flighty_dreams: (bashful)
[personal profile] flighty_dreams
TITLE: A Scotch for the Road - Part 19
AUTHOR: [info]flighty_dreams
WARNINGS: Slavefic. NC-17.  F/m.
WORD COUNT: 3,047 (this chapter)/ story so far (over 60K)
SUMMARY: A slave enduring a party encounters the mistress who once abandoned him.
NOTES: Much thanks to [info]aurila for her assistance as always.
FEEDBACK: Always welcome, even if it's just to say that you read it.


Bemused, Jenna watched her friend.

After the enthusiastic hug, Amber let Brett go, and he stepped back, looking over at her for guidance. Jenna gave him an encouraging smile, not worried about Amber. Her friend had already turned to her, beckoning, “Jenna, come closer, let me look at the two of you together.”

Jenna drew the line at that, rolling her eyes. “You sound like your grandmother.”

Amber's eyes crinkled, and just from that Jenna knew it had been intentional. “I would say I'm cooing over the young kids, but you aren't young anymore.”

“Hey!” Jenna smacked her friend on the arm. “Not nice.”

“Ow.” Amber rubbed the spot she'd hit. “Not like I can say much.”

It was true. Only a few months apart in age, they'd grown up together, nearly inseparable as children. Jenna had always been closer to Amber than to her own sister, at least until lately.

When Amber called two days earlier, Jenna had finally told her about finding Brett. She'd tried to reach her the first week he was back, to no avail. Since getting married it seemed like Amber was often too busy to speak to her, rarely calling her back. Sometimes several weeks went by without them talking, when once upon a time they'd spoken every day. Until Brett's return, it had been a sad turn of events that often occupied her thoughts.

The phone conversation regarding Brett had inevitably led to discussion of her family's reaction. Upon hearing of her father's matchmaking attempt, Amber had offered to go dress shopping with her, which would give them a chance to catch up.

They got a head start on that now, as Amber asked Brett how long he'd been back and what they'd been up to.

The slight flush to his cheeks at the latter question told her he was thinking of things done between sheets. With an admirably straight face he said, “Getting reacquainted.”

“I’ll bet,” Amber said, her mouth breaking into a grin. Her friend's gaze flickered between her and Brett, who watched them with uneasy interest. “I'm really glad you found him again, Jenna.”

“Thanks,” she said, a lump forming in her throat. It was wonderful to have someone be happy for her.

“Come on, don't get all sappy on me now, let's go,” Amber said, twining their arms together and pulling her along. “I'm starved.”

Nearly rushed out the door, Brett grabbed her purse, holding it out to her.

“Thank you,” she told him, untangling herself from Amber. Her friend could last a minute longer without fainting from hunger. She hugged and then kissed him briefly, murmuring, “I'll see you later. Have fun with Ty.”

“Bye, Mistress,” he said, all husky and for her ears only.

Her toes curled, a shiver running down her spine. For a moment not even shopping seemed worth leaving him. But no, she had things to do.

Jenna walked out with her friend, who spent most of lunch teasing her about their starry-eyed looks for each other. Jenna sighed, knowing they'd done no such thing, at least not in front of her. In private was a different matter entirely, she thought with a secret smile.

“Stop looking so pleased with yourself and come look at this one,” Amber told her, lifting a dress from the rack.

Sighing, Jenna walked over to her. They'd been through half a dozen shops already, but had yet to find anything despite the sales clerks' eager efforts. Not only was she beginning to suspect they wouldn't find the dress today, but her plan to avoid the ritzy shops and find something unique off the beaten path also looked like a waste of time.

This gown was yellow, and it was pretty enough from the front, but the large bow in the back was ridiculous. She turned the dress in Amber's hands to show her.

“Never mind,” her friend said, grimacing. She placed it back on the rack and resumed the Search. “So you told me what your dad is up to, but what's your mom doing about Brett?”

As Amber well knew, Serena Vanlean-Warren was never one to stand back and let things happen, especially when she believed she could manipulate the situation in some way.

“Right now she's still in lecture mode. God help me when she gets a plan together. At least she and my dad don't seem to be joining forces. Yet.”

