On the other side of the new year, when the short, sharp winter ran frost traces in the gaps of the brick sidewalks of the capital, and everyone who could afford it wore their furs pulled tight against the cold, Phillip found himself deferentially following after Annette through the fashionable shopping district. He wore the uniform coat of a member of the Harrington household, and found himself as over looked and ignored by people who knew Annette, just as they ignored her bodyguards and other attendants.
Change had come a piece at a time, starting with a bookcase that had appeared in his little room the day after the house party, and followed by access to paper and pencils, and then a regular supply of necessities and amusements. The gift of an under bed trunk meant had choice in his clothes, instead of garments appearing in the arms of a servant according to Annette’s immediate whim, and his unoccupied time had a small measure of freedom to choose his own pursuits. There was even limited freedom to leave his room and walk in selected parts of the house.
What had not changed was Annette’s overall control. He continued to follow the exercise program she set, to take meals with her when she wanted company and eat alone when she didn’t, and to go where she sent him without hesitation. Her tastes defined how he tried to please her when she wanted sex and of course, she continued to hurt him. Mentally, he viewed it like a medical procedure, uncomfortable but necessary, to be endured until whatever agony she dreamed up turned to lust.
He was still healing deep bruises from the last time she had let her desires run free. She’d had him dragged to the stables and stripped below the waist, held waiting for half an hour in an empty stall on his knees. When she joined him, she’d had him tied bent over a large prickly hay bale and used a flexible rod on his exposed legs and buttocks until he bit the insides of the mouth to keep from trying to thrash out of the way.
“My father was a very strict man,” she’d explained after, when he lay face down on the couch in her pink study and she ran a large chip of ice over the curve of his purpled ass. “He took the same discipline from the army and applied it on his servants. I was young, home for the holidays because in those days children came home, and one day I found one of the grooms drunk.”
“I wasn’t old enough to understand the ramifications at the time. I thought he was sick, but when my father found out, he had them wheel in his chair to personally supervise his punishment. He had the man starved for three days with nothing but water to drink, and then had the head groom give him thirty lashes. That’s the punishment for an enlisted man drunk on duty. When I saw my father’s instructions carried out I think that was the first time I realized the sort of thing I wanted. Not for my servants, but like how I use you.”
Phillip had his face pressed into a pillow, vague memories of a hard faced man with crippled legs surfacing, “Your father was General Penning, wasn’t he?”
“Yes.” And then Annette had changed the subject. Four days later she’d ordered him to pack and they’d paid a visit to the Harrington town house, and he’d been given the uniform coat to wear when they left the house.
He suspected it was for his benefit. She could have easily left him at home when she went out, but he followed her everywhere: to the luncheon with the other ladies in her charitable society, something he’d discovered focused, of all things, on better treatment for prisoners, an ironic choice for a woman whose husband was known and feared for his secret police; to an art gallery opening of a series of paintings which, after Annette had asked his honest opinion he’d declared them all sentimental trash and found himself kissed rather than chastised; to look at boutiques to admire clothing in other colours and buy only sensible blue; to the grand old state museum, with the artefacts under glass to stop the visitors from chipping off souvenirs; and to the great monument to first landing that stood in the centre of the city, in all its weather beaten, bird housing, ceramic glory.
It was not a vacation, and she lunched and smiled and made polite laughs through her women’s world. There was an entrenched battle going on in the charitable society that threatened to turn into a schism, between religious reformers and medical ones, and though Annette privately supported the medical side, her position at the head of the organization meant hours spent making nice between women who were just as politically vicious as the military, noble and rich-man husbands who’d given them the rank to be involved. She admitted to Adam that most of her job was to keep the pettiness from trickling down to the army of volunteers who did the actual work, said with a smile that was more a wince than a grin. And then she had slapped his face red and popped three buttons off his shirt stripping him.
Now he was in a fresh shirt and the winter wind was doing its best to match the slaps. Though it was afternoon, the sun did nothing for the sharp chill and he had his hands jammed into his pockets to keep the cold from pushing through his gloves, and his head tucked down into the collar of his coat. He only thought to look around when he noticed Annette hesitate. She had briefly glanced at someone on the opposite side of the street.
A tall man in civilian clothes had stopped in the middle of the side walk with a delighted look of recognition. But rather than cross over or wave, both people set off in opposite directions, neither one fully acknowledging the other. One block later Annette stepped into a cafe and took a table near the back where her guards would not trip up the staff. Phillip took a spot on her left, standing at attention and trying to figure out why she was acting both excited and disturbed.
Ten minutes later, the man arrived at the cafe and doffed his hat, revealing short sandy hair in a trim military cut. He was a full head size taller than anyone in the room, a feat only improved by impeccable posture.
“Ann,” the man took a seat across from her. “I had not expected to see you.”
“Mikhail, I had not expected you to appear so suddenly. Why are you back?”
“My nephew’s officially taking his title and getting married. Waterstone was more than happy to give me a five month period, provided I promised to come back.”
“The colonial administration must be happy to have you. So you will be here for only two weeks?” Annette’s coffee sat undrunk in front of her. “Or less.”
“Three, but I leave again at the end of the month. I’m leaving with a deportation ship. The Merciful Alice.”
Annette said nothing in response.
“Ann, you know I leave how to precede a lady’s prerogative. But I will be at your disposal, unless…”
“I missed you. But almost think you intended to sneak here and home without even a trace of my notice.”
“You were invited to my nephew’s wedding.”
Annette responded by raising an eyebrow. “I loathe your family and I had better things to do than be reminded of your absence.”
“My nephew’s new wife isn’t so bad,” Mikhail reached across the table, and began to gently remove Annette’s gloves, a finger at a time. “But I can only apologize. I had not intended to intrude. Perhaps you had taken a new lover.”
“Not exactly,” Annette freed a hand to wave in Adam’s direction. “I have had a consolation in your absence.”
Mikhail stiffened. “Oh, I am sorry, I am intruding…!”
“No, not in the way you think. Adam is not going to call you out in front of the cafe. His circumstances are special.”
“Is he one of Chloe’s projects?”
“No, but a similar genesis. I might tell you later, if you asked nicely.”
“Then my lack of consideration might be forgiven?”
“We might be able to come sort of arrangement.”
Phillip recognized her tone of voice, the same predatory delight she otherwise reserved for the minutes before she began beating him. She was leaning very close to Mikhail, who had just kissed the tips of her bare fingers.