Show Me Heaven (Kimberley Jackson)

Show Me Heaven (Kimberley Jackson)

Pairing: Jack/Irina
Summary: Boston, 1865 During the Civil War, Irina is a woman with many facades, living with her husband Gerard Cuvee in Boston. She is forced to spy for her husband and the southern side, but hides slaves to help them to escape from their owners at the same time since her sympathies are lying with the North. As her husband is addicted to games and alcohol, she has to sell herself to men from the middle and upper class in order to earn money, and sometimes to get information. When her husband orders her to seduce the North’s best war strategist and lawyer, Jack Bristow, it starts out as a job as usual for Irina but soon she’s intrigued by his charm and behavior.

Notes: This story is dedicated to Jule, who did a great job assisting me with the logical storyline.
Thanks to CMSTE for betareading this story.

 

Attention
This is one of my older stories written before 2006. My style in this story differs greatly, due to lack of experience. One of these days, if I get the time, I plan on revising these older stories thoroughly.

Until then, please excuse the many flaws, and rest assured, I know better now. ;) (Or at least I hope so.)

 


Chapter 1

She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his whole life. Her hair was full, falling in soft waves around her face and over her bare shoulders. The black dress she was wearing fit her perfectly. It was tight, forming out every inch of her body, making almost everybody in the room imagine about what was underneath.

Jack Bristow took his glass of Whiskey and downed it in once, then he looked around in the Boston night-bar. The customers were mostly gentlemen from the middle or upper class who spent the evenings here to get rid of the happenings of their day – just like him, searching for a little distraction.

He knew a few of them, not by name, but he had seen them once on the celebration for their president, Abraham Lincoln.

“Could I get one more of this?” he asked the barkeeper and turned his attention back to the beauty. He wondered where she came from – she definitely had a southern touch in her beauty, maybe Mexican?

She made her way slowly to the counter and flirted with the men who were shooting her lewd looks and almost undressed her with their eyes.

Jack frowned his forehead. It was a shame that good situated men behaved this way against women from the lower class – no matter whether she was a whore or not – and he didn’t doubt that eighty percent of the men in this room had a wife and probably even children waiting at home.

He had neither. His life was too complicated for a woman to take place in it. As strategist of the Unions in the Civil War, he was often away from home and didn’t have much time. That was not a life to share with a woman – at least not in a serious relationship.

He smiled at the woman when she now approached him, her eyes focused on him. She slid down to the chair next to him in the most seductive manner, her dark eyes promising as she just looked at him.

He didn’t say anything, just held her eyes for a long time until she bent forward and smiled.

“You say nothing.”

“No, I am not!” he replied dryly, returning her soft smile.

“Don’t you want to know, what it would cost you to spend the night with me?”

“Pretty straight forward!” he noticed amused and she laughed softly.

“Maybe I’m desperately in need of money…”

“So then, what’s your price?”

“Two hundred!” she replied, her hand softly brushing his.

“Two hundred?” he raised his eyebrows amused and took a sip of his whiskey.

“Yes, with the usual rules. No kissing, no beating… you know the whole stuff. I’m not interested in something like that!” she replied and he smiled.

“Glad to hear that.” He looked at her red, sensual lips and offered her his glass of Whiskey. “Are you thirsty?”

She took the glass out of his hands, downed the content in once and looked at him again.

“Do you negotiate about your price?”

“No. I can’t reduce it…” she replied.

“I wasn’t thinking about reducing it. I was thinking more about doubling it if I was allowed to kiss you… what do you say? Four hundred for you…”

She leaned back in her chair and shot him disbelieving looks, her reaction showing him that he had put her off.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think… you would pay two hundred to kiss me?”

He didn’t answer, just looked at her in a playful challenge and she smiled softly. He was charming in a kind of way that disarmed her.

“Fine… if I get four hundred this evening, I might have a free evening tomorrow,” she replied, holding his gaze.

This content is property of http://www.kimberley-jackson.com.

“What is your name?” he asked and took her hand into his.

“Whatever name you want to be mine,” she replied, her voice seductive.

He laughed. “Fifty for your real name?”

“Are you joking? I mean…”

“I will pay you five hundred for this night, and you will tell me your real name and a little bit about you.”

She laughed amused and stroked her hair behind her ear. “I have to say, I have never had a customer like you… usually they want to reduce my price. Afterwards, of course!”

“Of course,” he nodded smiling.

“You’re really planning to pay me, aren’t you? Or are you just trying to get me into bed and then get rid of me without paying?” she asked, her eyes deeply locked with his.

“I would never do that. I’m an honorable man, not a swindler,” he replied. “I will pay you right here if you wish me to.”

She seemed to consider his offer for a little moment, weighing the pros and the cons, then she got up and offered her hand to him. “Come with me…”

He took her offer and got up. She stood close to him, her body brushing his as she turned around. He touched her silky hair and stroked it away from her neck and ear. She cocked her head slightly and his lips brushed her skin for a split second before she pulled him through the curtains into the private rooms of the bar, then through the back exit out into the dark streets of Boston.

Outside, he pressed her to the wall next to the door, hungrily devouring her lips with his until she opened her mouth to return his kiss.

“Do you have a place to go? A room… or your home… somewhere your wife isn’t going to kill me?” she asked into his ear when he trailed his lips down her neck.

“I’m not married…” was his hoarse reply. “We can go to my house if that’s okay with you.”

“It is…” she replied and locked her eyes with his. “Lead the way…”

Only ten minutes later they were entering the main hall of Jack Bristow’s house.

“Will you tell me your name now?” he asked, his hands lying on her bare shoulders, stroking down her arms.

“Irina…” She leaned against him.

“Exotic name…” he murmured while nibbling at her earlobe.

“Russian…” she whispered back. “My father was an immigrant. I’m first generation born here.”

“Irina…” he repeated her name, his lips at her shoulder now.

“So, what’s your name?” she asked slowly, ignoring his kisses as she had learned to do over the years.

“Jack,” he whispered back.

She looked around in the hall, her eyes quickly scanning the surroundings. Bingo, she thought. This seemed to be the right house. Gerard would be pleased when he heard that she had earned five-hundred and managed to get the map.

“What are you thinking of?” he asked into her ear and she smiled.

“You…”

“You’re lying…” he replied, turning her head to him and brushing her lips with his mouth. “Do you like that?”

“Yes…” she replied and broke the contact with him. “But I’d rather prefer you’d pay me first.”

“You don’t trust easily, do you?”

“Bad experiences…” she replied apologizing and watched him as he went into another room. She wrapped her arms around her body and sighed while looking at the old paintings in the hall – portraits of the first presidents.

The whole interior of the house looked luxurious and she felt a certain uneasiness. What was she doing here, she didn’t even belong here? Sleeping for money with men to steal information from them was not the life she had always dreamed of – especially if the information was used for actions she didn’t stand for. She lived in Boston, she had spent most of her childhood here – then her father had married her with Gerard Cuvee. He had been rich, he had a plantage in the south and so her father had thought, he was the perfect match.

What he hadn’t known was, that Gerard turned out to be addicted to games. He had lost his plantage long before he had met Irina’s father. Yet he still believed in the old southern ideals and now, during the war, he used his efforts to spy on the plans and strategies of the northern army – or better, he used her efforts. The plans and information she stole went into his conspiracy ring, the money she earned landed in any strange man’s pocket – lost by poker games. Every week – sometimes even day – the same thing.

Irina knew she was beautiful, and so she managed to earn a little more than she told Gerard. Money, she put aside for her own plans. Her sympathies were with the north and the black people who had been suppressed for centuries.

Her best friend was a slave who had run away. Now Irina was hiding her in an old ruin at the edge of the city, constantly supplying her with food, which required money.

Sometimes she wondered why she was doing all this. She had tried to run away once, even argued with her husband. He had punished her by beating her and selling her to two of his best friends for the night – men she had hated.

“You like what you see?”

His voice so close to her ear started her and she took the white envelope he gave to her. Five hundred northern states dollars were a lot of money and she could make good use of it.

“This is very amazing… I’ve never seen a portrait of John Adams which was that good.”

He looked at her, surprised. “Yes, it’s John Adams. How did you know?”

She laughed as she heard the tone out of his voice. “My father insisted that I went to school in order to not end up as a…” she started, then she cut off as she realized, that she had nonetheless ended up as a whore. Well, her motives were not only about money, but the fact that she sold her body stayed the same. After all, what was she doing? Telling all this to a stranger – whom she was supposed to steal from. “Enough about me…”

“No, I want to know what happened…” he said and trailed his tongue along the line of her neck to her earlobe. His hands lay loosely on her waist.

“Nothing spectacular. Just a man who didn’t turn out as the honorable husband he pretended to be when proposing to my father.” She turned around in his grip and laid her arms around his neck. “Do you want to talk, or do you want me to distract you?” she asked playfully at his lips and he reacted to her seduction. He merged their lips in a short kiss, then he pulled her up the stairs to the upper floor.

She followed him into his bedroom and laid the envelope onto a chair. Then she pulled off her shoes and went towards him, her eyes never losing his. When she stood right in front of him, she started to unbutton his jacket. His hands went slowly over her shoulders and down her arms.

“Where is your husband now?” he suddenly asked and she shrugged her shoulders.

“Out, somewhere… maybe home, waiting for me to return with some money – so, how do you want me?” She got closer to his lips until she barely touched them.

“Wait…” he said, bringing distance between them and she sighed.

“What?”

“Your husband is still alive?”

“Of course! Could we please get this finished? I want to get some sleep tonight.” She watched him, as he let himself sink to the bed, still staring at her.

“Your husband wants you to do this?”

“Does that disturb you? I’m sorry, I should have never mentioned him…”

“No, no!” he refused and shook his head. “I’m just wondering if you want to do this too.”

“If I…” she repeated his sentence in disbelief then she chuckled. “It’s a job! I’m sure there are better ones, and there are also worse – but after all it’s just a job. I do it, because I need the money – as all women do, who are selling themselves.”

He pulled her closer and buried his face in her stomach. She buried her hands in his hair.

“You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen…” he murmured and then let go of her. “I want you to leave. Go home to your husband. You can keep the money…”

“But… I thought…” For a moment panic raised in her mind. Gerard would kill her if she didn’t come home with the map. And the map was in the drawer of his desk right behind her. She needed him to be asleep in order to get it. She pushed him back on the bed and straddled his hips, her hands softly pinning his while she locked her fingers with his.

“It’s a generous gesture, but I can’t accept it, Jack. You paid me, so let me give you what you paid for…” She claimed his mouth in a passionate kiss that left him breathless, her hands and kisses seducing him and her touches erasing all reason in his mind.

When her hot breath tickled his ear, he moaned and turned her around in a swift move so he was on top. Their eyes met for a split second before he devoured her lips in a demanding kiss. His hands fumbled at her dress and finally – with a little help of hers – he managed to open it.

She closed her eyes as he pulled it down, his lips starting to take advantage of the newly exposed skin. Her hands ran through his gray, wavy hair and she moaned softly when his lips closed over her nipple – more to satisfy him than to her own emotion. Her thoughts were at the map she was supposed to steal.

Her mind worked totally rationally, her eyes scanning every inch of the room – she forced back the feelings of guilt, when she realized that she actually liked this man, even thought him attractive. Thoughts like that brought nothing but trouble, so she had fast learned to shut them out when she had started at this job – and she had also soon learned how to make a man believe his touches brought her pleasure, although she was thinking of other things.

But Jack Bristow was different. She had soon to admit that fact, when he was lying on her chest some time later, lazily stroking the skin of her belly and then reconnected their lips in a soft kiss.

“So, what can I do for you?” he whispered into her ear, his hands lining out her waist.

“You already did enough for me.”

“I don’t think so.” He looked into her eyes, his thumb stroking her lips softly.

“Yes, you did. You paid a generous price, certainly much more than I deserve.”

“That was not what I was talking about…”

She looked out of the window, closing her eyes softly. “I’m tired… you were exhausting,” she lied and he nibbled at her earlobe.

“You are a liar, but a very charming one…” He laid his head back to her chest and closed his eyes.

Irina looked at the moon, that lightened the room in pale shades of gray and white, her eyes like hypnotized. Now she had to be patient and wait until he had fallen asleep.

While she was doing so, she did what she always did. She named the presidents of the republic by now, including birth dates and terms of office, then she recited the Declaration of Independence word by word, including its first ten amendments.

Despite the fact that she was a woman and not allowed into any kind of higher job anyway, she had spent most of her time learning, when she was in school. She had been young and naive, dreaming that a smart and beautiful girl would someday marry a smart and handsome gentleman, who would treat her like a queen and never lift a hand against her. Although this hope was shattered, she still kept up her interest in politics, convinced that it might possibly help her someday to know all those details.

When she was finally sure that he was sleeping soundly, Irina carefully freed herself from Jack, then she glided out of the bed, gathering her clothes from the ground. When she was dressed, she had a last look at the sleeping man, then she lowered to his face and kissed him softly one last time.

“This time I’m really sorry…” she whispered almost breathless and touched his cheek, before turning around. Carefully she went to the desk, her bare feet not making any sound on the ground.

She searched the small drawer at the side of the table and pulled out a small key with which she finally opened the large pigeonhole in the middle. She had soon found what she was looking for. The big map of the southern states with its handwritten marks and notes in it. Jack Bristow was known as one of the best strategists of the northern army; his skills had cost the southern confederate army already two victories. Carefully she folded the big map together again and placed it under her dress at her waist. She locked the shelf again and put the small key back into the drawer at the side of the shelf.

She almost screamed out, when suddenly Jack’s hand grabbed her waist from behind.

“What are you doing?” he asked, his voice showing his anger.

“I’m… I was… I….”

“You were stealing,” he stated correctly and pushed her against the wood. “That’s what you came for?”

Irina looked at him, her eyes wide in shock, her mind working feverishly. She felt for the white envelope on the chair and grabbed it.

“Answer me! Who are you? A spy?” Jack insisted and Irina lowered her eyes.

“I’m sorry…” Then she pushed him hardly aside and fled the room, not caring for the fact that she was still barefoot. She ran down the stairs and out of the house. She didn’t even notice how cold the stones of the street were under her feet. Only when she had reached the edge of the city, she stopped running, the envelope crumpled in her hand.

When the first thick raindrop fell from the sky, Irina noticed that the weather had changed and the sound of thunder from the horizon announced a coming rainstorm.

Irina kept on walking, slower now, not caring for the harder-getting rain. Soon her hair was wet and the dress clinging to her body. The raindrops mixed with the tears that were involuntarily running down her cheeks – tears caused by shock, but also by something else she couldn’t determine. A deep feeling of sadness.

By the time she reached the old ruin next to the lake, she was fully soaked – so was the envelope in her hand. Irina knocked at the old door, then she entered and passed through the first two, totally destroyed rooms.

She pulled aside the stones that were covering the wooden hatch on the ground that led into an underground room.

After she had pulled up the heavy wood she climbed down the wooden ladder and crossed the first room, entering a second one.

A black woman was sitting in a corner, her eyes wide with fear when she heard the sounds. When Irina entered, she jumped up and hugged the woman.

“Oh God, it’s you! I was afraid, you might be an officer… my god, what happened?”

Phillis touched the cheek of her friend and noticed her trembling.

“Nothing, I’m okay…”

“He did it again, didn’t he?”

Irina just nodded and Phillis cursed some words in the language she had learned by her family when she had still been working on Gerard Cuvee’s plantation.

“Irina, when will you stop sharing other men’s beds for him?”

“The day he dies,” Irina replied bitterly and let herself sink to one of the old cushions at the wall. “You know I can’t leave him. He would follow me and kill me. And if I go to the police, he will show them all the proofs for my spying and I will be executed as a traitor. I am still his legally married woman and so I don’t have any rights.”

Phillis sank down next to the woman who had been her best friend since the day they had met – despite her status as a slave. She laid her arms around her and pressed her against her chest, softly stroking through her hair.

“Where are your shoes?” she suddenly asked and Irina shrugged her shoulders.

“I don’t know… I think I forgot them in Bristow’s house.”

“Bristow? Jack Bristow?”

“Yes…” Irina nodded and took the small towel Phillis handed to her. She dried her face.

“My god, I’ve only heard good about him. The baker’s wife comes to bring me fresh bread every morning and she told me that I should go to him in order to get help. He studied law in Harvard and might know a way for me to be free legally!”

“Yes, but since they passed the new law, that every slave who has fled is to be returned, there is almost nothing any lawyer could do,” Irina murmured and opened the envelope. “He paid very generously. Here, can you keep that for me?”

“Two hundred?” Phillis looked at her friend and Irina sighed and laid her head against the cold stone wall behind her. The candles flickered for a moment and Phillis looked at them worried, for if their fire went out, she would have to spend the rest of the night in darkness before the baker’s wife would bring her new candles and matches tomorrow.

“Yes, he paid additional three hundred for being allowed to kiss me and me telling him a little bit about myself. I took the chance. We need the money. But I don’t want Gerard to lose everything in the next poker game.”

“I will hide it for you,” Phillis promised and smiled at her. “So, what did you tell him?”

“Unimportant things… my name…”

“If your husband learns…”

“There is so much he mustn’t know…” She looked at the dark ceiling and closed her eyes. “He caught me.”

“Excuse me?”

“Jack Bristow caught me while I was stealing the map from him.”

“Oh damned.”

Irina shot her a look at this very un-female curse, but then she nodded since it seemed the only appropriate description for her situation. “Yes… and he knows my name.”

“And what did he say?”

“Nothing… I mean, he said something of course. He was outraged but I pushed him away and fled the house.”

Phillis tried to order her friend’s hair a little – something that was almost impossible since they were totally soaked.

“You could run away from your husband and hide here for some time – a few months. And who knows, maybe the war will be over by then and he dies in one of the battles.”

“I can’t live here… I’m sorry… I need to be out there to have at least the illusion of being able to change something – even if it remains an illusion.”

“It’s not. You have already changed so much, Irina. For me and dozens of other slaves you helped to cross the border. But especially for me. I will never forget what you did… without you I wouldn’t be able to read or write.”

“It’s not enough… I’m spying for the wrong side.”

“Why don’t you go to Bristow and explain it to him? If he can’t help me, he might be able to help you at least.”

Irina looked at her for one thoughtful moment, then she shook her head sadly. “I don’t trust him enough. He might be nice, but nobody can guarantee that he will believe me – especially after what I did tonight. I can’t prove anything and even if I could manage to get a divorce, Gerard would pursue me to take revenge.” She got up. “I have to go now. Gerard is already waiting for me and I don’t want to stay away too long; that would make him mistrustful.”

“Take care…” Phillis said softly and hugged her friend one last time. Irina nodded and smiled.

“I will. You know me, I am a survivor.”

When she was walking home the dirty streets of Boston, the rain had stopped and the dawn started. The first sunlight appeared at the far horizon, forcing away the shadows of the night. A new day had come.

When she reached her house, Irina breathed in deeply and entered. Gerard Cuvee was sitting on the table in the small kitchen, smoking a cigarette. It didn’t take Irina much to know that he had been drinking again – most likely with his poker friends.

“There you are!” His eyes lightened up. “Did you get money?”

Irina threw the money to the table, the map followed. “I will take a bath and go to sleep. I’m tired,” she announced in her usual cold tone and he looked at her appearance.

“Where are your shoes?”

“Lost…” she announced and didn’t actually care. Cuvee jumped up, approaching her threatening.

“Do you know how much those shoes cost me, you little b****? And now you tell me you lost them?” he yelled at her, puffing the air of his cigarette into her face.

“Well, then you will have to take a little bit of that money I earned and buy new ones!” she replied. “You waste thousands each month by your stupid poker games and now you reproach me for losing one pair of shoes! Do you know what I go through every night?”

His hand hit her hard in the face and she held on to the wall when she stumbled. She forced back the pain and looked at him.

“Fine, go on, do it again. That’s all you can do – slap me and losing money by poker,” she replied without emotion, then she just turned around and went up the small wooden stairs to the bathroom. Half an hour later she sank into her bed, weary and shivering. Her body was demanding for sleep, her mind for the usual state of drowning in the wonderful blackness of sleep. She gave into it, welcoming the peaceful atmosphere as her mind was drifting away…

Chapter 2

– Two days later –

“So, you go down the harbor and keep looking for officers or any other suspicious persons, while we are going to load the boxes down the ship.” Gerard Cuvee looked at Irina, who just colored her face with black coal. She was wearing the clothes of a boy and with her long hair hidden under a boyish cap and her face dirty with coal she looked like one of the boys who helped on the docks.

“What if I get caught?” Irina asked and Gerard shot her a warning look.

“You better take care not to.” Was his only reply, then he turned to the three other men, discussing the details of their plan. Irina sighed and closed her eyes, leaning at the cold stone wall of the fish hall in the harbor of Boston.

Finally Cuvee looked at her. “Don’t sleep, wench! Move your ass down there to look out for spies!”

Irina shot him a dark look and went around the corner towards the docks. She sat down on one of the piles next to a big ship, observing her surroundings, while Cuvee and his men went to the ship that was supposed to have their boxes with weapons. Tonight a man would arrive and take the boxes down into the south to the front.

Irina knew him. He had also gotten the last boxes, and she knew she would have to sleep with him again.

She was lost in her thoughts when she suddenly caught glimpse of a man. Her heart seemed to stop for a second. Jack Bristow. When he looked at her direction, she turned her head to the side, trying to cover her face with her hand.

She decided not to move since that would only draw attention to her. So far everything seemed okay, his presence here was obviously not about a suspicion for weapon trade, since he was more interested in the ship Irina sat in front of. She cursed herself silently. There were dozens of ships in this harbor… why did she have to sit in front of this one?

Jack Bristow was talking to a man, obviously the captain of the ship. When they were standing only seven meters away, Irina turned her back towards them, trying not to seem nervous. She pulled the cap deeper into her face.

“I understand your concern, but I guarantee you, my goods are the best you can find western of the Atlantic! If you want, I will show you an example. HEY, you!”

No reaction from anywhere.

“YOU, poor boy, do I pay you for sleeping? Get on that ship and take a bag of tea down here.”

Irina turned a little – enough for her to know that the captain was addressing her. She jumped up and wanted to run away, but the man was faster. He grabbed her arm hard and pulled her around, his hand lifted to slap her. She cried out in fear, trying to shield her face and the man stopped.

“I’ll be damned! You are not one of the boys I hired… in fact, I don’t even think, you are a boy!” He tore the cap from her head and her hair fell tousled around her face. She fought against the hard grip, kicking in panic. Finally she gave up, not looking at either of the men.

“A woman… Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

She didn’t react.

“Answer me, b****, or I’ll have to take you to the sheriff.”

“It’s okay!” Jack Bristow finally said. “I will take care of her. I know her.”

The man lowered to Irina’s ear. “This must be your lucky day, little one, but I warn you! If you ever dare to show up near my ship, you’ll be finding yourself in the sheriff’s company.”

He pushed her away from him, throwing her cap after her. Irina stumbled and grabbed her cap from the ground, then she ran away as fast as she could.

“Excuse me for a little moment!” Jack said to the captain, then he followed her. He caught up with her in a small alley, grabbing her hard and pressing her against the wall.

“Irina, nice to see you again.”

She struggled against him panicked and he had to admit that she was strong for a woman, yet not strong enough to escape his grip.

“Calm down, I only want to talk to you,” he announced.

Irina finally surrendered to his grip but avoided his eyes. He touched her hair and wiped some of the coal dirt out of her face, then he scanned her appearance.

“What is this about?”

“What is what about?” she asked as if she didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Your outfit and your face to start with… is that a bruise?” He touched her cheek and she turned her head.

“This is nothing…”

“It looks bad. Who did that?”

“Nobody… I… I stumbled… I fell down chairs.” She replied dismissive and for a long time he just looked at her seriously.

“So, this is how you spend your days? Walking around at the docks in boy’s clothes?”

“Yes…” she replied and he laughed amused.

“Well, I will tell you my little theory. Something is going on here, I assume weapons trade, since that is the most committed crime lately. And given the fact that you stole a strategic plan from my house I assume that you are a spy for the Confederate states.”

For the first time she looked at him, her eyes showing her shock. “I’m not a spy…”

“Then explain it to me… why did you steal and who did you steal for?”

“I did not steal for anyone…”

“I heard your words that night when you got up. I wasn’t asleep. You said, that time you were sorry. So it wasn’t the first time you stole and if you didn’t work for anyone, you could have just not done it if you felt sorry. By the way, you forgot your shoes.”

“I know…” Irina murmured and touched her bruise instinctively. He touched her hand softly and lifted her chin.

“Irina, if you talk to me I might be able to help you. Whoever threatens you or …” he looked at her bruise. “… did that to you committed a crime, which I can reproach him for.”

“No, I’m sorry…” she whispered and freed herself softly from him. “There are things, that you couldn’t change even if you were the president himself.”

She turned to go away, but he held her softly back. “I went to that place the last two nights, looking for you.”

“I wasn’t there…” she replied lowly and he chuckled.

“Yes, that’s what I noticed…”

“Why were you looking for me? Because of the plan I stole?”

“No…” He played with her hand. “I was just kind of hoping, we could meet again…”

“I’m married, Mr. Bristow.” She replied, trying to sound cold and dismissive.

“Yes,” he replied. “But how can you consider your marriage valid if your husband asks you to sleep with other men – and beats you in return?”

“It’s complicated…” she replied and Jack smiled into her hair.

“So I was right… it was him, wasn’t it?” He stated dryly. She gasped for air in shock as she realized that he had tricked her to get an answer.

“Listen, I… feel honored that I fulfilled your needs that well that you want me again, but I can’t. Yet I’m sure there are other women – even younger ones – who will fulfill your needs with the same qualities or even better.”

He pressed her against the wall. “This is not just about fulfillment of my needs. It’s so much more…”

“Please, don’t…” She felt her voice breaking and turned her head to the side when she realized that he had the qualities of a man she had always dreamed of. Someone who would protect her, love her and never hurt her. “You shouldn’t even think something like that. You are… a renowned man in society and I’m just a…”

“Shhh…” he silenced her by placing his finger over her lips. “If that’s the only way you can accept it, I will pay you again. Name a price.”

“Four thousand.” She replied in await of him losing interest, but instead, he nodded.

“Done.”

“You must be crazy…” she exclaimed and freed herself from him, walking a few meters before she stopped abruptly. “I have a question. Hypothetically, if there was a black woman, a slave, who has run away from her plantation in the south and is now hiding here in Boston, would there be any way to guarantee her safety and free her from her old owner, without her being punished for running away?”

Jack thought for a little moment, then he nodded. “Yes… not by law, but if a white person would pay the owner the price for her. Or, if she has enough money, she can pay the price herself.”

Irina turned and looked at him, then she approached him slowly. “Okay…” she whispered. “I will meet with you again, if you pay the price for such a woman. She’s a friend of mine. Of course I would meet with you three or four times since I know it’s a huge amount of money you are spending.”

He returned her look seriously, and wanted to tell her that he didn’t want anything in return, but then he thought about it. If he refused her offer, he would probably never see her again.

“Ten meetings and I will take care of a job and a home for your friend.” He said and Irina gasped for air, wanting to turn his offer down. Then she thought about it. Phillis would be safe, she would be free and earn money – she would have a future.

“What kind of job?” she asked and Jack shrugged his shoulders.

“I don’t know. Is she able to read and write?”

“Yes, she’s good at that. I taught her.”

He shot her an amazed look. “Well… then I might get her a job as a secretary.”

“Fine…” she murmured and closed her eyes for a moment. “I will do it. Ten meetings. But I can’t tell you when those will be. I have to be careful. My husband mustn’t know. And old rule, payment first.”

“Of course.” He replied amused, smiling at her and she smiled back softly. “Do you know the name of her owner?”

“Yes… Arvin Sloane. My husband lost his plantation to him in a poker game so now he’s the new owner. It’s in Virginia.”

“I’ll contact him.” Jack promised. “How can I find you?”

“You don’t. I will find you…” she replied and he closed the distance between them.

“How do I know you are actually planning to meet with me? I mean, if I don’t know where to find you, you could just disappear again.”

“Despite the job I’m doing, I have dignity.” She replied, her eyes holding his. “And if you help my friend and manage to free her, I owe you more than I have. I won’t betray you… Meet me in the ‘Blue Star’, where we met for the first time. I can’t tell you which evening I’ll be there, but I promise I will pay my dues.” She turned in shock, when she heard voices approaching from the docks. “I have to go…”

“Irina…” His voice held her back. “What’s your friend’s name?”

“Phillis!” she replied, then she rushed away, disappearing around the next corner. Jack Bristow looked after her and sighed. What was he doing here? She had stolen from him, most likely she was working for southern spies and yet, instead of arresting and interrogating her, he made deals with her.

He turned and went slowly back to the harbor, confused by the feelings he carried in his heart for the first time.

Irina ran along the dark alleys of Boston until she finally reached the point where she was supposed to meet with her husband and his accomplices.

“What took you so long?” Gerard snapped at her angrily and she looked at him coldly.

“I was being followed. It took me some time to get rid of him…”

“See what I mean?” Cuvee asked to his friends. “Never give any important tasks to your wife.”

Irina sighed and turned. “I’m going home, if you don’t mind.”

And without waiting for any reaction, she went away from the small group, her mind drifting away to the nice gentleman who had promised to help Phillis.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was already late night, when Irina entered the small bar. She scanned the room and her face brightened when she saw Jack sitting at the bar. Ignoring the words the men around her threw at her, she went straight towards him and slid to the chair next to him, smiling at the woman behind the bar.

“Hi, Emma… could you give me a vodka, please?”

“Sure!” the woman replied, eyeing her interested as she turned to talk to Jack.

“Hi…” she said and looked at him, not knowing what else to say. He simply returned her gaze, adoring her appearance.

“Hi!” he finally replied and took a sip of his drink. “You look… gorgeous.”

“Thank you…” she murmured and took the vodka, Emma gave to her.

“So, Irina…” The woman leaned on the table. “How is your husband?”

“Drunk, I suppose… as always? How is yours?”

“In bed with some slut from the harbor I suppose… as always!” she replied and winked at her. “Good for us, right? So we can do whatever we want, without someone peeking over our shoulders and telling us what to do…”

“Yeah… great!” Irina murmured, not convinced and Emma turned when a man from the other end of the bar table yelled something at her. Irina turned her attention back to Jack and smiled.

“So? Could you arrange something?” she asked and downed her vodka. Without turning a hair she put the glass back to the table.

He pulled out an envelope which he handed to her. She shook her head confused.

“What’s that?”

“Open it!” he simply replied and took another sip of his drink when she started to open it. Curiously she pulled out the white sheets of paper and unfolded it, then she read carefully.

It was the seller’s contract which proved that Phillis was now property of Jack Bristow, the second paper confirmed that he had given her unrestricted freedom and she didn’t belong to anyone anymore. Irina looked in disbelief at the papers, then raised her eyes to Jack.

“That’s so… I don’t know what to say… thank you!” she whispered.

“Make sure, she never loses either one of those sheets. She doesn’t have any restrictions from now on. She’ll be allowed to work and earn money as any free white woman does, but she needs those papers to prove it.”

Irina smiled happily and pecked him softly on the cheek. “I owe you…” she whispered into his ear and he laid his arms to her waist, pulling her closer and burying his face at the crook of her neck.

“You are so beautiful…” he whispered and she smiled, her arms wrapping around his neck and pulling him closer, her hands softly stroking through his hair.

“Lead the way…” she whispered into his ear and he brought some distance between them.

“Do you really want this?” he asked and she smiled softly, then she laid her lips to his in the lightest touch.

“Of course…” Her voice was low and he nodded.

“Of course,” he repeated her sentence and got up. “Then let’s go.”

Jack left a few coins to pay for their drinks and they exited through the door. When they were out in the streets walking next to each other, Irina finally asked the questions she was curious to hear the answer to.

“So, how much did you have to pay for Phillis?”

“Does that matter?”

“It does to me.” She replied and wrapped her arms around her body. “I want to pay my debts in full.”

“May I ask you something first? Why are you spying for the confederates and then breaking their laws and risking everything by hiding a slave?”

“Sometimes the things we want to do and the things we have to do are different ones,” she replied. “You’re avoiding my question… so, how much?”

“Eight thousand.”

“Eight…” she gasped for air in shock. “That’s so much more than I expected…”

“Irina!” He stopped and took her hand. “Don’t worry, the deal was ten meetings, and that’s it. I won’t ever reproach you for more than that.”

When they had entered his house, Irina was still slightly shocked at the huge amount of money which he seemed to not even bother to have spent. Well, he was rich, she thought to herself. What was a huge amount to her was probably very little to him.

“Bedroom again?” she asked, still a little distracted and he seemed to consider his answer for a little while.

“That depends.”

“On what?” she asked. “As I said, I’m very open… with a few restrictions of course…”

“Well, then this shouldn’t be a problem: This time I want you to honestly enjoy this.”

He scanned her reaction as she shook her head. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you might think I didn’t notice that, but last time you were not even close to enjoying anything.”

“Excuse me… I… did I do something wrong? I mean, did I not perform to your satisfaction? I thought you wanted me again?”

“Oh, I do, and this is not about me. It’s about you.” He explained and went into his living room to pour two glasses of whiskey for them. She followed him, totally set off.

“About me,” she repeated his words and took the whiskey he gave her.

“Yes. Okay, let me put this in other words. I want the beautiful woman I see, not the whore.”

Irina looked at him, her eyes just returning his gaze in disbelief and confusion, not knowing what he wanted from her.

“I’m not sure I understand – neither do I know how to fulfill your wish. Do you want me to dress into something else? I can wear the dress of a woman from your class if that’s what you want me to. Or…”

“No. No…” He laid his finger to her lips. “I’m sorry for confusing you. Actually I only want you to like this…” He ran his finger over her chin down her neck. “Or this…” His lips followed the path his fingers had went earlier.

“I do like it.” She replied and he laughed.

“No, not fake-like. Really like.” He replied and she brought some distance between them.

“Wait a moment… are you expecting me to like having sex with you?”

He wondered for a moment why he had not just chosen exactly those words. Most likely because she was a woman and the women he usually met weren’t used to direct expressions – another amazing side on her.

“Yes…” he simply replied, drinking a sip from his whisky.

She put her glass to the table and shook her head. “I’m sorry, but that’s one of the wishes I can’t fulfill.”

“Why?”

“Why?” she repeated his question in disbelief, her voice not hiding anger anymore. “Isn’t that obvious? You really expect me to enjoy doing…” she cut herself off and held her head to calm herself down. He looked at her for a long time, then he put down his glass and went to her, his hand softly touching her cheek.

“If you had the choice, would you sleep with me?”

She smiled sadly. “If I had the choice, Jack, I would never ever sleep with anybody again. I like you, I really do. You’re a gentlemen, not like the others, but still…”

“Okay…” he whispered softly and took his glass, then he handed her hers again. “Do you know how to play chess?”

“Chess? Yes, of course, but…”

“Then let’s play some chess.” He said cheerfully and sat down on the chess table next to the fireplace.

She just stared at him, obviously unsure about what to do and thinking about whether he was serious or not.

“You want me to play chess with you? What about…”

“I won’t sleep with you if you don’t truly want me to.” He simply replied and held up the figures. “Black or white, what do you want?”

“Black…” she replied courteously, since the person with the white figures was the one who started the game and was allowed to make the first move. Jack laughed amused at her behaved choice.

“You obviously know the rules, but so do I. If you’re playing with a lady, the lady always play with the white figures….”

“Excuse me, are you making fun of me?” Irina asked, still unsure whether Jack was just drunk or actually crazy.

“No.” He replied honestly. “I told you I was interested in you. I want to learn more about you… have a little fun with you. Something you enjoy too. If sex is out of the question, I thought, chess might be an alternative.”

She went closer to the table and helped him to put the figures on, then she finally sat down and looked at him for a long time.

“You don’t need to feel bad about me not enjoying it, Jack. I’m just a whore – I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me. It’s just…” she searched for an appropriate word. “…a job.” She finally ended the sentence and he held her eyes.

“I think you are lying.”

“God, you make me feel bad. I shouldn’t have told you anything about me, then you wouldn’t feel bad about…”

“That’s simply not true.” He interrupted her.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked and laid her hand to his.

“A spy for the Confederate states does everything, even selling herself to a stranger, for giving a future to a slave woman who has fled her owner. That’s as contradictory as anything could be. Maybe you’re fascinating me… You can make your first move, I’m ready.”

Irina took one of her peasants and moved it, not really interested in the game at the moment. A few more moves passed in silence, then Jack drew his attention back on her.

“So, tell me about your husband.”

“There’s nothing to tell…” she replied.

“He drinks. That would be something to start with.” Jack countered, thinking about his next move. Irina chuckled.

“You already know that.”

“You could be a little more specific… this is not any kind of interrogation. Just some small-talk.”

“Fine…” she replied and watched as his next move put her queen into danger. “My husband drinks with his friends every evening. Actually he is always drunk. He plays poker, but is a constant loser. He lost his plantation in one of those games and now I have to take care of the money. Which is hard to do since he loses most of it by playing. That’s pretty much the story.”

She moved one of her unimportant peasants and he looked at her. “Are you kidding me?”

“What?” she asked confused, her eyes holding his. He pointed at her queen.

“What about her? Instead of this damned peasant you could have moved her to…”

“…C 9,” she ended his sentence and nodded. “I know.”

Now it was his part to be confused. He leaned back and shot her an amused look.

“What are you doing?”

“What do you mean? I’m playing chess – obviously!”

“You’re letting me win.” He corrected her. “That’s not playing – that’s FAKE-playing.”

“Okay, could you stop telling me, everything I do is fake?” she countered slightly irritated, her eyes sparkling challenging. “I thought, women must never win against men. It’s just not appropriate for a woman to show her intelligence when she’s with a man.”

“Some men might think that way – the ones who need to prove their strengths by making other people look bad. I don’t want to play this game to prove myself in any way I want to seriously play.” He put Irina’s peasant back and moved her queen for her. “Otherwise I would feel insulted that you think, you have to let me win, because you don’t believe I could win in a real game.”

“I didn’t mean to!” Irina sighed and finally nodded. “Fine, let’s play seriously! But I have to warn you. I’m good at this game.”

“So am I. And that’s not a warning, that’s a challenge.” He smiled and made his next move. “So, you’re usually playing chess?”

“Yes. My father taught me. We used to play every evening when I was a child.” She looked at the board in consideration of her next move. “I continued playing with my husband, but he… well, let’s just say, he overreacts a little if he loses.”

She didn’t need to say more for him to know what she meant by those words. Again a few moves passed in silence.

“Why didn’t you get a divorce?” he suddenly asked, not looking up from the game.

“Because I’m a woman. I can’t prove anything and even if the local bureau would accept the divorce, my husband would sue me in front of the Supreme Court, where I would have no chance, as you should know.”

“Oh, I know women who have succeeded at the Supreme Court – especially when they have been abused.” He added and she avoided his eyes as he spoke out loud what was fact.

“Sure, but in my case… my husband has numerous proofs for my treason against the union. He would use them shamelessly, and I would probably end up divorced, but also executed.”

“You do have rights. The famous self-evident truths…”

“Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness. I know!” Irina correctly recited from the declaration. “But you miss a little passage in there. Every MAN has those unalienable rights, that leaves out the women!”

Again she astounded him. He had actually never known a woman who was able to recite from the Declaration of Independence – in fact most of them didn’t even know what it was.

“That might be true, but men who abuse their women are to be punished. That’s also a right. Not in the Declaration, but every judge would be on your side.”

“It’s complicated…” Irina murmured, watching with frowned forehead as she lost another figure to him, his move putting her tower in danger. He was indeed good at this game, she thought to herself.

“You know what would be really fair?” she asked, while thinking about how to rescue her tower.

“What?” he asked and looked at her interested.

“If women were equal. Allowed to take part in elections and choose their own husbands – or decide not to marry if they don’t want to. You might not see it that way, you are a man, but…”

“Oh, I agree with you. Some of my colleagues always say, that women are not smart enough to make decisions of their own – especially political ones. But then I look at you and think, that you are more intelligent than the smartest of them.” Despite her best efforts he managed to make her lose her tower.

“You’re very charming, Jack, but you shouldn’t overestimate my abilities.”

She made her next move quickly, taking his figure who had just beaten her tower. He sighed frustrated and she laughed.

“You wanted me to actually play!”

“And I still do, I just have to get used to the fact that I finally found somebody who’s equal in this game.” He murmured, scanning the board for possibilities.

They spent the whole night playing chess, the games lasting longer every time and the uneasiness they had started with vanished as the time went by. Jack noticed satisfied that Irina was really enjoying the time. He wondered more than once how easy she was to talk to. With the other women he met at balls, he always had to think about how to choose his next words, because one wrong word could cause one of those women to break down in a hysterical tirade of tears. One of the reasons why he hated to attend balls. He was single and so all the single ladies of Boston tried to go for him. Irina was different. He could talk to her, actually have a discussion with her because she wasn’t afraid to contradict him. Her presence was refreshing.

