Tavington dismounted and handed his horse off to one of the workers eagerly waiting to take care of it for him. As soon as he walked into the house, a house servant was there to take his helmet and his coat.
“Tell Eugenia to prepare a bath for me,” Tavington told the girl. She was a young slave girl of about 13 named Jenny. He’d taken on more slaves to replace Eleanor and Nathan. This time around he had Jenny, an older woman in her 30s named Eugenia, and a male, coincidentally named William. And then there was Juliana.
Never before had he met someone quite like Juliana. If he were in her place, he would have left a long time ago, or would have tried to, at least. She had even saved his life … and he’d saved hers.
Tavington didn’t know how to deal with her. How should he act around her? What should he say? She wasn’t like the rest of the slaves or servants, not in his eyes. And so the question presented itself, that eternal question that had persistently been at issue since the night he’d brought her home: what was she to him? She was more than a servant, obviously. He had claimed her as a possession, but he knew how inadequate, and inappropriate to boot, that notion was. What the devil was it?
The sun hadn’t yet set, but Tavington was dead tired. Rigorous battle would do that to a person. So would making a long trip on horseback. Tavington had a week-long furlough ahead of him, and he’d be damned if he were going to spend it in some godforsaken army tent. He didn’t want to be anywhere near Cornwallis if he didn’t have to be. After the battle, Cornwallis had pounced on him about his growing reputation as ‘the Butcher’, as if Tavington were the one who’d created the moniker and started using it to refer to himself.
Tavington had done some of his best work at Camden, but it hadn’t seemed to matter to Cornwallis because all the general had been concerned with was reputation. It made no sense to Tavington, but it angered him all the same. And that anger was exhausting him even more, he realized. He decided to give it a rest for the night. Cornwallis would soon see. He would soon recognize Tavington’s value as an officer and realize how fortunate he was to have the benefit of his services.
Tavington headed straight for the stairs. The thought of climbing them was nearly enough to make him consider sleeping in his study. But he summoned up the strength to make it to the second level of the house. After all, at the top of those stairs, and a few paces down the hall from there, a comfortable bed was waiting for him. And very soon, he would be soaking nice, hot bath.
Tavington reached the top of the staircase in no time. His mind still focused on his bath and his bed, he made a right and almost collided with Juliana.
“Colonel Tavington,” she said, surprised. “I didn’t know you would be returning today.”
“Disappointed?” Tavington asked sarcastically. It wouldn’t surprise him if she never wanted to see him again after what had happened after Savannah.
“No, sir – just a bit startled,” Juliana replied. Tavington moved past her, resuming course to his room. “Everything is well at Middleton Place, I take it?” Juliana called after him.
Tavington stopped and turned to her with a questioning gaze. “Middleton Place?” he repeated.
“Yes,” Juliana confirmed. “That is where you’ve been for the last week – isn’t it?”
“No, I was in Camden,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Camden?” Juliana studied Tavington. He seemed worn, exhausted, even. It was now clear to Juliana that he had been through some type of ordeal.
“We had a battle with Continentals,” Tavington elaborated. “We won, of course, and quite easily. But it was rather taxing physically, as it always is.” He studied Juliana’s reaction. “You didn’t know. You mean you hadn’t heard from any of the soldiers around here?” News of military engagements had a way of traveling quickly throughout the ranks, and Tavington had no doubt that this instance was no different.
Juliana shook her head. “No. I thought you went to Middleton Place to … ” Juliana’s words trailed. The morning after their eventful return from Savannah, Juliana had awakened, and Tavington was nowhere to be found. She’d assumed that he’d gone to Middleton Place, to get away from her most likely.
“To what?” Tavington asked, narrowing his gaze. Juliana didn’t answer, and
Tavington nodded, taking in the silence. Ordinarily, he would have prodded her for an explanation, but at this point, he was so tired that he just didn’t care. “Well, now you know.” Without another word, he turned and walked into his room, nearly slamming the door behind him.
Tavington slowly lowered his aching body into the tub of steaming water. Eugenia hadn’t finished bringing water up from the kitchen, yet, but she only had a few more trips to make before the tub would be full, and Tavington had found the idea of waiting unbearable. He reclined, resting his head against the cool porcelain and closing his eyes. At that moment, he realized just how fortunate he was to have somewhere to call home in the colonies. Most of the poor blokes in the ranks would be stuck in military tents for their entire tour of duty. Rank does have its privileges, he thought as he soaked in the steaming water.
The bedroom door soon opened. After a trail of footsteps, Tavington heard water being added to his bath. “Thank you, Eugenia,” Tavington said, his eyes still closed. “I know I can always count on you to prepare a first rate bath for me.”
“I’ll have to make sure to give her the message.”
Tavington’s eyes sprung open and found Juliana, not Eugenia, standing over the tub, an empty pail in her hands. His entire body instinctively tensed. He was surprised by the discovery, to say the least. “Juliana,” he said. “I thought you were Eugenia.” He looked around for something to cover himself with, but there wasn’t anything within arm’s reach. His face grew warm, and he knew his cheeks had flushed, though he couldn’t exactly explain why.
“I’m sorry, Colonel,” Juliana said. A tiny wave of embarrassment hit her, and she tried to find something else, anything else, to look at besides the naked man in the bathtub in front of her. She found an interesting mark on the water pail, which she began to examine in an overly attentive manner. “I didn’t mean to alarm you,” she said, her eyes trained on the bucket. “Eugenia had to tend to somethin’ else. I told her I would finish preparin’ your bath. Before I came in, I didn’t realize you had already gotten in. I’ll give you your privacy, now.”
