He wouldn't even admit it to Fancy herself, in fact. Surely she knew how impossible this kind of love was, too. But there was one thing he could do for both of them. He could make her his pampered lover instead of his kitchen slave--free her from drudgery and give her a life of ease. A man keeping a slave mistress was not frowned on in the least, as long as he kept her far away from polite society. Jackson smiled, pleased with his decision. He could give her so much! Dresses, petticoats, silky pantalets--all the feminine luxuries she'd surely never had. She would be happy, he vowed, happy as his pampered mistress, his cherished "mate." The piebald was calmer now, and Jackson rode toward Fancy. The fire was nearly out--it had been caused by flash lightning without a hint of rain--but Fancy was still busily directing field hands, who were smothering the final embers with dampened sacks. He wanted to tell her his decision right now... No, wait. There was a better way. In the morning, he would go to Kingston, buy Fancy all the pretty fripperies he wanted her to have, then surprise her with a mountain of presents. He couldn't wait to see her eyes sparkling with delight, truly believing she would be happy with his gifts--and his decision about her life.

Well before noon, Jackson carried out his plan. He went to the finest woman's clothier in Kingston, emerging several hours later, arms laden with boxes. Next he visited the shoemaker and the hat maker, and upon exiting the milliner's shop, he passed a jewelry store. On impulse, he entered that shrine to expensive luxury and purchased several exquisite necklaces for Fancy, happily anticipating how the jewels would look draped around her slender throat. He wondered how she'd look wearing the sapphire necklace he'd bought--just the color of her eyes--and nothing else... Satisfied with his purchases--and his plans--Jackson returned to Carlyle Plantation near sundown.

Amanda was helping Mammy shell peas, but the old wom