1879, Tennessee. A farmhand on the vast Rollins estate, handsome young Colby Kinsley makes the mistake of his life when he becomes briefly entangled with conniving Grace Rollins, the plantation owner's beautiful but unstable daughter. Yet matters become even more complicated when he finds himself falling truly in love with Grace's clever younger sister, Annabeth...
Intent on escaping her darkly troubled father and her melancholy home, Annabeth is also determined to avoid Colby. Yet she is still drawn to his quick wit and many talents. And when he performs an act of astounding courage, she can no longer deny her true feelings for him…just as her sister cannot hide her jealous rage. Grace will do anything to destroy the blossoming romance—even invoke dark, powerful supernatural forces. And as her dangerous machinations begin, the passions of all three are set on a tragic course—with a conclusion that will echo across lifetimes…
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A Cursed Novel
By Odessa Gillespie Black
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Odessa Gillespie Black
All rights reserved.
After Mama made a supper fit for kings and queens, I walked out the back door of our cottage full and happy. It wasn't dark yet, so maybe I could get some fishing in. A small rut worn in the middle of a long path led down to a pond set far away from the main house.
"Colby? What's your middle name?" a girl asked from behind me.
For three long years, since the day we arrived at the Rollins Plantation, I'd dealt with Grace Rollins' tiresome advances. No matter how many times I rejected her, she became more insistent. I could never have a moment's peace without her searching me out.
Other than her sister, Annabeth, who was buried in her studies and the arts, we were the only young people. That left me with no one to become acquainted with. Which was just as well. Time to myself had become scarce, since lately, I could never find any.
"Well?" She eyed me with the gaze of an interested mountain lion.
"Kendall. Colby Kendall Kinsley."
"Hmm. It'll do." She twirled a black tendril of hair about her finger as her gaze intensified. "Colby Kendall Kinsley, have you ever kissed a girl?"
I spit into the pond. "I beg your pardon?"
"Have you ever kissed a girl? It's a simple question with a simple answer." She examined her fingernails the way a cat would before she clawed your face. She tapped her chin, then pointed at me. "You're scared of me."
I put my pole and worms beside the water's edge. There was no sense in bothering to fish. She'd scare them all off with her incessant rambling. But I would figure out a way to run her off before dark. Just before the sun set over the tall trees south of the property, they really started biting.
"You keep darting away from me when I try to kiss you. You haven't kissed a girl before."
"I kiss my mom all the time. She's plenty enough female in my life." I took out a medium-sized hook and ran the line through it. "I don't think this is an appropriate subject."
She giggled and stood. "You know by now that 'proper' isn't exactly a concern of mine."
"Don't you have lessons to attend or some knitting to do?"
Pressing her dress down, she walked toward me. "I'm a big girl. I do what I want, when I want."
"I'm going to have to insist you bring along a chaperone if we are to be in each other's company." I jabbed a hook right through the biggest, juiciest night crawler I had, hoping to send her retching.
"If you're asking for a chaperone, that makes me believe you would like to call on me in the near future." She slinked closer.
I almost tripped on my bowl of worms and took a tumble into the pond.
"I used to wonder why you came out here with all the bugs and frogs and slimy creatures, but it's quiet. I might accompany you while you fish more often. It would get me away from Annabeth and all her goody-goody college talk. I swear, she'll never find a decent husband."
Just as I gained my balance and looked up, Grace was nose to nose with me. I slid out of her clutches before she could lean in to put her lips on my face.
"Colby," Mama called from the back of our house.
Relieved, I slipped around her and scooped up my fishing supplies. "I have to go."
"We'll meet tomorrow night." Her demand followed me as I fled.
* * *
"Carry the feed to the barn, then put the horses away," Pop said.
We'd spent most of the morning cleaning the catacombs under the house. According to Mr. Rollins, the plantation owner and Grace and Annabeth's father, they were long tunnels that led to various places on the property. One even led to a cave that opened up under a waterfall far on the south end of the property.
