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'Thank you,' she says, her golden-brown eyes on a level with his chest, which strikes her a reassuringly familiar extension of the carriage's black interior.
'Will you be all right, miss?'
Her dark-lashed eyes, large and shining from countless days of staring out at rolling hills and the dark edges of forests, alight on his hard mouth. 'Yes, thank you,' she repeats firmly even as her pulse flutters like a baby bird clinging to a branch, terrified of flying into the world on its own. But she has no choice now the warm safe nest of her father's love is gone forever.
The lines in his weathered face take on the appearance of grim statements, and he seems about to tell her something, yet all he says is, 'Good luck to you then, miss.' He turns back to the horses, his only real concern; passengers come and go.
The black trunk with time-rusted hinges containing all her worldly possessions sits like an unnaturally perfect rock on the immaculate lawn. It looked so big to her in her small bedroom when she was packing it, smoothing her garments down with her hands and her emotions with her thoughts as she told herself over and over again this was a position she could not afford to pass up. Penniless orphans and young respectable females with no dowry have to take whatever work they can get, wherever they can find it. Fortunately her father, who raised her all by himself after her mother died giving birth to her, saw to her education. He had not done so for any practical reasons, God bless him, but because he valued learning above all else, and his bright, beautiful daughter was the vessel into which he poured all his knowledge of history and science, language and culture. Isabella's trunk is stuffed to bursting with clothes and books, and her mind is equally full of all the information her father packed into it until the night he died.
She feared the locks on her trunk would snap open during the long and often bumpy journey, but they held fast, so at least all her dresses and shoes, and the journals she has kept since she was a little girl, are not strewn across the countryside. For whatever it is worth, her personality is still intact. However, the gray stone building looming behind her trunk now makes it look as small as a child's box, disturbingly insignificant in the vast and powerful scheme of things.
'You are sure they are expecting you, miss?'
She looks back at the driver where he is perched in his high seat again with the reins in his hands, ready to leave her there alone. 'They should be ...' She does not mean to sound uncertain, but his attitude is making her nervous. Even his four brown horses, which have already traveled countless miles today already, are shifting restively, as if eager to be on the move again before nightfall. 'This is the Wulvedon Estate, is it not?'
He glances up at the sprawling array of sharp black rooftops, delicate spires and thick towers. 'It is.' He turns his head away from her and spits.
Sincerely hoping it was accumulated dust from the road and not something else that prompted his rude gesture, she lifts her long black skirt and steps quickly away from the carriage. The large wheels whisper across the grass as he turns the horses back towards the road, and the thunder of hooves fills her head, trampling all her thoughts as she watches the beautiful muscular bodies galloping away. Then a profound silence envelops her and she wraps it around herself for a lovely moment, free of anxiety's bitter cold to simply enjoy the dying light flowing across the grass like liquid gold. Every blade shines like an emerald and makes all her worries seem worthlessly foolish, because deep inside she knows everything will be all right, that everything will be much more than just all right, if she does not lose heart.
She turns back towards her forbidding new home, and abruptly catches sight of a man's tall and lean figure silhouetted against the setting sun. He is walking towards the Castle with long, relaxed strides, two large dogs following eagerly at his heels. He is too far away to hear her should she call out to him, but that is not why she refrains from trying to get his attention. The way he carries himself, his aura of restrained power outlined for her by the glowing horizon, tells her he is a nobleman and not a servant she can ask to help with her trunk. Then he disappears into the stone wall surrounding the Castle as though she only imagined him.
Isabella does not move until the door closes, and even then all she does is turn her head from side to side unable to believe what she sees. Part of her expects the floor to start shaking beneath her feet, thereby proving she has dozed off in the carriage and is only dreaming she arrived at her destination.
She raises her skirt slightly and looks down at the tips of her boots - small black pyramids on a green field - for the entire floor is covered by a rug that seems to have captured her journey. Rolling hills and dark forests are woven into it with a flat, child-like simplicity, the legs of wooden furniture rising like tree trunks giving it a haunting sense of dimension. She has never seen anything like it before in all her twenty-three years. Obviously, this feeling of nervous awe is something she is going to have to get used to. She spent most of her life happily cooped up with her father in his library. Whenever she left their little townhouse she followed a well-worn path between the market and the bookstore happily believing she had all she needed to nourish body and soul. She has been on the Wulvedon estate for less than one hour, however, and already she is distressed to realize just how poor she actually is. She could not have conceived of anything lovelier than the glow of firelight on the gilded leather spines of old books, yet now her cherished memory of home feels like only one golden-brown leaf in a vast forest of unimaginable beauty.