“Well, they aren't much for working together in general,” Amber gently pointed out.

While not a pleasant thought, it was accurate. Her parents had clearly not married for love.

“Yeah.” Jenna finished looking at the last rack. “I don't see anything here. Let's go.”

They walked outside, settling on a bench along the street after mutual consent. Their feet were aching.

“Let me guess,” her friend said after a minute of quiet. “Victor's not happy either.”

Jenna couldn't help scowling. “The little jerk started preaching to me! I still can't believe his gall, after all the times he's screwed up.”

Amber's nose wrinkled. “Ugh. And your sister?”

“Stacy's being her bratty self, enjoying my permanent loss of the title of 'angelic child.' And she's decided Brett must be really good in bed for me to insist on keeping him.”

Amber laughed. “Well, it is true, right?”

“Yeah, but that's only part of it,” Jenna protested.

Her friend sobered. “She's never been in love. She doesn't understand the difference.”

Jenna laid her head on Amber's shoulder. “It's not just that. It's because he's a slave. She doesn't see past that.”

Her friend favored her with a wry smile. “I do recall someone saying to me years ago: 'I can't be in love with a slave.'”

Jenna winced, still ashamed of herself for ever doubting her feelings for Brett, who had looked at her with such love and trust back then. That unwavering faith was gone. “I was an idiot. I still feel so guilty.”

“Hey,” Amber said, curving an arm around her shoulders. “You were young, and scared of what your family would think.”

“Yeah, and he's the one who paid the price for my doubts.”

Amber sighed. “I'm sure he's been through a lot, but it's not like you didn't-”

Pulling away, Jenna cut her off, speaking in a low hiss. “Amber. He was raped, and beaten.”

Her friend cringed, her face paling. She had known Donovan had spitefully refused to sell Brett, but Jenna hadn't told her anything of what Brett had been through the past four years. The world didn't need to know about all that, but she hadn't been able to help herself at Amber's ignorant words.

“I'm so sorry. I had no idea.”

Shaking her head, Jenna said, “It's my fault any of it happened to him.”

“Jenna,” Amber said, grabbing her arm. “You made a mistake, not telling Derrick you wanted him. But you aren't responsible for Donovan and whoever else's actions.”

“No,” she said, “but he should have been with me, not at their mercy.”

Her friend looked away, staring off across the street. After a few minutes of silence Amber said, “Dwelling on it now isn't going to help him.”

No, but she could make Donovan pay. She'd channeled all the guilt she'd been hiding from Brett these past weeks into bringing the bastard down for good. Not just for the sake of revenge; if she could prevent him from creating a scandal over her and Brett, it was a worthy cause. He would never hurt them again.

“I know,” she told her friend, hoping agreeing would end the discussion.

Amber wasn't fooled. “Don't belittle your own pain either.” She held up a hand when Jenna would have protested. “I won't pretend to understand the hell he went through, but you weren't sitting back on the beach sipping cocktails either. Four years, and you never got over him.”

That was hardly the same thing, but Jenna let her continue.

“I felt almost as helpless as you did after you lost him. You were so upset, so frantic, and then after Donovan refused you, you shut down.”

Jenna remembered those dark days clearly. She'd begun working for her father, ruining Donovan her single-minded motivation. Strange how fulfilling that purpose had helped her in other ways, the long workdays providing distraction, keeping her away from her too-empty home. Nothing had ever been right again with Brett gone. She'd learned to adjust, to go on, but life was like a painting with the color faded from it. She never opened the front door without that split second hope that he'd be on the other side of it. She'd hear a funny story and still have the urge to share it with him, or see something in a store he would've liked, longing to buy it for him. Or, worst of all, lie alone in her bed at night, aware that the Brett-shaped hole in her life was all her fault.

Maybe if she hadn't felt so guilty, she would have eventually moved on. Surely some people managed it, even after losing true love. Some days were better than others, she could see that much. Even if it had been possible though, how could she, when she knew he was out there somewhere, miserable because of her? He'd none of her freedoms, no ability to choose who he was with. That he'd had the chance to love someone once was rare enough.

