Tavington awoke the next morning and realized that what had happened the night before had not been a dream. Juliana had come into his bedroom while Tavington had been bathing, and things just seemed to spiral out of control between her and Tavington from there. They spent an intense night together, and now Juliana was in his bed, in his arms, sleeping serenely.
Tavington closed his eyes and tried to gather his thoughts. He couldn’t even lie to himself; last night had been something he’d both wanted and needed. It had been far too long since he’d been with a woman. He had needed to feel that kind of physical connection again. But he knew it had all been more than just physical. He hadn’t wanted to be with just any woman; he’d wanted to be with Juliana.
He sighed internally, frustrated that he’d once again failed to control his own feelings. What kind of ramifications would his weaknesses create for him, now? It wasn’t actually possible that this … whatever it was he had with Juliana would lead to anywhere – was it? It couldn’t. She was a slave, and he was her master. This was the most that would come of it, he decided, and this time would be the only time. It had to be.
Tavington did still have Caroline to consider. Maybe she would provide a way out of this emotional mess he’d created for himself. He’d met Caroline Staton at a dinner party the previous summer and had corresponded regularly with her in the time since. Many already assumed they were courting, and perhaps they were, in the vaguest sense of the word. Perhaps, Tavington mused, he should allow their relationship to progress to another level.
Yes, Tavington encouraged himself. If he had someone else to lavish his attention and affection on, his mind wouldn’t linger on Juliana, and his problem would find a cure for itself. He looked down at Juliana. He had to distance himself from her. That was the key, the answer. It was the only way it would all work out. Another thought along those same lines found its way into his head: should he simply get rid of her? Was that the answer? To sell her?
He slowly slid out from underneath Juliana, not wanting to wake her. Nevertheless, as soon as he’d made it across the room to the dresser and pulled on a clean pair of breeches, Juliana stirred to a waking state. Tavington’s back was to her, but he heard her behind him, moving on the bed.
Juliana blinked a few times and rubbed away the bleariness temporarily clouding her vision. She looked across the room and saw Tavington pulling his uniform on. “You’re goin’ back?” she asked.
“I’m needed back at base,” Tavington said curtly, not bothering to turn and face her. He slipped his arms into a fresh uniform shirt.
“But I thought you said you had a few days off?” Juliana said. She pushed herself up to a seated position on the bed.
“Pardon me for following orders,” Tavington snapped. “The last time I checked, I don’t require your blessing to follow the orders handed down to me.”
Juliana blinked, momentarily taken aback by the change that had seemed to occur in Tavington at some point during the night. “No. Of course you don’t need my blessin’.” The tone of her voice manifested a change in her demeanor as well. She slid out of bed and began to gather her own clothing. She began to pull on her dress. “You apparently don’t need me for anything except bein’ an ornament for you to parade around at parties and for somethin’ to provide entertainment in your bed.”
Tavington whirled around to finally face her. “What did you say?” he demanded.
“You heard me. Those are the only reasons you keep me around.” Juliana picked up a few more items of clothing, some of them hers, some of them Tavington’s. Then, she stopped abruptly and turned to Tavington. “Are you even capable of feeling, Colonel?” she asked.
“What concern is to you?” Tavington spat.
“It’s my concern because it’s my feelings that are involved,” Juliana retorted. “Every time we take a step forward together, it’s as if you take two giant steps backward.” She walked across the room to retrieve more articles of clothing.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tavington said defensively. Juliana was getting to close for his comfort.
Juliana threw the clothes in her arms down on the bed. “I do know one thing – I will not be your plaything!” she declared.
Tavington crossed the distance between himself and Juliana. He grabbed Juliana roughly by the arms and said, “You will be whatever I require you to be!”
Juliana shrugged out of his grasp. “Your threats and intimidation tactics won’t work on me any longer, Colonel.”
“How dare you speak to me in that manner,” Tavington hissed.
Juliana looked up at Tavington. “I know what you’re doin’, Colonel. If bein’ here, if havin’ me here is too much for you to handle, just fix the situation. Pass me off to Bordon, Wilkins, or some other officer, or sell me. I just can’t take this not knowin’ where I stand with you. One moment, I’m your lover; the next, you’re as cold to me as you would be to some stranger. I don’t care what you do; I just need to know where I stand, what I can expect from you, how I should react.” She stepped closer to him. “I don’t believe that you actually want to be so harsh, so cold. I think you’re fightin’ somethin’ inside you, somethin’ that’s telling you that you’re not supposed to act civilly toward me. I don’t know what that somethin’ is, or why it’s takin’ such a hold on you. But I feel like it’s a contest between it and me, and I’m losin’. I don’t want to compete, Colonel. It’s a contest I can’t win. You can go run back to your base and your military life guilt-free, without any concerns about where we stand.”