Three years, and I hadn't heard tell of the waterfall. Maybe it would be so far off Grace wouldn't be able to seek me out.
Now that the work season was about to end, I would enter my third year at school.
Grace had finagled me into going with her and her sister, Annabeth.
Don't get me wrong, I liked school. In fact, it was probably one of the best things that had happened to me, but it forced me to spend more time with Grace. Such a punishment sucked all the appeal out of the prospect of becoming an educated gentleman.
Grace still insisted I meet her at night. Every night.
But I always found a way to get out of it.
Thank goodness Mama had eyes like a chicken hawk. When Grace was around, she made excuses to keep me home.
Like clockwork, the deflated Grace made off toward the house, and Mama would wink and go back to her chores.
Taking the bridles, I patted the horses' backs as we walked to the barn. When I came out of a rear stall, a smiling face with long, black tresses swung down from the second level of the barn. She had to be lying on her stomach and leaning too far over the edge.
"You're going to fall to your death." Taking some tools from a workbench and putting them on the hooks I'd made for them, I tried to appear too busy to talk. I'd spent hours making the place easier to work in. And it looked so much nicer cleaned up.
"You're such a sourpuss." She pulled her head back up. In the barn's upper level, her footfalls didn't even creak the boards. "Why do you spend so much time in this dark cave? I dare say, I think you are a bat."
I used to think that a barn with all the dirty smells would run a girl off, but she didn't let it dash her mood. I called into the dark second level, "If you continue to follow me around like this, your father will have my hide."
"A nice hide it is." She giggled from behind me.
I slid around her wide skirts to the other side of a work table.
She was so sneaky; my heart pounded when she was around. I never knew what she would say or do next.
"How was your day?" She slinked up to me. Teasingly, she trailed her fingers down my sweat-soaked arm.
I faced her but backed away a little. Looking around her, I searched for a place to put a hammer on the wall.
Her red lips turned up into a grin, and she leaned over almost brushing her breasts against my arms.
I slipped to the left to dodge them and kept my gaze on her face. "A barn is no place for a girl. You'll ruin all those nice dresses and shiny shoes."
"Why are you so disagreeable today, Colby?"
"I don't want my family sent away. We've lived on seven plantations, and I don't feel like moving to an eighth. I'm tired of picking up in the middle of the night and leaving, so if you want to be friends at all, you need to stop clinging to my shirttail."
"You fear what my parents may think of us rolling around up here? That implies you think about us." Her cat eyes narrowed as if she were ready to pounce. "Wait. Why would your family have to move around like that?"
"I don't know." I sat on a hay bale in the back of the barn and sagged back onto the wall. "Mama says it's to keep us safe."
"As curious as that is, I'm more interested in the fact that you have finally considered us friends." Grace shifted her dress and sat down beside me.
"We're not exactly suited to be anything else." If that.
"Perhaps, considering I'm so much better than you and all. Why, we shouldn't even be breathing the same air." She played with my shirt button. "I wish you weren't so old-fashioned. People who have money don't have to marry into more money. That's downright selfish."
I removed her hand. "We're from different worlds."
"You're so smart. After university you could be anything you wanted to be." She slipped the hem of my shirt out of my britches, but I shoved her hand away.
School? Ha. "I can see my father paying for that. As soon as the apples float off the trees and put themselves in their own bushel baskets."
Grace grabbed my shoulders. Her eyes sparkled. "I'm going to talk to Daddy and have him talk to your daddy. I think he'd allow it if you agreed to pay back the loan. It wouldn't have to cost him a thing."
"I don't know. That's not a good idea." With Grace's roaming hands, there would be no resting, so I stood.
Grace kissed me right on the cheek and almost knocked me back down in the hay. "If we could go away, we could spend more time together and not have to worry about being caught." After jumping up and gathering her skirts, she rushed out the barn door. "I'll talk to Daddy right away."