“I don’t believe that!” he finally exclaimed as she had won the game. “How did you see that move… I would have never seen it.”

“It’s just easy! Your queen was so exposed… a six year old would have seen that.” She replied laughing and he smiled at her.

“I want another game. We are two against two.” He challenged and she nodded.

“You want to lose again? Fine with me!” she replied and wanted to rearrange the figures, when she suddenly got aware of the dawn. The first sunbeams were already lightening the room. She jumped up in shock.

“My God… I have to go home!” she exclaimed and looked at Jack. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t notice how much time has passed and my husband doesn’t know I was gone. He thinks I’m sleeping and if he finds out…” She turned to go, but Jack held her back softly.

“Thank you… I really enjoyed this night – your company.” He corrected and she smiled back at him.

“So did I.”

As she met his eyes, the tenderness in them hit her like a wave. She felt like drowning in them without being able to fight it, a feeling that was so new and intense that it scared her.

His eyes went to her lips. When she noticed where his mind drifted to, she closed the distance between them, their lips as close as they could be without touching, her body firmly pressed to his. Suddenly his closeness made her feel dizzy.

Their lips brushed in the slightest kiss that could barely be called a touch at all, then Jack pushed her softly away, bringing distance between them.

“You need to go!” he said, trying to make his mind work rationally.

“Yes…” she nodded, still confused by the sudden feelings that had taken possession of her whole body. She tried to stop her body from shivering – the sudden loss of his warmth making her aware of how cold it was. She turned and went to the door, her mind like miles away.

“Irina!” Jack suddenly held her back and she turned. He held up her shoes. “Don’t you need those?”

She looked down at her bare feet and nodded. “Oh my god… yes, thank you.” She took her shoes out of his hand. “Oh, um… shall I come here next time or do you prefer to continue meeting in the bar?”

“No.” He replied. “No, you can come here if you want. I’ll be here. When will the next time be?”

“When I… don’t have other duties.” She murmured, then she turned and left the house. Jack went back into his living room and poured another glass of Whiskey which he downed in once. He knew, that he was seriously falling in love with that fascinating woman – and he also knew, that there were just so many problems with that, he didn’t even know where to start with.

Irina ran along the streets, only slowing down when she got near the house. She was tired like hell and longed for her bed.

Carefully she opened the door to her house and entered the kitchen. Gerard was sitting at the table, his head lying on his arms. He was sleeping soundly – obviously he was totally drunk.

Well, good for her. For the first time she was happy that he had drunk too much. She went up the stairs without making any noise and let herself sink into bed. When she was lucky she would at least get a few hours of sleep.

Chapter 3

Gerard Cuvee looked around and grabbed the arm of his wife harshly as he passed her by with the tablet of glasses. Irina shot him a cold look, her expression not changing as she pretended to be one of the upper class women in the large hall.

“Remember what I told you!” he hissed into her ear and gave a glass of wine to her. “No discussions, you do what he tells you to.”

“I always do what the men want me to,” she hissed back and took a sip of her wine. “- what you want me to!” she corrected and turned to walk away. Cuvee stared after her and shook his head angrily.

Irina knew he didn’t like if she just went away, ignoring him, but this evening she didn’t care. They were at a ball, Gerard to serve drinks and food, she to seduce one of the highest members of the cities parliament. But actually it was different from usual. Cuvee had bought this man in order to receive intel to him – and she had been the price.

She sipped at her wine again, lost in her thoughts. At least her customer would be a gentleman, not one of those rude mannered guys she was used to.

Courteously she refused as one of the younger men came towards her to ask her for a dance. She understood that she was new and so the society presented in here tonight was interested in learning who she was and where she came from.

Irina glanced at the elder man who was approaching her now. She swallowed hard and downed the rest of the contents of her glass at once as she noticed his appearance. He was a little taller than she was, but could only be called fat.

“Good evening!” he greeted her, his slimy lips pressing on her hand. She forced back the urge to pull her hand away. “I understand that you are Irina…”

“Yes…” she replied without emotion in her voice. “And you must be the man I was supposed to meet.”

“Sir Reignold… I have to admit when your husband told me about your beauty he was clearly understating it.”

She smiled courteously and turned a little to focus her attention back to the dancing couples, away from the unpleasant gentleman next to her. Through all his courtesy, his appearance repelled her.

“Allow me to get you another glass of wine?” He took the glass out of her hand and left her. Irina exhaled tortured when he was gone and felt the need to sit down. She didn’t understand why it was suddenly bothering her so much to sleep with men.

“Good evening, Madam!”

She started as someone took her hand and kissed it gentlemanly – but much too shortly in her opinion.

“Jack…” she whispered lowly and he looked down at her, his eyes showing that he liked what he saw. She was dressed like a true lady tonight, her hair properly done, her outfit glamorous and elegant.

“Now I am really glad my maid convinced me to attend this ball.” He murmured, smiling tenderly at her. She returned his soft smile.

“You’re too flattering…”

“What are you doing here?” He went around her, lowering his head to her ear when he was standing behind her. “Spying? Stealing?” His tone was amused and he noticed that she leaned slightly in to his touch.

“Neither… just paying my husband’s debts.” She murmured and turned her head slightly. “He might see us by the way, so you shouldn’t be so close to me.”

“Your husband minds if I touch you while he’s sending you to sleep with other men?” he asked and shook his head. “I don’t think so… and I find it very hard to stay away from you tonight when you are looking that breathtakingly beautiful.”

“I have a rendezvous and my…” she hesitated, looking for a word. “…contact will be back any minute. It might irritate him to see me flirting with another man…”

“Are you flirting with me, Irina?” Jack took her hands and locked their fingers. “We are just talking…”

“But…” Too close, her mind screamed almost deafening and she didn’t even understand why. She had already slept with this man, how could she suddenly feel his presence to be too close? “…normal people don’t talk like this…” she started and he noticed her nervousness.

“So, tell me at least who it is you are spending the night with…”

“Why do you want to know?” She returned his grip on her hands.

“I’m just curious who will be the lucky man.”

“Reignold…” she replied softly and he turned her around abruptly.

“What?!?” His voice was so loud that the people around them turned to eye them curiously and confused at the same time. Jack smiled apologetically and dragged Irina through some curtains out of the hall into the huge garden. She had difficulties to keep up with his speed until he finally stopped in the shadow of a huge pillar that held the roof over the small terrace.

“Jack…” Irina freed herself from him, her voice reflecting anger. “Are you out of your mind? You can’t just…”

“Listen to me!” he interrupted her, his face close to hers as he leaned with his hands against the cold stone pillar, capturing her in between his arms. “You must not go with that man. Under no circumstances!”

She looked at him for a long time, then she shook her head. “It won’t work like this.” She murmured. “You can’t just keep me from doing… what I have to do. This has nothing to do with love and although I have agreed to see you some more times, I can’t just restrict to you as the only man I’m meeting. If you can’t accept what I’m doing…” She took a deep breath. “…I think it would be better for us to not meet again. I will pay you with money and…”

“Listen to me… this is not about me! It’s about you! Reignold is a high member of the parliament, that’s why there has never been a trial and he can continue with his… actions.” He looked at her, his hand touching her cheek.

“Jack, what are you talking about? He is the informant of my husband and my husband paid him by promising him my company for tonight. That’s it!”

“Irina! This man is sick!” Jack shook his head. “You do not have any idea, what he is going to do to you, but I do! I have seen victims of his – women, mostly girls that sold themselves. I could never prove anything to him because he was given cover by some friends in the parliament. He’s too powerful.”

“What? Has he killed them?” Her face was pale.

“No – although one of them killed herself shortly after she was found. Do you remember the restrictions you told me on our evening – about what you are not going to do?” he asked softly and it took her some time to understand where he was going to. Her eyes reflected her shock as she covered her mouth with her hand.

“Oh my god…”

He was prepared for her to break down as he was used to from the girls he knew, but Irina pushed his arm away slightly and went towards a tree, deeply breathing in the clear night air.

“Oh god, that’s why Gerard told me to do everything Reignold wanted… I was wondering why he was pointing that out so much… I am so stupid to think he would at least like me enough to not sell me to such a sick…” Her voice was breaking. Jack touched her shoulders softly.

“I’m sorry.” He decided not to tell her that a man who had at least a hint of respect for his wife would never share her with another man. “Here…” He offered her a white handkerchief but she refused. He felt her body trembling and pulled her closer to him, feeling the need to protect her. She amazed him. Despite everything she didn’t cry. “You’re trembling… we should go inside.”

“No.” She freed herself from him. “No, I’m not going back in there to that…” She swallowed the insult and was about to go away. “I’m going home…” He grabbed her hand softly and pulled her into him, his eyes lowering to her beautiful lips. God, how much he wanted to kiss her…

“Irina… what about your husband? Won’t he be… irritated?” he looked at her, his eyes scanning her face. She lowered her eyes to the ground.

“Maybe… a little… but I can handle that.”

“But…”

“I’m okay! Really…” she insisted and he sighed.

“Fine.” He finally said lowly and touched her cheek. “Then… take care. When will we meet again?”

She smiled softly, her eyes locked with his.

“Soon. Thank you for telling me,” With these words, she freed herself and went away into the darkness of some trees. Jack turned and walked back inside. He was too lost in his thoughts to notice the man who was standing in the shadow, following him with his eyes, the hands clenched to fists.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She didn’t even need to turn around as the door opened to know, that it was her husband entering the kitchen. The door slammed shut.

She closed her eyes. As she had predicted he was outraged – she could already hear that from his steps – and probably even more than that. She turned around, ready to explain her actions as his fist hit her hard in the face. She cried out in shock and pain and fell to the ground by the power of his punch.

For a moment she felt as if she was going to lose consciousness, her head feeling like bursting, when Gerard grabbed her and pulled her up harshly.

He pushed her against the table and she ignored the pain that rushed through her bones, but held onto the edge of the wooden board to regain her balance.

“Wait… let me explain…” she cried out, as he was about to attack her again.

“Explain?” he yelled at her. “Fine, explain to me.”

“He wants to do things I… never do!”

“I know!” Gerard nodded furiously. “That’s why he can’t find any more women. I told you to do what he expects, didn’t I?”

She closed her eyes furiously. “You sent me straight to him although you knew what he would most likely do with me?”

“It’s not worse than the other things you have done… just a little pain involved!”

“Bastard!” She slapped him across his face, her eyes starting to fill with tears. “How dare you…”

She wasn’t even able to finish the sentence as the next things happened too fast for her to later recollect what exactly had happened. He grabbed her and threw her against the wall, his hand punching hard into her stomach, making her feel as if she was unable to breathe.

“And who told you that, you damned whore? This lover you had a romantic encounter in the garden with?” As she was still unable to talk, he grabbed her hair and pulled her head harshly back. “Answer me, slut! Were your duties not enough that you needed a lover?”

“It’s not like that…” Tears streamed down her face as she felt as if she was choking due to a lack of oxygen.

“I have seen you in that garden… I saw the way he was touching you, so don’t you dare deny!” His hand hit her again and she sobbed as he threw her against the table.

“You…” she started and looked at him through tears. “It has never disturbed you if I slept with men to pay your debt – or just because you thought it was courteous.”

“It never did disturb me?” He pulled her close to his face. She held onto his hands, trying to loosen them from her throat. “You are right, because that was for purposes. That was how we earned money. I saw you… you liked his touch, little b****. You’re cheating on me.”

“That’s not true…”

“You are MY wife, and my wife doesn’t fool around out of fun with any other man than her husband.” He pulled her to his lips, kissing her harshly, his hands tearing at her dress. She tried to push him away, tears streaming down her face as she didn’t succeed in doing so. He grabbed her hands and pushed her harshly back to the table.

“Is that what you want?”

“Stop it!” She yelled, as his hands ran down her body with not the slightest hint of tenderness. She fought desperately against his grip, finally succeeding as she managed to free her legs and kick him away. He stumbled, giving her enough time to jump off the table. As she wanted to run out of the room, he grabbed her ankle and she fell hard onto the floor.

Despite all her efforts he had soon trapped her, pinning her to the ground with the weight of his body, his hand slapped her as she tried to fight him until she let her hands sink to her side, surrendering to him. Tears streamed silently down her face as his lips and hands continued to walk over her body.

Suddenly she felt something cool at her fingers, one of the knives that had fallen off the table during their fight. Her fingers closed around it, unfortunately Gerard looked up at exactly the same moment as she lifted her hand.

He cursed in fury, grabbed her wrist and tried to make her let go of the knife. She cried out in pain as she felt as if he was breaking her hand and finally loosened her grip. The sharp weapon fell down onto the hard ground and he grabbed it, holding it to her throat.

“What do you say now? I could just kill you and it wouldn’t even take much of an effort.” His hand went under her dress and she closed her eyes.

“I hate you!” she hissed and as she realized how true those words were, she took the last bit of strength that was remaining in her body. Her hands closed around his and she turned him around with a cry, not even realizing that she hurt herself with the knife. “I HATE YOU!” she yelled into his face, her eyes now reflecting nothing but pure hatred and disgust.

She grabbed the knife and turned it towards him exactly in the same moment as he sat up to pounce on her, the expression in his eyes assuring that he was ready to kill her. She hadn’t meant to stab him, and so she cried out in shock as the knife bored into his stomach. His eyes grew wide as he sank back onto the cool floor, staring in disbelief at the knife.

“You stabbed me…” he moaned in pain, his breath becoming shallow.

“Oh god…” She looked at him trembling as his head fell to the side and he didn’t move anymore. She had murdered her husband. Tears streamed down her face as she just fled the house through the door, ignoring the pain in her body and the fact that she was hurt herself. Like hypnotized, she stared at the blood in her hand and pressed it back to the side of her waist, which started to sting now and made her almost go weak in the knees.

Finally her sobs came out uncontrolled, her body trembling and her mind no longer able to focus. She didn’t know how she managed to reach the old house at the edge of the city. Mechanically she opened the door and stumbled inside, her legs finally giving way as the pain overwhelmed her, finally shrouding her mind in darkness.

The sun had already rose as the baker’s wife found her next morning. Letting the basket with bread fall to the ground, she screamed as she thought Irina was dead.

Phillis came out of the hatch and ran towards her, alarmed by the deafening scream.

“Oh god!” she cried out and sank to her knees next to her friend. “Irina…”

She didn’t know where to touch the woman, all she saw was Irina’s dress soaked with blood.

“Irina!” She touched the woman’s cheek and felt her pulse. “She needs help!”

“Phil…” Irina’s voice was weak and her eyelids fluttered.

“Irina, don’t move!” Phillis ordered and looked at the baker’s wife who was still staring in shock at the woman who was streamed with blood. “Mary, we need help! I need you to go to Jack Bristow! Here…” Phillis pulled out the two sheets of paper Irina had given her the days before. “Give that to him! Tell him to come here!”

“No…” Irina grabbed the hand of her friend, trying to get up, but the world started to spin in front of her eyes. “No… not Bristow. Don’t…”

“Irina, he’s a good man! He will help you… he is your friend!”

“No… you don’t understand… I murdered…” her voice broke, her chest starting to ache as sobs built up in her throat.

“Go!” Phillis ordered Mary, her voice low as she didn’t want Irina to contradict again. She held her friend’s head softly. “But hurry!”

Mary nodded and ran away. Phillis looked at Irina, carefully examining the extensions of her injuries. “Shh… stop crying!” she whispered and touched her cheek. “Everything is going to be okay.”

“No… I… I killed… Gerard. I murdered him… they will have me executed. You must not get Bristow here… please…” Irina felt her consciousness fade away again as the pain in her head started to sting awfully. Phillis held her in her arms, softly talking to her, her eyes filling with tears. As she heard the sound of a carriage she looked up, relieved as Mary ran towards her, followed by Jack Bristow.

“Oh God, I’m so glad you are here…” she whispered with broken voice. “She lost consciousness again. I’m afraid that she’s…”

Jack looked at the feature of the woman at the ground, his eyes widening in shock. “Oh God… what happened?”

“I… I… don’t know…” Phillis sobbed and Mary pulled her softly away from Irina. Jack felt her pulse, then he looked up.

“How did she get here?”

“She must have walked.” Mary answered instead of Phillis. “I found her as I made my usual visit.”

Jack looked up. “She needs a doctor.” He lifted Irina up carefully and carried her the way back to the carriage. “Will you do me a favor? Dr. Walker, he lives next to the church! Go to him, tell him to come to my house immediately!”

Mary nodded hastily and Jack looked from her to Phillis. “You come with me! I need you to tell me, what happened.”

Only five minutes later they entered Jack’s house. He carried the still unconscious woman in his arms up the stairs into his guest room and laid her carefully down on the sheets of the bed, then he rushed down to wait for the doctor.

His maid hurried into the room with a dish full of water and a cloth, carefully starting to clean Irina’s face from blood and dirt. At the contact of the cold water with her face she slowly regained her consciousness. She moaned in pain and tried intuitively to get up, but the old woman pushed her back softly.

“Shht, my dear, it’s okay… you’re safe now.” Irina looked at her and sank back onto the sheets, closing her eyes exhausted. “Come on… we need to get you out of that dress…”

It took her some time to get Irina out of the dress. When Jack and the doctor entered the room some time later, old Maggie shook her head.

“Poor thing… she must have been through a lot.” She whispered and Jack watched her leave. Dr. Walker sat down on the bed, examining Irina’s bruises and injuries. Jack sat down on her other side, softly smiling at her as she opened her eyes. Tears kept flowing down her cheeks.

“Who did this?” Jack whispered softly. “Reignold or your husband?”

“Gerard…” she replied weakly. “Oh god… I… I…” She started to break down in sobs again.

Dr. Walker glanced at him and shook his head. “One of her ribs looks broken, she has an injury, most likly from a knife and dozens of bruises… even on her head. She might suffer from a concussion, besides she is still in an acute state of shock. Do you have any idea who did this to her?”

“I’m afraid so…” Jack replied and Irina sat up in a sudden move, looking at him and taking his hand.

“Jack, I murdered him… it was an accident, I didn’t mean to…”

Jack pressed her softly back into the sheets, his hand holding her firmly. “It’s okay. Don’t worry, everything will be alright.”

“No, you don’t understand…” she replied, her voice trembling.

“Tell me what happened… but slowly, understood? You are safe now and nothing will happen to you.” His eyes were locked with hers, his words, emphatic and reassuring, meant to calm her down.

“I went away from that party.” Irina started, closing her eyes and wiping her tears away, unable to stop the new ones from rolling down her cheeks. She tried desperately to focus and stop her body from trembling. “I went home, because I didn’t want to explain to Gerard at that party why I didn’t want to go with Reignold… I didn’t want to know everybody who I am – ouch…” She looked at Dr. Walker, who was treating the wound at her side.

“Sorry.” He replied and smiled warmly. “That might hurt a little, but I have to clean your wounds.”

“However…” Irina continued, turning her attention back on Jack. “I went home to wait for him… but when he came he was outraged. He didn’t even want to let me explain and he had seen us in the garden and…” She started to speak faster and Jack pressed her hand softly.

“Calm down…” he insisted. “He was outraged… did he attack you?”

She nodded, not even realizing the pain anymore. “He wouldn’t even hear a word. I was so afraid… and then I fought against him. He knew what a person Reignold is… can you imagine? He knew and yet he sent me…” She wiped her tears again, her hand trembling. “When he told me I was so furious I slapped him… and then – I don’t know exactly what happened. It feels like hidden in clouds… I just remember that he tried to… he wanted me to sleep with him, and when I refused, he got even angrier. He was so strong… and then I felt the knife at my hands…”

Jack didn’t need her to go on with her explanations for he could imagine the rest of her story. He nodded understandingly. “Then you stabbed him…”

“No! No…” she cried out in panic. “I didn’t stab him… it was an accident. I didn’t mean to… god, I just wanted him to get away from me… I never actually planned to use the knife. I just wanted to get out of there. But somehow… I don’t know how it happened…”

“It’s okay…” Jack took her hand and kissed it softly. “No matter whether you stabbed him deliberately or not, it was self-defense. You were in panic…”

Again she wiped the tears and started to curse slightly as she couldn’t stop the tears from running.

“You’re in shock.” Jack looked at the doctor. “How much time will you need?” he asked the man and the doctor sighed, carefully treating the deep wound of the knife.

“Not that long. She needs to rest. You should send your maid to arrange for a bath for her, afterwards she should rest and sleep. She’s very exhausted and has lost a lot of blood. She’ll be okay in a few days, but she has to be careful… no stress, no heavy things. Sleep is most important. But I doubt she will want to do anything else during the next days since she’ll most likely suffer from a headache.”

Jack got up and left the room to call for Maggie. He felt bad. If he just hadn’t let Irina alone after the ball last night. He should have known that something like this would happen. He took his coat and left the house. If Irina’s story was true, Gerard Cuvee was most likely still in her house. He would have to call the sheriff, then he would get a divorce for Irina.

Chapter 4

As the doctor predicted, Irina spent the next eight days in bed, sleeping most of the time. Phillis visited her from time to time. Jack had given her the address of an old friend who was searching for a personal secretary at the moment and she had been hired after a short interview.

When she visited Irina on the ninth day, she was surprised to find the woman running around in her room.

“Hi!” she greeted and Irina’s eyes lightened up as she saw her friend. “What are you doing?”

“Phil… thank god you’re here! Could you please tell Maggie that I am alright and want to take a walk or something? I’m getting crazy in here, and I’m feeling okay!”

“You’re the opposite of okay, my dear!” Old Maggie contradicted as she entered the room, having heard Irina’s last words. “And I don’t want to risk Mr. Bristow’s anger because you broke down while walking down the stairs!”

“I need fresh air! I will break down if I stay in this room!” Irina snapped back and Maggie passed her by and opened the window, then she turned, her face strict.

“There you go, fresh air! Now back to bed, please!” She pointed at the bed and Irina felt like a stupid little girl.

“Irina, maybe she’s right!” Phillis intervened. “You should rest…”

“I didn’t say I want to travel to England! I just want to get out of this room! I am fine!”

Maggie and Irina started a heavy discussion now, their voices growing louder by sentence and Phillis tried to stop them by raising her own voice. Finally she gave up and let herself sink to the bed, just watching the two women fight – who were obviously enjoying their little discussion.

“Fine!” Maggie finally snapped. “Ten minutes! Not an additional second!”

“Ten minutes? Are you kidding me?” Irina asked and folded her arms. “I want to get up, so would you please get me something to dress…”

“You won’t need a dress for ten minutes… your robe will be fine!” Maggie demanded and Irina laughed.

“If you don’t get me a dress, I will get one by myself… which I would have to go to the city for!”

“Don’t you dare…” Maggie warned.

“What’s going on here?” Jack entered the room, his eyes blinking amused. The three women turned around and Maggie folded her arms.

“The lady is being a little… stubborn.”

“Me?!?” Irina asked and Phillis started to laugh.

“I’d say you two are pretty equal concerning the stubbornness.” She commented from the bed.

“She wants to go out although the doctor prescribed her to stay in bed!”

“I don’t want to go out!” Irina contradicted. “Don’t make it sound like I was planning to walk hundreds of miles! I just want to get up. I need to get out of this room, and all I asked for was something more appropriate to dress in!”

Jack laughed at the scene, then he looked at Maggie, his eyes sparkling in amusement.

“So? Why don’t you get her a dress then?”

“But, Mr. Bristow… the doctor…” Maggie started but Jack interrupted her softly.

“He said that she should stay in bed as long as she feels weak. That’s obviously not the case anymore. So if she wants to get up, she should do so.” He calmed the old maid down, who sighed theatrically.

“With all due respect, but you are as stubborn as her!” she replied, then she rushed out of the room to get a dress. Jack looked after her, then he shot Irina an amused look.

“She likes you.” He commented and Irina raised her eyebrows.

“Actually we’re fighting all the time…”

“It’s her way of showing that she respects somebody.”

“I heard that!” Came Maggie’s voice from somewhere outside and Jack grinned.

“Well, that’s because I said it loud enough!” he yelled back amused and Irina couldn’t help but laugh. Jack turned to her, his eyes locking with hers tenderly until she suddenly got aware of her state of clothing. She was only wearing her nightgown and suddenly she felt uneasy.

Jack noticed the sudden change in her behavior and turned around to leave her some privacy. “I’ll be downstairs…”

He left the room and Irina let herself sink to a chair and looked at Phillis.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“What? That you’re just wearing a nightgown? I thought you knew…” she joked. “By the way, you’ve already spent a night with him, so why do you bother…”

“I don’t know… it is just somehow different now…” Irina sighed and closed her eyes, which made her miss the interested look on Phillis’s face.

“Different? What do you mean?”

“I don’t know…” Irina didn’t want to go further into the topic since it didn’t seem to have much importance to her. “So, tell me, how is your work?”

“Great!” Phillis’s eyes started to gleam. “I have actual breaks now… and my boss is too nice. He even pays for food so I’m not hungry while working. I wrote my first official letter today.”

“Phil, I’m so proud of you…”

“That’s all because of you, Irina… remember when you came to our plantation fifteen years ago? I was just a stupid girl, neither able to read, nor write… I didn’t even know there were other countries. I was just a slave whose whole world took place on the cotton field of a plantation. But you saw something more in me.”

“No…” Irina got up and took her friend’s hand. “Maybe I taught you to read and write, but the best teacher is just as good as his student. You did the hard work, I just helped you a little.”

The two women shared a hug as Maggie returned into the room, a long dress in her hands, a hairbrush and pins in her other hand.

“So, let’s start…” she announced and Irina got up.

“And you can also help… don’t just sit there. We’re not a theater, so spectators are not accepted. So either you help or you leave!” Maggie commented, shooting Phillis a strict look. “And you should start by pulling out that nightgown or do you want to keep it on under your dress?”

After another half an hour of discussions and tries, Irina was finally standing in front of the huge mirror, looking like a lady, her hair neatly combed and falling in soft waves over her shoulders.

Maggie smiled contentedly. “Nice…”

“Just nice?” Irina asked skeptically and the old maid grinned.

“Perfect…” she corrected. “I don’t think we’ll use those…” she put the hairpins away. “You look great.”

“Thank you…”

She left the room as Maggie’s voice held her back.

“Wait… you can’t go barefoot or you’ll catch a cold.”

Irina looked at her bare feet and then followed Maggie with her eyes, who rushed out of the room. Only a few moments later she returned with a pair of socks and some slippers.

“Those are some of mine, but we should have the same size.” She announced and Irina pulled on the shoes. “Perfect..” Maggie murmured, then the strict look returned to her face. “But don’t blame me if you break down from weakness and don’t expect me to have pity then!”

Irina laughed and left the room. She went carefully down the stairs, holding on to the wall as a short dizziness overwhelmed her. Then she entered the living room, smiling at Jack who was sitting in an armchair, reading the actual issue of the newspaper. He looked up as she entered the room, his face lightening up at her appearance.

“Hi,” she greeted him almost shyly and he smiled.

“Sit down.” He offered her and she sat down on the chair, pulling her knees up to warm her feet. For a moment she just looked at him, then she finally sighed.

“Thank you… I don’t know what I would have done without your help.”

He held her eyes a moment, then he got up. “Why didn’t you come to me immediately? Your friend told me, that you didn’t want her to get me at first.”

“Yes…” she lowered her eyes and Jack waited patiently for her answer while he poured two glasses of whiskey. He was just about to offer one of the glasses to Irina, when Maggie entered the room, her shrill voice starting him and making him almost drop the glasses.

“Don’t you dare!”

“Damn it, Maggie!” he turned around and caught the angry glance of the maid.

“The only drink Miss Irina gets is hot chocolate or tea. No alcohol…” she warned and looked at Irina. “Chocolate or tea?”

“Um…” Irina had no idea. “Actually… I don’t know.”

“Then I will get you a good hot chocolate a la Old Maggie!” The maid smiled at her warmly, then turned back to Jack, taking the glasses of Whiskey out of his hand. “And these go with me… just in case.”

Then she rushed out of the room. Irina jumped up. “Wait, I’ll help you with the…” she started, and Maggie stopped and spun around.

“Don’t you dare move! Sit down in that chair!”

Irina sat back and watched Maggie leave, then she looked at Jack. “She doesn’t need to wait on me…”

“She’s paid to do so.” he replied smiling. “Besides she doesn’t accept any persons in her kitchen. I tried to get a glass of milk by myself once… I will never forget the tirade that followed.”

Irina smiled and smoothed out the dress.

“So…” Jack continued. “Why didn’t you want me to help you?”

“Because…” She looked at him, her face serious now. “I murdered my husband and I wasn’t sure about your reaction. I didn’t want to end up executed and I was so afraid…”

Jack sat back into the armchair next to Irina. “I am your friend, Irina…” he replied softly and she smiled back at him, her eyes not leaving his as she took his hand in hers.

“I know… now I know.” She whispered.

He took her hand between his. “You can stay as long as you want… I will have to go away for a few days. But first I need to tell you something, which you have to know. Irina, you did not murder your husband.”

“I did not?” she asked, at first not getting where his point was. “You mean…”

“Yes. After what you’ve told me, the sheriff and I visited your house. We found no sign of your husband, but traces indicate that he has left the house by himself. I thought he was dead, therefore you would have been a widow, but since that is not the case, I filled out the papers for your divorce.”

“What?” Her eyes grew wide. “But my husband is still alive. I don’t want a divorce.” He could clearly hear the terror from her voice and got to his knees in front of her.

“Irina, he almost killed you! Your injuries proved that, the doctor witnessed what I told the judge and confirmed my descriptions. Your husband committed a crime… actually more than one by doing that to you.”

“How dare you…” she jumped up and went to the window. “Listen, I’m grateful for what you did for me… in fact I thought he was dead, but I didn’t expect you to involve the court and…”

“Irina!” Jack touched her shoulders and pulled her softly closer. “He is gone, nobody knows where he is.”

“You don’t understand! He will pull me in! I’ve spied – I’ve committed crimes myself.”

“I know… and the judge knows.” The sentence was meant to calm her down, but had the opposite effects.

“What? You went to the court and…” She turned around.

“I had to…” he replied and she freed herself from him. “Listen, the judge understands that you had no other chance. No wife can be reproached for standing by her husband. Besides he threatened you… you won’t be reproached for anything. All I need now is the signature of the judge who wedded you fifteen years ago. I will be south anyway in the next days and I’ve already set a meeting with him.”

Irina looked at him, shaking her head. “You don’t understand. If Gerard is still alive, he won’t just accept a divorce. In fact he will seek revenge for what I’ve done and…”

“You are safe here. He won’t be able to do anything to you. He’s now wanted in Boston, so he knows, that it would be foolish of him to stay here.” He explained and Irina sighed, her eyes showing that she still didn’t fully believe him. “Trust me.”

Her eyes held his for a long time, then she lowered her eyes. “I will.”

Before either of them could say any more word, Maggie returned with two cups of hot chocolate. She sensed a certain tension in the air, but didn’t react.

“So, here’s your chocolate.” She gave the hot cup to Irina. “If you need anything else, just call for me.” Then she turned to Jack. “Here, I made you a chocolate as well… I know you prefer tea, but since I was making chocolate anyway…”

“Thanks…” Jack replied, sitting back down to his chair. When Maggie was gone, Irina looked at him.

“How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know yet. Some days… maybe weeks.” She didn’t show any reaction, but took a nip of her chocolate. “Will you still be here when I return?” he finally asked softly and she laid her head back against the rest of the chair.

“Where could I possibly go?” she murmured and looked at him, realizing that her vague answer wasn’t enough for him. “Yes, I will still be here.”

“Promise?”

“Promise!” she replied.

“I will arrange for some new dresses for you, so you have something to dress in. The sheriff will visit you during the next days and ask a few questions to you. No need to worry, just answer them truthfully. Afterwards he will accompany you to your house so you can grab the stuff you want to take with you. I told him, you would live with me for the next few weeks.”

“Thank you.” She whispered, but although she tried to sound happy he could clearly hear a hint of fear and insecurity from her voice…

Chapter 5

The next two days passed without anything happening. After Jack had left early the next morning, Maggie spent the whole day entertaining Irina, who felt obviously bored having to spend her whole day alone in a huge house.

Finally the old woman even overcame herself and allowed Irina to help her in the kitchen. They spent the day baking and cleaning the house, joking and fighting as always. Maggie enjoyed to finally have female company.

At the third day, the sheriff visited Irina, as Jack had announced. He asked her a few questions concerning her marriage and the behavior of her husband, but also concerning her activities as a spy for the Confederates. Irina answered them truthfully as far as she could. She didn’t know the names of all the contacts Gerard had had, but she could describe most of the men.

Afterwards they visited Irina’s old house, the sheriff carefully searching the rooms for any sign that Gerard Cuvee had returned. When he was sure that the house was empty, he allowed Irina to enter and collect some of her stuff.

Irina didn’t take much with her, since almost everything carried unpleasant memories. She simply took a few of her personal stuff from her room, things that belonged to her. An old necklace from her mother, her father had given to her at the day of her marriage, some old books and two dresses.

She looked at the necklace, weighing the beautiful pendant in her hand. Her mother had died early. She hadn’t survived the birth of her second child – neither had the child – but she knew, that her father had always been desperately in love with her. The necklace had been a symbol for that love, since, although they had been married in Russia by their parents against their will, they had learned to truly love each other. He had wanted to give the same luck to his only daughter.

Irina hadn’t had contact with her father for years. Gerard hadn’t permitted it, so she didn’t know how he was doing – if he was still alive.

Irina pressed the necklace to her chest. How could her father have known what kind of person Gerard was?

After she had collected her precious things, she left the house as fast as she could. She didn’t want to ever return here.

The fourth day started out differently. Irina had been sitting in Jack’s study for a long time the previous night (since the study was the only room which was held warm during the night), and so she was still sleepy as Maggie entered her room early the next morning.

“Wake up, Miss!” she announced in a good mood, pulling the curtains open and letting the bright sunlight in. As she opened the windows widely, Irina moaned.

“Maggie, what are you doing? What time is it?”

“It’s already half nine, and Mrs. Daniel, the tailor’s wife, is waiting downstairs for you.” Mercilessly she pulled away the sheets and Irina sighed.

“What does she want from me?”

“She’s here because you need dresses! Mr. Bristow has arranged for her to visit you.” Maggie explained, while she shook out the sheets at the open window.

“I’ll be down in five minutes…” Irina tried to grab back the sheets, but Maggie held them firmly.

“With all due respect, but if you wouldn’t sit in the study, reading till two ‘o clock every night, you wouldn’t be so tired in the morning! Or did you think I wouldn’t notice?” Her tone was amused when she left the room, taking the sheets with her in wise foresight. Irina let herself fall back into the bed, the cool air from the open window making her shiver. She pulled her knees to her chest, hugging them to warm herself up.

“Come on, up, up, up!” Maggie cheered as she returned into the room. Irina was close to throwing a cushion at her, when the woman laid a cloth that was soaked with icy water to her face. Within one second she was sitting straight in bed.

“Are you insane?” she snapped at Maggie, her mood sinking to point zero.

“You can continue yelling at me in the bathroom. Come on, we don’t want to let Mrs. Daniel wait too long!” She pulled Irina into the bathroom, where a tub with hot water was already prepared for her. “Hurry… I’ll be back in ten minutes to help you get dressed. Now I have to make a hot cup of tea for our guest!”

Having said the words she rushed out of the room. At first Irina considered seriously going back to bed for five more minutes, then she finally let herself sink into the hot water of the tub, enjoying the warmth.

As Maggie entered the room fifteen minutes later she was almost asleep. The woman put her hands to her hips, shaking her head in disbelief.

“Miss Irina!” she then yelled, half amused, half irritated. Irina sat upright in the tub, wide awake at the loud voice. “I thought you would already be sitting in front of your mirror and what do I have to see here?”

“I’m almost done…” Irina tried to calm her down and Maggie nodded amused.

“Yes, I can see that…” She threw a large towel towards her as she got up and Irina wrapped herself into it, shivering. Five minutes later she was dressed in her undergarment in front of the mirror. The next discussion started when Maggie was about to take care of her hair.

“I can do that myself!” Irina announced.

“As long as I am employed in this house as maid, a lady will not comb her hair herself!” the woman contradicted, but Irina took the comb out of her hand.

“Well, I am not the lady of this house, so…”

Maggie turned around and left the room, her expression offended, but Irina knew that it wouldn’t last long. Already two minutes later when she returned, she was joking again. Irina admired her ability to forget about her rage as fast as it appeared.

“So, you ready? Great!”

“I need a dress!” Irina exclaimed as Maggie pulled her out of the room since she was still wearing her underwear.

“That’s what Mrs. Daniel is here for.” Maggie simply stated and pulled Irina down the stairs.

When they entered the living room, they were greeted by a nice looking woman. Her cheeks were red and her face was glowing happily.

“Here she is…” Maggie announced and the woman stood up from her chair. Irina felt uneasy given her state of clothing, but remembered her manners.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Daniels.” She estimated the woman to be only a few years older than she was.

“You can call me Gina, darling…” The woman smiled friendly, taking her hands and examining her figure. “Now let me see, what do we have here… oh, that looks really good. Yes, I have some really beautiful things that will suit you perfectly. Maggie, would you tell the girls to bring the dresses in?”

Maggie left the room and Irina observed half fascinated, half shocked as three young girls now started to bring in dresses, shoes and the finest materials. Soon the living room was changed into a huge dressing store with dresses and shoes lying on every free place that could be found. Irina tried so many dresses that she finally couldn’t even concentrate on counting them anymore. Every dress was commented by Gina, she gave the three girls her orders and observed the whole scenery.

“Um… the cut suits you… You are very slender so we should use tight cuts… but the yellow doesn’t fit the color of your hair. I’d say we should go for darker colors… how is that satin-green? Maggie, honey, what do you think?”

“Adorable…” The maid cried out in delight as Gina held the color to Irina’s face. “It underlines the color of her eyes and seems to go perfectly with her hair.”

“So, what do you think? This cut in green?” Gina thought and cocked her head slightly. “Irina, could you turn around once more please?”

Irina turned and Gina finally nodded. “The cut is perfect. So I’d say, Model 24, 32 and 16 in darker colors… what about dark red? Anne, could you get me the waistband out of the carriage?” she ordered one of the girls.

The whole day consisted of getting dressed and undressed, finding shoes that fit the dresses, and accessories like necklaces and earrings. When Gina was finally gone with a huge list, Maggie looked very content with herself, Irina more insecure.

“Who is going to pay for all of this?”

“Don’t worry about that, darling. Mr. Bristow left me enough money to buy new clothes for you.”

“But how am I supposed to ever pay him back… it’s so much.”

“Don’t worry about that.” Maggie said, not even discussing anymore as Irina helped her to take the used cups and plates back to the kitchen.

“Maggie… I want to get a job.”

“A job?” Maggie laughed. “Well, I don’t think Mr. Bristow would appreciate you going for a job on your own. He told me to take care of you and…”

“I need to earn money. I mean, I can’t go on living like this… maybe I could clean somewhere… or be a maid like you!” Irina thought and Maggie turned around to take the plates out of her hand and put them into the hot water to clean them.

“You are smart, Miss Irina. You have behavior and you’re self-confident. Maybe you should rather go for a job as a private tutor. A friend of mine is taking care of the children at the house of Mr. Drake. I know from her that the family is looking for a nice woman to teach their children writing and reading.”

“Oh, that would be perfect. I can teach people.”

“Great!” Maggie smiled at her. “And I don’t think Mr. Bristow would mind… I will talk to my friend tomorrow.”

Irina hugged the old woman. “Thank you, Maggie.”

“Yes, okay…” The woman said strictly. “But I can only promise to talk to her – that doesn’t guarantee a success. And now you should go to bed. The day has been very exhausting for you.”

Irina thought it better not to discuss with her. “You are right… good night.”

“Night, my dear.” As Irina was about to leave the room, Maggie turned around. “And Irina! The study is not your bedroom!” she called after her strictly and Irina laughed. Maggie shook her head and smiled to herself. She liked the woman, her spirit was refreshing and in her behavior she matched Jack Bristow perfectly. It would be wonderful if Jack finally decided to let a woman into his life for Irina seemed to be the perfect woman for him.

Four days later Irina had an interview with Mrs. Drake for the job as private tutor for her two children. The family had obviously already seen some women but none of them had been to their satisfaction, so Maggie gave advice to Irina while doing her hair and choosing the right dress for her until Irina stopped her laughing.

“Maggie, I know how to deal with people. I’m not a girl going for her first job!”