She picked up the remainder of her clothing from the bed, turned, and walked out of the room. As Tavington watched her go, he knew she was right, but he could never tell her that. He was running, hiding from his feelings. But it was necessary. He couldn’t travel down this path with her. It was trouble. She had suggested that he sell her, and maybe he should. Right now, it seemed like an awfully good idea.
Tavington, still in his bedroom putting the finishing touches on his uniform, turned around. Eugenia stood in the open doorway. “Yes, Eugenia, what is it?” he asked.
“Captain Bordon is downstairs, sir,” Eugenia replied.
“Tell him I’ll be down shortly,” Tavington instructed.
“Yes, Colonel.” Eugenia disappeared from the doorway, and Tavington turned back to his reflection in the mirror. He fastened the last button on his coat and straightened his collar one final time.
Bordon always had been one of the few people Tavington felt that he could truly count on. His presence here, however, was quite a surprise for Tavington, since this was supposed to be a furlough, and Tavington had not sent for him. Perhaps a situation had developed with regard to the war. Tavington hoped that was the situation. He desperately needed something that would take him away from this house.
In the foyer, Captain James Bordon patiently waited for Tavington to appear. He surveyed his surroundings while he waited, and it dawned on him that this was the first time he’d been to Tavington’s house since the colonel had moved. It was more than just a nice house. It was practically grand, which was right up Tavington’s alley.
And here was something else that was grand walking toward him. Juliana, one of Tavington’s house slaves. Bordon had seen her with Tavington at numerous parties, and she’d always fascinated him. He was certain she had that effect on a number of the men who encountered her socially. He was also certain that Tavington found her equally fascinating, which was probably one of the reasons why he dragged her along to all the social events.
“Could I get you anything, Captain?” Juliana offered. “Somethin’ to drink, perhaps?”
“No, thank you,” Bordon replied. “I’m fine for now.” He could see how it might be easy for someone to fall prey to her charms. She was so beautiful but so innocent. It was man’s natural instinct to want to protect such a creature, regardless of whether or not she was a slave. Bordon wondered why he was never lucky enough to have slaves like Juliana come into his possession. Most of the house slaves he’d ever owned had been fat, old, ugly, or all three.
“If you want, you can rest in the sittin’ room while you wait,” Juliana told Bordon.
“That won’t be necessary, Juliana.”
Bordon and Juliana both turned their respective gazes to the staircase in time to see Tavington energetically descending. Tavington’s eyes locked with Juliana’s until he was at the bottom of the stairs. “Thank you for seeing to Captain Bordon, Juliana. That will be all for now,” Tavington said dismissively.
“Yes, Colonel,” Juliana muttered obediently. She left the two officers alone.
Bordon turned to Tavington. “You’re a lucky man, Colonel, to have such a well-mannered, obedient worker in your possession,” Bordon complimented.
“Yes,” Tavington said knowingly. “You have no idea … but surely you’re not here to discuss my good fortune in acquiring servants.”
“No, sir,” Bordon confirmed.
“What is it, then? Has something happened at base? Have we been given a new assignment?” Tavington attacked Bordon with a barrage of rapid-fire questions.
Bordon shook his head, indicating the negative. “No, sir, nothing like that. I’ve come to relay a message from his Lordship. To celebrate our victory at Camden, the Lord General intends to hold a ball.”
Tavington rolled his eyes. “This is the message he wanted to send? It’s a bit much to send it through you. I’m sure a simple letter barrier would have been sufficient.”
“Of course, sir,” Bordon agreed. “However, there’s more. In recognition of your actions on the field, his Lordship wishes for the ball to take place here, at your residence.”
“Here?” Tavington’s mind raced. “When?”
“This Friday evening,” Bordon informed him.
“That’s only two days,” Tavington said, stating the obvious.
“Yes, sir,” Bordon said.
Damn, Tavington thought. The Lord General despised being embarrassed, and that was exactly what would happen if this party didn’t go smoothly. He had two days to get this event organized, or his head would be on Cornwallis’s platter at the next one. He didn’t know anything about planning a party. But he knew someone who did, and it was just his luck that he’d infuriated her earlier that morning.
Tavington found her on the balcony outside her bedroom. Bordon had left shortly after he’d arrived, but that had been nearly an hour ago. Tavington had spent the hour trying to think of the best way to approach Juliana about this party that was now his responsibility. He stepped outside and joined her on the balcony. She gazed out at the back lawn, not really focusing on anything. He drew in the first breath to speak, but Juliana spoke before he could.
“You want me to help you with this party, don’t you?” Juliana asked. She looked at Tavington, mildly amused by his perplexed expression. “I overheard you and Captain Bordon talkin’.”
Tavington nodded. “I would appreciate your help, yes. And since you say threats and intimidation are no longer effective, I’m left only with the option of asking. Will you help me?”
“I will, Colonel, because it’s what I’m supposed to do. As I said last night, it’s my lot in life.” She walked back into the bedroom, leaving Tavington on the balcony.