As if gradually being released from a spell, Isabella turns her whole body around slowly, still taking in her lavish surroundings.
She has read about such wealth, but she would not have thought a mere governess would be given such a room. Yet judging by all the long dark corridors she walked down to get here, the Castle is full of such spacious chambers. For all she knows this is one of the smallest and plainest. Large mirrors set in frames of elaborately carved wood hang on every high wall, and she catches sight of herself from every direction as she turns like a little ballerina in a music box, her back tense with wonder. It was always too dark for her to see her face clearly in the small looking-glass she kept in her bedroom, the only thing she inherited from her mother, but so many candles are burning in this windowless room that it is bright as day. She is surrounded by a small fortune in wax alone, and the white-and-lavender canopy bed is bigger than the carriage that brought her here. She approaches it slowly, strangely conscious of the sound of her breathing rising above the fervent crackling of wicks. She can scarcely believe that every night from now on she is going to sleep on a luxuriously elevated surface she will have to climb three steps to reach.
A quick, light knock on the door interrupts her progress towards the dream-like bed. She turns back to face the carved oak surface wondering what the old servant who escorted her here forgot to tell her. Perhaps she brought her to the wrong room? Isabella sincerely hopes not, for her emotions have already begun to take root here ...
'May I come in?' A woman's cheerful voice penetrates the thick wood.
'Yes ...' Isabella calls back uncertainly.
The door opens.
Her breath catches as an emotion she has never experienced before hatches in her heart, causing her to glance self-consciously down at her black homespun dress as she abruptly realizes how terribly plain it is.
Her visitor pushes closed, and locks, the heavy door behind her before she turns, leans against it with her hands behind her back, and smiles.
The crackling of hundreds of wicks seems unnaturally loud as the two young women stare silently across the room at each other.
Finally, Isabella remembers herself. 'Good evening, mistress,' she says, oddly conscious of the words shaping themselves on her tongue.
'Good evening.' The lady's smile broadens as she pushes herself away from the door and walks deeper into the room.
Isabella is entranced by the gleam of candlelight in her visitor's long sage-green skirt. She has of course read about materials like silk and satin, but she has never actually seen them on a person in such luxurious abundance, only in bookmarks or as a runner on the altar at church. The bodice is made of the same rich material as the skirt, only it is rust-colored and held up as if by magic, since it is sleeveless and strapless.
The vision stops a body's length away from her and opens her slender arms wide. 'How do you like your room?'
Isabella's answer is delayed by an enthralled contemplation of her visitor's belt, which is woven to look like a vine blooming with large, rust-colored flowers encircling her narrow hips. 'It is too beautiful for words, mistress,' she answers truthfully.
The woman laughs, a pleasantly light, cascading flow of sound. 'My name is Bridget, and I see you like my gown, too.'
'Oh yes ...'
Bridget turns around slowly, gracefully showing herself off. 'I have hundreds of dresses,' she declares proudly. Her pale skin is flawless and her golden-brown hair has been artfully harvested up off her bare shoulders with pearl-tipped pins. There is no telling just how far down her back it will fall when let loose, but Isabella can tell it would be smooth and soft and shining and lovelier than anything else in the room. That strange new feeling takes deeper root in her heart as she tries not to look directly at Bridget's full breasts swelling dangerously inside the tight, heart-shaped bodice. They seem at odds with her fine bone structure and keep irresistibly drawing her eyes down towards them.
'It is all right.' Bridget slips her hands behind her back again, thrusting out her bosom. 'You may look. I do not mind.'
Isabella feels a confused blush warm her own creamy cheeks.
Bridget laughs again happily, rushes towards her, and flings her arms around her. 'Oh, I am going to like you!' she whispers.
Isabella is overwhelmed by a world of novel sensations - cool, stiff and silky, warm, tender and yet also strong.
Bridget steps back. 'You poor thing.' She gazes searchingly down into Isabella's face with her dark-green eyes. 'You are an orphan, I know.'
Isabella hangs her head.
'Well, do not be sad. I will be taking good care of you from now on, my dear ... I will be sure not to let my brother see you.'