The maid looked at her strict, then she smiled softly. “I know, but some upper class people can be rather weird sometimes. I understand that you haven’t been in contact with many people from the upper class, so just remember one thing when talking to them,” Maggie turned Irina’s face to hers and looked her into the eyes. “Never ever lower your eyes… keep eye-contact, your chin lifted just like that… you’re a lady and you’re self-confident. I know the Drakes can behave a little inappropriately when talking to a person from a lower social class than they are. I just wanted to tell you so you are prepared.”

“Thank you.” Irina nodded and turned back to the mirror. “But after all they’re nothing more than human beings, aren’t they?”

Maggie shot her a respectful look through the mirror and finally stepped back. “Perfect.”

Irina got up and grabbed for her cape, which completed her outfit in the most elegant manner. Then she turned to Maggie, whose expression encouraged her.

“I’ll be back in a few hours.”

“And I’ll be waiting with a hot cup of tea.” Maggie smiled and watched as Irina left the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The interview went as well as it could have. Although Mrs. Drake obviously had prejudices against her lower class origin, she appreciated Irina’s honesty and her self-confidence, not to mention her knowledge about politics and history. Irina found Mr. and Mrs. Drake to be very friendly, but also somehow distant people, but she enjoyed teaching their children. Philip and his younger sister Dana were well behaved and good students. They seemed to like her and followed her lessons with patience and interest, sometimes asking questions to get further into a topic they were interested in.

As agreed, Irina’s lessons were every day, left out the week-ends. So Irina spent the afternoons at the Drake’s house, earning good money. She enjoyed preparing for the lessons and Old Maggie loved to listen to what she had prepared for the next hour, supporting Irina by her own questions, which led the woman to look up the details.

But although her days were now fully planned with preparations and lessons, she missed Jack Bristow. She couldn’t even explain why, but somehow she waited for his return every day, going to bed in the evening with disappointment when she had come home and he wasn’t there.

After two weeks, Irina received her first payment and to her it seemed like a huge amount of money. Mrs. Drake behaved very friendly now for she was impressed by Irina’s manners and her immense knowledge on the subjects. When at first she had attended Irina’s lessons to control the quality of the new tutor, she did it now for fun and to learn, of course.

Irina enjoyed the company of the woman who had obviously accepted her as a member of the upper class.

Irina was happy. She could go on like that forever, teaching children and – well, living in Jack Bristow’s house. But she knew, that she had to do something. She couldn’t go on like that forever. She had already looked around in the city for an apartment of her own, which she would be able to afford with the salary she earned at the moment.

It was the Thursday in the third week, when her plans were destroyed. Mrs. Drake was out in the city, doing her weekly shopping with the maid and Irina had just finished the daily lessons, showing little Dana one last time how to add two numbers. When the girl was out of the room, she packed her papers and was just about to go, when Mr. Drake suddenly entered the room.

Irina smiled at him. She hadn’t been much in contact with him since he had decided to hire her. Obviously the children’s education was lying in the hand of his wife.

“So, Ms. Derevko, my wife told me, you’re doing a pretty impressive job.” He said, pouring a glass of vodka, then another which he offered her. She refused courteously.

“Well, thank you Sir. I hope your children think the same and will profit of what I teach them.”

He stepped closer and observed her for a long time, walking around her. Irina felt the need to leave the room, but she knew that it was absolutely unmannered to leave the room when her employer was talking to her.

She flinched, when suddenly his hands ran up her arms, trying to pull her closer. Spinning around, she thought a few meters of distance between them, shocked and insecure by his reaction.

“Sir, I … I have to go now!”

He crossed the distance between them with only a few steps and pressed her against the wall, pinning her there with his arms.

“You don’t have to play the well-behaved lady now. My wife is not here, the children are upstairs and will stay there for another two hours. I know who you are and what you do. I’ve seen you at the ball four weeks ago. And I know, that you’re living under Jack Bristow’s roof. You could earn good additional money if you did for me, what you’re doing for him.”

“I beg your pardon, Sir, but your,” she hesitated a moment, searching for an appropriate word. “…assumptions are not only wrong, but also impossible, as Jack Bristow is out of town at the moment as you should know. He offered me graciously to live in his house as I didn’t know where to go, but I’m certainly not paying him back by…”

“You don’t need to fool me.” James Drake looked down her body. “Reignold told me who you are. You are a cheap whore, the wife of that revolutionary Cuvee. I could have you for much less, my dear, but I offer you – let’s say one hundred? If you’re good, I’ll add additional ten or fifteen.”

Irina pushed him away, her eyes sparkling with rage. “How dare you make me an offer like that!”

“I warn you, Irina. My wife doesn’t know about your … skills yet, but I can easily change that. And how good do you think your reputation would be then? You are no more than Jack Bristow’s cheap whore and it’s time you remember that! Stop playing the lady…”

She slapped him hard across the face, her expression dark and dangerous. “I think, Sir, it’s time for you to remember that you are supposed to be a gentleman – and have a wife and children. Consider this as my termination! Good day…”

With these words she turned around and left the room with a dignified expression.

“That’s going to have consequences, Ms. Derevko!” The way he emphasized her name made Irina shudder and she didn’t wait for the butler to open the door, but grabbed her coat and left the house, slamming the door slightly behind her. She was infuriated – actually more than that.

For an hour she just went through the city until she finally found herself in the harbor. She let herself sink to a pillar and looked into the cold waves. Then suddenly she threw her papers into the dark depths of the water with a furious cry, observing as the ink became blurred and washed away by the water. Then finally the ocean pulled the white sheets down to the ground. Irina took a deep breath, hugging her arms to warm herself up.

She didn’t know how long she had been sitting there when a voice broke her back to reality.

“Excuse me, Miss, are you alright?”

Irina looked up, directly into the face of a young gentleman who was scanning her concerned.

“Yes, thank you… I’m fine.”

“Excuse my concern, this is probably none of my business, but I don’t think the harbor is the right place for a lady like you. Where is your company?”

“My… oh…” Irina looked back onto the waves. “It’s okay, I came here alone. Don’t worry, I’m fine.”

He stood next to her for some time, then he sighed. “I don’t feel comfortable leaving you here alone, especially when I see those persons over there scanning you with their eyes. Allow me to accompany you for a short way?”

She sighed and knew he wouldn’t leave her until she agreed and finally nodded. “Thank you.” She got up and he went next to her, his arms formally behind his back.

“What were you thinking, going to the harbor alone?” When she didn’t reply, he laughed. “You’re obviously one of the stubborn ladies who do whatever they want. Allow me to present myself? I’m Tippin, Will Tippin. I’m publisher of the local political newspaper. You probably haven’t heard of me.”

Now he had Irina’s attention. She looked at him in surprise. “Of course I know you. I love your paper, very informative… I loved your article about the validity of democracy during war times.”

“I see, you’re well informed. Impressive for a woman!” he replied with interest. “What is your name, if you allow me that question?”

“I’m Irina Derevko…”

Now it was at him to look at her impressed. “Are you living at Jack Bristow’s house?”

“Great…” she murmured. “I already seem to have my reputation.”

“No. I’m just asking, since Jack Bristow found me a really good secretary and I think he mentioned your name. Maybe I misunderstood something…”

“No. Phillis, Miss Wheatley.” Irina replied and Will Tippin nodded.

“Exactly. So I did not misunderstand him. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He laughed amused, and Irina found him very nice. He was obviously some years younger than her and something about him was likably boyish. “But what did you mean by that sentence about your reputation?”

“Oh… never mind.” She replied kindly. “So, I didn’t know who Phil was working for, she didn’t tell me.”

“She’s extraordinary. I’ve never seen a woman working as good and properly as she does. And her writing skills are extraordinary. I’m planning on letting her do a small series about slave life on a plantation and her experiences when living in hiding. May I ask you a question? I trust you as the woman my friend Jack spoke with highest respect of, not to tell your friend about what I ask you right now.”

“Promise!” Irina agreed amused, the young man taking her out of her dark thoughts.

“Is she… you know… somehow involved with somebody? Courted by somebody? Married?”

Irina smiled, then she shook her head. “Neither.”

“Oh…” His eyes lightened up. “Thank you… I found it inappropriate to ask her myself.”

“You’re welcome.”

“But no word about this conversation.”

“What conversation?” Irina replied, which made Will Tippin laugh heartily.

In the meantime they had reached the streets of the rich district in Boston. He stopped at a crossing.

“Do you think, I can let you go on alone now? I have to turn left now, but Jack Bristow’s house is just a few hundred meters along that street.”

She knew that he was about to accompany her if she insisted on him doing so, but to her that was absolutely not necessary. In fact she had to get used to the thought that there were men who were worried enough about a strange woman to not let her walk alone.

“I’m fine. Thank you for accompanying me so far.”

“It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Derevko. I surely will visit my friend’s house when he’s back and have some nice discussions about politics with you.”

Irina laughed. “I look forward to that.”

“Have a nice day.”

“You too.” She watched him walk away and smiled to herself as she thought about his question about Phillis. But her carefree mood was soon destroyed as she got closer to Jack’s house. The happenings of the afternoon came back to her mind and with them her rage and fury. She had to start over from scratch again, her job lost and with it her regular and not to mention good salary. That meant, that she was forced to depend on him for some more weeks until she had found a new job.

She entered the house and closed the door behind her louder than intended. Without waiting for Maggie to help her in any way, she just rushed up the stairs and disappeared, followed by the confused eyes of Maggie. The old maid put down the tablet with tea she had wanted to carry into the living room and followed Irina upstairs.

As she found the door to her room locked, she knocked softly.

“Miss Irina?” No answer. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m fine!” Irina replied from inside, sitting in front of her mirror and playing with her hairbrush. “I just need a little moment. I’ll be down in a few minutes, thank you, Maggie!” she added and obviously that was enough for the old woman to leave.

Irina slowly pulled the pins out of her hair, watching the thick, wavy strands fall wildly around her face. She hadn’t liked to put up her hair anyway, since she preferred to wear it open… She watched at her face in the mirror and finally threw the brush away.

This was just not who she was. Mr. Drake had been right. She wasn’t a lady, so why should she try to behave like one. She had never been part of the world of rich and honorable people, so why should she try to become something she just wasn’t? She would go her way in this world, but in her own style and not trying to pretend something she wasn’t.

When she entered the living room half an hour later, she was barefoot, her hair untamed and wildly framing her face. Maggie looked at her feet and wanted to run for shoes, but Irina held her back.

“Thank you, Maggie. I like it that way.” She said dryly and the maid shook her a confused look as she sat down in the armchair, pulling her knees to her chest and taking the cup of tea Maggie had brought for her.

“Are you alright, Miss?” she asked, really worried now. “How was your day? Did you have a good lesson?”

“Oh, yes… but it doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Why?”

“Because I terminated!” Irina stated dryly, taking the newspaper from the table, obviously not willing to discuss the subject any further.

“You did what?!?” Maggie exclaimed in bewilderment. “But how could you… why did you… what happened?”

“Something I should have been prepared for, I guess.” Irina explained without looking up from the newspaper. “Have you read this? Looks like the south won’t be winning this war…”

“Don’t try to change the subject! Why did you terminate? I thought you liked that job.”

“Yes…” Irina murmured and finally looked up. “Yes, I loved it! But what I didn’t know was, that besides teaching children I was expected to do some – services for the head of the household. So I quit – end of the story.” She turned her attention back to the newspaper, while Maggie tried to regain her breath.

“My god, I’m so sorry…” she finally burst out and laid her hand to Irina’s. “I swear to you, I did not know that. I would have never told you about the job if I had known, that Mr. Drake was actually looking for a…” She stopped and Irina looked at her as she didn’t dare to say the word out loud.

“He wasn’t. But then he saw me, he recognized me, and thought he could blackmail me into doing it.”

“Blackmail you?” Maggie asked and Irina nodded.

“Yes. I guess, from now on everybody will know who I am – and what I have been working as.”

“Irina, I don’t know what to say… I mean, you shouldn’t just accept that. He has no right to…”

At that moment a noise could be heard from the door and both woman looked at each other frightened. For a moment they froze in their movements, listening carefully and sighing relieved when a man entered the room.

“Mr. Bristow!” Maggie exclaimed in joy. “God, I though you were a burglar!”

“Coming through the front door? I don’t think so!” Jack mused and smiled at Irina. “Hello!” His eyes blinked tenderly as he scanned her appearance, finding that she had obviously fully recovered. To him she looked even more beautiful than ever before and he couldn’t turn his eyes away from her.

“Hi!” She got up from her chair, her face suddenly lightened up. “How was your trip?”

“Successful.” He replied, his eyes not losing hers as he pulled something out of his pocket. “Here.”

“What is that?”

“Your divorce… you are free now… from your marriage and all charges of treason or murder against you.”

As the meaning of his words slowly dawned on her, she hugged him gratefully. She would never have to steal or spy again, not to mention sharing other men’s beds. She had never even realized that it had bothered her so much, but obviously that was the case since she felt unbelievably relieved when she heard his revelation. As she retired a little, she looked guilty.

“I’m sorry, I was just…”

He laid his finger to her lips and traced their lines. “I missed you…” he finally whispered and she brought distance between them, confused by the realization that his touch felt suddenly comfortable – even more than that.

“I missed you too…” she admitted. “It started to get boring.”

“Boring?” Maggie laughed. “I think, you were pretty busy during the last weeks.”

Irina looked at her darkly, but Maggie continued her little report. “She was teaching Drake’s children in reading and writing.”

“Maggie!” Irina interrupted the woman. “Could you get me a new cup of tea, please?” she asked friendly, but with a certain sharpness in her voice.

“But your cup is still half-full!” Maggie replied as she had gone for Irina’s cup to take it with her.

“Well, then get Mr. Bristow a cup of tea. He’s just arrived and I don’t think he wants to hear your stories now.”

“Yes Miss.” Maggie replied and left the room. Irina looked back at Jack, smiling and he watched her amused, well aware that this action was meant to pull his interest away from the maid’s information.

He went to the other armchair and sat down, Irina following him back to the table.

“So, you got a job?” Jack asked and noticed that she stiffened for a moment, then she leaned back.

“It was not a job… just something I did to pass the time. Nothing important…” she ignored the snorting of the old maid, who entered the room now with a second cup of tea. Jack shot his employee a confused look.

“So, Maggie, anything new while I was away?”

Maggie looked at Irina, her face strict, then she turned to Jack. “Mrs. Daniel brought the wardrobe for Miss Irina and she did a fantastic job – as you predicted. Mr. Jonathan wants to talk to you about the happenings in the last fight and Mr. Drake sent a message that he is inviting you to the ball in two weeks – I did a little spying about who else is invited and it looks like all single women of Boston are going to be there, so you might rather want to not attend. That’s all.” She looked back at Irina who thanked her silently with her eyes, then she turned around. “If you would excuse me now, I still have some work to do…” with these words she left.

Jack chatted with Irina for another thirty minutes, then he apologized courteously for he felt weary and wanted to go to bed early. When he had left, Maggie stormed into the room.

“Why did you not tell him?” she snapped and Irina faced her angrily.

“Because it’s not a big deal! And what could he do by the way?” she asked back, her voice leveled.

“He is more experienced in restoring a reputation.”

“What reputation? It’s true what Drake said, so why should I try to deny it. I don’t want to have to hide my past forever!”

“You’re stubborn!” Maggie grabbed the empty cup and it had almost fallen to the floor at her hasty movements. Irina got up.

“Good night, Maggie!” she said coolly and the maid sighed, looking after her.

“Don’t read again tonight!” she called after her and smiled, shaking her head softly. She really liked Irina, for since she was in the house, Maggie felt as if this was a true household. Besides it would be good for Jack to have some female company. She just hoped that Irina wouldn’t leave too quickly.

Chapter 6

The bell of the church announced midnight as Irina carefully opened her door, a book pressed to her chest. She scanned the corridor for any sign of Maggie, since she didn’t want the maid to start a tirade at this late hour and possibly disturb Jack. When she was sure the old maid was asleep, she left her room and closed the door behind her. She shivered as the cold air in the corridor struck her and closed the material of her thin silk-robe at her neck.

Her bare feet didn’t make any sound on the wooden floor and she had soon reached the door to the study. Carefully she opened the door and entered the room, immediately surrounded by a comfortable warmth caused by the fire that was still burning in the fireplace. She pulled the door closed behind her and went to the hide in front of the fireplace – her favorite place to read. She spent hours every night in front of this warm fire, reading, sometimes just lying there and reflecting about what had happened that day. More than once she had only gone to bed when dawn started to show outside.

The house was always dark and no sound could be heard except for the crackling of the fire. Irina loved that atmosphere. She felt safe when lying on the hide in front of the fireplace, and sometimes she even fell asleep, not waking up until Maggie entered the room next morning to place new wood in the fireplace.

She had just let herself sink to the hide, when a voice started her.

“Irina?”

Shocked, she spun around, the book pressed to her chest. Only now she got aware of the man who was sitting in the armchair in the darker part of the room. Jack looked at her fascinated, she returned his gaze confused.

“Jack… I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were here, otherwise I wouldn’t have disturbed you.” She apologized.

“It’s okay, you’re not disturbing me… but what are you doing here?”

“Nothing… just reading.” She held up the book and smiled. “And you?”

He held up his book and grinned. “But don’t tell Maggie… she would totally freak out!”

Irina laughed and sank back to the hide, the initial uneasiness gone. Jack got up and took his book to join her in front of the fireplace.

“So what are you reading?” he asked and she showed him the title. “Oh, Emerson. I liked that one… have you read his article about nature?”

“Yes… I like his opinion about self-reliance.”

His eyes wandered down her perfectly shaped body, which was formed out by her thin robe in the most sexiest manner. The light blue underlined the color of her eyes, which seemed to be even warmer and darker in the soft light of the fire.

“So, what are you reading?” she asked back to break the tension, that was lying in the air between them and scared her.

“Just the old journal of a general from the French and Indian War… it’s quite boring.” He admitted. “And actually I wasn’t even reading it…”

“Oh…” She turned her eyes to the fire. “What were you doing then?”

“Just thinking.”

“Thinking?”

“Yes… I often do that. When it’s dark and everything is silent, nothing can distract me.”

“I’m sorry I interrupted…”

“No…” He touched her hand softly. “No, that’s not what I meant. You didn’t interrupt me. On the contrary…” His eyes locked with hers, their expression tender and – something else she couldn’t quite define. “I was thinking about you… I really missed you when I was gone.”

She returned his gaze, not knowing how to react to this revelation. Finally she turned her head away, holding the book tightly to her chest, and fixed her eyes on the fire. His words had caused a feeling inside her that was so immense that it scared her. Happiness? Joy? Sadness? She couldn’t quite decide, since it seemed to be a mixture of everything. It took all her effort to force it back as she had learned to do – for there was one thing she knew from her experiences: Feelings didn’t cause anything but problems.

“So, do you mind if I stay and read for a while?” she asked softly after some time. He shook his head and she opened her book, reading the words that were written, but not really understanding their meaning. She knew what Jack was thinking of, what he wanted right now. The way he looked at her didn’t do anything to hide his feelings.

Some time passed by and Irina kept pretending to read, although she soon felt the tension to be almost unbearable.

When Jack moved closer to her, her attention was fully gone from the book, although she still kept her eyes fixed on the letters and turned the pages.

He couldn’t help moving closer to her until he could feel her body brushing his. He resisted the need to touch her directly though since he didn’t want to scare her. For a long time they sat on the hide close to each other without either one of them moving.

Jack leaned slightly in to her, breathing in her scent while he tried to concentrate on the words in her book. What was he doing?

After all she had been through, after the years with her husband she certainly didn’t feel the need to be close to a man. And yet, he wanted to make good everything her husband had done to her.

He hadn’t even realized that he had again moved closer to her so he was sitting right behind her now. She leaned softly against his chest as he was so close to her that she could feel his heat through her robe. Taking that as encouragement, he lifted his hands to softly stroke away the strands of hair from her neck. His face was close to her ear, and when she leaned into him even further, he pressed his lips to the hot skin where her neck met her shoulder. His hands were lying loosely on her waist.

Irina looked into the fire. She knew how desperately he wanted her, and she knew how much he had done for her. He had saved her life, offered her to live in his house and had supported her in every possible way. And now he wanted something obviously only she could offer him – he wanted her. This was her chance to thank him.

She let the book drop to her side and turned around slowly until she was looking into his eyes. Her hand ran over his cheek and she closed the distance between them slowly. When her lips brushed over his in the slightest touch, she could feel him shiver. She pressed herself closer to him, her hands running through his hair, as she deepened the kiss. He broke the contact by turning his head away.

“Irina, we shouldn’t… I don’t want you to…”

“Shhh…” she whispered, her lips softly caressing his cheek and finally nibbling at his earlobe. “It’s okay… I want this. Don’t worry…” she whispered, her hands loosening the belt of his robe, until her hands found their way under the material to the naked skin of his shoulders. He shivered at her touch, her closeness and the warmth of her body driving him crazy.

Her lips went down his neck, her tongue playing at the sensitive spots she discovered. His hands ran over her back to her shoulders, then he finally pushed her away softly.

“Stop it…” he demanded and her eyes scanned him in confusion at his rejection. “You should go now…”

“But…” She shook her head. “You want me… let me help you out.” She lowered her face to his again, her lips catching his in a short kiss, but immediately pulling back again before he had any chance to deepen or return the kiss.

“Do you remember what I told you?” he asked softly, his eyes locking with hers. “I won’t sleep with you again unless you enjoy doing so.”

She smiled, her hands running through his hair. “I do… I enjoy…” she lied and looked deeply into his eyes. “I need you to sleep with me…” she emphasized, a sentence she had used so many times in her life that it sounded almost convincing – almost! He smiled amused since he knew what she was trying.

“You shouldn’t play with fire, Irina… because you could easily get burned.” He uttered seductively into her ear and she brushed her lips over the skin of his cheek.

“I ensure you…” she whispered at his ear, “I want you more than anything else in this world.” Her words were meant to convince him and make him stop thinking about how she felt. Yet, she hadn’t expected him to see through her and know she was lying.

“Oh yes, you will…” he murmured and she cried out shocked when he turned her around in an unexpected move and without any effort, so she was lying on the hide beneath him. She had no time to protest as his lips connected with hers in a deep kiss, demanding and passionate at first, then soon becoming sweet and seductive. His hands roamed over her body, touching her skin through the robe unhurriedly and slowly.

He continued kissing her until she broke contact by turning her head, mostly due to her lack of oxygen, but also because of the tension that started to build up inside her. She felt the urgent need to end this because of the sudden thought that she probably might not be able to control the situation.

Before she could think clearly, he had started to explore her neck, soon finding the spot right under her ear that made her sigh without her even realizing. She clasped his shoulders, closing her eyes at the intense hotness of his touch.

He reconnected their lips in a fierce open-mouth kiss, desperate for feeling her mouth on his, swallowing her soft moan. As his lips ran down over her chin and neck, she laid her head back to give him better access – for the first time she didn’t react because of an instruction given to her, but because of a feeling.

His hands fumbled at the belt of her thin silk robe and he finally managed to undo the knot and pushed the material aside. When his hands eventually touched the bare skin of her belly, she shivered, another moan escaping her throat. He pushed the silky material away from her shoulders, his lips immediately claiming this newly exposed skin. Her hands moved up his arms and finally buried in his hair.

His lips brushed her skin in the lightest touch as he went down her body, his hands running along the sides of her slender waist and making her feel as if he was setting her on fire, slowly and sensually burning her with his mouth and fingers.

As his lips closed over her navel, his tongue starting to tease, she gasped for air at the sudden impact of heat that hit her and pushed him away in shock.

“Jack, wait…” Her breath was shallow and he brought his lips back to hers, claiming them in a short deep kiss before he locked his eyes with hers.

“What?” he whispered seductively against her lips. Her hands were still placed on his shoulders and he felt that she was only inches from freeing herself and leaving.

“This is not right… you’re not supposed to do that…” she started and he noticed satisfied that she cut herself off and caught her breath when he took one of her hands and pressed his lips to her pulse.

“On the contrary. For the first time it’s how it ought to be… my god, you’re so beautiful…” His lips merged with hers again, seducing her in the sweetest manner until they were both breathless.

“Do you want to go?” Jack finally asked, leaning his forehead against hers. “If you want to, do it now, because otherwise I won’t let you go anymore…” he murmured, his breath coming shallow. She closed her eyes, her hands touching his cheek as she obviously seemed to consider his offer. For a moment he was afraid she would indeed decide to leave.

“Please don’t leave…” he whispered against her skin, his mouth nibbling at her lower lip until she opened her mouth slightly. “Let me make love to you…”

Her eyes met his as she opened them at his last request, finding nothing but tenderness in them as they asked silently for her answer. His lips were as close as they could be without touching hers and she closed the distance, eventually searching his mouth in an encouraging kiss.

For a moment he allowed her to control the situation, just reacting to her touches and kisses. She pushed the material of his robe down his shoulders and arms, then she pushed him up so he was sitting. Her hands ran over his bare chest, while she delighted him with the most seductive kisses to his neck and chest.

His hands caressed her back, softly pulling her closer into him and she moaned at the sensation of his heat. When his lips closed over her nipple, she buried her face in his hair, holding on to his shoulders, trying to stop the pleasant shivers from running through her body – without success.

Softly he laid her back to the ground, his lips continuing their path down her body, causing her to clench her hands into the material of the soft hide they were lying on. She arched her body closer into him, needing to feel more of his touch.

He took his time exploring her skin, pausing at the spots that satisfied him by her soft moans, teasing her skin with his tongue until she was writhing under his touches in desire.

His lips caressed her legs, slowly trailing the sensitive skin at her inner thighs as he worked his path up. As his lips got closer to the core of her desire without hesitating she gasped for air, trying to avoid his touch, but he held her firmly in place.

“Jack…” she started to protest, cutting herself off by the moan that followed at his first touch with her softness. She laid her head back as his tongue teased her, softly at first, then more insistent and rhythmically, the tension inside her building up to an almost unbearable level. She was unable to control her moans, her reason all gone as all that mattered were his sweet teasing that carried her higher and higher until the sweetest emotions she had ever felt washed over her body, causing her to tremble and making the world start to spin in front of her eyes.

When her moans had subsided, Jack laid his head to her belly until her body stopped trembling. Her hands softly ran through his hair when his lips kissed their way up to hers, kindling the fire inside her anew.

When he had reached her mouth he kissed her deeply, but shortly, then he sat up, pulling her with him until she was sitting in his lap, straddling him with her face just inches apart from his.

Slowly, her lips trailed a path along his cheek to his ear, her tongue softly flipping out and teasing him until his breath was coming in small pants. She pressed herself closer to him, finally letting the robe slide down her arms and tossing it away without even caring. His followed only a few seconds later without either one of them breaking contact.

He buried his face in her hair, breathing in her female scent while his hands played softly with her fingers, tenderly locking them with his own.

“You’re so sexy…” he whispered hoarsely into her ear.

“So are you…” she replied and for the first time she actually meant what she said, underlining the meaning of her words by another fierce kiss. “You’re driving me crazy by just being close to me.”

He lifted her up a little and entered her ever so softly, his mouth reconnecting with hers, silencing both her and his own moan. For a moment neither of them moved so she could adjust to him.

Only as she began to move against him impatiently, encouraging him with her body and her lips, he started to thrust against her. Her hands clasped his shoulders at the sensations that his movements caused in her body. As she buried her face at his neck and dug her fingers into the skin of his back, giving herself completely into his guidance for a moment, he stopped, his hands burying in her hair.

“You alright?”

“Yes…” she whispered breathlessly. “Don’t stop now… please.”

She locked her eyes with his as he followed her plea. Suddenly she pushed him softly onto his back, so he was lying underneath her, his new position allowing her to take him even deeper. His hands ran up her legs while he allowed her to take control, surrendering to her tempo and meeting her thrusts with his own as they moved in a perfect rhythm.

When he felt his release coming up, he urged her on by increasing the tempo, wanting her to go with him over the edge.

“Come with me…” he panted and as he felt that she was still far from being able to fulfill his wish, he sat up, catching her in his arms and claiming her mouth with his before he let his lips wander to her neck and her ear. “Come on…” he demanded again softly and she shuddered as his tongue flicked the spot under her ear, then he softly bit her earlobe. He whispered further encouragement into her ear while continuing to tease her oversensitive skin, the words he whispered turning her on and driving her closer and closer until she finally cried out his name, melting in his arms and taking him with her as she reached the sweetest highs a second time.

It took a long time until either of them was able to move again. Irina was the first, bringing them face to face and leaning her forehead against his. Her hands touched his cheeks softly.

“That was…” she murmured, still not able to talk – not to mention think about appropriate words to describe her feelings.

“Yes, it was…” he replied breathless and his lips brushed softly over hers when he stroked one strand of sweaty hair out of her face. They didn’t move for another long time, just kissing and holding each other, their bodies still refusing to break contact in any way.

Finally they separated to lie down on the hide. Irina closed her eyes wearily, her face turned towards the warm fire. When Jack got up, she moved her head slightly and looked at him.

“Where are you going?”

He took the blanket that was lying on the couch at the wall and returned, lying down next to Irina.

“I won’t go away…” he promised, kissing her softly and pulling the blanket over their bodies. He wrapped his arm around her and buried his face in her hair as she pressed herself closer into his embrace. She touched his hand, softly locking her fingers with his when she closed her eyes again.

She wanted to hold this moment forever, not wasting the time by sleeping, but when she looked into the soothing flames of the fire and felt his light kisses on her neck and shoulder, she couldn’t stop her eyes from falling closed.

Jack continued kissing her softly until she was fully asleep, her hand still locked with his. He pressed himself closer to her, his head resting on his elbow while he watched her beautiful face. He stroked some strands of hair out of her face, admiring her beauty. And suddenly he knew that he had seriously fallen in love with this woman. The realization, how deep his feelings for her went, made him dizzy for a moment since she most likely didn’t feel the same. And if she did, she would certainly not agree to marry him since she had just escaped a marriage that had obviously been hell for her. He doubted that she would ever agree to marry again.

He buried his face in her hair as the hopelessness of their situation dawned on him, closing his eyes when he felt the need to sleep finally overwhelm him. He had almost drifted away to sleep when one last thought occurred to him – despite everything she was – or was not – she was the only woman he wanted to spend his life with, even more, he had waited for his entire life.

Chapter 7

Jack awoke very early the next morning. He doubted that he had slept more than four or five hours, but still he felt wonderfully refreshed. His head was resting on Irina’s back and they were lying softly entangled in front of the fireplace. She was still sleeping soundly, her hand tenderly holding his arm to her body.

He looked at her for a long time, not wanting to get up yet for that would mean the loss of her warmth. Finally, when he could hear the church bells announce eight o’clock, he decided to get up. Carefully, he pulled his arm away from her, softly kissing the silk skin of her shoulder. He covered her with the blanket to prevent her from getting cold, then he took his robe and pulled it on while walking to the door. He left the room without making any sound and closed the door behind him.

When he walked to his room, he saw Maggie coming up the stairs, as she did every morning. She was carrying some pieces of wood to light the fire in the study anew. When Maggie realized, that he was already awake, she stopped and smiled.

“Good morning! I didn’t know you were already awake,” she announced in her usual voice and Jack nodded.

“Yes, I have some business to do today,” he replied leveled. “Do you want to clean the study now?”

“Yes…” she replied. “As every morning.”

“Don’t. You can start with my room today.” Jack ordered and Maggie turned around in confusion.

“But your sleeping room doesn’t need to be heated. Your study does and if I don’t light the fire now, it might take a long time until it’s warm!” she contradicted and was about to open the door when Jack held her back.

“Irina is still asleep, so I suggest, you take care of my room first… if the study is cold later, that’s my problem.”

“Yes, but if you catch a cold, that’s my problem since I have to take care of you! How do you know she’s in there by the way? Usually you don’t enter your study that early in the morning!” She scanned Jack’s appearance and suddenly it dawned on her. “Oh my god…” she murmured and shook her head in bewilderment. “How could you…” Then she stood up straight. “I’ll take care of your room and then prepare your breakfast.”

Having said the words she went away. Jack followed her with his eyes, slightly confused at the sudden change of her mind, then he went into his room.

Half an hour later he was sitting in the dining room, enjoying his breakfast and the newspaper. Maggie served him his tea and fresh baked bread – not without showing her disapproval by smashing the cups and plates so harshly to the table that he expected them to break every moment.

“Okay, Maggie, what is it…” he finally asked, dropping the newspaper to the table.

“Nothing…” The woman replied coolly and Jack chuckled amused.

“A blind person would know you’re angry at me.”

“Angry? Oh, yes Sir, I am!” she finally burst out, slamming a spoon to the table. “How could you… you know? Miss Irina is an honorable lady! How could you compromise her in that way? I know that might have been her job once, but I also know that she hates it, and as long as I am living here, you will treat her like every other woman from your class for goddamned’s sake! Understood?”

“You advise me to avoid her company and flee whenever she enters the room?” he said, more joking than serious for that was how he usually treated the brainless women from upper class.

“Given the fact what you did last night I’d say: Yes, that would be a really good idea!” Maggie said even more angry since she had of course noticed the hint of humor in Jack’s voice. Jack shut the paper abruptly, his eyes focused at the old maid.

“Listen, it is not at all how you think!”

“Really? Are you engaged?”

“No…”

“Are you married?”

“No, but…”

“Then it is just as I think!” Maggie interrupted him and shook her head. “Miss Derevko doesn’t deserve to be compromised like that.”

“Maggie, I did not compromise her! Nobody knows what happened, and nobody will – provided that you keep your mouth shut! The people are gossiping anyway, but I will deny any rumor that she’s my whore or mistress! I have no interest in humiliating her, on the contrary. But at the moment I have no other choice. She just escaped fifteen years of hell, I’m sure she told you about it. So what do you think, which answer could I expect if I asked her to marry me?” His voice was sharp and Maggie was lost for words at his revelation. Finally Jack turned his interest back to his paper. “If you could hand me the bread now, please?”

When Maggie entered the study about one hour later, her mood was the best. Jack Bristow’s words proved that he was thinking about a serious relationship with this woman and for certain reasons she was happy about that. First of all his choice of woman of course, for she really liked Irina. She was different from the other upper class women and didn’t care for rules or reputation. That made her honest in what she said. Secondly of course, because she had always been of the opinion that Jack Bristow needed a wife by his side, for he was too often lonely. And now, in her old days, that wish was about to come true.

She went to the windows and opened the curtains to let the bright sunlight in, then she turned to the woman in front of the fireplace.

“Wake up, Miss…” she chirped and Irina moaned, covering her face with her hand. It took her some moments to realize where she was – and with that realization came the memories of last night. Within seconds she was wide awake, trying to hide her nakedness from Maggie for she knew what she and Jack had done was scandalous and not at all how a woman was supposed to behave. There would be no way to explain why she had been sleeping naked…

The old maid didn’t even pay attention to her, but put the books from the desk, which Jack had worked with yesterday, back to the bookshelf. Irina looked around for her robe and finally saw it at the wall. She was desperately thinking of a possibility to reach the robe and pull it on without Maggie noticing, when the old woman turned around.

“So, what do you want for breakfast, my dear? Chocolate?” She bent down and grabbed the robe from the wall, handing it to Irina with a reassuring smile.

“Yes, chocolate would be fine.” Irina replied and returned the smile.

“I have prepared a tub with hot water in your room!” The woman turned around collecting the books from the ground in front of the fireplace. “I thought, you might want to take a hot bath this morning.”

“Thank you…” Irina murmured, tying her robe in the front, then she got up and collected the blanket from the ground. “Maggie… what you’ve seen here…”

“What did I see?” Maggie asked. “I came in here to clean the study, as every morning. And – as usually – I found you sleeping in front of the fireplace with a book in your hand.” Her eyes sparkled friendly, then she turned away. “And as I do every morning, I told you how unhealthy it is to read at night.”

Irina laughed heartily; the uneasiness was immediately gone. “I’ll be in my room…”

When she sank into the hot water of her tub a few minutes later, she closed her eyes, enjoying the relaxing temperature. Her mind went back to last night – to Jack. He had made her feel unbelievable and for the first time she was actually happy for having slept with a man – even more, she longed for doing it again with him. That feeling was so new for her that it scared her.

After all she was just his mistress, so someday he would have enough of her, and then she would have to go – being replaced by another woman. The thought almost tore her heart apart. She dunked her head under water to get rid of the unpleasant thoughts. At the moment he still wanted her, and she would treasure every single second with him.

At once another thought occurred to her as she let her mind be carried away by the warmth of the water. She had slept with Jack last night without thinking about her prevention. She surfaced abruptly, wiping the water out of her face. She had to talk to Phillis today, for the woman knew a lot about medicines and herbs due to her African roots. Phillis had always supplied her with an herb mixture, that was traditionally used by African women to prevent pregnancy.

Irina hadn’t even considered that problem until now. Some weeks ago, she had stopped to take a little bit of the mixture every morning with her breakfast, as she had usually been doing for some years. She would have to go back to her usual dose now. Hopefully that wouldn’t be a problem.

Some time later she was sitting in front of the mirror, having her hair done by Maggie. Neither of them spoke, for Maggie felt, that Irina wasn’t willing to talk right now. Finally she stepped back, giving Irina a reassuring smile.

“Perfect.”

“Thank you.”

Maggie rearranged the combs, hairpins and other utensils on the commode, then she went to the window and opened it.

Irina got up and went to the door. Maggie smiled softly at her.

“He’s in the dining room…” she whispered and Irina’s eyes lightened up. “I will serve your breakfast there when I’m done here.”

“Thank you.” Irina replied and left the room. She went down the stairs and wondered why she felt so unsure and nervous. How would Jack react, when he saw her this morning? How would he treat her? She had never worried about questions like that before. Why was it so different this time?

She took a deep breath before entering the dining room. Jack was sitting in an armchair at a smaller table at the window, reading the newspaper. When he noticed someone entering the room from the corner of his eye, he looked up, his eyes lightening up when he saw her appearance. He could be wrong, but to him she seemed to be even more beautiful each time he saw her.

He got up and went towards her, his eyes locked with hers. When he had reached her, his lips met hers in a deep kiss, before he greeted her.

“Good morning.”

“Morning.” She returned his smile happily, grateful for his reaction since it had broken the tension inside her. “How long have you been awake?”

“Not that long… Two hours or so. You want to join me at the table?”

“Yes, I’d love that.” She smiled and they went to the small table, their hands still connected. She sat down in the armchair opposite to Jack and pulled her feet up. He watched her amused and noticed that she was still walking barefoot.

“Are you cold?”

“No, I like it that way. I’ve never worn shoes in a house. I don’t see a point in that… it’s warm anyway.” Her response was spontaneous and caused him to laugh.

“You’re amazing, do you know that?” For a long time they just looked at each other until Maggie entered the room, drawing their attention from each other to her.

“So, here’s breakfast for the lady…” She shot the two people in the armchairs a strict look. “Would you please eat at the regular table? I don’t want to clean the whole place later! The same goes for you!” she added in Jack’s direction and the man shook his head.

“Sometimes I really wonder why I don’t just fire you…” he stated amused and Maggie didn’t even bother to look at him when she answered.

“That’s because you know that you won’t get another maid that’s as truthful as I am… sugar with your chocolate?” she asked Irina and the addressed nodded.

“Yes, please.” Irina had gotten up and joined Maggie at the table, helping her to arrange the bread, cups and plates. The old maid accepted her help for she knew that discussing with Irina was futile. Jack watched them bemused before he got up, taking his newspaper with him.

Breakfast passed by in silence since Maggie was always running around them, taking care of bread and hot coffee, chatting in her usual non-stoppable voice.

When they had finished and Maggie was busy with cleaning the room, Jack and Irina finally had some privacy. They retired to the living room, where Jack pulled the woman with him into one of the armchairs. Irina laughed surprised as she landed on Jack’s lap. When she wanted to get up, he wouldn’t let her but pulled her closer instead, her head resting on his shoulder and her legs falling over the armrest.

“What are you doing?” Irina asked amused and touched his cheeks with her hand while her eyes were drowning in his.

“I just wanted some time with you.” He stroked some hair out of her face. “You look incredibly beautiful. I don’t know how to get through the day without touching you…” He merged his lips with hers and she closed her eyes, moaning at the familiar warmth that started to build up inside her. Their lips explored, caressed and seduced, Jack as well as Irina soon lost in the touches. Suddenly Maggie cleared her throat from the door.

Against their will, they broke the contact and looked at the maid.

“Excuse me!” Maggie said in a leveled voice. “But Mr. Tippin and Miss Wheatley are here.”

Within the split of a second Irina had jumped up, smoothing out her dress and rearranging her hair. Jack did the same until they were looking as if they had only been chatting. Not one second too early, for Will and Phillis now entered the room. Will smiled at Irina and took her hand to kiss it.