I should have considered myself lucky. She was a beautiful girl, but what she'd want with me when she could have had any high-falluting guy on a neighboring plantation, I couldn't understand. And no matter what I did or said, she took it all wrong. If I was a jackass, she thought it clever banter. If I shoved her away, I was playing hard to get. The last resort had been to give in and try to be friends with her. After a few months, I thought she'd see that all we would ever have was friendship.
That hadn't worked, either.CHAPTER 2
At dinner, Mom and Pop were quiet until we unfolded our napkins and said grace.
After I picked up my fork, Pop's fierce glare bore through me. Even at the table, he was taller than me. "Son, did you ask that girl to go to her father and request that you go away to school?"
"No, sir." I fumbled with my napkin. "She asked me if I would go, but I didn't give an answer."
"I don't think leaving the property is a safe — good idea." His stare was stern.
It had been a long time since I'd heard him talk of our safety. Had I insulted him?
"Charles, do you really think that after all this time ..." Mama pressed back loose strands of hair from her temple.
"Sir, I promise I had nothing to do with that. Grace has this idea in her head."
"She's taken with our son. Going off to school together would be romantic if she weren't so persistent. There's just something about her." Mama gave me a worried look.
"You have nothing to worry about. I don't return her affections."
"Tell her. Even if it hurts her. She'll appreciate it later," Mama said.
"I have told her. At least in my actions. She doesn't get it."
"Sometimes girls need words. When we get attached to something or someone, we tend to be determined. Just ask your father." Mama's smile was born from more than humor.
Had I missed something?
"Elizabeth, I'll handle this. We don't need to make the house owner mad. There aren't a lot of other places we can go that my father and that hag can't find us. You've never met my side of the family for a reason." Pop's salt and pepper hair looked a little more gray today. His strong jaw twitched as he regarded me.
I put my fork down. He never talked about his past, and when he did, I made it a point to listen.
Pop's broad shoulders sagged and the circles under his very serious eyes were more prominent. "Your mother and I withheld the story of how we met and what brought us here. We've kept it secret for a reason. It's something we bring up scarcely in our own conversations because it upsets your mother that I would leave my life to be with her." Daddy regarded her with a softer look and took her hand. "If we are to stay hidden, we have to stay here. Just tell that girl that your presence is needed at home. We've let you go to grade school. You've almost paid Mr. Rollins for the clothes and supplies, so I think that's plenty enough debt on your shoulders."
I nodded as a cold feeling iced over in my stomach.
Mama was quite a beauty. Her soft brown eyes and high cheeks bones would have made for a looker in her day. Her wavy brown hair was streaked with a few sprigs of white. Though she had trouble keeping it pinned up, it always looked pretty. She wasn't from high society and never acted proud, but she held her posture as if she were groomed from the finest of ladies. I could see why Pop would fight a whole family to love her.
It looked like we were destined to spend our lives running, never really belonging anywhere.
* * *
I woke at 4:30 AM, ate a fast breakfast with Mama and Pop, and then Pop and I were off to whatever part of the land we had to work that day. Hay fields, apple orchards, endless grass fields. There was always something to be done. Though Mr. Rollins never really assigned any of it to our family, my father took it on as his job to find things to do to feel worthy of his keep.
After I helped Pop in the catacombs, I rounded up some string and a hook. With a small tin can, I carried some worms. There was nothing like tying your fishing line to your toe, and lying back with a piece of straw in your mouth and a hat over your face.
Napping off and on, I waited until a tug came at my toe. When I got a bite, I always jumped to catch the line and pull the fish in. On the evenings I had a good catch, Mama fried up an amazing fish dinner.
A jerk came from my toe, and I shot up.
"Now that was funny." A girl laughed as my hat fell to the ground and the sunlight bombarded my eyes. Annabeth, who had somehow silently sat beside me, plopped a rock into the water. "You should have seen the look on your face."