“Thank you, Juliana,” Tavington said, relieved that she was leaving. He allowed himself to relax a little.
Juliana, relieved, began to walk toward the door. As she passed Tavington, however, her eyes caught a glimpse of his face as he grimaced in apparent pain. She knew the best thing to do would be to leave. She should have kept right on walking toward the door and left. But she didn’t. Instead, she stopped and turned to him. “You’re hurt,” she observed. “Did somethin’ happen to you while you were fightin’?”
“No, I’m just tired,” Tavington insisted. “I’ll be fine after a few days’ rest.”
Juliana felt the indefinable desire, to do something to help, despite the fact that he insisted he was fine. She walked back over to the tub and kneeled behind him, placing the water pail on the floor beside her. Not sure what she was doing or why, she gently placed her hands on Tavington’s shoulders. She didn’t know why she was doing this. When it came to Tavington, though, she never knew the logic behind most her actions, and lately, her behavior had become more and more illogical. Almost immediately, she felt Tavington’s muscles tense beneath her fingers.
“Juliana … what are you doing?” he asked.
“It will help the soreness,” Juliana replied. She gently but firmly kneaded his firm muscles, attempting to work the knots out. She closed her eyes to keep from looking at Tavington’s broad shoulders.
Tavington resisted. “That really isn’t necessary,” he said, refusing relax in her hands.
Juliana stopped her ministrations, but her hands remained on Tavington. “I’m sorry,” she said. She opened her eyes, but quickly averted them to the floor. “I can’t seem to do anything right tonight. First, I interrupt your bath; and now … I’ll leave you, now.” She moved to rise, but Tavington caught her by the wrist.
“No, don’t,” he said without turning to look at her. “Stay.” He let go of her hand and made a genuine effort to relax. “It is rather nice,” he complimented.
Juliana repositioned herself on the floor behind Tavington and began to massage his shoulders again. She looked around the room as she did, determined not to look at Tavington. “I wish I had known that you were goin’ off to fight,” she said. “I would have done somethin’ for you, made sure you had a proper send-off before you left.”
“I would have told you, except, I assumed you wouldn’t really care one way or the other,” Tavington said. He closed his eyes, finally relaxing and melting into her hands. He had to exert great effort to keep himself from moaning aloud. “My, you do have a talent for this, don’t you?”
Juliana’s lips curled into a small grin. “It isn’t anything all that special,” she said. She finally gave up on trying to keep her eyes off Tavington. She looked at him, but tried to concentrate on his shoulders, where her hands were. “It all stems from wantin’ to help, I guess,” she said.
“That’s one of the things that continues to intrigue me the most about you, Juliana,” Tavington revealed. “You continue to remain here, to help, as you put it, and you seem to do it without complaining. But I know, or at least I get the feeling that you don’t really want to be here. Isn’t that accurate?”
“It’s true, this isn’t exactly how I thought I’d be spendin’ my days,” Juliana confirmed.
“I do it, Colonel, because I don’t know what else to do, because I don’t have anything else to do,” Juliana cut him off. “It’s my lot in life, Colonel. I have a job to do, just like you.”
“No,” Tavington argued. “I told you what your job was, remember? No work was ever required of you. You never had to do anything but what I ordered. Half the things you do, I never requested. Like this, the bath – it was your choice to take over for Eugenia. What I want to know is why? Tell me – and this time, it is an order.”
Juliana stopped what she was doing, and rested on her heels, her hands remaining on Tavington. She’d been avoiding the question, refusing to answer to herself when she asked it. Now, Tavington was asking, and he wanted an answer.
Tavington turned around and looked at her from his spot in the tub. “I shouldn’t have asked that. It’s one of those questions that is potentially impossible to answer. I suppose I know that because I can’t seem to find an answer for … my own actions and reactions.”
Juliana eyed him questioningly. “What do you mean?” she asked. She questioned him, but she already knew the answer before the words even left her mouth. For all that had happened after Savannah, she remembered what had happened while they’d still been in Savannah. That kiss was still on her mind. She knew now that it was still on Tavington’s mind as well.
Tavington reached and took Juliana’s eyes locked with his, and she couldn’t break away. She didn’t want to break away. She was drawn to him.
She let him pull her to him.
Her heart raced when he touched her face. It raced because she was so excited that she couldn’t find her voice and could barely find enough air to get to her lungs, and it raced because she didn’t exactly know what the next moments would bring.
Tavington could see the sliver of fear dancing in her dark eyes. “Don’t be afraid,” he whispered into her ear. “I won’t hurt you.” He gently stroked her hair and back to drive home his point. “Do you trust me, Juliana?”
Juliana looked into his eyes and remembered how he’d saved her on more than one occasion. To some extent, she’d trusted him then. Why not now? She nodded. “Yes,” she managed.
Gently, Tavington touched his lips with Juliana’s. He knew he would regret this. He didn’t know when he would, exactly, but he knew he would. He was supposed to be drawing lines, setting boundaries with Juliana, and now he was crossing them before they were even in place. The odd part was that he didn’t care about any of it. He was a man of purpose who knew what he wanted and wasn’t afraid to go after it. Right now, he wanted Juliana.