“It’s nice to see you again, Miss Derevko.” His eyes sparkled friendly, then he turned to Jack. “You too, of course.”

“You know each other?” Jack asked interested and Irina nodded, then realizing the expression in his face. Obviously he was thinking that Will was a former customer of Irina.

“Oh! It’s not what you think! I did not… we…” She cut herself off for she didn’t want to embarrass Will in front of his friend – or herself. She didn’t even know why she was trying to defend herself. Will noticed her uneasiness and jumped in for her.

“We met in the harbor two days ago. Miss Irina was sitting there at the water and due to her clothing I knew that she was a rich lady. I didn’t want to leave her alone for I know the guys who are working down there, and they’re not the kind of men, a woman should be alone with. So I accompanied her back and learned that she was living here.” He explained. “Although she refused my company.”

“The harbor?” Jack asked and his eyes met Irina’s.

“Yes. I needed to be alone…” The woman simply explained and turned to greet Phillis. The two women shared a deep hug for since Phillis was working, they didn’t find time to meet often.

“How are you doing?” Irina asked and Phillis’s eyes gleamed.

“Great!” She smiled happily.

“I have some news for you, you’ll certainly not like.” Will opened up to Jack. “Do you remember the Drake party you’re invited to?”

“Do I remember? Of course. I’m still trying to find an excuse for not going.”

“Well, you better don’t make an excuse, for I’ve heard rumors that Lincoln wants to be there, and he wants to see you!” Will smiled, expecting Jack to be happy for it was an honor if the president wanted to see somebody, but Jack frowned his forehead.

“Why is that? I don’t want to go there.”

“But Jack… Abraham Lincoln himself wants to talk to you. Your strategy has been the most successful ever. Maybe he offers you a job as his counselor.”

“Yes, I’m afraid so…” Jack shook his head. “I hate those kind of parties, you know that! You know my opinion of the people who are there and I know that I’m expected to fake my friendship to dozens of people I hate! Is Lady Katya going to be there?”

“Um…” Will kept silent for a moment, enough sign for Jack to know that he was right, she was going to be there. “But Jack, it’s just one evening.”

“No, and that’s the final answer. You know how it will be! I won’t get rid of her the whole evening…” They were speaking leveled now, since their conversation was certainly not one of those kind a woman should be forced to listen to.

“Just tell her that you’re not interested!” Will suggested and Jack shot him one of the looks, that made Will feel like a stupid boy.

“Do you think I didn’t do that? I tried that more than once and every time it seemed to attract her even more. If I only see her I feel the urge to emigrate to the moon.”

“But Jack… there might be a solution this time.” Will thought and his eyes went to Irina, who was involved into a lively conversation with Phillis and Maggie. “And she’s standing right here in the same room as we are.”

Jack followed his eyes and shook his head. “No way. I won’t use Irina to get rid of some women!”

“But maybe she’d like to go to a party like that. You should ask her.”

“What do you think they will do if I suddenly appear with a woman nobody knows? I don’t want Irina to be humiliated in front of the whole upper class of Boston.” Jack hissed and Will looked at him.

“Why should she be humiliated? She behaves like a lady, she speaks like one and she’s twice as intelligent as most of the men who’ll be there. Besides she’s charming and nobody knows about her past.” Will explained and Jack nodded.

“Yes, maybe you are right. But if she refuses to go, I won’t go either. There won’t be any discussions, nor are you going to convince her, are we clear?”

“Of course!” Will grinned.

“Fine… I will ask her in an appropriate situation.”

Irina’s eyes met his and she smiled softly. He smiled back, wishing for a moment that they were alone.

“Come on, let’s go to my room and leave the men some privacy.” Irina finally said to Phillis and the women left the room, followed by Maggie, who promised to serve tea in Irina’s room in five minutes. As they had shut the door behind them, Irina turned to Phillis, who smiled at her with a strange look in her eyes.

“What’s with you?”

“What is with me? Nothing is with me. Why?”

“Well… you’re different. You’ve got… I don’t know… some kind of a glow.” Phillis folded her arms in front of her chest.

“What are you talking about?” Irina shook her head, then she pulled Phillis to the bed, sitting down. “Phil, I need something of you. Could you get me some of that herbal mixture you used to mix for me?”

Phillis looked at her friend, her face getting serious. “No, please don’t tell me, you’re getting back to… that job.”

“No… no.”

“Oh my god! It’s Jack…” Phillis burst out and noticed that Irina blushed slightly. “I’m right!”

“Yes, but would you stop talking so loud. It’s not a big deal and I don’t want you to gossip about it. We’re just sleeping together, that’s it.”

“I see…” Phillis nodded. “But you didn’t use the herbs.”

“It was just last night. So, can you get me some more?”

“I’ll see what I can do. I won’t be able to get it until tomorrow.” Phillis announced and Irina nodded.

“Tomorrow is fine.”

“You shouldn’t sleep with a man without preventive measures unless you want to get pregnant. What were you thinking?” Phillis shook her head, looking worried at Irina. “You’ve never been careless about that and you shouldn’t start to be now.”

“I am not! Otherwise I wouldn’t have asked you now!”

The two women spent the rest of the day chatting and amusing themselves by games or by helping Maggie in the kitchen. Both enjoyed the company of the old maid and the three women always had fun when they were together.

Jack and Will were talking about business until Will left. Soon after that Jack left as well since he had some appointments today. Although Irina was with Phillis and Maggie, she missed him. And the fact that she wouldn’t be allowed to sleep with Jack tonight bothered her. She didn’t know why, nor did she know if he even wanted to sleep with her again.

She decided to go to bed early this evening. When Maggie served the dinner in the evening, it was already getting dark, but Jack hadn’t returned yet. The old maid brought everything they had prepared over the day, even the fresh red tomatoes they had picked from the garden behind the house.

As always, Irina invited her to eat with her in the dining room. She just couldn’t let the old maid sit in the cold, dark kitchen, eating on her own. When they had finished dinner, Jack still hadn’t returned.

She didn’t know why she was so desperately waiting for him to return, but somehow, Irina didn’t want to go to sleep without seeing him once more. The time passed by and finally Maggie sympathetically handed Irina a cup of tea.

“Here, Miss. You should go to bed.” She murmured softly and Irina gave her a smile.

“I’m not tired,” she lied, although she was almost falling asleep right where she was. It was only eleven, and usually she couldn’t sleep before three o’clock in the morning. But tonight she had a really hard time keeping her eyes open. “You know what? I will go to read upstairs…” She got up, the hot cup in her hand. “Why don’t you go to sleep?”

“Because I have to take care that you go to bed.” Maggie announced strictly and Irina laughed.

“I will.. I promise. I just want to get a little distraction by reading.”

It still took her some time to convince Maggie to go to bed. Finally Irina let herself fall into the armchair in front of the fireplace in Jack’s study. She hugged her knees to her body and opened her book, although she couldn’t concentrate on the words she was reading. How could she feel so sad about not seeing him this evening?

She turned the pages without paying attention to the pictures or written words, since she was lost in her own thoughts. Finally her need for sleep overwhelmed her without her even noticing.

When Jack Bristow entered the room an hour later, he found her curled up in the armchair, the book pressed to her chest. He got to his knees and stroked one strand of hair out of her face, then he pulled the book out of her arms and laid it to the ground. Without much effort he lifted her onto his arms.

She moaned in her sleep, but didn’t wake up. He carried her into her bedroom and laid her softly down on the sheets. He didn’t bother to undress her, but pulled the thin blanket over her body to shield her from the coldness of the night.

“Jack…” Irina’s voice was weak as she awoke slightly. “How was your day?” she murmured still half-asleep and he doubted that she would understand an answer at all, therefore he just stroked one strand of hair out of her face in the sweetest gesture.

“Shh… go back to sleep.” He whispered and she snuggled into her cushion.

“I missed you…” She wasn’t even aware that she had said the words out loud. He touched her lips with his in a light kiss and smiled.

“I missed you too.”

But she had already drifted back to her sound sleep. He sighed and finally left the room, looking at her longingly when he turned around once more at the door.

Chapter 8

The next days passed by and Irina enjoyed every minute she had with Jack. They spent the nights together in either her or his bedroom. During the days, Jack often took some time to talk to Irina, play chess or just be with her. He enjoyed the times when she was reading in his study while he was working. Just her presence made him feel happy.

Then the night of the ball at Drake’s house had come. Irina had agreed to accompany Jack when he had asked her to. He had explained to her the reason and despite what had happened between her and Mr. Drake, she had said yes. Deep inside she knew, that it probably would have been a good time to tell Jack about the incident with Mr. Drake – just in case – but yet she didn’t. She just didn’t want it to seem as if she needed him to solve her personal problems.

Maggie had helped her to choose her outfit for the evening, and the day before the ball she had called for Gina to complete Irina’s outfit with small accessories. The woman had arrived with dozens of small pieces of jewelry and hair decorations, and as Irina had refused to pin her hair up as every upper class woman did, they had come up with a beautiful thin pearl net with crystals worked into it.

It was now one hour before the ball and when Irina entered the living room where Jack was reading a book, he just stared at her for a whole minute. Her outfit was gorgeous, although her dress was pretty plain without the usual decorations that were fashion this season. Her brown hair curled around the skin of her shoulders, the pearls, that were worked into her hair completed her outfit in the most perfect manner.

“My God…” he murmured and finally got up. He went to her and kissed her fiercely. “How do you expect me to pay attention to what Lincoln says to me when you’re looking so breathtakingly seductive?”

She laughed close to his lips and kissed him. “Well, would you rather if I changed?” she mused and he held her softly.

“No…” he whispered, his lips trailing a path to her ear. He was satisfied when he heard her catch her breath and felt her clasping his shoulders.

“Jack, you shouldn’t… you’ll ruin my outfit.”

“Well, then we just don’t go… we could spend the time with something more pleasurable.” He uttered into her ear and she giggled and brought some distance between them.

“I don’t think the president would accept THAT as a reason for you not attending.”

He smiled at her, then he suddenly took a small box from his table. “Turn around…” he whispered and she did as he wanted.

Softly, he laid a beautiful necklace around her neck and closed it in the back. Irina felt with her hand and looked in disbelief at the glamorous piece of jewelry.

“My God, Jack…” she whispered.

“For you…” he whispered into her ear.

She looked at the diamond that was neatly worked into the golden chain in the front. She turned around in his embrace and looked at him seriously.

“That’s so beautiful. But you needn’t do something like that, I’m just…”

“Shhhh…” he silenced her and his lips searched hers tenderly. “I want to give you something and I thought, you could wear the necklace tonight.”

“I will…” she whispered, her hands framing his face when she kissed him again longingly.

“You look so perfect. You will make every other woman jealous of your beauty tonight.” He whispered and she laughed.

“You’re flattering me. I’m not even wearing a fashionable dress.”

“And yet you make me want to carry you up into my bedroom and make love to you.”

“Maybe I should change then… how scandalous would it be, if you carried me out of Drake’s house.” She mused and he kissed her hand softly.

“I’ll try to behave.” He smiled and she touched his lips with her thumb.

“So, how long do you think will we have to be there?”

“A few hours… not that long. I will try to get out as soon as I can.” He took her arm and smiled softly. “Shall we? The carriage is already waiting in front of the house.”

“It would be my pleasure,” she replied in the most elegant manner and made him laugh at her overstated portrayal of a lady.

They spent the time in the carriage chatting, softly holding each other’s hands. When they had reached the house of Mr. and Mrs. Drake, Jack got out of the carriage, helping Irina to get out.

When they passed by the butler at the entrance, Jack nodded courteously. The butler knew him – actually there was hardly anyone among the upper class in the city who did not know him – a fact, that bothered him, for everybody did just see what he was, not who he was.

They entered the house and were lead into the huge entrance hall, where the ball took place.

“Jack Bristow!” Drake went towards them as he recognized Jack. “We were already betting whether you would attend or not. And tonight in company of a charming lady…” His eyes fell on Irina and he cut himself off as he recognized her. Irina didn’t look at him but smiled at Jack, avoiding Drake’s eyes.

“Miss Irina Derevko, what a pleasure.” Drake said with a strange tone in his voice and took Irina’s hand to kiss it. She gave him a forced smile.

“Pleasure is on my side.” She felt the urge to pull her hand away from his lips. Jack could feel the tension between her and Drake and noticed the sudden change in her behavior.

“So, where is your charming wife?” he asked to pull Drake’s attention away from his beautiful company.

“Oh, she must be over there with Mrs. Hemingway and her husband.” He answered and looked around. “Jack, let me introduce you to one honorable person from New York. He is a distant cousin of mine, but one of the most famous gentlemen…” Drake kept talking and pulled Jack with him.

Jack shot Irina an apologizing look and she smiled encouraging. Then she looked around, feeling a bit lost. She moved to a corner next to a group of men who were chatting about the latest happenings in the south, but wasn’t really interested. Nobody seemed to care for her, even more, they seemed to ignore her presence on purpose. Even Mrs. Drake just shot her a short look, frowned her forehead and turned her head away with a hint of annoyance on her face – a behavior that was absolutely inappropriate since she was the hostess this evening and should take care of a guest who was standing alone somewhere.

Well, Irina couldn’t blame her. If Drake had told his wife what she expected him to have told her, Mrs. Drake’s hate towards her was understandable, even if the facts were not true.

Irina spent the time by observing the couples on the dancing floor and the small groups at the sides who were chatting courteously, but actually nobody looked as if they really had fun. Jack was involved in a conversation with the friend of Mr. Drake – he seemed a little annoyed, but Irina didn’t dare to interfere. She sighed and was just thinking about going into the garden when a voice startled her.

“Miss Derevko, what a pleasure to meet you here.” Will Tippin smiled at her and kissed her hand well-behaved. “Would you like to dance with me?”

She gave him a thankful smile, for nothing was more humiliating than standing on the side without anyone paying attention to her. Will knew that. He pulled her onto the dance floor and smiled at her.

“I’m sorry for their behavior.” He finally said. “But their bark is worse than their bite.”

“I’d be happy if they barked,” Irina replied humorously. “But they’re still at the state of ignoring me at all.”

Will laughed and looked at Jack. “I see, Jack was introduced to Mr. Brown.”

“Obviously.”

“I went through that at the last ball. He’s the most boring man you could ever meet. He came here fifteen years ago from Ireland and was so poor, that he had to sleep on the street. Today he’s one of the most famous men of New York and he thinks of himself as the personification of success. Too arrogant for me.”

Irina laughed heartily and Will looked over at a group of women.

“Do you want more lessons about the guests?”

“I’d enjoy learning about them.” Irina smiled, really having fun.

“If you want some good advice, stay away from those ladies over there. They’re the worst in gossiping in whole Boston. If you want to spread a message all over Boston, just tell it to them. My newspaper couldn’t inform the city faster. Oh, and that gentleman over there… he’s a bit crazy if you ask me. The woman next to him is his Boston wife, but he’s also married to a girl in Tennessee, in New York and Chicago and rumors say, that he got married last week to a woman in Washington.” Will continued to introduce Irina to the various persons, and was glad to cheer her up. He had heard some people talk about her and he knew, that she had to feel totally wrong in this place.

When the music stopped, he led Irina to Jack and Mr. Brown.

“Good evening, Jack… nice to see you Mr. Brown. How is your business doing?”

What now followed was a monologue in which Brown told Will every little detail about his latest losses and wins, followed by stock information. Jack smiled gladly at Will, for now he was free to pay attention to Irina. He pulled her aside and pressed her hand.

“Sorry to leave you alone for so long.”

“Jack Bristow! What a nice surprise! Jahaaaack!” A loud voice could be heard behind them and Jack closed his eyes.

“What did I do to deserve this?” he growled and turned around, pulling on a mask of courtesy.

“Miss Katya, what a pleasure to see you. May I introduce you to my company? This is Miss Irina Derevko.”

Irina smiled at the woman with the dark brown hair. She estimated her to be in her age, but the other woman didn’t make any effort to introduce herself, even more she didn’t even deign to look at Irina – an insult that couldn’t be topped by anything else.

“Jack, I missed you at the ball last month. I didn’t know how to get through all those boring conversations without you…” She described in every little detail how boring the last ball had been without him and what would have been better if he had been there, linking arms with his while doing so and ignoring his attempts to go away.

When Irina saw how Miss Katya practically threw herself onto Jack without the slightest hint of behavior despite he obviously had female company, she finally pierced the woman with her eyes.

“Excuse me, Miss Katya – that’s your name, isn’t it? Since you seem to not know much about behavior and manners let me tell you a little bit. I don’t care about your affront to not introduce yourself and I will see it as a simple mistake on your part. But for your information, Mr. Bristow is not interested in having a conversation with you right now, since he was just about to talk to me – as you should have noticed, being the intelligent woman you seem to be. Now, I would like to say that it was a pleasure to meet you, but unfortunately I hate to lie – so would you just excuse us now?”

Katya stared at her with her mouth open, then her eyes fell on Jack whom she expected to be as outraged as she was about Irina’s affront. But Jack smiled at the woman at his side, then he looked neutrally back at Katya.

“Miss Katya.” He bowed slightly, and then, without taking any more notice of the outraged woman, he and Irina went away to an empty corner. Jack couldn’t hide his grin and kissed Irina’s hand softly.

“Compliments…” he whispered while looking deeply into her eyes. “I’ve never met anyone who managed to stop this person from talking. Thanks for rescuing me.” His lips touched her pulse and Irina shivered and looked around.

“Jack,” she warned. “Somebody could see us.”

“Nobody is paying attention.” He whispered and pulled her closer as if he was just talking to her. “And if they do, they’ll think we’re just having a private conversation. That’s neither unusual nor scandalous, since you are the woman I arrived with.”

She laughed softly as he teased her earlobe with his tongue, then broke free.

“You’re unbelievable,” she scolded, not really serious.

“I hope you mean that in a good way,” he mused and took her hands from behind, pulling her closer to his body.

“In the best way.” She flirted back and leaned her head against his chest. “Miss Katya is watching us, and I’m afraid she’s going to kill me if she finds me alone somewhere.”

He laughed and shook his head. “I never did anything to encourage her, on the contrary. Therefore her jealousy is totally unfounded. Now, will you give me the honor of dancing with me?”

“It would be my pleasure.” Irina replied and Jack locked their arms and led her to the dance floor.

“By the way,” he started as they were dancing more closely than was usual, but neither of them cared. “I really liked the way you talked to Katya.”

Irina smiled, and felt like drowning in his dark and tender eyes. “I just reacted as every woman would have done. She insulted me on purpose.”

“No, every other woman wouldn’t have said anything, but cried later with her friends about her humiliation. One thing you should know about upper class – nobody tells the truth here, insults are rewarded with a forced smile.”

“Oh… do you want me to act like that?” Irina asked concerned and he smiled.

“No. Never… I like your spirit, temper and your honesty.” He noticed that some of the people around them were already looking at them and since he didn’t want to worsen Irina’s situation, he brought some distance between them.

From the corner of his eye, he noticed Katya talking to some women, who gave Irina and him furtive looks over and over again. Surely, Katya was angry and felt humiliated, but in the end it was her own fault. She had tried to insult Irina in the worst way, but Irina had countered her and used her own weapons against her. Jack was sure, that she would take revenge and he knew he didn’t like that thought, for he had experienced that Katya could be really mean in her revenges.

It had once taken him over a week to re-establish Will Tippin’s reputation, when he had unconsciously insulted Katya by refusing to visit a museum with her. He decided to talk to Katya and make his position clear. There was no way he would accept that she ruined Irina’s reputation.

“What are you thinking?” Irina asked and he turned his attention back to the beautiful woman in his arms.

“I was thinking that it was probably a mistake to come here.” He murmured and smiled softly. Before she had the chance to answer something, the voices grew louder from the direction of the door and Jack and Irina turned when the music stopped.

“Mr. Lincoln just entered the room!” Someone next to them said lowly to his dance-partner and Jack took Irina’s arm.

“Come on… let’s greet him.”

“Jack, I’m not sure… I mean, it’s your honor and he shouldn’t see you with me.”

Jack stopped abruptly and turned to Irina. They were standing just in front of the door to the garden and after having scanned her face, Jack pulled her outside without hesitation, so they had a moment of privacy. Outside, he pulled her into a deep kiss, then held her eyes softly.

“Irina, I wouldn’t have asked you to be my company tonight if I hadn’t wanted you to be by my side. I don’t care what those people think.” He whispered, his hand resting softly at her cheek.

“You didn’t hear them talk…” Irina contradicted. “I heard some words of what they think about me… and you, because you dare to appear on an occasion like this with a…”

He cut her off with his hand which he laid to her lips. “Don’t say that.”

“But it’s true…” she countered. “I am what I am, and I can’t change it. I won’t change it, nor will I try to hide my past. And that’s why those people will never accept me in their society. But you are one of them, Jack. You belong here… don’t ruin everything you achieved in your life for me.”

He looked into her eyes and just wanted to tell her that he was willing to ruin so much more if he could just be with her, when Will stepped out onto the terrace.

“Here are you! Sorry to disturb you, but the president has arrived. He’s looking for you, Jack. I told him I would find you.”

“Sure…” Jack murmured and looked at Irina, silently asking her to come with him. She shook her head slightly. Jack couldn’t blame her, for he knew she had been right about what she had said. He turned to Will and nodded. “Let’s go.”

When Will noticed, that Irina wasn’t going to follow them, he stopped, his eyes looking at her expectantly. “And Mr. Lincoln would be pleased to meet the charming woman, who managed to catch Mr. Bristow’s interest. Do you really want to insult the president by not greeting him?”

“Are you joking?” Her voice expressed her disbelief.

“No.” Will said. “I just mentioned you when I was talking to the president and now he wants to make your acquaintance.”

Jack turned around and offered her his arm. “Shall we?” he asked and couldn’t hide the happiness from his voice. She was still hesitating, but finally took Jack’s arm. She trusted Will to tell the truth and she knew that it would be indeed offensive to refuse to meet the president if he had asked for her.

When they entered the room, Jack noticed Irina’s nervousness and laid his hand onto hers in a reassuring gesture. “Don’t be afraid. Abraham Lincoln himself is the son of poor people. He was lower class once. And as far as I know, he is a very friendly person.”

“But you never met him…” Irina stated dryly and Jack shook his head.

“No.” He simply confirmed and the woman sighed. Jack pressed her hand. “Just be yourself, as always. He won’t be able to resist your charm and intelligence… not to mention beauty.”

She laughed, thankful for his encouragement.

Abraham Lincoln was a tall man, his whole feature showing a certain strength. He smiled at Jack when he saw the man approaching him.

“Jack Bristow,” he announced clearly delighted by Jack’s presence. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” The men shook hands, then Lincoln turned to Irina. “And your company. Madam, allow me to say you, that you’re putting every other woman in this room into the shade with your beauty and elegance?” He kissed her hand gallantly and Irina couldn’t help but blushing slightly at the compliment.

“Thank you, Sir.” She replied courteously and Lincoln looked at Jack.

“It’s a pity that I don’t have as much time as I want. I’d love to get to know you and your beautiful fiancé better.”

Jack smiled back, but before anyone could say something, somebody from the group who had gathered around the president laughed sarcastically.

“Fiancé? She’s his cheap whore, nothing more.” Although the sentence wasn’t meant for everybody to hear, it was unfortunately spoken in a moment of total silence. For an almost endless embarrassing moment, the words hung in the air. Irina lowered her eyes to the ground as an awkward silence fell over the hall. Jack held Irina’s arm to prevent her from leaving the hall, then he smiled at the president as if nothing had happened.

“If you visit Boston again in the near future, I’d be happy if you visited my house.”

Abraham Lincoln nodded and laughed. “I will certainly do that. Let’s talk about that later when we have a little more privacy. I have some other people who are desperate to talk to me and if I don’t fulfill their wish, I’m afraid they will be swarming around me the whole evening.” He looked at Irina, whose expression showed clearly that she wanted nothing more but to leave the hall. He took her hand. “Madam, I hope I’ll see you later as well.” His voice was reassuring and his eyes were scanning her worried.

Irina looked at him and forced a smile. “Sure…” she said weakly and he pressed her hand, then he turned to the other people. Jack locked his fingers with Irina’s and she glanced at him, her smile weak, her face pale.

“I know what you’re thinking.” He finally said, pulling her out of the mass of people.

“Really?” she asked and he led her to a group of armchairs in a corner. They were now free to talk since everybody was surrounding the president.

“I’m sorry that happened.”

“Don’t be sorry. It wasn’t you who said that… actually I should have seen something like that coming.”

Yes, me too, Jack thought silently, but didn’t say it. For a moment he regretted having agreed to attend this ball tonight – even more having brought Irina here to get rid of annoying flirtations.

“Do you want some water?” He was kneeling in front of her, scanning her pale expression in worry. His hand was still holding hers.

“Yes…” she murmured and he got up and made his way to one of the maids to get Irina a glass of water.

She smiled thankfully at him when he returned and handed her the full glass. “You know… actually a glass of vodka would do better now.” She finally announced and he laughed and kissed her hand softly, glad that she was in the mood to joke again.

“Sorry, but they don’t serve vodka here.”

“You know, that was exactly why I didn’t want to join you… I mean, what will Lincoln think of you now?” Irina shook her head sadly, but Jack locked his fingers with hers and touched her cheek softly.

“He will think of me as an honorable man with a woman of dignity and intelligence by his side. Your whole behavior reflected nothing else.”

“Thank you, but you don’t need to just say that to be nice.”

“I’m not!” Jack reassured and played with her fingers. “Every other woman I know would have broken down hysterically. But you behaved very dignified.”

“Actually I wasn’t far from fleeing the room.” She replied and closed her eyes. Jack sighed, trying to find a way to make her happy. He hated himself for having asked her to go with him. He should have spared her a situation like this – it was his fault.

“Hey…” Will Tippin joined them and let himself fall into an empty armchair. “Unbelievable, isn’t it? One man enters the room and everybody behaves like he is a god.” He tried to solve the tension, that could clearly be felt, but all he managed was to make Irina smile shortly. He handed Jack a glass of wine he had brought and Jack sat down on the third armchair.

They kept silent for a long time, just observing the happenings. When the first euphoria about the president’s arrival had passed by, the orchestra started to play again, reopening the dance floor. It didn’t take more than a look at Irina for both of the men to know, that she was absolutely no longer in the mood to dance.

The three people straightened out, when Abraham Lincoln approached their table, the group around him now dissolved – although everybody in the hall was still following him with their eyes and observing every movement he made.

Lincoln smiled at Irina and looked at Jack then.

“Do you allow me to ask your charming company for this dance?”

“Of course.” Jack replied and the president looked at Irina.

“Madam, would you express the honor to me to dance with me?”

For a moment Irina just stared at the man, not believing the words she heard. For a split second she was about to refuse, but then she remembered her manners and nodded kindly.

“It would be my pleasure.”

She took the hand Lincoln offered her and followed him to the dance floor. Jack and Will followed them with their eyes, then Will laughed.

“Now that is going to piss Katya. Bet?”

“Will!” Jack shook his head, shocked by the language his friend used.

“What? She has been talking about Irina the whole evening long, and believe me, it weren’t kind things she told. But despite Katya’s best efforts, Lincoln seems to really like Miss Irina.”

Irina felt uneasy, dancing with the president when all eyes were focused on them.

“You’re an excellent dancer if you allow me to say that.” The man said well behaved and Irina smiled slightly.

“Thank you, Sir… so are you.”

“Miss, may I give you advice?”

Irina looked at him in confusion; his eyes were lying warmly on her. “Those people over there don’t know anything about you, or the motives why you did certain things. You shouldn’t give a penny on their opinion. I remember, when I was in my twenties, I had a really hard time proving that I was not just some stupid boy from a peasant family who could neither read nor write. But I went through with it. I’m sorry for the humiliation you had to go through earlier, and I deeply respect that you chose to go the same way I did.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Irina murmured. “Will you allow me to ask you a question as well?” she asked and he nodded.

“It’s concerning your politics… you said once, that all you want was reunifying the union, if that included freeing the slaves, it was okay, if it was without it was also okay. So, what’s your actual opinion on slavery? I was just wondering, since you seemed to be very neutral and slavery is a topic nobody can be neutral about. Of course it was the most logical thing to do, for if you had said that you wanted to free the slaves, you would have had the south against you, if you had said the contrary, the north wouldn’t have accepted you as president. But what do you really think?”

He laughed heartily. “Miss Derevko, you’re indeed one of the most extraordinary women I’ve ever met. Morally I’m against slavery, but sometimes political reasons force you to do things differently. Are you interested in politics?”

“Oh yes, very much.” She replied and he smiled.

“Extraordinary for a woman.”

“My father insisted on me attending a school and always know about the latest happenings. He always said that every citizen, no matter which gender should know about what’s going on, since in the end, in a democracy every single citizen is responsible for what is happening in the country.”

“A wise man. My parents used to say the same thing, that’s why I had the chance to attend a school.”

When the music ended, Mr. Lincoln led Irina back to her chair, chatting and joking with her. The tension had been broken. When Irina sat down in her armchair, Lincoln looked at Jack.

“My compliments, Bristow. If I wasn’t already married, you would have a serious competitor.” He sat down and Jack smiled at Irina, not taking the words as an insult. “So, let’s talk about my next visit in Boston. I will be busy the next month, but I plan to return to Boston in six weeks.”

“And I’d be honored if you would be my guest for an afternoon.” Jack replied.

“I will certainly accept that offer. By the way, I was impressed by the success of your last strategy. I myself couldn’t have planned that march better.”

The men started to talk business now and Irina half listened, half observed the other people in the hall. She caught a killing look from Katya, who smiled coldly at her. Irina smiled back friendly, not willing to react to that provocation.

She spent quite some time by just observing, listening with interest when the conversation turned away from the happenings of the last battle to actual political discussions. Finally, quite some time later she felt the need to stretch her legs and smiled apologetically.

“Would the gentlemen excuse me for a little moment?”

“Of course,” the three men answered almost at the same time and got up until she had left the table. Irina went to a small group of women, Mrs. Drake among them.

“Good evening.” Irina greeted friendly in an attempt to conquer the hostility. She failed. The women just looked at her with frowned foreheads. Irina decided to ignore their unwelcoming reactions. “Mrs. Drake, I was just wondering, do you have a room where I can rearrange my appearance.”

“Sure, just out that door, along the corridor. The last door to the left,” she replied coldly and Irina smiled.

“Thank you. How are Philip and Dana doing?”

“Fine.” Was the short answer from Mrs. Drake that didn’t hide that she was unwilling to talk to Irina more than absolutely necessary. Irina smiled.

“Well then… see you.” She left, hiding the feeling of sadness behind her smile. She had already asked herself more than once what she was doing here. She wasn’t part of this world. When she went away, she couldn’t miss the last words the women said about her.

“It’s scandalous that the humble people are allowed to attend occasions like this. I’ve heard, she slept with many people to get that high…”

“Yeah, she has not the slightest hint of manners, otherwise she would know that she’s not wanted here.”

Irina was glad when she was out of reach. She knew that the words had been well-chosen for her to hear and meant to hurt her. Although she respected the president and his advice, she was not sure that she really wanted to belong to those people. Nothing of this meant anything to her. Not the dresses, nor the glamorous events or the fame – she did all this only for Jack.

She strolled along a huge corridor with large paintings on the wall. Surely the restroom had been made at the end of the corridor so everybody would see the expensive wall decoration. Irina took her time when refreshing herself, not really looking forward to returning to the ball room. When she left the restroom, she read the texts that were written under the pictures carefully, studying every single piece of art. Some were portraits, others were paintings of pastoral landscapes, the typical art of the eighteenth century. Irina didn’t doubt that these paintings had their value. She turned right into a smaller corridor to study those paintings as well.

Fascinated by the incredible work of the artists, she didn’t notice the man who stepped out of a dark room into the dim corridor without making any sound.

“Good evening, Miss Derevko!”

At this unexpected address, Irina spun around, thinking her heart would stop beating from shock. “My God, Mr. Drake. You scared me…” she murmured and smiled apologetically. “I was just admiring your wall paintings. I didn’t mean to violate your privacy in any way…”

“Oh, feel free to look around and admire the art.” He granted and looked at her for a long time, then he smiled. “We have some more paintings over here.” He announced pointing at the darker part of the corridor. We just didn’t light this part with candles for it would have been an unnecessary waste. But if you want I will show them to you.” He sounded honest and behaved like a gentleman, yet Irina was not sure whether to trust him or rather return to the hall. Finally she decided that, after his gentlemanly behavior, it would be extremely rude of her to turn down his offer. So she nodded courteously.

“It would be my pleasure.” He took a candle off the wall and went further along the corridor. Irina followed him. Darkness didn’t actually scare her, but if she was in company of a man she didn’t fully trust she felt a little alarmed.

“Here we have a portrait of George Washington. It was the first portrait ever painted of him, therefore it’s especially valuable. That’s why we didn’t hang it in the main corridor. And here is the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This declaration was the base of our country and includes every right and law we live after today.” He lectured her and Irina smiled friendly, although he treated her like she was a five-year-old school girl who didn’t know a bit about history. But she didn’t want to insult him by interrupting his explanations. So she patiently endured the ten minute monologue about how the new republic was founded, although she knew all details by heart. He continued to explain the paintings to her and when they had reached the end of the corridor, he put the candle in one of the holders at the wall.

Irina stepped aside as she noticed that he had closed the distance between them. His eyes were resting on her and she tried not to return the look, for she knew he would take it as encouragement. Why had she agreed to his offer?

When she felt the wall at her back, she decided to switch to defense.

“Thank you for your vast explanations, Sir. But I shouldn’t keep my company waiting for too long.” She wanted to pass him by, but his arm stopped her. When she tried to pass by his other side, he imprisoned her in between his arms in the corner.

Irina turned her head aside when he lowered his head to her.

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Drake, but I’d really prefer to return to the hall now!” she insisted.

“Do you know what the people are saying about you?” he whispered into her ear and played with a strand of her hair, unimpressed by her desperate attempts to push him away from her. “They’re saying what I told them about you. That you are a whore… selling your beautiful body to the men who pay the most. And isn’t that fact?”

“No, it isn’t!” she replied still friendly, but with a certain sharpness in her voice.

“My information proves otherwise… I have been told everything about you by my dear friend Reignold. I think you know him…”

“Bastard!” Irina hissed, forgetting about manners.

“Such a bad word from the lips of a lady…” He shook his head. “Proving your harbor origin, I guess. But I will forgive you for the insult and give you a chance. We could really have fun.”

“You should have fun with your wife!” Irina replied irritated, which made him laugh.

“That shouldn’t be your problem. But you could be a little nice to me and I could do some kind of… let’s say damage-control concerning your reputation. If I say that I was wrong and the rumors I heard about you concerned another woman, you could have your job in my house back and teach my children. And do me some favors of course. You have to be really good if Bristow keeps you that long.” His eyes went down her body in the most impudent way. Irina tried to escape from within his arms, but he had seen this coming and held her around the waist. She started to hit his chest, but he caught her fists laughing.

“You seem to be hot-tempered. I like that…” he murmured hoarsely. Irina tried to free her arms, trembling with fury, but also fear.

“Mr. Drake, let go of me at once, or I swear, I’m going to scream… which I would hate to do, since it would put us both into an embarrassing situation. So please… let me return to the hall, and I’ll forget about this incident.”

He laughed amused and his thumb stroked over her lip. “Do you really think you could threaten me, you little slut? You could have had it differently, but obviously you prefer the rough way.” With these words he pressed his lips to hers in a harsh and brutal way, silencing her screams and pinning her to the wall. She fought him desperately and tried to kick him, but her dress prevented her legs to be able to move freely. She moaned in pain as he grabbed her hair to keep her from defending herself, his mouth silencing her painful scream.

“James!”

The shrill voice of his wife made James Drake startle and he let go of Irina, who was still leaning against the wall. He spun around, looking at his wife and two other ladies – friends of Malory Drake. All three women were staring at them with wide eyes.

“Malory, it’s not what you believe it to be.” James Drake said, running his hand through his hair. “Miss Derevko asked me to explain the paintings to her, and I didn’t think about any intention other than interest in art in her question. But when we arrived here, she tried to seduce me… I’m sorry, I should have said no, but she insisted and…”

“Not true…” Irina said, her voice trembling as her whole body did. “That’s a lie…”

“Miss Derevko, you call my husband a liar? One of the most honorable men in Boston? How dare you?” Malory Drake looked at her, her expression cold. “My husband told me that you have already tried to seduce him once and he refused. Shall I tell you what happened here tonight? You’re a divorced woman now, in need of money. So you begged Jack Bristow to take you here tonight to look for new – ” She shot Irina a disgusted look before coming up with an appropriate word. “ – customers.”

“No…” Irina contradicted desperately and felt her voice break, but Mrs. Drake didn’t even listen to her.

“James, I want you to throw this person out of this house.” She demanded and the man grabbed Irina’s arm. Irina started to fight him.

“You son of a b****,” she screamed, forgetting about all manners. “Tell her what happened, tell her the truth, that you were trying to rape me!” Tears flew down her cheeks, but she didn’t even pay attention. Mrs. Drake was deaf to her words.

“You must have a fair amount of front to tell such blatant lies,” Mr. Drake said coldly and dragged her with him. They crossed the main corridor, Irina still desperately talking to Mrs. Drake, swearing to her that she had never had interest in her husband. They didn’t enter the main hall, but went directly to the front door. More and more people were drawn out of the main hall to the corridor by the tumult that was obviously going on. They were curious to know what the noise was about.

James Drake pushed Irina so hard that she stumbled and fell to the ground.

“If you ever dare to put a foot into my house again, I swear to you, I will take measures.” Malory Drake said loudly, so everybody could hear it. The people around them were silent, watching the scene. “If you’re looking for new customers, look at the harbor, for that’s where you belong. You are a cheap whore, nothing more!” She lifted her hand to slap Irina in the face.

“Madam, I beg your pardon!” Will Tippin had managed to make his way through the crowd of people and hurried towards the small group at the door. He had been talking to some gentleman near the door, when the scene had caught his attention. Now he held Mrs. Drake’s hand, preventing her from what she had been about to do. Mr. Drake pushed him aside.

“Mr. Tippin, you are still young and so I give you some advice. You should choose more carefully where your loyalties lie and I can assure you, this woman is not worth your trust. She tried to seduce me and god knows who else. Wasn’t she also dancing with the president? Who knows what kind of offers she made him to get him to dance with her.”

Excited murmuring could be heard from the group who had gathered to watch the spectacle.

Irina shook her head, trying to keep at least the last remains of her dignity, but didn’t say anything for it was futile anyway. The people in this room had already made the decision about whom they wanted to believe.

It didn’t take much to make Will understand, that the situation was totally out of control, so he hurried away to get Jack. His friend was way better in conversations like this.

Mr. Drake opened the front door and grabbed Irina’s arm to push her outside into the rain that had started.

“Goodnight, Miss. And let me give you a last bit of advice. A whore has no place in the upper class, so why don’t you just return to where you belong.” And with these words he slammed the door in her face.

Irina just stood in the rain for a minute, staring at the closed door. Then she slowly turned around, stepping down the stairs. She didn’t even notice the rain that was soaking her, ruining her hair and her dress. Her mind was in a paralyzed state where she wasn’t even able to cry, so she just went away from the house slowly.

When Will and Jack returned, the people were already going back into the hall. Jack was outraged and hurried to Mr. Drake and his wife who were lively discussing with a group of people what had happened.

“Mr. Drake!” he said loudly and everybody could clearly hear the fury from his voice. “What happened here and where is Miss Derevko?”

“I advised your… friend – ” The way he emphasized the word friend made Jack even more furious. “- to leave, after she had shown her lack of manners against me by asking me to sleep with her for money.”

“Jack, she never did…” Will interrupted quick-tempered, but Jack stopped him with a warning look, then he turned back to James Drake.

In the meantime, even Abraham Lincoln had joined them outside.

“Where is she?” Jack simply asked and as he didn’t get an answer immediately, his eyes grew darker. “I asked you a question.”

“She left!” Drake simply answered and hearing the words, Jack turned without hesitating and headed to the door.

“Bristow,” Drake’s voice held him back. “I’m warning you. She is not a person, anyone of our rank should care about. She is a whore and she behaved like one. It’s time you remember your position!”

“Listen to me…” Jack grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled the man closer. “I don’t care about how you are talking about the women you have contact with – by the way, I’m sure there are a lot of names you wouldn’t want me to mention in front of your wife. But if you ever dare to insult Miss Derevko again by an inappropriate expression concerning her origin, I will make sure, that your wife learns every single name, including birth dates. Are we clear?”

Drake was certainly intimidated for a short moment, but he regained his courage after Jack had let him go.

“Bristow, I warn you! If you decide to leave now, this could have consequences for your reputation!” Drake’s voice was loud and clear and some voices from spectators grew louder now. Jack pierced Drake with his eyes.