There went all my fish.
"Aren't you supposed to be playing with a dolly somewhere?" I untangled the line from my toe. I may have spoken six words to her since she'd been small enough to play with a doll.
She definitely wasn't a little girl anymore.
"Aren't you supposed to be plowing a field?" Her eyes widened and she immediately recoiled. "I didn't mean it like that. Like I think you are only a farmhand. You just — oh, never mind."
"What is it with you and your sister, meandering all over the woods by yourselves?"
"I'm not all by myself. Unless you're a ghost?" An innocent sparkle lit up her eyes. "So, you catch anything?"
"Three brim, a snapping turtle, and an irritating sixteen-year-old." I smirked.
"What did you do with them?" She looked behind me and wrinkled her nose.
"Oh, the smell. That's the dead ones from last Saturday. I throw out everything that's not cat fish, and I let the turtles loose."
"Gross." She jerked her hands into her lap as if the ground was somehow dirtier now. Grass and dirt from the rocks fell on her pink and black dress. "You kill them?"
"There's no use for them to be in there tugging at my toe all the time. That's what I do to little irritating things that pull on my line." Now that I'd gotten over the initial embarrassment, she really wasn't such a bother. But her reactions were funny.
"Wow, you really know how to treat a lady." She sighed, looking out at the water. "So, do you eat the fish you catch?"
"Yep. After Mama chops their heads off and cleans out their guts." I took out my pocket knife and began whittling a stick. "You ever put a worm on a hook?"
Annabeth looked at the worms pulsating through the dirt. "No, but I'd try anything once."
"Well, then." I took out a hook and a worm. Grinning, I held them in front of her angelic, surprised face.
Up close, she had smoother skin and a more innocent smile than Grace. Looking a little green, Annabeth took the worm with her forefinger and thumb.
"You just stab it into its head and push it through, like this." I used a hook and worm for demonstration.
She turned greener but set her jaw. With precision, Annabeth stabbed the hook right through the worm. Who'da thought?
"You have potential." There was something about a girl who could wear a dress like that and didn't mind a little dirt.
Her eyes settled on my face as she batted her eyelashes. Not coyly. None of her movements seemed planned. She was genuine. When she looked back up to me, I had to look like an idiot, staring.
For a moment the air was thick around us.
Something strange heated my stomach, and my fingertips tingled to touch her cheek. So I did. I leaned closer, not minding if my lips touched a girl.
"Potential for what?" Grace's icy voice shattered the moment. "Mama is looking for you."
"Is she now?" Annabeth turned to look at her sister.
Grace stood at the top of the bank with her hands on her hips and a fierce glare in her eyes.
"She is. And I promise Daddy won't be happy to know you're down here doing God knows what with a young man."
Annabeth tossed a piece of grass into the pond. "There's plenty about you I don't tell."
Sure that a ball of snakes had begun writhing in my stomach, I stared at the water. I shouldn't have felt nervous that Grace had found me talking to her sister, but I did.
Grace scaled the embankment and slipped a time or two.
"Maybe you can teach me how to cast next time?" Annabeth patted my arm and got up.
Grace's face turned bright red. "Oh, I'm telling all right."
"Well, you can finish what I started, then. Here." Annabeth put the impaled worm in Grace's hand.
Grace shrieked and tossed it to the ground. "Ugh. You little ..."
"Ah, ah, ah. No foul language. Remember Mrs. Cobb's lesson." Annabeth sauntered to the easier path to the house and made it up the incline with ease.
As she stared after her sister, Grace's knuckles were white on her clenched fists. "You can't get a good husband if you don't carry yourself properly. And rolling around in dirt, playing with worms is nowhere on Mrs. Cobb's etiquette list."
Excerpted from Ever Bound by Odessa Gillespie Black. Copyright © 2016 Odessa Gillespie Black. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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