Magnus seemed to accept her explanation and was soon outlining her duties. Afterward, they went into the kitchen for breakfast, and he introduced her to the housekeeper.

Edith Simmons was a stout woman with thinning salt-and-pepper hair and strong opinions. She'd been cook and housekeeper for the former owner and had agreed to stay on only when she'd discovered that Baron Cain was unmarried and there'd be no wife to tell her how to do her job. Edith believed in thrift, good food, and personal hygiene. She and Kit were natural-born enemies.

'That boy is too dirty to eat with civilized people!'

'I won't argue with you there,' Magnus replied.

Kit was too hungry to argue for very long, so she stomped into the pantry and splashed some water on her face and hands, but she refused to touch the soap. It smelled girlish, and Kit had been fighting everything feminine for as long as she could remember.

As she devoured the sumptuous breakfast, she studied Magnus Owen. From the way Mrs. Simmons deferred to him, it was obvious that he was an important figure in the household, unusual for a black man under any circumstances, but especially for one who was so young. Something tugged at Kit's memory, but it wasn't until they'd finished eating that she realized what it was Magnus Owen reminded her of Sophronia, the cook at Risen Glory and the only person in the world Kit loved. Both Magnus and Sophronia acted as if they knew everything.

A pang of homesickness struck her, but she pushed it away. She'd be at Risen Glory soon enough, bringing the plantation back to life.

That afternoon when she finished her work, she sat in the shade near the front door of the stable, her arm draped across Merlin, who'd fallen asleep with his nose resting on her thigh. The dog didn't stir as Magnus approached.

'This animal's worthless,' she whispered. 'If you was an ax murderer, I'd be dead by now.'

Magnus chuckled and lowered himself beside her. 'I got to admit, Merlin isn't much of a watchdog. But he's young still. He was only a pup when the major found him rootin' around in the alley behind the house.'

Kit had seen Cain only once that day, when he'd curtly ordered her to saddle Apollo. He'd been too full of himself to take a few minutes to pass the time of day. Not that she wanted to talk to the likes of him. It was just the principle of the thing.

The Yankee newspapers called him the Hero of Missionary Ridge. She knew he'd fought at Vicksburg and Shiloh. Maybe he was even the man who'd killed her daddy. It didn't seem right that he was alive when so many brave Confederate soldiers were dead. And it was even more unjust that every breath he drew threatened the only thing she had left in the world.

'How long've you known the major?' she asked cautiously.

Magnus plucked a blade of grass and began to chew on it. 'Since Chattanooga. He almost lost his life savin' mine. We been together ever since.'

An awful suspicion began to grow inside Kit. 'You weren't fightin' for the Yankees, were you, Magnus?'

' 'Course I was fightin' for the Yankees!'

She didn't know why she should be so disappointed, except that she liked Magnus. 'You told me you were from Georgia. Why didn't you fight for your home state?'

Magnus removed the blade of grass from his mouth. 'You got a lot of nerve, boy. You sit here with a black man and, cool as a cucumber, ask him why he didn't fight for the people who was keepin' him in chains. I was twelve years old when I got freed. I came North. I got a job and went to school. But I wasn't really free, do you understand me? There wasn't a single Negro in this country could really be free as long as his brothers and sisters was slaves.'

'It wasn't primarily a question of slavery,' she explained patiently. 'It was a question of whether a state has the right to govern itself without interference. Slavery was just incidental.'

'Mighta been incidental to you, white boy, but it wasn't incidental to me.'

Black folks sure were touchy, she thought as he rose and walked away. But later, while she put out the second feed for the horses, she was still mulling over what he'd said. It reminded her of several heated conversations she'd had with Sophronia.

Cain vaulted from Apollo's back with a gracefulness unusual for a man of his size. 'Take your time cooling him out, boy. I don't want a sick horse.' He tossed Kit the bridle and began to stride toward the house.

'I know my job,' she called out. 'Don't need no Yankee telling me how to take care of a hot, sweaty horse.'

The words were no sooner out of her mouth than she wished she could snatch them back. Today was only Wednesday, and she couldn't risk getting fired yet.

She'd already learned that Sunday was the only night Mrs. Simmons and Magnus didn't sleep in the house. Mrs. Simmons had the day off and stayed with her sister, and Magnus spent the night in what Mrs. Simmons described as a drunken and debauched manner unfit for young ears. Kit needed to hold her tongue for four days. Then, when Sunday night came, she was going to kill the Yankee bastard who was gazing down at her with those cool gray eyes.

'If you think you'd be happier working for somebody else, I can always find another stable boy.'

'Didn't say I wanted to work for anybody else,' she muttered.

'Then maybe you'd better try a little harder to hold your tongue.'

She kicked the dirt with the dusty toe of her boot.

'And, Kit?'


'Take a bath. People are complaining about the way you smell.'

'A bath!' Kit's outrage nearly choked her, and she could barely hold onto her temper.

Cain seemed to be enjoying her struggle. 'Was there anything else you wanted to say to me?'

She clenched her teeth and thought about the size of the bullet hole she intended to leave in his head. 'No, sir,' she mumbled.

'Then I'll need the carriage at the front door in an hour and a half.'

As she walked Apollo around the yard, she released a steady stream of profanity. Killing that Yankee was going to give her more pleasure than anything she'd done in all her eighteen years. What business was it of his whether she took a bath or not? She didn't hold with baths. Everybody knew they made you susceptible to influenza. Besides, she'd have to take off her clothes, and she hated seeing her body ever since she'd grown breasts because they didn't fit who she wanted to be.

A man.

Girls were soft and weak, but she'd erased that part of herself until she'd become strong and tough as any man. As long as she didn't lose sight of that, she'd be just fine.

She was still feeling out of sorts as she stood between the heads of the matched gray carriage horses and waited for Cain to emerge from the house. She'd splashed water on her face and changed into her spare set of clothes, but they weren't any cleaner than the ones she'd abandoned, so she didn't see what difference it made.

As Cain came down the steps, he took in his stable boy's patched breeches and faded blue shirt. If anything, he decided the kid looked worse. He studied what he could see of the boy's face beneath the brim of that mangled hat and decided his chin might be a little cleaner. He probably shouldn't have hired the scamp, but the boy made him smile like nothing else had for longer than he could remember.

Unfortunately, the afternoon's activity would be less amusing. He wished he hadn't let Dora maneuver him into taking her for a drive through Central Park. Even though they'd both known the rules from the start, he was beginning to believe she wanted a more permanent relationship, and he suspected she'd take advantage of the privacy their ride offered to press him. Unless they had company…

'Climb in the back, boy. It's about time you saw something of New York City.'


He smiled at the boy's astonishment. 'I don't see anybody else around. I need somebody to hold the horses.' And to forestall an invitation from Dora to be a permanent member of the Van Ness family.

Kit gazed up into the Yankee's gray, Rebel-killing eyes, then swallowed hard and swung herself into the leather-upholstered seat. The less time she spent in his presence, the better, but he had her trapped.

As he expertly maneuvered the carriage through the streets, Cain pointed out the city's attractions, and her

Вы читаете Just Imagine aka Risen Glory
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