“Well, in that case… enjoy the rest of the evening, gentlemen!” With these words he left the house, slamming the door shut behind him with a loud crash.

For a moment the mass looked at the closed door, unable to understand Jack’s choice, then the people returned to the ball room, everybody lively discussing the happenings.

Only Abraham Lincoln was standing in the entrance hall, his eyes showing deep respect for Jack Bristow. He seemed to be a man who cared about people, not ranks – that was a strength he valued higher than anything else. He should probably think of Bristow for his parliament, since he would surely be highly respected by the people – well, probably not among the upper class but the remaining eighty percent of the American people.

“Mr. Lincoln, Sir, don’t you want to join us again?” Mr. Drake looked at him and Lincoln nodded.

“Sure.” Then he followed Drake back into the main hall.

Chapter 9

Irina was unable to understand what had happened. Her mind just wasn’t willing to work rationally. She let herself sink to one of the pillars near the water in the harbor and looked at her bare feet. She had pulled her shoes off somewhere along the way after she had stumbled the third time and landed on the hard stones of the street. The rain had soaked her dress and hair all over. Slowly she started to tremble and hugged her chest with her arms to keep herself warm.

The coldness she felt brought the reality back to her and eventually she couldn’t stop herself from crying anymore. The tears just flew down her cheeks, her body shaking from sobs and the cold air.

She didn’t know how she would ever be able to live with her humiliation. Never ever would she look at one of those people again. She had ruined everything. Why had she attended the ball? She should have listened to the voice inside her that had told her not to go.

When she heard steps behind her she didn’t even bother to turn. She knew that she could easily become the victim of robbers this time of night, but actually she didn’t even care anymore.

“Irina…”

The woman gasped for air in shock when she recognized Jack’s voice.

He had thought that she would be going to the harbor. He had learned over the past two weeks that, despite the dangerous people one could run into down here, this was her favorite place in Boston, for this was where she had lived a long time of her life. Coming here had only been a guess at first, but after he had found Irina’s shoes on the way, he was sure that he was heading in the right direction.

“Leave me alone… please…” she demanded, trying to keep her voice from trembling, but failed completely. He sat down next to her, ignoring her demand. She looked at him shortly. “Please go!” Her plea was now more insistent. “You should be talking to the president now.”

“Do you think I’ll leave you alone when you’re sitting at the harbor, crying?”

“I’m not crying!” Irina insisted, the tears that streamed anew over her cheeks proving her words a lie. Jack pulled out his handkerchief and handed it to her.

“Here.” His voice was soft and showed how much he was worried about her condition.

She took it and crumpled it in her hands. For a long time they were sitting in the rain, neither of them speaking a word. Both listened to the sound of the raindrops and the waves of the water.

“I’m sorry…” Irina finally whispered. “I wanted to behave perfectly mannered to fit in, but instead I humiliated you and your reputation in front of the president.”

“Irina, you behaved perfectly mannered.” He whispered and touched her hand. She pulled away from the touch. “What happened in there wasn’t your fault.”

“Really?” she asked ironically and sighed. “If that’s so, why did I end up being called a…” she cut herself off and just stared at the black horizon for a moment.

“It is not as bad as you think.” Jack tried to cheer her up. “Fine, they are going to talk about you for a week, maybe two, but you’ll see, then they’re going to forget about the whole incident. And I made sure that you won’t ever be pestered by Drake again.”

For a moment she was surprised that he believed her – believed that she hadn’t tried to persuade Drake to sleep with her for money. Then she shook her head. “This is not about me, Jack. Actually I don’t even care about those arrogant chicks in there or what they are thinking. I don’t care about glamorous dresses or behaving perfectly to prove how ‘civilized’ I am. But tonight I really tried to fit in for you. This whole evening proved that, no matter what I do, or how I behave, they will always try to find a way to make it look bad. They don’t want me there… I don’t belong in their world – in your world.” She sobbed again. “You deserve better than this. Way better!”

“Irina…” he started, bewildered by the words she said, but she wouldn’t let him finish.

“It’s just the way it is.” She looked at her hand, then she took his and laid something into it. “I agreed to go with you to that ball because I thought I could fit in somehow. But I don’t and I never will. I don’t even want to!”

He stared at the necklace in his hands, unwilling to believe what her words meant. Then he turned her head softly to him, forcing her to look into his eyes.

“I admit, the evening wasn’t perfect. But I didn’t expect you to fit in somehow.” He tried to give the necklace back to her, but she refused.

“No, I don’t want it… I don’t deserve it.”

Hearing her words, he laid his hands onto her cheek and caressed her softly. His lips found hers in the most tender kiss, neither of them caring about their surroundings. Irina touched his face, and finally broke contact. She leaned her forehead against his, her hands softly framing his face.

“Let’s go home before we both catch a cold out here in the rain. You’re trembling…” he whispered and she opened her eyes, bringing immediate distance between them.

“No. I’m not going back…” she murmured and got up.

“Irina…” His voice was a plea, making it even harder for her, but yet she couldn’t give in.

“I need to go now…” she whispered almost soundlessly and turned in order to go away.

“Irina!” Within a second he was by her side, grabbing her wrist softly. “You can’t just go away…”

“Yes, I can… there’s a ruin at the edge of the city. Phillis lived there for some months. It’s not the best, but it’ll do until I find something in the city.”

“That was not what I meant… I mean, of course it also was, but what I mean is, you can’t just say goodbye and tell me, that we’ll never meet again. Don’t do that to me…”

“Jack…” Her eyes filled with tears again. “Those people…”

“I don’t care a penny for those people.” He interrupted her. “I don’t even like most of them! But you…” He took a deep breath, swallowing what he had wanted to say, for he didn’t want to scare her by revealing to her that he loved her. That was definitely not the right time for a confession like that.

Irina stepped back a few meters.

“We can still meet. I will get an apartment somewhere and you can visit me at night. I’ve heard other women doing the same thing with their customers and it worked perfectly well…”

Totally stunned, he shook his head in a mixture of shock and disbelief. For a moment they just stared at each other, both silent, since the expression on his face had cut her off. Then he crossed the distance between them and pulled her into his embrace. A customer… he was nothing more to her than that?

He couldn’t let her go now, otherwise he knew, he would lose her forever – or at least the chance to pursue his plan of marrying her.

“Listen…” he finally murmured close to her ear. “Please come home with me tonight, so I’ll know that you are safe. Tomorrow we will talk about how to go on…” He felt that she pressed closer to his body, searching for his warmth and he pulled off his jacket and laid it around her shoulders, hugging her close again, while softly rubbing her back to warm her up. “Come on… let’s go back.”

After another moment of consideration she eventually nodded, for she knew it was the only reasonable thing to do given the weather and the fact that she didn’t know where to go, except for the old ruin.

They went a few meters, then Jack finally lifted the woman up into his arms, ignoring Irina’s protest.

“I won’t let you walk barefoot through Boston – especially when it’s raining.” He simply stated and his tone didn’t allow any contradiction. He only let her down when they had reached the carriage.

Only fifteen minutes later, they had reached home and immediately headed to bed, while good old Maggie served them hot tea to warm them up. Shortly after that Irina fell asleep in Jack’s arms, but Jack couldn’t find the rest he needed. What if he lost Irina? What if she really decided to go and he couldn’t convince her not to?

She saw him as her customer, nothing more… so he couldn’t just ask her to marry him for that would catch her totally off guard. He had to come up with an idea to make her stay in his house, because otherwise they would only meet to have sex. He had to have enough time to make her love and trust him and the kind of relationship she had suggested was certainly not the best to do so.

Suddenly, he thought about another possibility. Maybe he had to have exactly that kind of relationship with her. An idea came up in his mind and he decided that it was worth trying, for he didn’t have a better plan. And besides, making Irina stay with him was all he wanted for the moment, so it was worth the effort.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning Irina was the first to wake up. She stayed motionless for some time, just enjoying the warmth of Jack’s body against hers. Then finally she lifted her head from his chest, careful not to wake him up. She had no problems to loosen his arms around her waist and got up silently.

She desperately longed for a bath and so she disappeared into her room, preparing everything. When she was down in the kitchen, preparing hot water to fill her tub, Maggie entered the room, surprised to find Irina up that early. When she saw what Irina was about to do she scolded and ordered her to wait in her room, for the work of filling the tub was her job. Irina surrendered smiling and returned to her room.

Half an hour later her hot bath was ready and Irina enjoyed the warmth, preparing herself mentally for the day to come. She had to find an apartment. She still had the two hundred dollars, Phillis had kept for her. Two hundred dollars would be enough to pay rent for a week and also be able to buy food and simple clothing.

Maybe she could get a job in one of the factories. Although she had considered to just sell herself, she somehow couldn’t get used to the thought. Suddenly it disturbed her to go to bed with men she disliked. Actually the only man she still wanted to go to sleep with was Jack. So, prostituting herself would be the last option. Working as a tutor wasn’t an option either, for poor people didn’t have the money to pay a tutor and the rich people would certainly not hire her – especially after the happenings of last night.

So the factory was her last option…

She took her time for her morning toilet and didn’t hurry to get dressed. This would be her last morning in luxury so she decided to enjoy it.

Jack didn’t join her when she had breakfast this morning – in fact she didn’t see him at all. So she passed the time in silence, only Maggie whirling around her. But even the mood of the old maid was depressed. Maggie knew what Irina had gone through and she couldn’t think of a way to cheer her up. What Irina had been going through was outstandingly the worst situation a lady could have to go through.

When she served breakfast to Jack in his private room, she shook her head sadly.

“It’s a shame! Miss Irina really doesn’t deserve something like that.”

Jack didn’t reply and so Maggie just put the plates in order. When she was about to leave the room, Jack looked up shortly.

“Maggie, could you tell Irina to come up here when she has finished breakfast? I want to talk to her and do not wish to be disturbed.”

“Sure…” Maggie replied and left the room.

When Irina entered Jack’s room half an hour later, he had finished breakfast and was standing at the window, looking out at the street.

“Morning…” she whispered, and he returned her greeting without turning around. He kept silent for a long time until Irina finally stated what she had planned.

“I will try to get an apartment somewhere in the city today. And I will try to get a job in one of the factories.” She explained and he nodded, finally turning around. He noticed that she was wearing a simple dress, the dress of a woman of lower class.

“I see… do you really think, that is the right thing to do?” His voice was soft, so were his eyes that locked with hers now.

“Yes…” Irina replied, disconnecting their eyes by lowering hers to the ground.

“It was just one unfortunate situation…” he started, but she interrupted him.

“Unfortunate situation?” she repeated his expression bitterly. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t want to always be afraid of being raped just because those people think that my origin would give them permission to do whatever they want. Yesterday evening, if Mrs. Drake hadn’t discovered us, that’s exactly what would have happened.” She closed her eyes, finally forming the possibilities that had been going through her mind, into words. “So maybe if I had just given him, what he wanted, the whole scene wouldn’t have taken place, since we would have moved elsewhere. I would have spared you the embarrassing situation. But instead I refused, and I was punished for doing so.” She didn’t dare to look into his eyes. “So don’t tell me about it being just one unfortunate situation. It was an unfortunate situation, but it will certainly repeat if I stay, for Drake is not the only person with a bad character in your class. And since I don’t want to share the bed of one of those men, it’s most likely that situations like that will occur over and over again. That’s why I think it best to leave.”

“I understand…” he nodded, his voice neutral. “So you’ve made your final decision.”

“Yes.” Her eyes met his and she closed the distance between them. She laid her hand to his cheek, her eyes shimmering softly. “But you can visit me whenever you want.” Her body brushed his unintentionally and both shuddered. Jack’s eyes rested on her for a long time, then he decided to go through with his plan.

“May I tell you something? You want to get a job in one of the factories, right?”

Irina nodded and wanted to add something, but he didn’t let her.

“Fine… then let me explain the conditions of a job like that. If you are lucky, you only have to work twelve hours a day, six days a week. In times of sickness, such as fall or winter it might even be seven days with fourteen hours. The payment you receive is barely enough to pay the rent, not to mention to buy food, especially when you are a woman. So you will sooner or later have to move to one of the working class houses – living with five or more people in one single room.”

“Jack…” Irina tried to stop him, his descriptions scaring her. She had never thought of a possibility like that.

“So,” Jack continued, “you’re working twelve hours every day, and then you’re going home, only to eat – if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford food – and sleep of course, maybe six hours in the best case. The next morning you get up and return to the factory, doing the same things as the day before… every day the same thing. And after some months you will be so desperate that you start to sleep with men again to be at least not hungry anymore. I don’t want this to happen, Irina!”

“That is not going to happen!” she replied, more to convince herself than him.

“So, I’m making you an offer.” His fingers ran down the line of her neck. “You stay here, in my house as you did the last weeks and share my bed at night. Six nights a week and some casual activities at days, like playing chess. You’ll have plenty of free time since as you know, I’m very busy with my job from time to time. Every week I will pay you two hundred dollars for your… services.” His lips were close to her ear now, softly starting to tease and she held on to his shoulders. “That will make eight hundred a month. You won’t need to accompany me to any official occasions nor will you have contact with any other persons from upper class unless you wish to. What do you say?”

He pulled her body against his, his mouth caressing the skin of her neck now. Irina closed her eyes for a moment, seriously considering his offer and the possibilities – his tender caresses made it hard for her to focus.

“It’s not much different from me visiting you in an apartment, except that you don’t have to work in a factory.” Jack underlined.

Irina wanted to contradict and tell him, that she had never planned to take money from him for sleeping with him, but then she decided against it. He would not understand why she was willing to share his bed without payment – in fact she didn’t know it herself.

“Your offer is very generous.” She whispered into his ear and laid her head back as he continued to caress her skin. She was confused to feel the material of her dress rush to the ground suddenly, for she hadn’t even noticed that he had opened it. He laid her softly to the mattress of his bed, lowering himself onto her without breaking contact.

“So is that a yes?” he asked hoarsely and she had to focus to understand his question at all for he was driving her crazy with his lips.

“No…” she replied. “I’m sorry, but I can’t accept your offer.”

“Why?” he asked at her lips.

She couldn’t tell him the truth, for that would mean she had to tell him that she couldn’t stand to be paid for sleeping with him anymore, so she came up with a lie. “Because I don’t want to depend on anybody anymore… neither you, nor…”

She cut herself off when he pushed the white top of her undergarment up and revealed the soft skin of her belly and her breasts. A moan escaped her lips as he closed his mouth over her nipple and her hands buried in his hair. He set her on fire, the same fire they had shared during the nights of the last two weeks and it seemed to be more intense every single night. He took his time to explore her skin, trailing his lips down her body until she thought she couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Jack… please…”

When he heard her plea, he turned his attention back to her neck and finally looked into her eyes, his breath coming shallow and his mouth hovering just inches above hers. She tried to close the distance between them and pull him into a kiss, but he evaded her lips.

“Please what?” he asked teasingly, starting to softly bite her earlobe while his hand ran down her body, caressing her belly and her legs except where she wanted him to be.

“Make love to me…” she whispered breathlessly and he closed his eyes for a moment, concentrating to regain control.

“I will…” he finally whispered into her ear. “As soon as you promise to take my offer. Stay here, with me… We need each other.” He nibbled seductively at her lower lip. “What’s your answer?”

“Jack! I can’t…” she whispered and wanted to deepen the kiss, but all of a sudden, Jack broke contact with her, getting up from the bed. She whimpered at the loss of his warmth.

“Then maybe it’s best if you go now…” he announced, trying to sound completely neutral, but couldn’t hide the desire from his voice – not to mention the insecurity. What if she really left now?

It took Irina some seconds to understand his words, to realize the meaning of them. Her whole body screamed for his touch and the loss of his warmth made her shiver. She needed him and she wanted nothing more than to stay with him. But no matter if she decided to stay now, it would only take a few months until he would have enough of her and would want to get rid of her anyway. She felt her heart break when she thought about having to leave him. When she realized how deep her desire was already ignited, she made her decision – the decision he had hoped for.

“Fine, I will stay.” She murmured and meant it. Why not treasure the moments she could have with him?

He turned around and slowly walked back to the bed. “Promise?”

“I promise.” She whispered and looked up at him, still lying on the sheets when she looked at him seductively. “But I won’t accompany you to balls or other occasions. I’m just your… lover.”

“If that’s what you wish.” He whispered and joined her on the bed again. “I take your word on this.”

“You can! I always keep my promises!” she muttered and his lips brushed hers, then he looked into her eyes once more.

“Well, if you don’t, I will just take measures.”

“Measures?” she asked amused and he smiled, softly pinning her hands over her head, locking their fingers.

“Oh yes…” he whispered sensually into her ear. “I will tie you to my bed… just like this.”

She gasped for air and pressed her cheek to his. “If that was meant to scare me off breaking my promise, it failed. On the contrary, I’m seriously considering that possibility now…” she whispered sultrily into his ear, her tongue teasing his earlobe.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” he challenged her, and looked deeply into her eyes that were reflecting the same passion and desire he felt inside. He let go of one of her wrists and ran his hand down her body, still holding her other hand in place. “Now, let me make love to you…” he softly demanded, his hand finally touching her where she needed him. She closed her eyes, lying her head back at the sensations and heat that rushed through her bloodstream. She pulled him against her body and he took that as her answer, devouring her mouth in a hot open-mouth kiss that left both of them breathless. Then he made love to her ever so softly and for a few sweet hours they forgot about what had happened or what was about to come. For one short moment in time they surrendered to the sweet oblivion with nothing else mattering but the endless passion between them.

Chapter 10

Weeks passed by and Irina never regretted her decision to stay. As Jack had promised, he kept her out of every official business, and never did mention her name. Occasions that were absolutely necessary for him to go to, he attended alone.

As he had predicted, the people were talking for a little more than one week about the incident, then another rumor caught their interest and Irina was forgotten. Jack didn’t answer to any questions concerning her, so she was unaffected by any business that involved the upper class.

In the evenings they usually played chess or cards, for Jack had found out, that Irina was not only excellent in playing chess, but also a genius poker player. On Sundays, Jack usually didn’t have to work, so he and Irina spent the whole day together, visiting museums or a theater, or just driving out of the city with the carriage to spend a nice afternoon in the country, enjoying the beautiful landscape.

Although both of them enjoyed the time they had together, Jack was never sure about how deep Irina’s feelings went. Sometimes when he caught a tender or longing look of her, he thought, she might be falling in love with him, other times he wasn’t so sure about that.

Irina felt the same way, afraid to express her feelings, not only because of her fear he might not share them, but also because she knew, that they couldn’t have a future together. She couldn’t stay in his house forever, living as his lover, and marriage was out of the question. A man from the upper class would just never marry a woman from the lower class – especially if she had worked as a prostitute.

When Jack paid her every Sunday evening, Irina put the money into the drawer of her commode, never using it, for actually she didn’t even want to take it.

The first time she took some of the money was when Jack’s birthday got closer, and she wanted to buy him a gift. It had to be something special. She had found an old book by one of his favorite authors. It was an original edition with notes of the author, and although it was unique, she wasn’t content with it.

When she strolled along the streets with its small shops, she suddenly caught glimpse of a poster at the wall of an old house. It was advertisement for a new brothel that had opened at the edge of the city and a man, obviously an employee of the city council, was just removing it from the wall. Some ladies were loudly expressing their indignation about the affront to hang up a scandalous poster like that in their street.

Irina didn’t actually care about them. The woman on the picture caught her interest and she got an idea, which she discarded at first, but then, as she thought it over, she liked it more and more.

She turned around into the direction of the shop of Mrs. Daniel, the sewer who usually made her dresses. She was the only one, Irina was sure, to be discreet. When she entered the small shop, her courage almost failed her. But it was too late to turn around since Gina Daniel had already seen her.

“Miss Irina! What a nice surprise!” Gina rushed to the woman and shook her hand, bowing slightly. “I didn’t expect you today. Why didn’t you just call me? I would have visited you at your house.”

“I know, thank you, but I’m in need of something special. It is meant to be a surprise for my… for Mr. Bristow and I need you to be absolutely discreet about it. I don’t know if you can help me at all.”

“We’ll see, my dear. Come on, sit down. I will bring you a cup of tea and then we’ll talk.”

Five minutes later the two women were sitting in a private room in the back of the shop. Hesitantly, Irina described her intentions and what she was looking for, her initial uneasiness soon gone when she found Gina listening to her and supporting her idea with her nods and enthusiastic comments. When Irina had finished, Gina thought for a moment, then she pulled out a sheet of paper, making a few notes and drawings.

“Mmmm….” she finally murmured. “I think, that shouldn’t be a problem to realize. I have an idea how to start, but I need your measures to guarantee, that it will fit perfectly. I can take the measures now and the dress could be finished in… let’s say four days?”

“That would be perfect.” Irina nodded happily.

She and Gina spent another hour chatting about different, mostly common things, then Irina left the small shop. She was still a little unsure about her idea, but when she went to collect her dress four days later, she was totally convinced.

Gina cried out in enthusiasm as Irina was standing in front of the mirror, eyeing herself skeptically.

“You look perfect. You know what you should do with your hair?” Gina showed Irina some hairstyles that fit the dress and her outfit perfectly. “It’s easy to do… you can do it yourself if you don’t want your maid involved. It’s just curling your hair and pinning some strands up – like that.” She showed Irina how to do it, then she gave her hairpins which would make it easier for her.

“I wonder why I never got an idea like that to seduce my husband…” Gina sighed when Irina paid her. “So, when is the great day?”

“The day after tomorrow,” Irina replied.

“You should plan about three hours for the preparations, like curling your hair.”

“That’s not a problem. He’ll be working the whole day, so I have plenty of time.”

Jack had indeed to work late. He had a conference on the latest happenings in the war and obviously it was very important. Irina had only heard from the newspapers what was going on at the front, but obviously the south had finally lost, but not yet given up.

Jack had only been home the nights during the last days. He arrived when Irina was already asleep and left before she had awaken in the morning. She didn’t reproach him for not being there, for she knew the government was pressing charges on everybody who was involved. The war had to be ended soon.

Irina stood up early on Jack’s birthday for she desperately needed to see him today. She was still wearing her night- robe when she entered the living room this morning. Jack was already sitting at the table with Maggie whirling around him in her usual cheerful manner.

When she saw Irina at the door, Maggie’s jaw dropped almost to the ground.

“Miss…” she exclaimed, staring at Irina’s appearance. “Why didn’t you call for me?”

Irina didn’t look at her for her eyes were locked with Jack’s who seemed to be really happy to see her.

“It’s okay Maggie, I’ll return to bed after Jack has left.”

Jack looked at Maggie and smiled. “Would you leave us alone for a moment?” he asked and Maggie smiled wisely.

“Sure,” word said, she left the room, humming a song. “I’ll be cleaning the dining room, in case you need me!” she chirped before she closed the door from the outside.

“Good morning!” Irina whispered and Jack pulled her onto his lap and kissed her deeply.

“God, I miss you.” He murmured at her lips. “I’m sorry for being so busy lately.”

“Don’t be.” She replied. “I just wanted to wish Happy birthday to you.” She gave him the book she had hidden behind her back. “That’s present number one. Present number two requires that you’ll be home earlier tonight, because I don’t want to risk falling asleep.”

He looked in disbelief at the old, valuable book. “My God… where… how… did you get that?”

“Well, there is a bookshop at the harbor which sells mostly Irish and Chinese books to immigrants, but has books from all languages. I know the owner – he always sold me books in Russian. However, he knew another librarian in Chicago, who had a friend, who had by chance inherited this book.” She shrugged her shoulders. “So I got it.” Her hands played tenderly at his sleeve.

He laughed and kissed her softly. “Thank you… And I will definitely be home early today.” He whispered at her lips. “Do I get a hint?”

“No hints.” She replied. “Otherwise the surprise would be gone. I just honestly hope that you like it.”

“If I can just spend some time with you, I will be happy.” His finger touched her nose softly and for a moment they just enjoyed being close to each other. When the large clock at the wall announced six o’clock, Jack let her go with a hint of regret in his eyes.

“I have to go, although I would really prefer to spend the day with you to sitting in a small room discussing politics with men who will never come to a conclusion.”

Irina laughed and pulled him into a deep kiss, her tongue exploring his mouth seductively.

“Now you have something to think of, if it gets too boring.” Her words were sultry and she stepped back. “And it’s also the beginning of what will be continued tonight. I will go to sleep now… I’m terribly tired.”