Isabella channels all her anxious awe and confusion into the question. 'Your brother?'
'My identical twin brother, although his hair is dark.' She catches a stray wisp of Isabella's hair between two fingertips, crowned by long nails painted to match her bodice. 'As dark as yours.'
Isabella looks away shyly, unable to imagine a man as handsome as Bridget is beautiful.
'But what am I thinking?' her hostess asks cheerfully. 'You must be anxious to wash up after your long journey. Here, let me help you out of this dreadful garment you are hiding in.'
Isabella slinks out of her reach, shocked by the mere suggestion of undressing in front of anyone.
Bridget's eyes sparkle above her smile, which also matches her bodice. 'You are a shy little pussy, are you not?'
She does not know what to say to this, so she asks, 'When do I meet the little girl I will be instructing?'
Bridget takes her firmly by the shoulders, and turns her around. 'Let us get this off you so I can have it burned at once!'
Isabella's thoughts stumble all over each other and her racing heart does not help her confusion. So far, her new position is nothing like she imagined it would be. 'But this is one of my best dresses,' she protests, possessed by the strange feeling she has ended up in the wrong play, because none of the polite lines she rehearsed in the carriage seem to fit.
'Nonsense.' Bridget is making quick work of all the tiny hooks running down the length of Isabella's back. 'I intend to have a whole new wardrobe made for you.'
'But ...' She is about to say she cannot possibly afford to pay for new dresses but stops herself, afraid of insulting her hostess by doubting her generosity.
'But what, Isabella? I have to look at you every day, and you look like a skinny little crow. After a fortnight of proper meals, and a few visits from my seamstress, you will hardly recognize yourself.'
Her head spinning, Isabella decides to concentrate on one question at a time. 'You will be sitting in on the classes?'
Bridget turns her around to face her again. 'Of course, silly, how else am I to learn? We will be teaching each other.' She peels the black cloth away from Isabella's chest and pulls the long sleeves down her arms quickly, carelessly turning the garment inside out. 'And the first thing you need to learn, my little stray kitten, is never to assume anything. How can you tolerate such a cheap, rough material against your skin?' A frown replaces her smile as she contemplates Isabella's white slip, which covers every inch of her body. 'Oh, just take it all off,' she says in disgust, turning away, 'and come over here.'
'For someone who claims to know four languages you are certainly fond of that one little word, Isabella.' She walks over to a small table upon which sit a large white porcelain jar and bowl, both exquisitely decorated by a design of delicate green vines sprouting tiny blue flowers. 'I said come here, my shy little pussy.'
Isabella bites her lip in order not to say 'but' again. 'What have I assumed, my lady?' She sticks doggedly to her growing trail of questions, afraid of losing her way as she slips out of the heavy black dress.
'You assumed it was a child you would be teaching, but nowhere in the advertisement my brother placed did it say his ward was a little girl.' Bridget raises the heavy pitcher with both hands and begins pouring water into the basin.
'You are his ward?' Isabella cannot conceal her amazement, even though she is afraid it might be rude.
'Naturally, he is my older brother, by approximately three minutes. Therefore, until I marry, Lord Wulvedon is my lord and protector.
Excerpted from To Her Master Born by Maria Isabel PitaExcerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted March 26, 2003
In complete contrast to the author's previous work ('Thorsday Night', 'Eternal Bondage') this is a gothic romance. Although the era and location are uncertain they somewhat resemble Europe in, say the early 19th. century. The heroine, Isabella, is a naive young orphan who lands a job as tutor to the spoiled Lady Wulvedon and her eccentric brother, who live in a remote mansion and keep their employee locked in her room whenever her services are not required. All seems to run smoothly until the aristocratic siblings become rivals for Isabella's affections. This is a nicely structured story, well written (the prose is somewhat flowery but this suits the setting rather well), and more emotionally satisfying than is common in this genre. For me there is a flavour of 'The Story of O' here, although the story is completely original. The sex scenes are well spaced but invariably kinky and enhance rather than interrupt the flow of the story. A very personal epilogue reflects on the author's view of dominant/submissive relationships.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 31, 2004
If you like steamy gothic erotica then this is the book for you. It's filled with sex and the story (as usual for Maria Isabel Pita - she's a great writer) is excellent. I recommend this one highly. It's just the thing if you like reading well-written erotica.
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Posted March 12, 2011
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Posted May 25, 2011
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