He chuckled and kissed her hand, then her pulse. “See you tonight.” He whispered promising and watched her leaving the room. No doubt, this was going to be the longest day ever.

~~~~~~~~

Irina began her preparations very early, starting with the room. She didn’t want to use the bed, that seemed to be too usual, so she just grabbed the cushions and sheets and carried them into the corner in the room next to the fireplace. As they weren’t enough, she hurried into her own room, collecting the cushions from her bed as well.

When she was still not satisfied, she went through the whole house from top to bottom until every available cushion was lying next to the fireplace in Jack’s room. Then she decorated them with a blanket.

From time to time she went down into the kitchen, checking how far Maggie was with dinner. The old maid did her best in cooking tonight. Irina hadn’t told her any details, but from the way the woman had planned every single detail, she was preparing a surprise for Jack. Maggie didn’t ask further for it would have been indiscreet, so she left Irina room to do whatever she wanted to.

When Maggie had finished cooking in the late afternoon, Irina smiled at her.

“Thank you, Maggie. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off and go meeting with friends or do some shopping?”

“Thank you Miss, but I don’t have money to do shopping and my friend is still busy working. Besides I don’t think Mr. Bristow would approve if I just left.”

Irina gave her a hundred dollars. “Here, that’s for you. For preparing dinner and helping me. Trust me, Mr. Bristow will be totally okay with you taking the day off.”

Maggie looked at the huge amount of money, than she gave it back to Irina. “Miss Irina, I can’t take that. It’s my job to do all of this and…”

“Maggie, you’ve helped me so much. Take it as my little thank you and enjoy the rest of the day. You deserve it… I’m not going to take it back!” Irina warned stubbornly and Maggie sighed, than she finally smiled happily.

“Fine then… thank you so much!” She hugged Irina. “I’ll be gone in thirty minutes. I’ll just clean up the kitchen,” she promised and Irina looked at the delicious meal. She had chosen food, that had to be eaten without being cooked for she didn’t know when Jack would be home and didn’t want to risk ruining the dinner by having to warm something up.

The meal was a combination of Greek and Arabic specialties and had cost her a fortune, for there was only one trader in the city who sold goods and food from Southern Europe and Africa. The man had had immense prices and nothing had made him reduce them for Irina.

She sincerely hoped that Jack would like what she had prepared.

When Maggie was gone, Irina carried the plates upstairs into Jack’s room, using the bed as a huge table. When she was done, she eyed her work skeptically until she was sure that everything was as she had wanted it to be.

Then she went into her room to change. When she looked at the clock, she was content for she was perfectly in her timetable. She undressed and had a long bath, using the Arabic Rose shampoo she had found at the Arabic traders store.

When she was stepping out of the bathtub, the world started to spin in front of her eyes and she held on to the wall shortly, holding her stomach as she felt nausea coming up.

“Oh please, not now…” she murmured, already used to those attacks. She kept having them since about a week ago, first she had thought she had eaten something wrong, but since they didn’t stop, she feared that she might be getting seriously sick. Especially since there was a new virus going around in the area of the harbor that started with nausea.

As always, she felt better three minutes later, carefully wrapping herself up in a towel. It took her about an hour to arrange her hair, trying out styles and then discarding them again. Finally she decided to simply pin her hair up with a few strands falling out and framing her face.

She used the curlers she had borrowed from Maggie, so the strands would be curlier than usual. She went around in her room, spending the time by reading or just searching for things she could use until her hair was dried and she could take out the curlers.

At last she pulled on the beautiful dress Gina had made for her. It was more a beautiful lingerie than a dress, the cut in the fashion of ancient Greek, falling in folds around her slender body. It was very tight around her chest, waist and hips and the slit on its one side offered a full view of her perfect leg.

For a moment she thought that she was a little too courageous, but then she discarded this thought. Surely erotic undergarment like this was scandalous, but that didn’t mean men didn’t like it.

Irina went to Jack’s room, taking some candles with her to make the last preparations. Then she had to wait. She spent the time sitting on the staircase, so she would notice Jack’s arrival on time and not be surprised by him. She had taken a book with her, not really concentrating on reading.

Time went by and Irina’s eyes fell on the clock from time to time, noticing that it got later and later. It was almost ten when Jack finally arrived, the sun had already set and only the last remains were lighting the outside world.

When she heard the door open, Irina jumped up, disappearing into Jack’s room, the book forgotten on the small commode on the corridor.

When Jack didn’t come upstairs immediately, Irina sighed. God, she hoped he wasn’t getting food from the kitchen.

“Jack?” she asked loudly and heard his answer from downstairs.

“Irina! Where is everybody? I already thought I was the only person in this house. Where’s Maggie?” She didn’t answer and he frowned his forehead. “Irina?”

She hid behind the door of his room when she heard him coming up the stairs.

“Irina? Where are you?”

“Here…” she replied just as loud so he could hear it. He opened the door to his room and entered it.

That was her moment. She pulled out the cloth she held in her hand and softly blindfolded his eyes with the silk material.

“Welcome home…” she whispered into his ear.

“Irina…” he replied surprised. “Where is Maggie?”

She turned him around softly, his hands running over her waist. She grabbed his hands and held them away from her body.

“No touching!” she murmured close to his lips. “Same is for kissing. And concerning your question, I told her to spend the rest of the day off.” She opened the buttons of his shirt slowly. “I thought it was a wise decision so nobody would disturb us…”

“Very wise…” he whispered.

“Relax…” she ordered him softly, his closeness causing heat to build up inside her. She couldn’t resist softly nibbling at his lower lip while unbuttoning his shirt and tossing it away. When he tried to deepen the kiss she retired from his lips and paid her full attention to undressing him until he was standing in front of her, only wearing his pants. She admired his muscled chest for a moment, her hands playfully running up his arms until she felt him shiver. She pressed herself closer to him, her lips playing at the sensitive skin of his neck, her breasts brushing the naked skin of his chest.

“What are you wearing?” he asked, confused at the unfamiliar material of her clothing. She chuckled amused and stopped her soft caresses to lead him to the cushions.

“Something…” Was her evasive answer. “Don’t peek…” she warned when he had sat down, then she went to light the candles and bring the food.

He listened to her preparations, curious about what she was doing. When she was finished, Irina went to her knees in front of Jack and softly removed his blindfold. He looked speechlessly at the room, which had totally changed and was softly enlightened by the light of some candles and the fire in the fireplace. Then his eyes fell on the woman in front of him and he gasped for air. The dress formed out every inch of her perfectly shaped body, revealing enough skin to make him fantasizing about kissing every single spot. The way the dress fell around her body didn’t hide that she wasn’t wearing anything underneath – a fact that turned him on even more.

When he was unable to say something, Irina’s courage sank to point zero.

“You don’t like it…” she assumed from his reaction. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have… I can go change if you want.”

“No… no!” He grabbed her around the waist to keep her from going. “Don’t! Don’t EVER change into anything else again…” he murmured and wanted to pull her against his body. She laughed relieved and freed herself from him.

“Well, in that case the old rule is re-established. No touching, no kissing. Visual show only. I trust you to be a gentleman and let me serve you dinner without distracting me by anything.” She announced playfully and her eyes gleamed seductively. “Otherwise I will have to quit immediately.”

She got up and he admired her bare leg that was revealed when she moved to the bed now to bring a plate with food.

“I hope you like Greek and Arabic food?”

He kept staring at her, noticing only ten seconds later that she had asked him a question – but couldn’t remember what it had been.

“I take that as yes.” She replied neutrally, behaving as if she really intended to only serve him dinner. “What would you wish to drink? Wine or water?”

“Water…” he replied, his eyes unable to focus on anything else but her. When she had brought the table with fresh salad and the water to him, she sat down behind him, softly starting to massage his neck and back.

“Enjoy your meal!” she whispered into his ear and he leaned into her, closing his eyes when her lips were close to his cheek.

“Aren’t you hungry?” he asked hoarsely, turning his head softly. His lips brushed her cheek and she evaded his touch quickly.

“Stick to the rule…” she warned playfully and took a piece of one of the exotic fruits. “Try these… they’re delicious.” She fed him softly, still sitting behind him.

“Delicious…” he nodded, turning softly. “But you should take one too…” She allowed him to feed her with a little piece, his lips closing the distance between them and their eyes locked. Irina allowed him to get as close as he could get to her, but when he was only a hair-breadth away from touching her lips with his, she got up in the most elegant manner, not overhearing his slightly frustrated moan.

“Maybe you should have some wine…” she suggested. “It will calm you down… and this Arabic bread fits the wine very well.” She went to her knees one meter in front of him, offering him the bread and a glass of wine. He took both of it, deciding to join in her game.

“Thank you,” was his neutral reply. “But I insist on you joining me.”

She smiled and sat down opposite to him, her eyes not losing his as she took some of the bread. He admired her beauty and the gleam her eyes had in this soft orange light of the candles. She was looking like a Greek goddess in her dress.

“So, how was your day?” she asked, then taking her glass to drink some water, but never losing his eyes.

“Boring…” he murmured.

“I see… could you be a little more specific?” she teased in a low voice.

“The usual… talking with no conclusion. I took the day off tomorrow…” He cut himself off as she leaned towards him, her face closer to his.

“Go on,” she whispered close to him and took the plate with fruits, then sitting back on her place. He was close to just grabbing her and pulling her back against his body.

“I thought…” he continued, breathing hard. “We could spend the day in the country tomorrow. Just us two…”

“Oh yes, I’d love that!” she whispered, her eyes sparkling happily. He smiled at her and lifted his glass.

“So then, do you have any preferences where to go?”

“It’s your birthday. You choose.” She insisted and took a spoonful of the fruit salad which she offered to him. She laughed when she accidentally smeared some of the milk-yoghurt sauce over his face and closed the distance between them.

“Sorry…” she murmured, kneeling in front of him. Seductively, she licked it away, her lips playing at the skin of his cheek and the corner of his mouth. He moaned and closed his eyes, his hands finally pulling her closer.

When he touched her, she immediately stopped and returned to her old place. His eyes were longingly focused on her. It had been more than a week since they had last slept together for he had always come home too late and she had already been asleep. Now he wasn’t sure he could bear the tension she built up by her playful actions. He needed her just too badly.

Irina herself wasn’t sure how long she would be able to keep up the game. Being close to him, but not kissing him took all of her mental strength and control.

Neither of them was actually hungry, so Irina could soon take the plates away. She would save it for later.

“Do you want some more water?” she asked and approached him with the can of water. When she filled his glass, he took the chance of her being so close and bent towards her. His lips laid to the bare skin of her shoulder and she shuddered at the sudden impact of heat his touch sent through her body, spilling most of the water on one of the cushions.

She turned her head and looked at him in a playfully warning expression. “Mr. Bristow, that’s a breach of agreements…”

“Actually I never agreed to those rules!” he whispered and took the water can out of her hand. Then he pulled her almost roughly against his body, their faces only inches apart and her hands on his shoulders, searching to regain her balance. Since she was on her knees, her face was slightly above his, her lips hovering over his.

He waited for her to kiss him, his hands softly running over her back, pressing her closer against him. Her breath was shallow, even to his and she lowered her lips to his. They brushed in the slightest touch, then Irina turned her head away and got up before he was able to react.

“I still have dessert.” She announced, trying to sound controlled and neutral. Jack groaned frustrated and jumped up as she again teased him by evading his kisses. He closed the distance between them with only two steps, urging her against his desk, while his lips hungrily searched for hers.

“Jack…” she protested amused and caught his hands in hers.

“Irina, don’t tease. I have barely seen you for almost a week now and I long for being able to do everything I’ve been fantasizing about to you.” His lips were close to her ear, their cheeks touching, and yet she wouldn’t let his hands go.

“Tell me your fantasies.” She demanded seductively and he chuckled, then abruptly he lifted her up so she was sitting on his desk, her legs at either side of his body.

“Better idea…” he whispered into her ear. “Let me show you instead. No useless talking.”

He didn’t wait for her approval, but devoured her mouth with his in a deep kiss until she was writhing against him, desperate to pull him closer and feel all of his body against hers. When he broke the kiss, she was panting against his lips, all protest erased from her mind.

“You’re pretty easily convinced…” he murmured and chuckled. She let her hands roam over his naked, well-muscled chest, her eyes locked with his.

“One week.” She explained, her voice hoarse with desire. “You were not the only one fantasizing while lying in bed alone.”

At those words he merged their lips again in a quick, but deep kiss, then he drew a path down the line of her jaw with his tongue. She laid her head back a little to give him easier access, which he took advantage of immediately. His hands wandered over her back which was only half covered by the dress, then he stopped at her hair, removing the two pins that held it up.

“Hey…” she protested weakly and with an amused tone in her voice. “Do you know how much time that style took me?”

“I will make up for it,” he promised and looked down at her. “God, you look so gorgeous in this piece of cloth.”

She smiled, taking the chance to softly kiss his chest, then his neck. He moaned when she started to softly bite and lick, her actions driving him crazy. For his opinion she was still a little too much in control of herself. His hand ran over her leg and stroked away the folds of clothing covering it. Before she even realized what he was planning, his hand had found its way between her legs.

She gasped for air when she felt him starting to tease her, unable to evade his intimate caresses since he was firmly holding her in place with his body and arm. She moaned close to his lips and closed her eyes.

“Jack… too fast…” she whispered breathlessly and he connected their lips in a short, passionate kiss that soon turned into a slow and tender one and ended with him sensually nibbling at her lower lip.

“Do you still want me to stop?” he then asked softly and she grabbed his shoulders.

“God, no…”

He chuckled and licked at her neck, softly biting her earlobe, the same as she had done earlier. Her breathing became more shallow and the grip around his shoulders tightened.

“So is that one of your fantasies?” he asked breathlessly and she buried her face at his neck.

“Close… very close…”

At this answer he entered her softly with two of his fingers, causing her to whimper in desire. She caught his lips with hers in a demanding kiss, her fingers digging into his back when his fingers found a spot inside her that brought her even more pleasure. He returned her kisses with tormenting softness, unhurriedly exploring her mouth with his tongue and smiled at her desperate efforts to make him increase his pace. She felt herself being carried higher by his touches, and her hands buried in his hair as she felt release starting to build up inside her. Almost there… She whimpered frustrated when he pulled back his hand and fully concentrated on kissing her.

“Patience…” he whispered teasingly into her ear and she bit his earlobe playfully.

“Now you’re the one who is teasing…” Her tone was accusing and he laughed, his lips finding hers again. It took him all of his mental control to hold back as he did. His hands roamed over her body, teasing her breasts through the material of her dress while his lips never broke contact with hers, his tongue mimicking what he was soon going to do to her body.

When she pulled back from him, both of them knew that neither of them was able to hold back the desire anymore.

“Let’s move this to the bed, – cushions – ,” she corrected breathlessly, while fumbling at his pants. Her lips brushed his cheek in the slightest touch and her hot breath tickled his skin, finally breaking the last bit of control he had been able to keep up. Within a second he had helped her with his pants and pulled them off without her actually realizing. A slightly shocked sound escaped her lips when he entered her right where they were. His tongue went along her oversensitive skin to her ear, taking his time to caress her seductively. She satisfied him with her shudders and soft moans, when he eventually started to move inside her. His thrusts were slow at first, but when her legs wrapped around his waist, drawing him deeper and making him moan into her mouth, he increased his pace.

She felt her release building up inside, trying to hold back until he was ready to go with her.

“Jack…” her voice was a plea and she laid her head back. His lips nibbled at her chin and he noticed how close she was and that she didn’t want to go without him.

“Come for me…” he whispered into her ear, increasing his pace. She was lost to his words and his touches and reached her release, her soft screams silenced by his deep kiss. He held her shuddering body against his, following her only seconds later.

Her arms wrapped around his body and neck, she entangled her hand in his hair, pressing him close to her until their breathing normalized. Her face buried in his hair she caressed him tenderly with her hands.

“I really missed you…” she whispered into his ear when she was able to think clearly again. Her eyes were closed and when she eventually opened them, she got aware of where they still were. She couldn’t help but laughing softly. “God, this was wild…”

He chuckled against her neck, then lifted his head and looked into her eyes. “Yes, it was. But wild in a very good way.”

“Most definitely. I didn’t even know a position like this is possible.”

“We should keep that in mind…” he smiled against her lips.

“Oh yes…” Their lips connected in another short kiss.

When he was sure to be able to stand without losing balance, he took Irina into his arms and carried her to the corner where he carefully lowered her onto the cushions. She didn’t lose his eyes and he touched her lips, his eyes sparkling tenderly.

“Slowly this time…” he promised, lowering his lips to hers. “Very slowly…”

Then his lips sank onto hers and they kissed for a long time, softly and unhurriedly exploring each other’s mouths.

When he looked at her after a long time, he couldn’t help but chuckle. “I can’t believe you’re still wearing that dress.“

She laughed at the expression on his face. “And whose fault is that?” she teased amused, laughing when he tickled her softly where he knew she was sensitive. She grabbed his hands and locked their fingers to keep him from teasing her and looked into his eyes.

“Besides I thought you really liked this dress.”

“Yes, but I’m at an unfair advantage. And as much as I appreciate you in this dress, I also appreciate you when wearing nothing. Even more I think…” he replied playfully and she lifted her head to meet his lips in a short kiss. He pinned her hands softly next to her head, their fingers still locked as he kissed her ever so slowly.

Eventually he let go of her hands to pull the dress down her body, his lips claiming every spot of newly exposed skin. He took his time in caressing her slowly and softly as he had promised until her dress was finally gone. He admired her body, lazily stroking her skin.

“You know what?” he suddenly asked and she looked at him interested.

“What?”

“I think I’m really hungry now.”

She laughed and hugged him softly, pulling him closer to her body. “I think, I am too.”

He bent over to grab for the plate with fruits and chose a piece of melon which he offered to her, his thumb softly stroking her lip as she took the piece of fruit with her mouth. He watched her sensual lips, not able to resist kissing her. The taste of melon on her lips turned him on and he thought for a moment.

“I have an idea…” He took the blindfold which she had used earlier.

“What kind of an idea?” she asked nervously when he was softly covering her eyes with the silk material. He noticed the insecurity from her voice and kissed her tenderly.

“Trust me, I’m not going to hurt you.”

Then he took a spoonful of fruit salad, spilling it over her breasts and belly. She cried out in shock at the feeling, frightened for a moment but then her fear was replaced by heat rushing through her veins when he started to eat and lick the fruit from her skin, the fact that she was blindfolded increasing the intensity of his touches.

“Delicious…” he whispered close to her lips, feeding her with a piece. “Guess what this is.”

“Orange?” she asked, her voice trembling. He licked the sauce from the corner of her mouth, smiling against her lips.

“Good…” He rewarded her with another piece. “That?”

“I have no idea…” she whispered, feeling his breath at her chin. “But it’s delicious…”

“Kiwi…”

She searched his lips with hers in a short kiss before he pulled back and continued to eat from her skin slowly and sensually until he had savored every single piece and she was trembling with need under him.

“Best meal I ever had…” he murmured against her neck, his hot breath making her moan. “But I think I behaved a little rude in neglecting you… so, what do you want? Apple? Or another piece of kiwi?” he teased and she laid her head back as his tongue flicked over her skin. He smiled and fed her with another piece of kiwi, continuing to tease her skin while she was eating.

The tension inside her reached an almost unbearable level when he continued to feed and tease her slowly, and although his kisses could almost be called innocent, it was enough to drive her crazy due to the fact that she never knew what he was about to do next.

After a long time of teasing, he nibbled at her lower lip, immediately pulling back when she tried to deepen the kiss. All of a sudden he sat up and she let out a protesting moan, shivering at the loss of his warm body against hers.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m just a little thirsty!” he replied and she gave a surprised laugh when she felt him spilling a liquid all over her body.

“Is that water or wine?” she asked amused and moaned sensually as his lips sank down on her belly button.

“Wine…” he answered her question and started to lick her body clean.

“Jack! Maggie is going to kill you if you ruin the cushions.” Irina murmured, only half interested in Maggie’s reaction, and he laughed amused.

“So worth it…” he replied, kissing his way up until he reached her lips and merged them with his in a deep kiss. The taste of wine on his lips made her moan. He removed her blindfold and leaned his forehead against hers, looking into her chocolate eyes. “I need you…”

“I need you too,” was her aroused reply and that was all the encouragement he needed. He entered her ever so softly, making love to her slowly and tenderly just like he had promised earlier, his eyes never losing hers.

For the first time not only their bodies melted, but their souls became one and both of them realized deep inside that they were meant for each other – even though their relationship could never be more than this: passionate nights that left them both breathless.

Chapter 11

They made love all night long, only interrupted by short periods of talking or lying entangled in each other’s arms, and the sun had already risen when they finally fell asleep exhausted.

Maggie didn’t expect anybody to be in the room when she entered it at almost noon. She was used to Jack getting up early and she assumed he had another conference today.

She was in a good mood, singing like usually as she pulled the curtains open and then the windows. When she then turned around she was close to a hysterical breakdown.

“Oh my god!” She held her head when she noticed the chaos in the room. It would take her the whole day to clean it up. Jack awoke slightly at the familiar voice, sitting up slightly and looking at Maggie, still half-asleep. When the old maid finally saw him, her eyes widened.

“OH MY GOD!” she said louder, her eyes widening shocked. “I’m sorry, I thought you were already gone.”

“It’s okay. Go on with… whatever you were about to do…” he murmured and laid back, pulling Irina back against him.

“I told you she would kill us, if she saw the chaos…” Irina murmured half asleep and turned her head slightly to Jack.

“What time is it?” Jack asked, while Maggie looked around, thinking about where to start cleaning the mess. She decided for the plates with food.

It’s almost noon. Didn’t you have a conference today?” she asked, balancing the plates on her arms.

“No, I took the day off…” he murmured and buried his head in Irina’s hair to breathe in her scent, not caring for the fact that Maggie had already left the room to take the plates down to the kitchen. Irina slowly opened her eyes at the daylight, blinking tiredly.

“How are we going to stay awake until the evening?” She murmured, stroking some strands of hair out of her face.

“Who cares?” he replied and she turned in his arms so she could face him, her lips kissing him shortly and her hands softly stroking his cheek.

“You were amazing last night…”

“You too…” he smiled against her lips, pulling her closer. “That was the best birthday I ever had. And the best presents I ever got…” He entangled his hands in her hair, softly caressing her. They stayed on their cushion-bed without moving, listening to the sound of each other’s breaths and heartbeats.

When Maggie returned, and resumed her task of cleaning the room, they could steadily hear some curses or warnings from her.

“This is going to take me a day to clean!” she announced neutrally, pointing out how much time it would take her to wash the mattress of the bed, where some food was spilled.

Irina giggled and snuggled closer to Jack so her lips were next to his ear. “And wait until she finds out about the wine on the cushions.” She mused and he bit her neck playfully.

“Well, what do you think about fleeing the room before that happens?”

“Where do you plan to go?”

“Your room. Having a nice and hot bath.”

“In my room?” she asked with a hint of playful indignation. “It’s not very gentlemanly to occupy a lady’s bathtub after a long night.”

“Who said I wouldn’t accept you joining me?” he whispered back and she laughed against his lips.

“Well, in that case… it’s still not gentlemanly, but very promising.”

“I take that as yes.” He announced and waited until Maggie had left the room with a bunch of sheets in her arms. “Come on…” he whispered into Irina’s ear and she laughed.

“She’ll know anyway when she returns and we are gone.” She laughed and wrapped herself in one of the blankets, then followed him into her room. As every morning, Maggie had prepared a tub with water in Irina’s bathroom.

Neither of them cared that the water had already cooled and was only lukewarm.

“So, where do you want to go today?” Jack asked, when Irina was lying in his arms in the water.

“Your birthday, you choose.” She announced and he thought a moment.

“What about a picnic at the river? You know, where we went three weeks ago.”

“Oh, yes, I’d love that.” Irina swooned and he smiled. Her expression had clearly shown that she had loved that place when they had discovered it three weeks ago. “We just have to take food and some water… although we could as well drink the water from the river…”

“Do you think it would draw other people’s attention if we took a bath in the river?” Jack asked innocently and Irina laughed.

“Don’t get any ideas.”

“What if I do… what are you going to do?” he teased her and they started a playful fight with their hands until a large wave of water spilled out of the tub onto the wooden ground. They looked at the huge puddle of water on the ground, then at each other, guilt in their eyes.

“I swear to you, we’re going to end up killed by Maggie if we continue acting like that.” Irina prophesized and Jack laughed, pulling her against his body.

“Then maybe we should really behave from now on.” He whispered against her lips before claiming her mouth softly.

Despite their good intentions, the floor was ruined when they left the bathtub. They wrapped their bodies into the huge towel kissing softly while drying each others’ skin.

Suddenly they were interrupted by a knock on the door. Maggie cleared her throat.

“Sorry to interrupt you, but Miss Wheatley is here for you, Irina.”

Irina broke contact with Jack’s lips against her will. “Oh… yes… I’ll be there in a minute…” she announced and Jack let her go with regret in his face. Hurriedly Irina dressed herself in undergarment before she opened the door to let Maggie in. Jack smiled at the maid and left the room to return to his own.

“Your room is at least half clean again. But you’ll have to buy new cushions. There is no chance that I can get the wine out of yours.” She yelled after him, then looked at Irina and went towards the bathroom.

Irina wanted to prevent her from entering the bathroom, but it was too late.

“Miss Irina!!!” The tone in Maggie’s voice announced that the maid was only inches from breaking down.

“Maggie, this is not as bad as it looks…” Irina started and caught Maggie’s warning glance.

“You better get ready for Miss Wheatley!” she snapped and shook her head. “I can not believe this. You two can turn a room into a total mess within what… an hour?”

“Thirty minutes.” Irina corrected her and hurried to get dressed before Maggie could throw something towards her.

Fifteen minutes later she entered the living room where Phillis was already sitting in an armchair, waiting patiently.

“Hello, Phil!” Irina hugged her friend and sat down opposite to her. “It’s so great to see you again.”

“I don’t have much time. I just came to bring you those…” She handed Irina a small bag with new herbs.

“Thank you. What about Tuesday? Do you have time for a coffee?”

“I’d love that!” Phillis smiled happily. “I have to tell you something then. You will not believe what happened! But now I don’t have time! Will … Mr. Tippin is waiting for me.”

Irina got up to take her friend to the door when all of a sudden dizziness hit her and she had almost fallen to the ground. She held her stomach, feeling the urge to throw up.

“Irina! Irina, are you okay?” Phillis had reacted fastly, grabbing her friend and preventing her from falling. She took her carefully back to the armchair and let her sit down. Sitting on her knees in front of her, she looked into Irina’s pale face. “My god!” she whispered, touching Irina’s cheek. “You scared me…”

“I’m fine…” Irina murmured miserably. “I just think I have to visit Dr. Miller. I’ve been having those attacks for over a week now and I’m afraid to have caught the harbor virus somehow.”

Phillis scanned her face and felt her forehead. “You don’t have fever… I don’t think it’s the virus, because you would have started to have fever three days after those attacks started. Are you eating too much fish lately… maybe your fish trader sells old fish.”

“No fish…” Irina murmured. Phillis nodded and felt Irina’s pulse, then she cocked her head slightly. “Irina, when was your last cycle?”

“What? I don’t know… anyway, what does that have to do with my illness?”

“When?” Phillis asked more emphasized and Irina sighed, thinking a moment.

“I’ve never been on time due to the herbs you’ve been giving me! I think it was about seven weeks ago?”

“Seven???” Phillis stared at her, shaking her head. “And it has never occurred to you, that your symptoms might be of a natural cause, not because of an illness?”

“What are you saying?”

“Well, I’m not a doctor, but due to experience with many women I’ve observed on the plantation I’d say you’re pregnant.” She smiled happily at Irina, her smile immediately fading as she saw the shocked expression on her friend’s face.

“Pregnant? No… that can’t be. I’ve been taking your herbs and…”

“Yes, but I told you, I’ve known women getting pregnant in spite of those herbs. Besides you didn’t prevent, one time!”

“Yes, but that was only once and…”

“That can be enough… I won’t guarantee you anything, but given your symptoms and the seven weeks, I’m pretty sure that you are pregnant.”

“Oh my god… no, that’s impossible!” Irina looked away from her, staring out of the window. “Oh god…” she held her stomach.

“It wouldn’t be that bad. I mean, it’s Jack’s child. It is, isn’t it?” Phillis asked and Irina nodded.

“Yes… I haven’t had contact with other men for over two months. So… my god Phil, what am I going to do? I can’t go on sleeping with him.”

Phillis shrugged her shoulders. “That’s a fairy tale. It won’t do any harm to the baby, although you should be careful during the last two months. Some women provoke an early birth by sleeping with a man then, therefore I’d advise you not to…”

“That’s not what I mean!” Irina interrupted her. “He will find out if I sleep with him. I mean, how long can I cover it with dresses? Five or six months? But if I sleep with him, he will…”

Phillis took her hand in hers and looked at her seriously. “Wait a moment. You do not want to tell him?”

Irina shook her head without saying a word.

“Why?” Phillis asked totally bewildered. “I mean, it is his child, why would you not want to tell him?”

“Because…” Irina felt tears burning in her eyes. “I’m his mistress… his lover. I’ve heard people talk about him. The last thing Jack Bristow wants is a wife and children. But he is an honorable gentleman and if he learned that I’m carrying his child, his honor would force him to marry me.”

“And that’s a problem because…??” Phillis asked and Irina closed her eyes.

“I love him, Phil. I love him so much…”

“Oh my god!” Phil stared at her friend for a whole minute, then she slowly started to smile. “Oh, you love him! I’m so happy for you… wait.” She interrupted herself and recollected what Irina had just told her. “Let me repeat the facts. You love him and that’s why you won’t tell him you’re most likely pregnant with his child because you’re afraid of having to marry him. Well, you lost me somewhere between the last two points.”

Phillis handed her friend a handkerchief and Irina took it gratefully, wiping her eyes.

“The thing is, he doesn’t want to marry a woman. All he wants is a lover. I couldn’t stand it if he married me just because of a child. He wouldn’t be happy… and me neither.”

Phillis watched new tears streaming down her friend’s face and hugged her close. “I’m sure it is not that bad. I can’t imagine that for Jack Bristow a child is the end of the world.”

“No, but it is the end of my relationship with him…” Irina sobbed and got up. “That’s why he must not know.”

“How do you think that will work? Will you just refuse to sleep with him for five months? Don’t you think that would make him a little suspicious? Irina, seriously, you don’t know how he is going to react. Maybe he will actually be happy!”

The expression on Irina’s face made her sigh, for it said that Irina was not going to tell Jack under any circumstances.

“Fine, then… what’s your plan?” Phillis asked and Irina went around in the room.

“So, assuming I was indeed pregnant – which is only speculation by now – I think the best thing to do would be leaving this house… when do you think he might notice something?”

“As far as I know that’s different from woman to woman. My mother’s pregnancy for example could barely be seen. But there was another woman on the plantation who was only in her second month and everybody could see that she was pregnant for her whole appearance changed.”

“God…” Irina held on to the table. Phillis got up and went towards her.

“But you should go to a doctor first and let him confirm your pregnancy.”

“Do you know somebody? I can’t go to Miller, for he will surely talk to Jack.”

The two women cut off when Jack Bristow entered the room. He greeted Phillis with a smile, then looked at Irina. He frowned his forehead when he noticed her pale expression.

“Are you okay?” he asked worried and Irina forced a smile.

“Mmmm… yes I’m fine.” She nodded and Phillis smiled apologetically.

“I think I should go now.”

Irina nodded like in trance. “I will… take you to the door.” She said lost in thoughts and Jack followed the two women with his eyes.

Irina opened the door for her friend, still in shock and Phillis looked at her worried.

“Hey, you are okay, aren’t you?”

Irina nodded. “Yes… sure.”

“Visit Dr. Hui-Chi. He’s Chinese and lives near the harbor. He is very good and you can trust him. Do you know the old fish factory? There’s an alley just behind that factory. Many Chinese are living there and everybody knows Dr. Hui-Chi.” Phillis pressed her hand one last time, then she left.

Irina closed the door and turned around, finding Jack standing at the door, his eyes resting on her. She smiled and took a deep breath.

“So… when do we go?”

“You sure, you are okay?” he asked and she nodded.

“Yes, it was just… Phillis told me that her mother is sick, but she will be okay soon.” Irina lied, still feeling as if she was standing right next to herself.

“You sure you want to go?”

“Yes! Yes, of course!” she went to him and hugged him close around the waist, lying her head against his chest and closing her eyes. Jack pulled her closer and wrapped his arms around her, softly stroking through her hair.

Irina closed her eyes for a little moment. How much she would love to tell Jack that she might be pregnant with their child, but she was just his mistress. She had heard of cases where the women had to abort their pregnancy because the man had wanted them to. As she thought about this possibility she knew for sure that she wanted to have the child – their child.

“Okay, let’s go…” she finally said, her voice showing her newfound certainty. He framed her face with his hands, his eyes scanning her for a long moment.

“No matter what it is, you can always talk to me…” His eyes held hers as he said those words and she nodded after a short while.

“I know…” she whispered. Yes, she knew he would always be there for her, but would that also be the case when she was pregnant? He would more likely reproach her for not having taken care enough – or even worse, insinuate that she had gotten pregnant on purpose to force a rich man to marry her. He didn’t love her, but saw her as his lover whom he had fun with – but that was it. Nothing serious involved.

She couldn’t have been more wrong, for Jack loved her more than he had ever loved anybody. And he knew that she was hiding something from him, but after all, he was nothing more than a customer for her. Maybe someday she would trust him enough to consult him when she had problems…

They spent the rest of the day in the country away from the city, just as they had planned, and Irina forced back all thoughts about a possible pregnancy and its consequences. She enjoyed the day with Jack, picnicking and walking through the beautiful countryside.

When they returned home in the evening, they were both tired due to the lack of sleep from the night before. After having had dinner, they immediately retired to bed, falling asleep in each other’s arms.

The next day Irina visited the doctor Phillis had told her to go to. Jack would be busy and most likely come home late, so she had enough time. She told Maggie that she would do some shopping in the city and the maid didn’t suspect anything.

Doctor Wong Hui-Chi confirmed what Phillis had already guessed. Irina was pregnant, most likely in her fifth or sixth week.

“Congratulations!” The old Chinese smiled at Irina, then noticed the expression on her face. “No need to worry. Is this your first child?”

“Yes…” Irina nodded.

“Now, it’s true that some women experience their first birth as the worst birth of all, but I see absolutely no reason for you to worry. Are you experiencing any kind of troubles at the moment? Nausea, dizziness or difficulties to sleep?”

“Yes, dizziness and nausea.” Irina admitted and the man turned around. He handed Irina a small box.

“Take those pills every morning. They’re a traditional Chinese medicine, made from Ginseng and special rare plants. They should help to reduce those symptoms to a minimum and consist of a lot of valuable minerals for a pregnant woman. They won’t harm your baby in any way.” Irina took the box, still a little confused. The man sat down on a chair. “How old are you, Miss?”

“41.” She replied and he handed her another box.

“Then you should take these from the seventh month. Usually there is no problem with a woman of your age getting pregnant, but if it is your first child, your body might not be able to adjust to the changes as easily as a younger body would. It’s a pill with soy extracts that supports your body functions.”

“Thanks…” she nodded, still perplexed by the certainty that she would have a baby in less than eight months.

“Miss!” Dr. Hui-Chi’s face was serious as he scanned her expression. “If you are thinking about… terminating your pregnancy, don’t take any offer of one of those quacksalvers from the harbor. Come to me instead. I don’t think it would be right, but I don’t want you to get seriously hurt.”

“I’m not…” Irina murmured. “I couldn’t… and I don’t want to. Thank you, doctor.”

After she had left the house, she went around in the city for a long time, thinking about what to do. She ended up at the building where Phillis was working in.

She entered it, carefully walking up the steps to the upper floor where Will and his small reporter team had their office. She knocked at the wooden door and entered.

“Hi…” she smiled at the three men at the desk. “I’m looking for Phillis?”

“She’s in Mr. Tippin’s office.”

“Thanks.” Irina crossed the room, passed by the three desks and knocked at Will’s door, then entered. “Sorry,” she murmured perplexed when Will and Francie broke apart from the kiss they had obviously just shared.

“Thank god, it’s you,” Phillis exhaled relieved and looked at Will. “Excuse me for a little moment.”

“Sure,” Will nodded and smiled at Irina. “Hello.”

“Hi.” She replied back and held the door open for Phillis to follow her.

“What’s up?” Phillis asked when they were standing in a corner of the large room. She touched Irina’s shoulders softly. “Are you okay?”

“Phil, you were right!” Irina murmured and a small sob escaped her lips. “I’m pregnant.”

Phillis grabbed her wrist and pulled her out of the door, saying a short “Tell Mr. Tippin I’ll be back in a few minutes” to the men at the desks. They followed the two women with their eyes, exchanging confused glances when they were gone. Will stepped out of his office, staring at the door.

“Where are they going?”

“They’ll be back in a few minutes!” One of the men replied and Will nodded, then shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, then I suggest we discuss your first drafts for the New York article!”

Phillis pulled Irina up to the roof of the building where they had some privacy without needing to fear that anybody would listen to their conversation.

“You are pregnant?” Phillis then burst out and Irina looked at her.

“You and Will?” she countered and Phillis blushed slightly.

“Yes… that was what I actually wanted to tell you yesterday. We are engaged.”

“My God!” was Irina’s comment. “Since when?”

“He proposed to me two days ago.” Phillis replied and Irina hugged her friend.

“Oh Phil, I’m so happy for you! Will is a really good man.”

“Yes…” Phillis swooned, then her expression changed. “But enough of me. So, you visited Dr. Hui-Chi?”

“Yes.” Irina nodded. “He confirmed that I’m pregnant and most likely in my fifth or sixth week.”

Phillis sighed, not knowing what to say since she knew how her friend felt about that pregnancy.

“I can’t tell Jack… and I won’t abort.” She said with certainty. “It’s all so confusing. I have to leave Jack if I want to keep the child, or I abort and I can stay with him. But I don’t want to kill our child.”

“Hey!” Phillis interrupted her impact of panic. “Have you ever considered talking to him? Seriously, I mean it.”

“I will leave him, Phil. I have considered every possibility and this is the only reasonable way.” Irina sighed, turning away from Phillis and looking at the horizon. “I will go back to the South, looking for my father. And if I don’t find him, I’m sure there is a plantation where I can work on – I can teach children.”

“Irina, it’s too dangerous! The war is still going on and…”

“Well, I didn’t say I’d go immediately. I think, I have another two or three months – at least I hope so. I trust you to not say anything to Jack – or Will.” The woman turned around, her eyes seriously resting on Phillis.

“I won’t,” Phillis swore and took Irina’s hands. “But do you think it’s fair to go away? You need not tell Jack now that he will be father, but someday your child might want to know who its father is.”

“Well, maybe I will tell him someday, when the child is old enough so he won’t feel as if he was pressed to take care of us – or marry me.”

“So, you’re planning to go to the South alone. Irina, you are pregnant. Do you really think, a pregnant woman should make a journey like that alone? How do you want to afford it? You need trustworthy people who will take you with them for, believe me, some men don’t care whether a woman is pregnant or not when she is alone and unprotected.”

“I know. I have money. I can pay one man to accompany me until I found my father.”

“That’s going to cost a fortune. At least a thousand dollars. Where do you want to get that much money from?”

“I will have enough.” Irina replied. “By then I will have. Jack pays me, so another two months and I can pay a good man to accompany me.”

Phillis forced her to look at her. “Irina, tell me that’s not true. He pays you??? My god, I thought, you two were having fun together!”

“I have – but nonetheless he pays me. It was his suggestion when I wanted to leave after the incident at the ball a month ago. I hadn’t planned to take money from him for sharing his bed, but after his suggestion I couldn’t tell him. I didn’t want to bother him with the revelation of deeper feelings from my part.” She sighed and Phillis shook her head.

“You two are really unbelievable and I don’t mean that in a good way.” She inhaled deeply. “Okay, another question. What if Jack follows you to the South?”

“I’ve considered the possibility, especially after his reaction when I wanted to leave the last time. That’s where I need your help.”

“My help?”

“Yes.” Irina nodded and sat down on the bricks of a wall. Loud voices could be heard from somewhere down the street, but neither of the women cared. “In that case I have a cover story, but I need you to back it up for me.”

“I’m not sure I like that idea…” Phillis murmured and sat down next to her friend.

“Listen,” Irina continued. “I will arrange to leave him when he is on another business trip. That way he won’t be able to follow me immediately, nor will he be able to check my story. When he returns, he will find a letter from me in which I open up to him that I met another man and fell in love with him. He is from the South and we got engaged three days before. I didn’t know how to tell him personally therefore I decided to write him a letter.”

“I definitely don’t like that idea…” Phillis commented dryly. “What’s my part?”

“You have to confirm what I wrote in the letter. I have reason to believe that he won’t buy the story with another man whom I fell in love with, so I need you to describe the man to him. Swoon a little, tell him how nice and behaved he was, despite his status as simple baker from the lower class. And it wouldn’t hurt if you took advantage of the fact how uneasy I feel with people from upper classes.” Irina looked at Phillis for a long time, waiting for her promise to help her. Phillis shook her head softly, then sighed and inhaled deeply, the decision being the hardest of her life.

“Fine,” she finally announced. “But I want you to know that I disapprove of your idea, in fact I think it’s not only unfair against Jack but also rude and disrespectful after all he has done for you. But I am your friend and it’s your life and your decision. If you ask me to do that for you, I will, but I beg you to think it over.”

“Thank you…” Irina sighed relieved and hugged Phillis.

Phillis knew that Irina had made her decision already and that nothing would make her change her mind – except maybe for Jack Bristow, but after what she had heard from Irina, that he paid her money for sharing his bed, she didn’t dare to talk to him, for she wasn’t absolutely sure anymore that Irina was wrong about what his reaction would be.

Nonetheless, she had been so sure that there was something more in the relationship. She had just seen it in Jack’s eyes when he had looked at her friend. Obviously she had been wrong…

Chapter 12

During the next weeks, Phillis visited her friend more often and Will noticed her concern. He did also like Irina and tried to make Phillis talk about what was wrong with her, but Phillis wouldn’t. He had to accept that and since the two women were almost carefree when chatting, he finally assumed that it was just about his and Phillis’ upcoming marriage.

Two weeks after Irina had learned that she was pregnant, the war was officially ended and Abraham Lincoln announced the capitulation of the South. It was in every newspaper and for everybody in the North, a reason to celebrate. One day later, Lincoln visited Jack for he had done incredible work with his strategies which were in great parts responsible for the success of the Northern army. He offered Jack a seat in his congress, which Jack accepted gladly.

He was gone for two days, and when he returned, they celebrated Jack’s success with Maggie, Will, and Phillis. Four days later, it was Good Friday, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by a Southern extremist. He died on the same day and for a whole week the country was thrown into chaos. People speculated about how it should go on, and what was going to happen next. Will’s newspaper came out twice a day during that time, informing the people in the morning and in the evening about the latest developments.

The fear of some people that the war would start over again was unfounded. Soon, Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson was getting used to the fact that he was the new President of the states, and it was now his duty to reunify the country. Slowly, the people returned to their usual business as they were sure that the order had returned after the happenings of the last weeks.

The first thing Irina did every morning was running to the mirror, fearfully scanning her body for changes that might give away her secret. When she was at the end of her fourteenth week, she noticed that her belly was changing and her dresses seemed to get tighter each day.

Her mood sank, for although she had known that the day would come, she didn’t know how she should be able to leave Jack, although she had to during the next two weeks. Her heart felt like breaking when she just thought about being away from him, and more than one time she had thought about talking to Jack when they were lying in bed together in one of those tender moments when the world outside didn’t matter anymore.

But she also knew that since he was a member of the congress, his duties had changed and he spent even more time outside Boston. His time was even more limited and sometimes she saw him only once in three days, mostly in bed. The least he could use now was a child or a pregnant woman when all he searched for was a little distraction.

When Jack eventually opened up to her that he would have to go to New York for at least a week, she had made her decision. She arranged early for a man who would accompany her to the south and also for a carriage. It was not the best, but it would do and she would at least be able to sleep a little and not have to bear the strains of traveling long ways sitting on a horse – especially in her condition.

Although she tried to not rouse any suspicions and behaved as usual as she could, she took good care of her and the baby’s health, avoiding every dangerous situation and paying more attention to what she ate. Traveling by horse could not be good for her baby.

When the evening before Jack’s departure had come, Irina tried to behave as usual but couldn’t ignore the deep sadness that was lying on her heart. She would never meet him again after they separated tomorrow, and so she made love to him more emotionally than ever before.

She took endless minutes to just kiss him or feel his heartbeat against her body.

When his lips hovered over her belly for a moment, she feared that he might notice the changes, his caresses and kisses against her abdomen more longingly than usual. But when he didn’t say anything she assumed it had just been coincidence.

What she didn’t know was, that it hadn’t been coincidence at all. Jack knew that the immense changes, not only in the country, but also the ones in his personal life, hadn’t left him enough time lately. He longed to spend more time with Irina, not only meet her in bed, but actually talk to her again. And as he was kissing her tonight, his lips caressing every spot of her body, he suddenly noticed that he wanted to marry her, even more, that he wanted to have a family with her.

When he caressed her abdomen, he thought for a moment how wonderful it would be if she were someday pregnant with his child, and he made his decision.

When he was back from New York he would ask her to marry him, no matter what the people would say if he married a woman of such a low status. He loved her and he needed her to be part of his life – completely.

Irina didn’t know of his thoughts, not daring to interpret his longing and soft kisses in the way they were meant – as sweet love confessions.

Jack had long fallen asleep when Irina was still awake, reflecting about her life and what was about to come. She didn’t want to waste a moment tonight when she could still have him by her side. The tears streamed silently down her cheeks while her hands were softly stroking through his hair and she listened to his breathing.

When the dawn broke, her tears had subsided, leaving her heart in emptiness and desperation. She closed her eyes and pressed his body closer against hers, treasuring every single minute they had left.

When Maggie entered the room only half an hour after the sun had risen, Irina felt as if her life was over. She smiled when Jack got up, but to her it felt like a mask covering any of the feelings she carried inside. She knew she had to be strong. She had to be ready at four in the afternoon, for her man and the carriage would be waiting.

“Go back to sleep.” Jack whispered after he had dressed and she was still looking at him.

“No, I want to have breakfast with you…” she contradicted and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him into a soft kiss, then she almost jumped out of the bed and pulled on her silk bathrobe to follow him downstairs. Maggie’s eyes grew wide as she saw Irina enter the room, and it took her only minutes to set a second place. Irina wasn’t hungry, yet she forced herself to eat something.

Breakfast passed in silence and the closer seven o’clock came, the harder her heart seemed to weigh in her chest. Jack finally got up and took his jacket from the armchair, smiling softly at her.

“I have to go now.” He announced and touched her hand softly, then he turned. When he was at the door, Irina jumped up.

“Jack…” her voice was a sob and caused him to turn around just in time to wrap his arms around her as she flew against him, pressing herself close to him. “I’ll miss you so much…” Her voice broke and he kissed her, softly wiping her tears away.

“It’s okay. I’ll be gone for only one week. And I promise I’ll hurry to return home.”

She couldn’t stop her tears from flowing down her cheeks although she desperately tried to. Eventually, she broke contact and brought distance between them, then she merged their lips in a last deep kiss and stepped back.

“Take care, Jack…” she whispered and returned his soft smile.

“You too. See you in a week!” He turned and didn’t even notice that she didn’t reply to that sentence, but instead new tears started to fill her eyes which she blinked away quickly. Irina stood in the cool entrance hall for a long time after he had left, staring at the door until Maggie pulled her into the warm living room.

He was finally gone from her life forever. Maybe, if circumstances had been different… if she had been a woman of middle or upper class, their relationship would have had a chance. Maybe in another lifetime…

Irina helped Maggie bring the plates from their breakfast into the kitchen, then she went slowly up the stairs. Her heart felt as if it were breaking and for a moment she considered staying, no matter the consequences. If she could just be with Jack…

No, that option was out of the question. If she didn’t leave him now, she would have to in maybe another three or four months, when another woman caught his interest. Maybe he would marry someday… it would break her heart to just be sent away when that time had come. She had no other possibility than to leave.

In her room, she packed only a few things in her small bag, the things that had always belonged to her. Her two old dresses, some accessories and her money. She looked at the old necklace from her father for a long time and wiped away the tears from her cheeks. Then she got up and left her room, leaving it as if she was just going for some shopping when she pulled the door closed.

She entered Jack’s study and placed the prepared letter on his desk, so he would immediately see it when he returned home. For a moment she let herself sink into his chair, not even bothering to stop her tears anymore when she opened the medallion of the necklace, where a picture of her parents were set in one side. A second place was still free.

“This is where you should put the picture of you and your husband someday, so you will always be remembered of how much you love him and how happy you are with him,” her father had once said when he had given her the medallion, honestly believing that Gerard was the man who could make her happy. Irina sighed when she realized that she didn’t want another man but Jack to be her husband on this picture.

With a small sob, she closed the medallion and stared at the beautiful outside for some time.

The jewelry had been meant to bring her luck in love and make her happy, just as her parents had been. It had failed – not only once but twice. Irina laid it onto Jack’s desk next to the letter and hoped that it would make him happy by bringing a woman to him, who would be worthy of his love and devotion.

“I love you…” she whispered, then she got up and left the house without making any sound, that would have made Maggie suspicious.

Irina didn’t look back once as she almost ran along the streets down to the harbor. A soft summer rain started to fall. The raindrops mixed with her tears when her steps got faster and her sobbing increased.

When she reached the meeting point, her contact was already waiting to take her away from Boston, on to an uncertain future.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jack Bristow had a feeling that there was something different immediately when he entered the house. When he saw the expression on Maggie’s face he knew for sure.

“I’m back!” he greeted the old maid, smiling friendly, but when Maggie’s face didn’t change, sorrow started to build up inside him. “What’s wrong? Where’s Irina?” He looked into the living room where she was usually sitting at this time of the day, having a cup of Maggie’s chocolate.

Maggie sobbed and her voice was trembling. “I swear to you, I couldn’t do anything!”

Jack looked at her and grabbed her shoulders. “Mag, where is she? My god, is she sick?”

“No… No, I… I don’t know.”

“Excuse me?” Jack shook his head in disbelief. “What do you mean, you don’t know? What are you trying to tell me?”

“I don’t know where she is. She just went shopping and didn’t come home and then I found this on your desk. I didn’t open it for it’s addressed to you, but I’m afraid she’s gone.” Thick tears rolled down the old maid’s cheeks and Jack stared from her face to the letter she was handing him. He took it and looked at it.

“No, I can’t believe this, Maggie. I’m sure she has just decided to visit somebody for a few days…” He was more trying to convince himself by saying so and Maggie sobbed louder.

“Yes, that’s what I thought, but then, when I asked Miss Wheatley, she said something about a marriage and some man, a baker from the lower class… I didn’t understand…” Jack looked from her to the letter, which he had opened while he had listened to Maggie’s report. Carefully, he read the handwritten words, not understanding their meaning in his shock. He read them a second and a third time and sank to an armchair when the realization hit him like a rock.

+++++++++++

Dear Jack,

When you read this letter I’ll be gone from your life, and I’m sorry you have to learn it this way. I didn’t have the courage to tell you in the face after all you have done for me. Although both of us should have been aware of the fact that our relationship as it was couldn’t last forever and if you are honest with yourself, it would only have been months until you would have gotten rid of me, so please don’t judge me for the decision I’ve made. I’ve met a nice man in the city, a charming and intelligent baker from the South. After we met several times by chance, we had several dates and got to know each other. I fell in love with him and we decided to get married. I know what you might want to say now, but he is the complete opposite of Gerard. Besides, he is from similar origin as I am. His family lives in the south and since I wanted to return to my father someday, we will celebrate our marriage in the house of his family, where we will live from now on.

I know this comes a little out of the blue for you and I’m sorry for not having told you earlier. Although I have only been your lover, I really liked you and I will always remember you as one of my dearest friends. I will never be able to show you just how much everything you did for me, means to me. I don’t know where I would be today if you hadn’t been there when I needed somebody to trust.

I will never forget you.

Your sincere friend, Irina Derevko

++++++

Jack lifted his face to look at Maggie who was staring at him, a handkerchief pressed between her hands, which she held to her mouth as if she was praying. “And?” she asked, her voice almost failing as she saw Jack’s pale face.

“Yes, she’s gone… to marry a baker.” He added with disbelief.

Maggie let out a cry, new tears running over her cheeks. Jack got up and went to the door.

“I will talk to Miss Wheatley. Don’t wait for me…” he said shortly, then he was gone, the door slamming shut behind him.

Fifteen minutes later he entered the building, where Will Tippin’s newspaper had its office. He didn’t even bother to ask for permission to enter, but burst into the large room, crossing it and then entered Will’s office. Phillis was sitting at her own desk, obviously working at an article, when she caught a glimpse of Jack. She jumped up from her chair.

“Mr. Bristow… it’s nice to… you have questions about Irina, haven’t you?” she assumed correctly, when she saw the expression on his face.

“A baker?” Jack asked without greeting or any other words of courtesy.

“Yes…” Phillis smiled. “Isn’t that great? I was so happy when Irina told me that she had fallen in love and this man was really charming. No wonder she fell for him immediately.”

“Really…” Jack sighed and let himself sink to a chair.

Phillis turned back to her desk, for she couldn’t look at him. “Yes, and they are the same age. If you ask me, they belong together. You should have seen them… he read every wish from her eyes. I’ve never seen her that happy.” Oh dear god, forgive my lies, she prayed silently.

“She was happy?” Jack asked, not hiding the sad tone from his voice. “When… when did they meet?”

“I’m not sure, I think it was about a month ago.”

“Why didn’t she tell me?” he asked more to himself than to Phillis. He felt as if his world had broken apart. She had met another man a month ago and been in love with him. Yet she had continued to share his bed at night. The whole time he had been nothing more than a customer and naive as he had been, he had believed that he meant something more to her. Phillis turned around and the smile froze on her face when she saw the expression on Jack’s face.

My god, he loves her, he really does!

It was just a thought that came to her mind for a split second before she discarded it and concentrated on what she had been about to say.

“I know. I tried to talk to her about not just sending you a letter, but she thought it was better that way given your complicated – relationship. I guess she was concerned you wouldn’t let her go, out of the contract.”

“Damn right!” he burst out irritated, then he covered his face with his hands. God, he had been an idiot to believe he could ever make her love him. He should have seen that she wasn’t happy, and would never be able to be happy with someone from the upper class. For her, he had never been more than a job – well, maybe she had liked him and sleeping with him – but still, the fact remained that it hadn’t been enough for her to love him.

“And you are sure she is happy now?” Jack finally asked, not looking up. Phillis took time to think about her answer. No, she was not at all sure and for a split second she was about to tell Jack exactly that. But then she changed her mind and nodded, for she could have misinterpreted Jack’s reactions and after all, she had given Irina her word.

“Yes, I am sure.” Her voice was firm and her eyes held his when she lied to him.

Jack nodded and looked out of the window for a long time, then he got up. “Well, then I guess I should wish her all the best. I will go now. Excuse my rude entrance…” He went to the door and was almost outside when Phillis jumped up. “Mr. Bristow… Jack! Will and I are planning to have a dinner Saturday night with our closest friends. We would really appreciate if you joined us.”

“Well, thank you, Miss Wheatley, that’s very kind… but I don’t think I will be there. Still, thank you very much for inviting me.” Then he left the office. Phillis let herself drop to her chair, her eyes still resting on the door. Jack Bristow seemed to be really hurt – even more, sad. She just hoped that Irina had been right, that it would just take him a week to get over her and find a new mistress.

Chapter 13

– 4 months later – Somewhere in the South –

Irina was sitting lazily in a chair on the terrace, her eyes were focused on some undefined spot in the horizon.

“Ina! Ina!!!” A loud voice finally tore her out of her thoughts and she smiled at the little girl next to her at the table.

“No need to yell, I’m right next to you.” Irina replied smiling and the girl laughed heart-warming.

“Nah, you seemed more like far away.”

“No,” Irina corrected her amused, not reacting to what she had said. “Don’t say, ‘Nah!’ Now let me see your calculations.”

The little Aisha passed her a white sheet with numbers on it, written in the usual handwriting of a child who was just learning to write.

It had been months since she had left Boston. After a long journey to the South she had succeeded in finding her father, thanks to the gifted man she had hired. He had been worth every penny she had spent.

After the war, the South was changed and the plantation her father had always been working on, didn’t even exist anymore. While she was recovering from the exhausting trip, Mr. Abrams had interrogated almost every person in the nearby city and finally learned that most of the plantation workers were either working on one of the smaller farms now or had gone to one of the bigger cities to find a job in a factory.

During the next days he had visited almost every plantation within fifty miles, being away most of the day, until he had returned to her on the fifth day and told her, that her father was working on Dudley’s farm now. The next day he had brought her to the farm.

When Sergeji Derevko had seen his daughter, he had blinked in disbelief. He had changed a lot, his hair white now and the cruelties of war had left its marks on his once so friendly face. Sergeji Derevko hadn’t asked questions about why his daughter was here or what had happened during the last fifteen years that she hadn’t been in contact with him. He could see in her eyes that she was hurt, deeply hurt and he knew that she would tell him when she was ready to.

Mr. Dudley was a generous and friendly man. He and his wife Dealora had been slaves until the war had freed them. Now they were running one of the smaller farms that had once been part of a larger plantation, paying the owner a rent every year that allowed them to cultivate the fertile land with cotton, fruit, and corn.

They were happy for an additional helping hand as Irina asked them if she could stay on the plantation. Since she wouldn’t be able to help in the field due to her pregnancy, she offered to teach the family reading, writing, and calculating so they could plan their income more effectively. The family had gladly accepted. So Irina spent her days teaching the four children, and in the evening Dealora and Marcus Dudley.

The eldest child of the Dudleys, Morris, but called Morry by everybody, was eighteen and Mr. Dudley found it especially important that he learned fast and knew how to use the things he learned, for he should soon be a full member of the working staff at the plantation. The two middle children were the twins Henry and Mickey, who spent their days coming up with pranks and roaming around in the landscape near the farm. They loved to confuse strangers with their looks, for they looked absolutely the same.

The youngest was the girl, Aisha, who was sitting opposite to Irina now. She never left Irina’s side during the day and longed to learn more from the intelligent woman she admired. Next to her mother, Irina was the only woman on the plantation and since Dealora Dudley was working in the field most of the day this time of year, Irina had become equal to her mother, protecting her when either Henry or Mickey had come up with a mean idea again, or just playing with her when she felt bored.

Irina herself enjoyed the company of the young girl, for she was always a welcome distraction. Despite the fact that she had been living on this plantation for four months now, she couldn’t help but long for Jack. During the first weeks she had thought that her pain would subside when time went by, but instead, her feelings for him seemed to increase each day.

When the days already seemed eternities, the nights were like hell for her. When she was lying alone in her bed, memories returned and she couldn’t help but crying until she eventually fell asleep in exhaustion and found sweet fulfillment of her longing in her dreams.

But every morning when the daylight woke her up and took Jack away, the hell started anew, every day being worse than the one before. Sometimes, just like now, she caught herself looking at the horizon, wishing that he would come looking for her. She knew, he would never come – she had effectively prevented that with her letter and after four months he had most likely already forgotten about her – like every man forgot about his affairs.

“That one is wrong. Seven and four does not count ten. Think about it. Show me seven.”

Little Aisha showed her six with her small hands and Irina laughed.

“No. This is seven.” She corrected and softly lifted an additional finger at the girl’s hand. Aisha’s eyes lightened up and she grabbed for the paper, correcting the digit zero into a one.

“Eleven! It’s eleven!” she burst out loudly and Irina nodded.

“Good. Very well done, I’m proud of you.”

Sergeji Derevko stepped out onto the terrace, smiling at his daughter and her diligent student.

“Sorry to interrupt your lesson, Irina, but there is a woman here for you. She says her name is Phillis something.”

“Phil!” Irina’s eyes lightened up when the woman stepped out of the house. She got up and the two women shared a deep hug before Phillis scanned her friend’s appearance.

“My god, you look so… gorgeous and pregnant.” She murmured softly and smiled. “I was worrying about you and the child. Your letters didn’t say much about your condition and as we haven’t seen each other since you left Boston, I thought, I should visit you.”

“Oh, I’m so glad to see you. I didn’t know you were back from Europe already! How was your honeymoon?”

“Just perfect! Will and I visited Paris and London. I have never seen such beautiful cities before. And guess what? In eight months I’ll be a mother.” Phillis smiled happily and Irina laughed.

“Oh, I’m so happy for you. I’m sure Will jumped for joy when he learned.”

“Oh, he doesn’t know yet!” Phillis replied when she and Irina sat down. “If he knew he would never have allowed me to visit you, only accompanied by my maid. He’s so worried about me, it’s unbelievable. But how are you?” she suddenly asked and scanned Irina’s face. She looked paler than usual, still the pregnancy seemed to have made her even more beautiful. Although her appearance hadn’t changed much except for her belly, she looked younger. “You don’t look very happy.”

“Oh, I am!” Irina smiled slightly. “Teaching people has always made me happy, you know that.”

“Yes…” Phillis nodded and decided not to pursue the subject any further. Instead, she and Irina started chatting about recent happenings. Phillis reported every detail from her wonderful journey to Europe and Irina told her about the situations in the South now, for it had changed immensely since Phillis had been here the last time.

Irina offered her to share her room, but Phillis refused kindly. Will had insisted on her renting a room in the hotel of the nearby city, so he was sure she was safe.

“You haven’t asked me even once about how he is doing.” Phillis stated a long time later after they had passed some minutes in silence. It was already evening and inside the house the kitchen worker prepared the evening dinner.

“No, I haven’t.” Irina murmured, turning her head to look at the horizon where the sun was about to set. The air had gotten cooler already and a fresh breeze delighted them after the hot day. “And I don’t want to know. I’m sorry, I can’t stand to hear that he is seeing someone else or maybe getting married or…”

“And what if I told you the total opposite?” Phillis interrupted her softly. “Irina, he has hardly seen anybody since you left. Most of the time he is working, and when he is home he doesn’t want to see anybody. Even Will is worried about him.”

Irina looked at her for a long time, her heart hurting when she heard Phillis’ report.

“Irina, I think you may have been wrong. This man was terribly in love with you.”

Irina caught her breath in a small sob and turned her head away, shaking her head insistently. “He was not in love with me…” she murmured, only half-convinced. Could it be that she had been wrong about his feelings? “Both of us knew from the start that there was nothing serious about our relationship and that it would never turn into something serious. We are from different worlds, Phil. I could never be part of his world and he could never be part of mine. It just wouldn’t work.”

“Well…” Phillis murmured. “It worked with me. And I was a slave! The difference in status between me and Will was even more vast than the one between you and Jack. And you love him…”

“Yes…” Irina whispered. “If I just had known… how could I have guessed…”

“Come with me.” Phillis suggested and took Irina’s hand. “Come back to Boston. Talk to him!”

“I can’t… Not after the letter I wrote him. Not after he thinks I’m married and happily in love.”

“You could explain the situation to him.” Phillis whispered insistently. “I can see it in your eyes how much you miss him.”

“Yes…” Her voice broke. “Yes, I miss him so badly I don’t know how to get through the day every single morning. I miss him so badly I wish I would die instead of having to bear it just one additional day. But it’s over, Phil. I had my chance and I didn’t see it. It was just not meant to be.” Tears streamed down her face and she wiped them away quickly.

“And since when does Irina Derevko surrender to something like fate?” Phillis asked softly, shocked by the intensity of her friend’s emotions. “You are a survivor, remember?”

“Not anymore.” Irina whispered, and when Phillis heard those words from her friend, she got up and hurried around the table, hugging her friend close to her chest. She knew that Irina meant what she said. Her heart was broken and all her hope seemed gone. She had never seen her friend that desperate and shattered.

“It’s true…” Irina whispered, her cheeks wet from her tears. “It has always been true. The moment you fall in love with a customer will be your undoing. I wish I had never met him.”

“Shhh… what are you saying? If you had never met him, you would still have to be with your husband.”

“Yes…” Irina admitted. “But back then it was just physical pain. Nothing of what Gerard ever did to me, could really touch me. This pain now is so much worse than what he could have ever done to me.”

“It’s all going to work out, you will see.” Phillis stroked through Irina’s hair like she had always done back when she had been her only friend. “You are going to be a mother soon.”

“Yes…” Irina wiped her tears away and touched her belly softly. Her voice was tender. “I’m so looking forward to holding the baby in my arms. Jack’s baby…”

Phillis smiled at the change of her mood and touched Irina’s cheek. “When is your due date?”

“In about three weeks, maybe a little longer.”

“Have you already thought about a name?”

“Yes! I like Sydney for a girl. Doesn’t that sound beautiful?” Irina swooned and Phillis nodded in agreement.

“Yes, it is indeed a beautiful name. And if it’s a boy?”

“Jack.” Irina whispered. “Like his father. Jack Derevko doesn’t sound that bad, does it?”

Phillis laughed and was happy that she had been able to cheer her friend up.

Soon after that she said goodbye with an apologetic look on her face.

“I still have two days, then I have to return to Boston. Will you show me the city tomorrow?” Phillis asked and Irina nodded

“I will.” She promised. “Although I find it hard to walk for long times lately.”

“Well, we can sit down every now and then and talk… I miss talking to you and seeing you every week.”

“Me too.” Irina’s voice was soft. “See you tomorrow.” She watched the woman leave and sighed deeply. Could it be, that Jack’s feelings had been equal to hers – that he had loved her all the time?

Chapter 14

The two women spent the following days together, doing shopping in the old western town, having a cup of tea in the newly opened café, or just sitting outside the farmhouse and talking. The more time Phillis spent with Irina, the more she realized, how much she had changed. Her spirit and willpower were gone, her eyes reflecting deep sadness – although Irina tried to cover those feelings behind a facade of happiness and laughter. Phillis had known her too long to be fooled.

When she was going back to Boston a few days later, Phillis was deeply lost in her thoughts. She felt kind of responsible for Irina’s fate and her sadness. If she just hadn’t lied to Jack about the baker, he would probably have followed Irina and the two of them could be happy now.

As she was sitting with Will in their living room the following evening, she finally made a confession to him – although she knew, Irina would be really angry at her.

“Will, I think I have made a terrible mistake!” she suddenly burst out, looking up from the beautiful blanket she was sewing at. Will turned his attention away from his newspaper to his beautiful wife.

“What?” he smiled at her and Phillis dropped the blanket to the sewing basked on the ground.

“I think, I might have misjudged a situation.”

“Sweetheart, what are you talking about?” Will put the newspaper onto the table when he saw the deep concern in his beloved one’s eyes. He lifted from his chair and went to his knees in front of the armchair Phillis was sitting in.

“Well…” Phillis started. “I’m not sure how to start this… and I know you will be angry at me.” She took a deep breath. “Irina is my best friend and I made her my promise, but I couldn’t have known that it would have this effect.”

Will shook his head in confusion. “What happened?” he asked, seriously interested now. Phillis sighed deeply.

“Irina is not married, and there has never been another man.” She opened up and Will stared at her with wide eyes, letting himself drop to the ground.

“She is not… but why did she… and why did you tell us…” he asked without context and Phillis leaned onto her knees, holding Will’s hand.

“I lied because she asked me to, and she has done so much for me. I owed her my help. But now I think she has made a wrong decision. When she decided to go away, she seemed so sure of herself, sure that she would get over Jack easily, but she did not. She tries to hide it, but her heart is broken. She misses him badly.”

Will just stared at her, then he got up laughing bitterly. “Excuse me, I don’t know what to do with this confession right now. You lied to Jack the whole time, there has never been another man – then why did she leave him? It broke Jack’s heart when she left him. I would have never thought that he would ever fall in love with a woman, and during the time when she was with him, he was really changed. So why did she do this to him?”

“Because she is pregnant.” Phillis murmured and lowered her eyes to the ground.

“What?!?” Will stared at her. “She is… she is pregnant? But… Jack told me, that he was the only man sharing her bed…”

“He was.” Phillis nodded.

“Except for that baker guy!”

“Will, there never was a baker guy!” Phillis snapped back and got up, inhaling deeply. “Irina made this guy up to have a reason for leaving him! Jack is the father of her child.”

Will ran his hand through his hair nervously and let himself sink to a chair. “I don’t get this. I mean, she is pregnant with Jack’s child and that’s why she left him? Sorry, you lost me on this. How could she leave him if the child was his? He planned to marry her!”

“What?!?” Now it was Phillis’ turn to burst out. She crossed the distance between her and her husband and touched his face, her eyes scanning his expression seriously.

“Yes, he was planning to marry her when he was back from New York.”

“Yeah, well, it wouldn’t have hurt to tell her!” she burst out, not caring about shifting back to her old plantation language. “Irina thought, she was just his mistress, nothing more. And she didn’t want him to feel forced to marry her due to the child she is carrying. She thought, all Jack was looking for was fun – without serious intentions! And you know why she thought that? Because she had heard some people talk about him, saying that he didn’t want to ever marry or have children.” She accused and punched him slightly. Will lifted his hands.

“Hey, I never said that!” he defended himself. “My god, that was what she thought? Why? Why… why… why would she think that she didn’t mean anything to him?”

“I don’t know.” Phillis replied ironically. “But I think, the fact that he was paying her for sleeping with him could have been a major reason.”

“Yes, he told me! But he was paying her to make her stay! He thought that she was only seeing him as her customer and after the incident at the ball, she was ready to leave him. It was the only way to prevent her from leaving! My god, you knew the whole time that she loved him?”

“Yes! And you knew that he loved her!” Phillis countered and sighed. “I know it was wrong to lie, especially after I have seen Irina now. She needs him, Will. So, do you think I should talk to Jack?”

“Definitely! And I think you should do it right now!” He got up and took her hand, pulling her softly with him. “He has to know.”

“Will! It’s already eight o’clock. We can’t disturb him…”

“We can and we will!” Will replied determined.

When they entered the house of Jack Bristow twenty minutes later, Maggie shot them a confused look as she let them in.

“Good evening.” Will greeted shortly and pointed at the living room. “Is he in there?”

“Yes, but Mr. Bristow doesn’t want to be disturbed…” Maggie tried to hold them back, but Will had already pulled open the door and entered the living room. Jack was sitting at the table, reading some sheets of paper and making notes. He was obviously busy working.

“Jack!” Will greeted and the man looked up, his eyes meeting Maggie’s in a silent reproach as he lifted from his chair.

“Maggie, I told you…”

“It’s not her fault.” Will cut him off and leaned onto the table. “My wife has to tell you something and I think you will want to hear it. I myself felt shocked when I learned it and I’m not even directly concerned. So you better sit back down.”

Phillis cleared her throat and looked at Will. “I don’t know how to start… well, it’s about Irina and…”

“I’m not interested.” Jack cut her off, harsher than he had intended to. “Irina left my house. She had decided for me to not be part of her life anymore, and I have accepted that. And I have a lot of work to do, so would you…”

“Sit down!” Will ordered him sharply. “And listen to what she has to say.”

Jack was too perplexed to contradict as he heard the tone in his friend’s voice and looked at Phillis. The woman played nervously with the material of her dress.

“I lied to you… about Irina’s reasons to leave you.” She started, her voice could barely be heard. “I’m terribly sorry for that, because after all you have done for me I shouldn’t have lied, but she asked me to do so, and as her best friend I couldn’t refuse her my help.” As Jack didn’t say anything, but just looked at her in bewilderment, she went on with her explanation. “There has never been another man. She has made him up to prevent you from following her. She thought, leaving you would be easy, although she knew that she was terribly in love with you. I know, because she told me.”

“What?” Jack stared at her. “She told you, that she loved me?”

“Yes,” Phillis nodded. “But she also told me that you saw nothing more than your mistress in her.”

“That’s not true…” Jack replied almost soundless. “I never saw her that way… never!”

“Yes, that’s what Will just told me.” Phillis whispered and Will took her hand softly. “And that’s why I’m talking to you now. Irina left you, because she was pregnant with your child, and she was afraid that you would feel forced to marry her or even worse, force her to abort the pregnancy.”

“My god…” Jack leaned back, staring at the sheets of paper in front of him without really noticing them lying there. “She is pregnant?”

“Yes.” Phillis nodded. “Until a week ago I was really convinced that lying to you about it was the right decision, but when I visited Irina… I have never seen her that way. She needs you, Jack, and she loves you terribly. I know she will kill me if she finds out that I talked to you, but I think you should know, for obviously your whole situation is the result of a row of misunderstandings due to the fact that you two have never spoken about your feelings.”

Jack looked at her for another two minutes without saying anything, then he finally jumped up.

“My God, I am such an idiot.” He burst out and yelled for Maggie. “Pack some of my stuff, I’ll be away for a few days – maybe weeks.” He ordered when the old maid looked through the door in confusion. Jack’s eyes went back to Phillis. “I can’t believe she never told me. When is her due date?”

“In about two weeks.” Phillis replied and Jack poured himself a glass of whiskey. After he had downed it at once, he poured himself another one.

“I can’t believe I did that to her.” Jack murmured. “I must have hurt her so much when she was more afraid to tell me than to go away.”

Phillis went to him and touched his arm softly. “Jack, she really loves you. And she didn’t go away because she was afraid of you, but mainly because she was afraid you would marry her only because of the child. She had heard that you never wanted to marry or have children, so she went away in order to not make you unhappy.” She explained softly. Jack looked at her for a long time, then he looked at Will.

“Will you allow me to take your wife with me? I don’t want to waste time until I found the way to Irina’s location and she knows how to get there.” Jack asked and Will nodded.

“No, of course. I wish I could also come with you, but I have important appointments during the next week – the same as you if I recall correctly.”

“Forget about my meetings!” Jack burst out and looked at Phillis. “Will you accompany me?”

“Yes, it’s the least I can do.” Phillis nodded smiling and Jack shook his head in disbelief.

“I can’t believe, that she loved me all this time. I’m such a fool…” he murmured to himself, then he stormed out of the room to prepare for his journey.

~~~~~~~~~~

The saloon was overcrowded at this time of day – as it was every day at noon. The men had their breaks and stormed from everywhere into the old saloon to get some whiskey in order to be able to stand the rest of the day.

Everybody was coming in there for a little drink, no matter which class he belonged to or what his job was. Mine workers were sitting next to rich plantation owners and a beggar next to the sheriff. Status didn’t count in this room, everybody was involved in a lively conversation with his neighbor.

So, nobody paid attention to the man with the dark looks sitting at the bar. It had been almost ten months since Gerard Cuvee had left Boston, fled the local sheriff, and found a place to hide in the south, earning his money with stealing and other crimes. The man was leaning over a glass of whiskey, only looking up when Cuvee took place next to him.

“You were right.” He greeted the man, and Carl Reignold looked up, eyeing him interested.

“Cuvee! It took you a long time to get here. We planned to meet one hour ago!”

“I had business…” Cuvee replied evasive and Reignold laughed loudly.

“The slut from the pub?” he asked amused, and Cuvee’s grin confirmed that his guess had been right. “Man, I would have bet my life that she would never allow you to touch her.”

“She wouldn’t.” Cuvee explained. “But who cares about what a woman wants. Now listen to me. You were right, it is indeed her!”

Reignold looked at him, his eyes wide. “I told you it was her! When I heard the name I was sure to not have misunderstood, but you didn’t want to believe me. So, she is here?”

“Yes. That little b*tch is here… she lives on the plantation her father works on. Stupid of her, for that was the clue that proved that it really is her.” He replied, and caught the glass of whiskey in his hand that the barkeeper was pushing over to him. “I can’t believe she dared to leave Boston. Well, I think, we will give the lady a hearty welcome, won’t we?”

The men laughed evilly, and drank to that before they left the saloon, leaving town to prepare their evil deed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Look, I got it! It’s sitting on my hand!” Aisha screamed out happily, and Irina joined her.

“Good. Now be really careful. You must not touch its wings, otherwise it won’t be able to fly again.”

“Wow. The colors are gleaming in the sun… I’ve never seen a butterfly with such beautiful colors.” The girl got up, eyeing the little animal curiously, but very carefully. She gave a disappointed sound when it finally spread its wings and flew away. Running to catch it again and make it land on her hand once more, she followed the butterfly a few meters, then she gave up as it was already too high for her to reach.

Her face showed her disappointment when she turned and walked back to Irina, who was kneeling on the ground collecting the strawberries into her basket. Aisha took one of the already collected berries and put it into her mouth, enjoying the juicy and sweet taste.

“I love this time of year. Strawberries are the best thing in the world!” she cheered and wanted to eat another berry, when Irina gave her a strict look.

“Honey, you can’t eat all the berries I collect. If you want your mother to bake a cake, we have to leave some for her.”

“But you have to try this…” Aisha took a berry and put it into the woman’s mouth. “Soooo gud.”

“Good!” Irina corrected her pronunciation and relished the berry, protesting under laughter when the girl tried to feed her with another one.

“You are trying to trick me!” she warned laughing and caught Aisha in her arms. The girl screamed with laughter when Irina started to tickle her softly.

“Now what a happy little family.” A loud male voice suddenly interrupted them, the words thrown at them ironically and not hiding sarcasm. Irina and Aisha turned, confused, then Irina froze as she recognized the well-known feature of the man who was standing right behind them.

Slowly she stood up, her face reflecting a hint of panic for a split second before she regained control over herself. She pressed Aisha close to her body and the girl looked at the man with wide eyes.

“Gerard!” Irina said, more self-secure than she felt. “I didn’t expect to see you again.”

“Nah, obviously you didn’t.” He said friendly and Aisha shook her head.

“Don’t say, ‘nah’! It’s ‘no’!”

“Shut up, honey…” Irina silenced her softly, stroking through her hair. “Why don’t you go home and bring your mommy the strawberries we have already collected?”

Aisha looked hesitantly from her to the man, then back at her before she finally loosened herself from Irina’s arms and collected the basket from the ground. Before she could go away, Gerard had passed Irina by and grabbed the little girl at her hair, holding her back.

“You won’t go anywhere!” He yelled threateningly and Irina grabbed his arm, her face a mixture of rage and shock.

“Gerard, she has nothing to do with us.” She yelled when the little girl started to cry in pain. “Let her go!” Irina started to beat him when he didn’t let go of the girl. She tried to loosen the man’s arms from the girl until he pushed her away hard. Irina fell to the ground, not moving for a moment as she felt pain rushing through her body.

Finally Gerard pushed Aisha to the ground next to her. Irina hugged her softly, trying to calm her as she started crying in panic.

“Let her go.” She demanded, frightened tears in her eyes since she was afraid that the baby had gotten hurt when she had fallen to the ground. “Please…”

Gerard laughed sarcastically. “Please? Now, let me think, did I ever hear that word from you?” He pulled her up to her feet harshly and looked at her. “And what a surprise to see you in that condition. I assume I have to thank this man for that… what was his name?”

“Bristow!” Another voice replied for Irina and she turned around, staring into the face of Carl Reignold. “Hello, Irina. From the expression on your face I assume that you remember me. Well, you still have debt to pay… I bought you for a night, I never had it.”

“Right…” Cuvee nodded. “Bristow, Jack Bristow, right? Now, obviously you were a little careless about your prevention – or was this intentional?” He touched her belly and Irina pushed him away.

“Do not touch me!” she warned, his behavior outraging her. Her eyes went over to the farm house far away and she measured her chances to be heard if she screamed for help. They were less than bad.

“Now, what are we going to do with you?” Gerard asked rhetorically and smiled coldly. “I suggest, you will come with us for now. Then we will see how to go on.”

He grabbed Irina and the woman started to defend herself, attempting to wiggle out of his grip. As Aisha saw that her friend was in danger, she pounced on the man, trying to help Irina to get free. Her small fists couldn’t even hurt Gerard in the slightest way and so she decided to take harder measures.

Cuvee cried out angrily as the little girl bit into his hand. Reignold finally succeeded in grabbing her and pulling her away from the fighting couple. Aisha started to scream in anger, trying to kick the man who was lifting her up, with no effort. Finally, he threw her to the ground and started to beat her.

When Irina saw the little girl crying and trying to shield herself from the punches, she fought even harder. “Let her go! Don’t you dare hurt her!” Eventually, Cuvee grabbed her hair to stop her from fighting against him.

“Stop it and we will let her live!” he hissed into her face, his eyes reflecting nothing but rage and hatred. Irina surrendered to his grip, her eyes starting to fill with tears.

“Carl, let her alone!” Cuvee yelled at the other man. “We have what we wanted. Let’s go get the horses.”

The two men pulled Irina with them, ignoring her sobs as she looked back and saw the little girl lying motionless on the ground. She stumbled over the uneven ground, feeling Gerard’s harsh grip around her arm.

“I warn you.” He hissed into her ear, softly stroking through her hair. “If you try to escape, I will take care that your baby will not be born healthy. And don’t think you could run away from us. In your momentary condition you wouldn’t get very far.”

“Bastard… don’t you dare hurt my baby!” she cried out furiously, her voice trembling. She knew that he meant what he said, and for the moment she though it better to follow his orders for the sake of her baby.

Chapter 15

When the carriage entered the huge court of the farm, nobody from the farm was paying it any attention, although it was a rather unusual occasion. Jack Bristow and Phillis Tippin looked out of the small windows before getting out of the carriage, confused by the fact that nobody greeted them.

They approached the small house and knocked at the door. Almost immediately a man opened the door, his eyes reflecting a fading hope as he watched the strange man and his female company.

“May I help you?”

“Good afternoon, Sir.” Jack greeted him and Phillis smiled.

“Good to see you again, Mr. Dudley!” Phillis smiled and the man’s face lightened up when he now recognized the woman.

“Oh, Miss Phillis, it’s you. I’m sorry for my rude behavior, please come in.”

They entered the house and a woman stormed out of a room, her eyes looking as if she had been crying.

“Is it them?”

“No, sweetie…”

“Oh my god.” Dealora started to cry again and Jack and Phillis looked at each other totally perplexed.

“Excuse my impertinent question, Mrs. Dudley, but is everything okay?” Phillis asked softly and the woman shook her head.

“No!” she sobbed, her voice failing. Mr. Dudley hugged his wife softly and tried to calm her down, then he looked apologetically at the two visitors.

“My daughter has disappeared.” He explained, his voice full of worry.

“Aisha?” Phillis asked and the man nodded.

“Yes. She was in the field collecting strawberries with Miss Irina. They are both gone. …Shht, darling. She is with Irina, I’m sure she is safe.”

“But we found their basket… they would have never left it…” The woman cried and after Jack had recovered from the slight shock, he went to the couple.

“Are you saying, that Irina AND your daughter are both gone?”

“Yes.” The man nodded. “By the way, who are you? Miss Phillis’ fiancé?”

“No, I’m…” he cut off for a moment before he said the words out loud. “I’m Miss Irina’s fiancé.”

“She’s engaged?” Mrs. Dudley looked at him, wiping the tears from her eyes. Her voice was weak and she looked confused at Sergeji Derevko who himself shot Jack Bristow a stunned look. “She never told us.”

“Long story.” Phillis explained. “So, do you have any clue where they might have gone?” she asked, thinking of Irina’s condition and the possibility that something was wrong with her. Maybe she had broken down and Aisha was too afraid to leave her alone.

“My sons are already searching the landscape. My eldest son even went to town to ask for their whereabouts, but so far none of them have returned.”

As if to prove his words wrong, the door opened and Henry and Mickey stormed in, Mickey carrying little Aisha on his shoulders.

“Oh my god… my baby!” Dealora Dudley stormed to her son, lifted the little girl from his shoulder and pressed her against her chest. Aisha was panting, obviously she had been running a long distance, for her forehead was hot.

“Get me water, hurry!” she yelled at one of the maids who was helping in the kitchen. The girl stormed away to fulfill her demand. Thirty seconds later, Aisha was hastily drinking the icy water she was handed by her mother. Dealora examined worriedly the wounds and bruises on her arms and stroked softly through her hair. “My darling, what happened?”

Aisha panted for air, her words coming out fast, and she didn’t care about the fact that she had shifted to the old plantation dialect. Jack Bristow did not understand a single word as the girl reported to her mother, fast and hurriedly, her eyes showing fear and shock. But Phillis understood what the girl said. She looked at Jack, translating the words for him.

“Obviously she and Irina were collecting strawberries… then two men came. They beat her and Irina and then took her with them. Aisha faked unconsciousness when they were walking away and followed them the whole way until they reached an old barn in the middle of nowhere.” She listened for a few more sentences, trying to make sense of the girl’s next words. Jack’s face had gotten paler with every word Phillis translated. “Well, obviously the men prepared to stay the night in that barn. She ran the way back because she was too afraid of being discovered.”

“We had almost reached Cape City when we saw her running towards us!” Mickey explained out of breath. “We thought she was running away from something so I took her onto my shoulders and we ran here as fast as we could.”

Dealora caressed his cheek tenderly and pressed her lips to his forehead. “I’m proud of you, sweetheart. Both of you… You did great.”

Phillis went to her knees next to Aisha. “Can you describe the men who kidnapped Irina? Did they give any reason?”

“No reason…” Aisha murmured. “But she seemed to know them. She addressed them by name…”

Jack joined Phillis now. “Do you remember the names?”

Aisha shook her head sadly, “No…”

“Think… it is really important.” Phillis urged and Aisha tried to concentrate.

“I really dunno… the names were weird. But I think one of them was similar to Ge… Gehai… something, sounded like those man from France…”

“Gerard?” Jack asked and Aisha nodded enthusiastically.

“Yes! YES, that’s the name she said.”

“Damned.” Jack got up and looked at Mr. Dudley. “I can’t believe that bastard found her here.”

“Jack,” Phillis got up and her eyes reflected the concern he felt inside. “When they hurt her, she’ll be in danger of losing her baby – even worse, she could die if she doesn’t get the help of a doctor in that case.” Her voice was more a sob and Jack nodded, trying to remain calm when he turned to the family again.

“I need a horse!”

“Two horses!” Phillis jumped in and caught Jack’s look which told her that he was about to contradict her. She shut him up before he could even say something, “And don’t try to keep me from going with you. Irina is my friend. I’m not going to sit here and do nothing!”

“Fine!” Jack murmured and looked at little Aisha. “Would you also accompany us to show us the way? – I promise you, nothing is going to happen to your daughter.” He calmed down the worried mother.

“She goes with you.” Mr. Dudley said for his wife. “Henry, you and your brother get the two fastest horses. Do you want me to go with you?”

“No.” Jack replied. “I need you to go to the city and contact the sheriff as fast as you can. The two men are dangerous and they are wanted criminals in the north.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Irina was panting hard when she felt herself fall against the wooden pillar in the barn, somewhere in the prairie. She gave a painful cry when Cuvee turned her arms onto her back and shackled her with old iron chains that were set in the wall. She leaned her head back against the wood, trying to bring herself into a more comforting position.

“What now?” Reignold asked, looking at the woman at his feet. “Look at her, Cuvee. She’s pregnant. She won’t be of any use to us, on the contrary.”

“Not now, but if I measure it right, she must be due soon. In another week or two, and then she will be of use for us.” He replied, testing if the shackles were tight, so Irina couldn’t get free. “Until that day comes, she will stay here…”

“Gerard…” Irina’s voice was weak and she opened her eyes, still out of breath. “You can’t leave me here to give birth to a baby in this place.”

“Really?” he answered in a kind voice, but she could clearly hear the threatening tone. “Well, I’m sorry if this place isn’t comforting enough for the lady, but if she hadn’t f*cked around with some guy without paying attention, she wouldn’t have that problem now.”

“Gerard!” Reignold looked from the woman to his friend. “She is right.”

“Hey!” The man faced him, anger reflected in his whole feature. “I told you, you could have her and you will have her. Except for that little fact, none of this is your business, understood?” He turned back to Irina. “Now, I think, this child will bring us lots of money. You didn’t honestly think I would let you keep it, did you?” he asked ironically, when he saw the shocked look in her face. “Let you keep that bastard’s child, why would I do that? Does he know? No, he doesn’t, am I right? Stupid little thing, you left me for him and he dropped you when he had enough of you, didn’t he? Well, that’s how men are. I told you not to fall for a customer, didn’t I?” When she didn’t answer, he shook his head and grabbed her chin, forcing her to look at him. “You should have stayed with me, sweetheart. If you hadn’t run away, tried to kill me and, oh, right, gotten a divorce from me, I might have been a little more lenient with you now. Yes, I might have even let you keep your precious child.”

“What are you going to do to me?” Irina asked weakly and he laughed.

“Well, as soon as I’ve gotten rid of the little brat of yours, I think, we will refresh our marriage. You have a lot to make good. First of all, I want to find out why Jack Bristow found you so irresistible.”

“I won’t marry you.” Irina replied firmly, her eyes filled with hatred. “I won’t make the same mistake twice.”

“Well, in that case…” he gripped her hair and pulled her head back until she cried in pain. “…I think, I will just f*ck you until I have enough of you and then stab you, you little whore. You are my wife, and nobody is going to take you away from me.”

Tears streamed down her face and she broke down in uncontrolled sobs when he finally let go of her. Pain rushed through her body, pain originating from her belly. She closed her eyes at the stitches she felt, her breath quickening as she tried to force back the pain and stop herself from panicking.

The men didn’t pay attention to her since they were starting a heavy discussion now.

“Gerard, I don’t want to have anything to do with murder!” Reignold said and Cuvee laughed.

“Why do you care? She is nobody! And I’m allowing you to have your way with her first, so what is your problem?”

“My problem? Man, she’s Bristow’s mistress and the last time I saw her, he followed her from a ball, despite him knowing that the people would dismiss him for doing so. I’m saying, it could be dangerous to…”

“You are such a coward! Who is Bristow anyway? He is just one of those diplomatic idiots. We are in the South! Other rules are reigning here and he will never know. After all, he let her down, so why should he still care?”

“I don’t know, I have a strange feeling about this. I mean, it was okay as long as it was just getting her, but look at her! She’s pregnant…”

“So what?” Gerard shook his head in anger, his voice getting louder.

“Gerard, she can’t give birth to a child in here. It’s her first child and she won’t be able to do this alone.”

“Well, she better find a way to, otherwise I’m sorry!” he snapped back, kicking a small stone angrily with his feet. “Let me get this straight: It was okay as long as this was just about raping her, but now suddenly you’re coming up with morals?”

“Murder is something I don’t want to have anything to do with!” Reignold murmured, his eyes meeting Irina’s. “She is your wife, dude!”

“She WAS my wife – WAS! That was before she betrayed me and tried to kill me. Whatever, you’re at least as deep in this as I am! No going back now!”

Irina was tired of listening to their discussion as they went into another corner of the barn now. She sank against the wood behind her, her eyes falling closed in exhaustion. She felt sick, her whole body trembling, but worst of all she felt different. She couldn’t describe the feeling, but she was afraid that it had something to do with her baby.

The returning pain in her belly confirmed her suspicion mercilessly. Silent tears ran down her cheeks while she prayed that she would not lose her baby. She didn’t even notice the time passing by, since her body demanded for sleep, the weariness finally succeeding over her mind.

She awoke with a start when a hand pulled her up roughly, a cup pressed to her mouth.

“Drink, wench.” Cuvee ordered and Irina drank the water thirstily. “I don’t want you to get away that easily.” When she had finished the cup, she sank back, closing her eyes while she felt the cool water running down her throat. God, she was hungry, but it didn’t seem as if either of the men were willing to give her something anytime soon.

Gerard was just about to go back when suddenly the heavy door of the barn flew open. Irina couldn’t say afterwards what had happened, all she heard was gunfire and angry yells.

Jack Bristow didn’t even bother to yell a warning before he shot – the surprise moment was on his side and so it took the men some time to understand what was happening. Phillis entered the barn just after Jack and made out her friend immediately.

“Oh my god…” she cried out shocked and stormed to Irina, but Cuvee grabbed her half-way there.

“Now, what a surprise this is. Phillis Wheatley, brave enough to run away from my plantation. I suspected that Irina had something to do with your disappearance, obviously I was right.”

Phillis didn’t hesitate, and slammed her elbow into his stomach, then she turned around and used the kick she had once learned from an elder woman on the plantation. It was very effective and hit a man just where it really hurt. Gerard went to the ground immediately, and Phillis stumbled to the ground next to Irina.

“My god, Irina…” she slapped the woman’s face softly, shooting Jack and Reignold, who were still fighting, a worried look. Irina tried to sit up, but failed and Phillis started to work at the chains that shackled her.

“It’s okay… You will be free in a minute. Everything will be fine…” She calmed her friend down, looking around for the key or something she could break the chains with. She finally found an old metal bar, and due to the rusty iron of the shackles, she had soon broken them so that Irina was free to move. She still had the cuffs around her wrists but at least she was able to get up now. Phillis helped her carefully, touching her hot face.

“Come on, I will get you out of here…”

They went to the large door, when Phillis suddenly screamed out, being pulled away from Irina. Irina stumbled when the supportive hold was suddenly gone, and held on to the wall in exhaustion. Gerard had recovered from his pain and hit Phillis in the face. The woman cried out and fell to the ground, then Gerard pulled out his weapon, aiming at Jack who was standing with his back to him. Jack… Only now Irina realized that it was indeed him. He was here to save her.

And she realized that he was only moments from being killed. She took all of her remaining strength, ignored the pain in her body, and threw herself onto Cuvee causing him to stumble. But he recovered too quickly and pushed her to the ground, his hand hitting her hard. Her head started to hurt.

Gerard had regained control over the situation too soon. Irina blinked and sat up, looking at her unconscious friend. Then her eyes were caught by something else. A weapon… Phillis was carrying a weapon around her waist. Irina didn’t think, just grabbed the gun and pointed it at Cuvee.

“Drop it, you son of a b*tch!” she yelled, her voice trembling. The man looked at her amused and started to laugh. Irina’s hand started to tremble as she laid her fingers around the trigger.

“Or what?” he asked. “Are you going to shoot me? I don’t think so… that would be murder and you would go to prison. Charming atmosphere for a woman to give birth to a child in. Do you know that southern prisons are like hell for women? Go ahead, shoot me… but then you’ll be executed for murder.” His mean laughter echoed in her head and when he aimed his gun back at Jack, she pulled the trigger with a painful cry. She fired at him again and again, only the fear of Jack being killed in her conscious mind. So what, then she would go to prison as long as it saved Jack’s life. Only when Gerard was lying on the ground, not moving anymore and bleeding from several gunshot wounds, did she let herself sink to the dirty ground in uncontrolled sobs. Her body trembled and she cried out when the pain in her belly reached an almost unbearable level.

She couldn’t get up, no matter how hard she tried, nor was she able to stop the pain.

The fight between the two men had ended. Reignold had given up when he had seen Cuvee falling to the ground dead. Jack shackled him quickly to the wall onto another pair of iron chains, then he ran to Irina. He had only heard shots but didn’t know what had happened and as he saw the two women lying on the ground, he feared the worst.

Irina was panting when the pain finally subsided, her body shaking with exhaustion. It didn’t take Jack long to realize that she wasn’t hit by a gunshot and after caressing her cheek softly, he rushed to Phillis. The young woman was just awakening from her blackout, moaning and holding a hand to her head. She started to cough when she inhaled some of the dirt from the dusty ground and sat up.

Knowing that she was okay, Jack turned his attention back to Irina who was now trying to sit up, holding her belly carefully.

“My God…” Jack whispered and he helped her, pulling her softly against his chest when she was sitting upright. “It’s true…” He touched her belly ever so softly, unable to believe what he saw, although he had already known that she was pregnant. Only when he saw her condition now, he fully realized that she would soon give birth to a baby – their baby. He kissed her hair softly and she looked up, still breathless.

“What are you… I mean… how did you get here?” she asked totally stunned and he kissed her deeply and pressed her against him.

“Phillis told me everything. My god, why didn’t you talk to me…” he whispered into her hair, softly touching her belly with his hand. Phillis crawled towards her, smiling happily at her friend.

“Sorry, I had to tell him after seeing you when I visited you…I’m so glad you are okay…” she whispered and held Irina’s hand. Then Jack and Phillis helped her to get up. Carefully, Irina stood up straight, holding her belly in fear of a new wave of pain – but nothing happened.

Finally, when Phillis was sure that her support wasn’t needed, she let go of Irina’s arm.

“I will get the horses.” She announced and rushed out of the barn, while Jack led Irina slowly towards the exit.

“I’m so sorry…” she whispered, but he silenced her softly, wiping some dust off of her face with his thumb.

“We’ll talk about this later…”

“No…” she murmured, leaning her head against his shoulder. “I behaved so stup…” She cut herself off with a cry as a new wave of pain hit her and almost made her stumble. Her breathing quickened and she let out tortured cries. Intuitively she bent down, holding her belly with her hands.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

“Phillis! PHIL!” Jack yelled, but he didn’t even have to. The young woman was already alarmed by her friend’s painful cries and returned into the barn with shock in her face.

“My God, what happened?” She went to her knees and touched Irina’s shoulders softly. Jack shook his head.

“I don’t know.” He replied helplessly.

“Irina! IRINA, look at me!” Phillis forced her friend to look at her. “Okay, Jack… lift her up… she has to stand…”

“No… nonono!” Irina cried in pain as Jack supported her, lifting her up until she was standing. She tried to curl up again to ease the pain but Jack prevented her from doing so. Phillis looked at her friend, who stopped breathing now at the intensity of the pain.

“Irina, look at me! Look at me!” she demanded roughly. “I want you to breathe. Slowly… Inhale… exhale… inhale… good.”

Irina pressed her lips together to keep herself from screaming, then the pain finally subsided. She sank against Jack’s chest, too exhausted to stand by herself.

“My baby…” she whispered, her voice breaking. “I’m going to lose it…”

“Shht…” Phillis calmed her and exchanged a concerned glance with Jack. “I need you to tell me how this pain felt.”

“Stitching… weird.” Irina murmured.

“Was it the first time?” Phillis continued and waved Aisha to come into the barn.

“No… no, I felt similar pain earlier, but it was never so bad.” She finally opened her eyes and saw Phillis bending down to the girl.

“Do you remember that river we crossed earlier? I need you to get me water from there. Clean water! Now listen to me, this is very important. It is absolutely imperative, that there is no dirt or stones in the water. Collect buckets from this barn. I’ve seen some over there, but clean them carefully. Do you understand?”

“Yes!” the little girl nodded and ran away.

“I will lose my baby, won’t I?” Irina finally asked almost indifferent, only the tears in her eyes showing her desperation. Phillis’ eyes went back to her, giving her an encouraging smile.

“No, you won’t lose your baby, you will just have your baby.” She corrected and hoped that she was right. Contractions could either mean that her friend was giving birth to her baby early or that her child was dead. She decided to assume the first possibility.

“Remember, CLEAN water!” she once again repeated loudly when Aisha had stormed out of the barn, two large buckets in her hand.

“What?!?” Irina asked panicked. “I can’t have my baby now! Not here… It’s too early…”

“Irina!” Phillis snapped at her, since she was about to panic again. “Breathe! Remember? Slowly. Jack, take her over there to the broken trailer. Its loading space looks clean enough and there isn’t something more appropriate here.”

“No! No, Phil!” Irina freed herself from Jack. “I won’t have my baby now… and here! I’m okay again… we should go home and…”

“I am not going to risk having you give birth to your child somewhere out there in the dirty prairie!” Phillis countered in a harsh tone. “Now do as I said and get onto the trailer!”

Jack took Irina’s hand, softly kissing her to calm her down. Then he led her to the trailer. She pulled herself up until she was sitting on the loading space. Jack looked at her tenderly and kissed her softly when he was sitting next to her. He was at least as worried as Irina looked, if not even more, but he didn’t want to show her for he didn’t want to risk a serious panic attack from her.

“I’m okay…” Irina assured when he broke the kiss. “Really, I am… but I am tired… I want to go home and just sleep.”

He glided behind her to support her and she leaned against his chest, watching as Phillis searched the barn for anything they could use to make a fire. Jack locked his fingers with hers from behind, his arms under hers so he could hold her more firmly.

“You’re even more beautiful than when I last saw you.” He whispered into her ear and she closed her eyes, smiling.

“You’re a liar…” she whispered. “I’m looking all dusty and tousled… But thanks anyway…”

He laughed and kissed her cheek softly when he heard her comment.

Phillis built up a small fire outside, securing the fireplace with stones. For her, delivering a baby in circumstances like this was nothing new. She had witnessed it dozens of times on her plantation, and even assisted twice. Although this was the first time she would have to do it alone, she was quite sure of herself to be able to do it.

Irina had just dozed off, when the pain hit her unexpectedly. She sat up and gasped for air, trying to breathe. She failed when the pain seemed to increase more and more, not intending to end at a certain bearable point.

“OH GOD, I can’t do this!” she finally screamed, tears running down her face as she cried out.

“Jack, you have to support her, and Irina, you just remember to keep breathing!” Phillis replied unhurriedly. “We still have a lot of time, your contractions are still at least ten minutes apart. No need to worry.”

Irina yelled in fury, her hand clasping Jack’s when she threw angry curses after Phillis, who left the barn to look out for Aisha and the water. Finally she fell against his chest, her face sweaty and her eyes falling closed in exhaustion.

“You are doing great.” Jack whispered and stroked some strands of hair out of her face. “I missed you so terribly during the last months.”

Irina snuggled up closer to him. “I missed you too… Jack.” The way she spoke his name longingly made him kiss her. “I missed you so much…” she repeated lowly when he disconnected from her mouth. “I want you to know that I left you because…”

“I know.” He whispered and cut her off. “Phillis explained everything to me. You don’t need to justify your decision. I am sorry for having acted like an idiot.”

“You did not act like an idiot… I did.” Irina contradicted softly. “I didn’t mean to lie to you, it was just… I didn’t want you to follow me and that way was the only way to make sure, you wouldn’t…” She took a deep breath. “I’m thirsty.” She whispered.

As if they had been called, Phillis and Aisha returned into the barn, Aisha carrying a bucket.

“So, the water will soon be cooking, here’s some water for you to drink, Irina, you’ll need it. I found a clean cup in the luggage of those bastards. Here…”

Jack took the cup of cool water she handed him and Irina took it, drinking until the cup was finished.

“We also have some clean towels… I have to say, Cuvee has never been useful, except for now.” Phillis continued to chat happily. “Aisha, help me with those towels, but be sure to not drop them.”

“Yes…” the girl nodded, following Phillis and repeating every one of her actions with double effort.

Irina shivered slightly. “I’m afraid.” She whispered and Jack pressed his lips to her forehead.

“You’ll be fine.” He whispered. “You’ll see. And tomorrow we’ll be the parents of a gorgeous little baby.”

“Tomorrow?” she snapped shocked, sitting up straight. “My god, how long do you expect this to last?”

“This is going to last as long as it will.” Phillis explained, glancing accusingly at Jack, who returned her look apologetically. He had just wanted to help. Phillis turned her eyes back at her friend, smiling reassuringly. “I’ve seen births where the woman had her child within half an hour.”

“Yes, well, it’s been half an hour!” Irina replied aggressively. “We could have been home by now instead of being stuck in this rotten…!”

“No, we couldn’t, and it would be a lot easier if you stopped discussing with me!”

Irina caught her breath as she felt the next contraction build up in her belly, and bit her lip.

“See, that’s what’s happening if you discuss.” Phillis replied coolly, then she soaked one of the towels with icy water. “Jack, I need you to cool her face with this.”

Irina was surprised since the pain was not at all as bad as the last few times had been, and it subsided only seconds after it had built up. She was about to tell Phillis just that, when the stings returned almost paralyzing. Jack whispered sweet caresses into her ear, trying to ease her pain, until he couldn’t stand seeing the woman he loved having to bear this pain anymore.

“PHILLIS!” he yelled infuriated. “Can you not do something? Anything to ease her torture?”

“Sorry, but she has to go through this. Just stay calm and support her. If you can’t stand it, leave the barn. I don’t want two people in panic.” She said warningly. “I need you to pull her away from the edge a little.”

Jack pulled Irina further onto the loading space, holding her close and softly laying his hand to her belly.

“I’m sorry you have to go through this…” he murmured, totally unprepared for the aggressive outburst that was about to follow.

“DAMMIT! Don’t tell me you are sorry! This is all your fault!” Irina yelled at him, followed by some curses in Russian he could not understand exactly – which he was kind of glad for. Irina clasped his hand even tighter and whimpered as the ache didn’t subside.

Phillis smiled at Jack. “Don’t take it serious. That’s totally usual that some women become aggressive when giving birth. She doesn’t mean what she is saying.” She calmed him down and Irina’s eyes sparkled.

“Oh, I don’t mean it?” She bit down her teeth, crying, unable to control her breathing any longer. “Bristow, I will never ever let you touch me again!” she cursed between two pants and when Phillis ordered her harshly to breathe evenly, Irina burst out in an infuriated attack about Phillis switching places with her. “We’ll see how even your breathing will be then!” she snapped and Jack pulled her back against him and cooled her face with the icy cloth. Irina relaxed against him and closed her eyes.

“I want to sleep.” She whimpered and held her belly intuitively. “But it doesn’t stop.”

“Yes, I think we’re almost there…” Phillis smiled at her. “Your contractions are regular now, coming every three minutes… that’s a good sign.” She rearranged Irina’s dress. “Bend your knees slightly… it will be easier for you then.”

“The baby is two weeks early.” Irina finally sobbed and Phillis smiled, not looking up but preparing the towels.

“Yes…”

“Is there any chance that it will live?”

“Irina, honey…” Jack started and looked at Phillis, his eyes silently pleading to back him up here. Phillis shrugged her shoulders.

“Why should it not live?”

“Too early…” she managed to say, before the next contraction washed over her. Phillis finished her preparations and waited until Irina was breathing normal again, then she continued their conversation.

“There is absolutely no reason to believe, that a child which has been born two weeks early has no chance to live. I myself was born three weeks early and I know a lot of other people who were born a little early. Now, I want you to focus on what I tell you. Next contraction, you push…”

Irina laughed ironically, her face slick with sweat. “I can not push when I am in pain!” she countered irritated, her breath coming in small pants.

“Well, you have to, otherwise this will go on until tomorrow.” Phillis announced neutrally and Irina was just about to scream at her, when the next contraction cut her off, erasing all rational thought from her mind.

“Okay, push!” Phillis yelled and looked up, repeating her order more insistently. “Irina, you have to push.”

“I am!” Irina snapped back loudly, tears streaming down her face as the contraction subsided.

“Well, there is nothing happening. You have to push harder!” Phillis ordered and bent to Aisha. “Get me the hot water, but take care to not burn yourself!”

Irina was trembling and Jack hugged her closer, pulling her against his body so she was sitting more upright.

“Come on.” He whispered against her hair. “I know you can do that.”

“I can’t…” she contradicted and turned her head so she could touch his face with hers. “I’m so tired.”

“I know, but you have to do this. I promise you, you can sleep as long as you want afterwards.”

“How about me sleeping now and we continue this afterwards?”

“I don’t think, the baby will be okay with that.” Phillis jumped in for Jack, a humorous tone in her voice. “Now, the next contraction should be due any second. Remember, breathe even and when you feel it, you push.” She commanded slowly and Irina nodded.

“I’ll try…”

“Not try to push! Push! We won’t get anywhere from just trying here…” she said and Irina grabbed Jack’s hands when she felt the familiar pain starting anew.

“Push! PUSH! Good! You’re doing good, hon! Keep it…” Phillis encouraged her, then gasped for air in slight shock. Irina fell back, her eyes falling closed as she felt the world starting to spin in front of her. Jack helped her to drink another cup of water.

“What? WHAT?” Panic reflected in Irina’s voice for she had noticed the expression on her friend’s face.

“Okay… it’s okay!” Phillis looked up. “No need to worry, just a slight complication.”

“What?!?”

“Calm down. We’re just going feet first. Although that’s not the usual way to deliver a baby, it’s not unusual either with early births. It only means that you have to push a little harder. More effort. You’re doing great by now, and everything is fine.” Phillis ordered her, her voice sounding more secure than she felt. She had only once assisted in a birth where the child was coming out with feet first, and both mother and child had died during the birth. But if Irina did get any idea that something was seriously wrong, she would end up panicking and therefore, Phillis decided not to worsen the situation.

The next contraction was so intense in its pain that Irina was unable to do anything. She screamed, her mind paralyzed, as the world turned black in front of her eyes.

“Push, Irina!” Phillis yelled out as she noticed that her friend did nothing and looked up. “IRINA… look at me.”

Jack noticed the shock in her voice and cooled Irina’s face with the cloth.

“Irina, come on…”

“I can’t,” the woman whispered weakly, her voice could barely be heard. “I’m so tired… I feel so weak…” Her eyes fell closed.

“Jack, you must not let this happen!” Phillis’ voice was loud and now she didn’t hide her panic anymore. “She loses consciousness, neither her, nor the baby will survive this.”

“Irina…” Jack’s voice grew louder now, softly slapping the woman in effort to keep her awake.

“Jack… I love you…” Irina whispered, her head resting on his shoulder, her voice weak and showing that she was only inches from losing consciousness.

“Listen, I won’t let you get away that easily.” His voice showed slight anger, then shook her a little harsher and Phillis slapped her face. “Irina… I expect you to return with me to Boston, for I have planned to marry you and I will be really mad if you run away again!” His voice showed his desperation. Irina shook her head slightly.

“I will not marry you…” she murmured and Phillis let out a relieved sigh.

“Good. Go on! Keep talking to her… make her answer you. She must not give in to her need for sleep.”

“Yes, you will marry me!” Jack provoked Irina’s fury and he was glad that she was so hot-tempered for she immediately opened her eyes.

“How dare you order me to marry you?” she hissed angrily and Jack kissed her relieved over and over again.

“Keep it going!” Phillis said and Jack smiled against Irina’s cheek.

“I have lost you once. Do you think I would allow you to run away again? No chance I will accept ‘no’ as an answer.”

“Bristow, are you out of your mind?” Irina’s voice was loud now, her eyes sparkling with fury, the next contraction increasing her aggression even more.

“PUSH!” Phillis yelled at her and Irina did what she said, clenching her teeth as she tried to bear the pain.

“How dare you… come here and try to force me to marry you?” Irina hissed between pants, her voice showing that she was really mad.

“Good! Good!” Phillis cheered enthusiastically. “Great! You’re doing perfectly well. Just a little more… come on!”

“PHIL… I can’t do this anymore!” Irina cried out, unable to breathe any longer.

Phillis encouraged her with her cheers. “Hold on! Just a little longer! Do you want to know what name you will have to use? It’s a Sydney… a little Sydney and she looks gorgeous.” Irina kept pushing, whimpers escaping her until the pain finally subsided. She prepared for her next contraction and didn’t even realize that she had just given birth to a little girl.

She only looked up, when she heard the baby start to cry.

“It’s okay…” Phillis’ eyes were shimmering with tears when her eyes met Irina’s now. “You did it… it’s over.”

Phillis wrapped the little baby into one of the dry cloths and laid her carefully into Irina’s arms, before she took a huge sip of cold water.

“Look at her… a healthy little babygirl.”

“Oh my god…” Irina looked at the little creature in her arms, barely daring to touch her. “She’s so tiny…” Then she broke down in uncontrolled sobs and started to cry. Jack kissed her softly, admiring the baby – their baby – and touching its little hands with his fingers.

“Shhh… don’t cry.” He tried to calm Irina down. “See, she is alright.” He kissed her temple and his eyes met those of Phillis, both exchanging a relieved glance. Jack knew that it had been close and that he had almost lost Irina forever. He was determined to never let her go again.

When Phillis had cooled her face with cold water and was able to stop her hands from trembling from the realization that Irina had almost not made it, she took little Sydney back.

“Where are you taking her?” Irina asked and sat up alarmed. “Be careful with her…” Jack’s lips were softly kissing her sweaty hair while they watched as Phillis washed the little creature and wrapped her into a clean white towel then laid her softly back into Irina’s arms.

“Look at her…” she whispered to Jack and smiled at him. He was still showering her with kisses and Irina closed her eyes. “Thank you…”

“For what?” he asked smiling and she inhaled deeply, enjoying the moments of not feeling pain anymore.

“For her…” Irina smiled, touching the baby’s nose softly. The little girl squeaked, then soon started to cry. Irina weighed her softly in her arms. “Shhh… it’s alright. Look! She’s looking at me…” she murmured fascinated.

Jack laughed at the expression in her voice and watched as the baby stared at Irina with her huge eyes, then looked at Jack.

“She’s the most adorable little creature I’ve ever seen.” Jack whispered. “Just like her mother.”

“Jack…” Irina whispered tenderly, her eyes meeting his and their lips finally connecting in a deep and tender kiss, confirming silently the feelings they carried inside for each other. Phillis looked at them, smiling, then her eyes went to Aisha.

“Come on, let’s clean up… And we have to send somebody to get your father with a trailer. There is no way Irina can go with us on a horse, so a trailer with hay would be perfect.”

“I will go!” Aisha exclaimed enthusiastically and Phillis frowned her forehead.

“You can’t go alone.”

“Yes, I can! I know the way and I can take one of the horses! I’m good at riding a horse!”

“Fine then… go! But be careful!” She followed the little girl with her eyes, then she started to collect the towels and supply Irina and Jack with cold water to quench their thirst.

When Mr. Dudley arrived with two horses and a trailer two hours later, Irina had fallen into an exhausted sleep against Jack’s chest, little Sydney joining her, also sleeping tightly in her mother’s arms.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two days later

Irina was kneeling in front of the small bed, admiring her little daughter who was sleeping soundly. She was wearing her nightgown for she had spent the last two days in bed, mostly sleeping. She had felt too weak to get up, but when the sun had been lighting her room this morning, she hadn’t been able to resist the urge to admire the sleeping little baby, so she had pulled on her robe and gotten up carefully.

Now she was sitting on the ground, her arms leaning on the edge of the bed. She felt exhaustion returning slowly, but didn’t want to give in to it. Her body still felt sore and she hated to feel exhaustion when she had only walked the few meters from her bed to the bed of Sydney.

When the door opened, Irina turned her head and saw Jack enter the room. His eyes met hers and his face lightened up when he saw her up and out of the bed.

“You are awake!” His voice showed how happy he was and he carefully closed the door, then he let himself sink to the ground next to the woman he loved and kissed her tenderly. “How are you feeling?”

“Weak…” she murmured. “And weird not being pregnant anymore.” She smiled a little sadly and turned her head back to the little baby, softly caressing the small, chubby hands.

Jack wrapped his arms around Irina’s body, careful not to hurt her, and held her close. They just sat there for a long time, observing the sleeping baby, when Jack finally turned his head and kissed her cheek.

“Irina, what I said in that barn… about you marrying me…” he started and Irina smiled, leaning her head back against his shoulder.

“I know why you did it.” She whispered. “There was a moment when you and Phillis both thought, you would lose me, right?”

“Yes…” Jack admitted.

“It was right of you to infuriate me. I’m not mad at you…” she calmed him down and he cleared his throat, thinking about how to form the words he wanted to say.

“Well, actually, that was not what I wanted to say. In fact, I wanted to tell you that I meant what I said.”

She looked at him, her face showing her bewilderment. He hurried to correct his statement before her bewilderment could turn into anger.

“Of course, I don’t want to force you to marry me, but I’d be happy if you agreed.”

“Jack…” Irina started, freeing herself from his embrace, and turned around softly. “I don’t want you to ask me that question… please!”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to have to say no!” she replied and took his hands. “Don’t you see that this was exactly the reason why I went away? I knew, your manners and dignity would force you to ask me to marry you when you learned of the baby. You don’t need to… I don’t expect anything from you.”

“Wait…” he shook his head in disbelief. “Did you just… turn me down?” He got up, holding his head as the world seemed to crash down on him. “My god, I’m so stupid… how could I believe…”

“Jack…” Irina whispered softly and got up herself.

“No. When Phillis talked to me, she told me that you needed me… that you truly loved me. And now you are turning my proposal down… Are you two playing some sort of a game here?” He went to the door, obviously deeply hurt. “Excuse me… I think I have to be alone for some time.”

“Jack…” Irina’s voice was a plea. “Don’t go. Please! She was right… I need you and I love you so much it hurts when you are gone.”

When he heard her words, he stopped and turned around slowly, his eyes scanning her in confusion.

“But,” she continued and shook her head. “That’s exactly why I can’t marry you. I know you never want to get married, nor do you want to have a family. I don’t want to be the reason for you being unhappy for the rest of your life. I just couldn’t stand it…”

When he saw the tears in her eyes he crossed the distance between them in two steps and pulled her against his body. “How could you ever think that being married to you would make me unhappy or destroy my life?” he whispered, his hands softly stroking her back.

Irina sobbed. “I heard people talk…”

“Yes, it’s true, I never planned to marry or have a family, but that was before I went to a bar and met the most beautiful and inspiring woman I’ve ever known. I am in love with you, Irina. I don’t know how to live without you. You don’t want me to be unhappy? Then marry me… please. I promise you, I will do whatever I can to make you happy.”

She kissed his neck softly, then her lips wandered up with soft, short caresses until they closed over his mouth. When they separated from the deep kiss that followed, Jack leaned his forehead against hers, his hand softly running over her cheek.

“Just be with me…” Irina whispered against his lips. “That’s all I need to be happy. Never ever leave me alone.”

He smiled and wiped away her tears.

“Is that a yes to the proposal?” he teased and she laughed under her tears.

“Yes.” She whispered. “Yes, it is.”

“I love you.” He drowned in her eyes as his gaze held hers.

“I love you too. So much…” she returned the sweet confession and then they sunk into another series of deep kisses, each one a tender promise of heaven that followed after a long and endless journey through the depths of hell.

Epilogue

– Two months later –

“Ohh… shhht… mommy is here!”

Irina lifted Sydney up from her bed, softly whispering tender words into her ear and weighing her in her arms. The shrill cries from the baby soon turned into smaller sobs as she felt the warm body of her mother.

“You can’t be hungry, little one…” Irina whispered into her ear. “You just had dinner an hour ago.” She held her up in front of her so the baby was looking at her. “So, what does my gorgeous little babygirl want?”

Sydney patted her face with her hands, starting to giggle as her mother pulled some faces. Irina hugged her laughing and continued weighing her while she looked out of the window of their new Southern residence, scanning the humid, sunny nature outside.

Their house was at the edge of the city, and behind the garden was nothing but the wide prairie. Irina loved to stand at the window of the nursery, watching out to the rocks in the far horizon. At night she could see the lights of the nearby city when she concentrated.

They had moved here a month ago, right after Jack had accepted his new responsibilities as member of the council who should reconstruct the South. After the Civil War, the damages not only in the houses and cities, but also in the economical and social structure had been immense. Plans had to be worked out how to build up a working system to help the South back to its old glory, and integrate the black people who had been former slaves into a functioning society.

They would spend half of the year, usually summer and fall, in the South. The rest of the year was spent in Boston at Jack’s house. She was happy to be able to stay in the South, for there were a lot of things she could do here.

They had chosen a house near the Dudley’s farm on purpose, so Irina could continue teaching the family. But she had also started to give public courses for former slaves in the city hall that took place twice a week in the evening. She was well-known in the city and highly respected within society, although some of the former white plantation owners despised her efforts to educate the black people. The more educated the blacks got, the less they could continue to cheat them with false contracts or prices that were too high.

But none of them dared to officially protest against her courses, for they knew she was the wife of Jack Bristow, the most powerful man within fifty miles. More than once Jack had arrested a white person for beating a former slave of his or trying to force them to work, so the former powerful white owners had become very careful.

Irina winced slightly as Sydney grabbed some of her hair and pulled.

“Hey…” she whispered against the little baby’s cheek. “Sweetheart, that hurts a little…”

Indeed, the baby let go of her hair concentrating on mommy’s face again, gurgling and giggling, causing Irina to laugh again.

“You are a cute little girl, do you know that?” she asked fascinated and stroked the baby’s head softly. “But now you have to go back to sleep and give mommy some time to rest.” She took the baby back to the little bed, carefully laying her down and covering her small body with sheets. Sydney looked at her with her huge eyes. Soon after the birth their deep blue had turned into a dark brown, the same eye-color as both of her parents had, and now her eyes seemed to be even bigger when she looked at her mommy.

As little Sydney felt the warmth of her mother gone, she started to cry anew and Irina sighed, softly touching the girl’s cheek.

“No need to cry, I’m right here and I won’t leave you… Look… mommy is right here.” She tickled the baby’s tummy and Sydney pulled her legs up in the cutest gesture, starting to laugh and giggle. Irina smiled observing the baby, and continued to stroke her softly until her eyes had fallen closed and she was sleeping tightly, her thumb in her mouth.

The woman got up without making any sound and when she turned around to leave the room, she found Jack leaning at the doorframe and observing her tenderly.

“Hi!” Irina’s face lightened up. “How long have you been standing there? I thought you were working in your study.”

“I was!” he agreed, wrapping his arms around her when she was within his reach. “But I thought I should take the rest of the day off to spend some more time with my beautiful wife.”

Irina closed her eyes and smiled against his lips. “Repeat that.”

“What? That I want to spend some time with you?”

“No, the wife part.” She murmured and wrapped her arms tenderly around his neck. They had gotten married two days before, the procession had been a small one. The only guests had been Irina’s father, Phillis as Irina’s maid and Will as Jack’s best man, since they both didn’t like huge occasions with many people.

“My beautiful wife…” Jack teased her softly and his lips nibbled at her earlobe, then he suddenly stopped. “So, I thought we could continue our little game from yesterday evening. I think I might have found a way out!”

Irina laughed and tilted her head slightly. “Please! There is no way out! You will so lose your king. You already thought about a way out for one hour yesterday evening!”

“Yes, but technically there might be a way…” he contradicted amused.

They had spent the evenings during the last two months by playing chess or reading. Sometimes they were sitting together in Jack’s study until late in the night, discussing a problem he had with his council or she had in her course. Often former slaves visited them, asking Irina if her husband could support them in front of the judge.

During the first two weeks after the birth, they had barely had any time for each other. Irina had been busy calming little Sydney when she was crying, mostly sleeping the time when Sydney was quiet. Jack on his part had to take care of a residence in the South, then he had gone to Boston for several days to take care of his business there. Trustworthy people had to be found to watch over the house during the time they were residing in the South.

He had asked Maggie if she was willing to accompany them, and offered her a new job as Irina’s maid. Maggie had gladly accepted, then she had supported Jack with her best efforts to find good and trustworthy personal caretakers. Will and Francie promised to keep an eye on the house, working as his personal trust for the household when he was out of the city.

Irina had not accompanied Jack back to Boston. She had already moved into the new house, and Jack had trusted her with hiring good people, which she had. He had been truly amazed that, when he had returned, the house had almost been completely furnished and clean.

After that time, Jack had started his new job in the council, getting acquainted with his employees and the problems that were to be solved. The first few days he had barely been home, then he had started to reduce his work time or moved his office home so he could be close to Irina.

He longed for her company desperately, but although he had started to really hate the nights alone in his bed, he accepted that she wasn’t ready to be intimate with him so soon after her pregnancy. The doctor she had been visiting after the birth had advised her not to have sex until two months had passed and he had repeated that advice more insistently when talking to Jack later. Every night it had been harder for him to see Irina, be close to her and even touch her, but under no circumstances have sex with her. Especially when she had tried to seduce him more than one evening. He knew that she was feeling the same way he did.

Unfortunately, Maggie had always kept a strict eye on them, not leaving them privacy in the evenings until she was sure everybody was in bed – separate beds of course.

“Jack Bristow, admit that I won the game!” Irina finally whispered close to his lips.

“What’s going on here?” All of a sudden Maggie entered the room and closed the window carefully, then she looked into the bed and smiled at the baby. Both Jack and Irina sighed in unison. Maggie had the worst timing ever – and she seemed to enjoy it.

“She just fell asleep.” Irina explained in a hushed voice and the old maid smiled.

“Well it’s about time for her after she spent almost the whole morning with keeping us busy.” She smiled at the little girl, her eyes gleaming. “She’s such an adorable little girl.”

Both Jack and Irina joined her at the bed. “I know…” they replied in unison, looked at each other and smiled.

Maggie noted that Irina suppressed a yawn and glanced at her. “You should really get to sleep now, Madam. You only slept three hours last night and as far as I recollect, it wasn’t much more the night before. I don’t want you to break down from exhaustion.”

“No, I’m alright… I was just about to…”

Maggie’s expression changed immediately to strict. “Do you remember what the doctor said? The best for you is to rest when the baby rests since sleeping and eating are the most important things for you now.”

“But I…” Irina started, but Maggie didn’t even let her finish.

“Don’t you dare tell me, that you feel refreshed. You yawned and it wasn’t the first time. You think I wouldn’t notice? Yeah, well, I did!”

“Okay…” Irina sighed and looked at Jack regretfully. “I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be.” His smile was warm. “She’s right. You should really go to bed. I don’t want you to get sick or have a break down…”

Maggie tilted her head and frowned her forehead, then she decided to accept Jack’s surprisingly quick surrender. Irina kissed her husband tenderly, then she turned.

“Well, then… good night.” She murmured. “See you in about three or four hours, I guess.”

Jack looked after her, then he adored his little daughter for a while before he also turned.

“I think I will take a walk or something. I need a break from work.”

“Okay, but please be back for tea this afternoon – or at least tell me if you don’t want me to prepare any.”

“I’ll be back on time!” he promised and ignored Maggie’s warnings about what would happen if she prepared tea and cake for nothing again. Then he left the room.

Irina let herself sink onto her bed and stared at the ceiling. She felt a little exhausted, yes, but not enough to fall asleep – especially when she thought of the fact that she could spend the time with Jack. She got up again and searched her drawer for her notes. Maybe she could prepare for her class tomorrow, then she would have time this evening.

When she heard the door being opened, she moaned and closed her book. “Yeah, fine, you got me…” she murmured and turned, believing she’d find Maggie, then her face brightened when she saw Jack. He closed the door behind him without making any sound.

“What are you doing here?” Irina asked leveled, her eyes tenderly locked with his. “Did Maggie approve your presence in my room?”

“No,” Jack admitted. “In fact, I told her I would go for a walk.” He admired the skin that was revealed by the short nightgown she wore. He longed to touch that skin, feel her body close to his – feel that she was his wife. “She would totally freak out if she knew I kept you awake.”

“Well… I wasn’t going to sleep, actually…” Irina replied and tilted her head, her hands running over his chest and arms. Her next words proved that her thoughts were going to the same place his went. “You know… it’s been almost two months already…”

“I know…” Jack let his hand run over her bare shoulder and arm.

“And the fact that we didn’t see each other for almost five months before the birth didn’t make it any easier…” she continued, while she slowly closed the short-inch distance between their bodies.

“Definitely not.” Jack agreed and sat down on her bed. Then he pulled her closer to him and buried his face at her belly. “We’ve still got three days left until the two months are over.” He murmured, while he formed out her slender waist with his hands.

“Three days…” Irina replied. “That’s not even a week – in fact not even half a week!”

“What do you suggest? That we ignore your doctor’s advice?” Jack asked amused and pulled her onto the bed abruptly. She landed on the soft mattress next to him, with Jack leaning over her, his head resting on his elbow.

“It’s not ignoring his advice.” Irina corrected, and started to work at the buttons of his shirt. “The doctor cares for my health. So what do you think he would advise you to do if I told him, that I’m getting really frustrated – that being away from you makes me so sick that I can’t even sleep anymore because I need you so much?” Her hands had opened the first buttons and now played at his neck.

Jack couldn’t help but smile, his lips hovering closely over hers while his hands roamed softly over her body, rediscovering every inch.

“Well, I think, in that case he would advise me to passionately make love to you as soon as I find the time. And, fortunately, I happen to have time just now.”

Irina tried to catch his lips with hers, but he evaded her touch playfully.

“But, I wonder, what the angry maid will do when she finds me in here.”

“Oh, don’t worry…” Irina whispered and entangled her hands softly in his hair. “I will hide you in my wardrobe and defend you.” She joked, and Jack laughed amused.

“Well, in that case…” His lips claimed hers in a deep and tender kiss that soon turned more urgent and demanding.

“I missed that…” Irina whispered under her breath when they finally broke the kiss. She never lost his eyes while she pulled him up so they were sitting and then undid his shirt completely to undress him. When his shirt landed on the ground next to the bed, she finally admired his naked skin. Her hands trailed a soft path down his body before she reunited their lips.

“I missed it too.” He pulled the soft material of her nightgown over her head and found that she wasn’t wearing anything underneath – to his very delight. “Nice…” He murmured and pulled her roughly against his body. She laughed and supported herself on the mattress to not land onto him completely when he fell back onto the mattress.

“It’s very hot, especially during the day, so do you expect me to wear the whole set of nightclothes?” Her voice was sultry at his lips and he couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Honey, I thought I made it very clear that I don’t expect you to wear anything at all in bed.” His hands ran over her back in the lightest touch, tickling her skin.

She was about to kiss him, but then thought otherwise when their lips were only a hair-breadth apart. When she abruptly turned her head away, he moaned slightly frustrated. “I’m at an unfair advantage – or disadvantage… don’t know which one it is. Would you mind pulling off your pants?”

He smiled amused, but hurried to fulfill her wish. “Better?”

“Way better…” she whispered and her lips brushed his. He pulled her fully onto his body and explored her mouth with his tongue. When the heat started to rush through her body, she moaned slightly against his lips.

It felt like hundreds of years since she had last been lying in his arms, and so the unfulfilled need from the last seven months now resulted in a passion that took their breath away. They teased, licked, and kissed unhurriedly, both wanting to make this moment last forever. It felt like the healing after a long time of hurt, salvation after going through hell.

When their bodies finally melted, their soft moans and screams silenced by each other’s deep kisses, their souls became one and they held on to each other, unwilling to ever let go again. For the first time it felt like they belonged to each other, their hearts bonded to each other by an invisible, yet unbreakable chain called love.

They just laid on the bed for a long time, Irina in Jack’s arms, playing with his fingers. Actually, neither of them had planned to fall asleep. Irina soon felt that her body was finally demanding for rest. She fought the urge to sleep and struggled to keep her eyes open, but Jack’s warmth and his sweet caresses made her soon lose the battle.

When Jack felt that his wife had fallen asleep, he snuggled closer to her, pulling the thin blanket over their bodies. He hadn’t planned to fall asleep, yet half an hour later they were both sleeping soundly, their bodies softly entangled.

Some hours later Maggie found them. She folded her arms and shook her head in disbelief, staring at the picture that presented itself to her. She was just about to start scolding, then she decided that her tirade had to wait – little Sydney was hungry and she was not willing to wait.

“Madam… Madam! Irina!” She said softly and Irina moaned slightly in her sleep, snuggling closer into Jack’s embrace. “Irina!” Maggie’s voice was more insistent now.

“Mmm… what?” Irina asked sleepily without opening her eyes.

“Little Sydney is hungry. Shall I bring her to you or…”

“No…” Irina murmured. “I will be right there… just a few more minutes…”

Maggie knew that Irina would fall back to sleep the second she left the room, so she pulled the curtains open to let the bright sunlight in. Jack sat up in the bed sleepily and sighed, then he looked at the clock in confusion. Slightly stunned about having fallen asleep, he fell back onto the bed.

“Shame on you…” Maggie greeted him. “Stealing her the rest she needs and lying to me about going for a walk. By the way, I was waiting with tea, you didn’t show up… all for nothing again!”

“Maggie…” Irina moaned tiredly and finally opened her eyes.

“You wouldn’t be so tired if you just listened to me!” Maggie replied and threw a robe to Irina. “Now don’t let Sydney wait too long.”

“You’re a dragon.” Irina pulled her robe on and followed Maggie out of the room, shooting some desperate looks at Jack while she listened to Maggie’s reproaches about her need for sleep.

When they entered the nursery, Sydney’s crying was deafening. Two of the housemaids were running around, trying to calm her down in despair, but nothing would stop her from crying.

Irina lifted her out of her bed and weighed her softly before she let herself sink to the armchair and started to breastfeed her daughter. Immediately the cries subsided.

“I told you, we should get a wet nurse. It’s just too much for you.” Maggie said when she saw Irina yawn. The woman shook her head insistently.

“No. I don’t want a strange woman to get close to my daughter.” She contradicted and smiled at the baby in her arms. When Sydney had finished, Irina lifted her up and weighed her again. Sydney grabbed for her hand and Irina smiled and pulled it away softly.

“She’s such an intelligent little girl,” she swooned and Maggie looked up from the baby’s bed which she was rearranging and smiled when she watched the woman tenderly caressing the baby’s belly.

“I’m sure she is going to be the first female president someday.” Irina continued and Maggie laughed.

“She’ll certainly be. But you should get back to sleep now.”

Irina sighed, knowing that Maggie was right. She got up and laid her daughter back into her bed. She pecked her softly on the nose before she covered her with the blanket and turned.

“I’ll be…” she started yawning and Maggie nodded.

“Yes, in your room!” she finished the sentence, and Irina smiled and walked to the door. She was just about to leave the room, when Sydney started to cry. Irina sighed and let herself sink against the door.

“Here we go,” Maggie said. “The catastrophe of bringing her to sleep starts again.”

“Oh, you know what?” Irina went back to the bed and lifted Sydney up into her arms. “I will just take her upstairs into my room. She doesn’t cry when one of her parents is close to her. She’s just afraid of being alone.”

“Madam, I’m not sure that is a good idea. She’ll get used to…” But Irina had already left the room.

When she entered her bedroom, Jack was standing at the window and looking over towards the city. He turned when he heard the door close and his face brightened when he saw his wife and his daughter.

“Look who’s here…” Irina smiled and they both sat down on the bed. Sydney giggled when she felt Jack’s arms around her and looked at him with her huge eyes. “I thought she wouldn’t cry if I took her with me – that way I can probably get some sleep.”

Jack lifted the little baby in his arms and Sydney patted his face with her hands. “Ouch…” he said in shock of the sudden movement.

“Oh, yeah, she does that lately…” Irina laughed and laid back on the bed. Jack joined her, little Sydney resting on the cushion between them. When she felt Irina’s hair, she laughed and clawed her fingers into it. Irina pulled a face and sighed. “And unfortunately that’s what she also does… OUCH…” Sydney started to pull at her hair.

“Oh… Sydney…” Jack said and loosened the baby’s little fingers. “Don’t hurt mommy.” He pecked the baby softly and then he kissed Irina, his hand resting on her cheek. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too…” she whispered back.

“You should sleep now…” Jack whispered smiling when he saw her suppressing a yawn.

“And you?”

“I will just be lying here, admiring my gorgeous wife and the cutest child in the world.”

Irina laughed and looked at Sydney. The baby was sleeping. Her eyes widened in amusement and surprise when she looked back at Jack.

“Wow…” she whispered. “She’s never fallen asleep that easily.”

Jack lifted the sleeping baby to his chest and Irina snuggled closer to him. She buried her face at his neck and closed her eyes wearily. Softly, Jack wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close, his other arm lying around the baby on his chest.

“Promise me something?” he suddenly asked and Irina sighed.

“Sure…” she murmured sleepily. “What?”

“That you’ll never ever leave me again – or run away.”

“I promise.” Irina whispered and touched his cheek softly. “I won’t be so stupid again not to trust you…” She played with the material of his shirt, then touched little Sydney’s hand.

“I know, we’ve never talked about this, but… when we live in Boston some months of the year, we might be forced to attend a few occasions.” Jack started and entangled his hands in her hair. “Do you want to attend or would you prefer to stay at home?”

“And let those flirtatious b*tches hit on you?” Irina asked with a clear hint of will to fight in her voice. “No way! Since we are married now, I won’t let Lady Katya or any of those other women get to hang on your arm. But I assume you will keep those occasions to a minimum.”

Jack laughed and kissed her forehead. “Of course. The upper class of Boston won’t accept me as part of them anymore, anyway. When they learned that we married, they were shocked. I heard that Lady Katya suffered an attack of fury.”

Irina played at his chest and then lifted her head to be able to look into his eyes. “Are you… I mean… do you feel sorry for not being part of them anymore?”

His eyes met hers. “How could you ever think that? I’ve never been part of them anyway. That life never did really mean anything to me – you do!”

Irina laughed. “I wonder if you will still think so after our first fight.”

He tilted his head. “I thought, we had that already. Two weeks ago… when I told you that the student of yours had to go to prison.”

“Oh… that…” Irina nodded thoughtfully. “Honey, that was a discussion, not a fight.”

“You threw a plate against the wall.” Jack reminded her and chuckled amused at the memory. Irina’s temper was not to be underestimated, which would surely make their marriage much more interesting.

“Still a discussion.” She insisted, grinning. “Besides, I threw the plate when you were out of the room.”

“Yeah, that makes a difference.” He laughed and hugged her closer, realizing just how much he loved her. Irina snuggled back into his arm and kissed his neck softly. Jack pulled the cover over their bodies and Irina closed her eyes.

This was what she had always wished for. She touched the medallion at her neck, the one from her father which she had put on Jack’s desk when she had left. On the day of their marriage he had given it back to her. The picture of her parents was now accompanied by a picture of her, Jack, and little Sydney. It had been the greatest gift ever to her…

A little more than one year ago she would have never thought that all this would happen – when she had been sitting in that nightclub, waiting for a man she was supposed to seduce and then steal from. She would have never believed that he would turn out to be her destiny – her angel to rescue her from hell and show her the beauty of heaven…

The End (08/20/04)

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln

End credits: Very, very big thanks and a huge hug for cmste who corrected my grammatical mistakes and for Jule, who kicked my behind (figuratively spoken) when I got too lost in the storyline and wrote crap. Honestly, girls, I couldn’t have done this without you – well, I could, but it would have been so bad, that I would have never published it! The character of Phillis was inspired by the eighteenth century black author Phillis Wheatley, an incredibly talented woman who’s biography I found so fascinating, that I renamed Francie after her. And also many thanks to my ‘American culture’ professor L.B. for teaching me all about Emerson, Thoreau and the cultural situation during Ciwil War times.

And of course, last but not least, thanks to you all, my faithful readers who supported me with your comments. Seeing that readers like what I write is the greatest gift I could ever get as an author!