And there'd not been any doubt of his feelings. Shy at first, once he'd realized she welcomed his affection, he'd opened like a flower, showing his devotion without reserve. His love was wary these days, blemished by the past and the knowledge of societal condemnation.

Her hopeful, romantic Brett had become defeatist.

“Jenna?”

Blinking, she focused back on her friend, who gave her a look, aware Jenna had stopped following her words. “I was saying, you've been pining for him for years. You didn't forget him and run off and have fun.”

Jenna grimaced. “No, but he was pining for me too. And being abused on top of that.” Her breath hitched. “Remember how I told you Donovan realized I loved Brett?”

In tears she had run to her friend afterwards, needing comfort, aware now that Donovan would never sell him to her.

A sad light in her eyes, Amber nodded.

“Brett won't really talk about it, but... I think Donovan took it out on him.”

Brett's reluctant admission that Donovan had kept him tied up had told her more than she'd let on. When she'd first visited Donovan to ask after Brett, another slave of his had let her into the house. This one hadn’t been restrained in any way, given free roam. Why would Brett receive harsher treatment?

To reinforce his place, and to prevent him from escaping. He would not run back to Jenna. Donovan had succeeded in all of it, keeping him prisoner and destroying his self-esteem.

“Jenna, if so, you didn't know. You were just trying to get him back.”

These were the same things she'd repeatedly tried to tell herself; until she lost Brett, she'd never been the type of person to beat down on herself.

She looked at her friend. “I didn’t mean to dump all this on you, but I really needed someone to talk to.”

She could talk to Brett about almost anything, but not this. At least not yet. He was doing much better already, but he was still adjusting, getting comfortable with her again. Best not to hamper his progress by bringing up painful things he wasn't ready to discuss with her.

Amber’s arm curved through hers, guilt thickening her friend's words. “No, I should’ve been here for you sooner. He's been back what, a month?”

Jenna nodded, saddened by their lack of contact too. She'd called Amber on her way back from Yorkfield's that first weekend, eager to tell her she'd found Brett, but hadn't been able to reach her.

“I swear I'll be better from now on,” Amber said, urgency in her voice. To her credit, she didn't make excuses about her marriage and her baby keeping her busy.

“Thanks, but it's a two way street. I'll call more too.”

“You do that,” Amber said, smiling. “I even promise to answer this time.”

Jenna made a face. “We'll see about that.”

Amber sighed, but clasped Jenna's hand. They sat quietly for a while longer, watching the people passing them.

Amber glanced over at her. “Ready to look for more dresses?”

“I guess,” Jenna said, rising from the bench. A more somber air lingered, a watchful concern to Amber as they continued their shopping. A true friend still, despite their recent estrangement, offering her wholehearted support.

Jenna wished she could say the same for her family.


*



Brett had trouble following Ty's chatter.

Without Jenna's steadying presence, doubts crept in. He'd heard about these Founders' Balls since he was a kid; it had shocked him to discover Jenna had never been to one before. So this Ball was a big deal for her, but he wasn't being allowed to participate in any way. Why wouldn't she at least let him help her choose a dress? That wouldn't cause any scandal or awkwardness. Of course, she had Amber to assist with that instead. He berated himself for the twinge of resentment. If his mistress wanted to spend time alone with her friend, that was her right.

He murmured in sympathy to Ty's complaints about his work, barely aware of the topic of his rant. Instead his thoughts drifted to Jason Hathaway asking after Charlie Watterson that morning. He wanted to know more about this man too. That she didn't like him relieved him in one way, worried him in another. Would this Watterson be respectful to his mistress? Attend her properly? He couldn't stand the thought of her wandering around the party for an hour before Watterson remembered to bring her a drink.

Damn her father for trying to set her up with the man. She hadn't told Brett that part outright, but he'd been able to read between the lines, even before Hathaway forced the point. He wanted her to have a good time, but he couldn't help feeling-

Ty grabbed his arm, pulling Brett back to his surroundings. He glanced around the open street, thinking there was some potential trespass to beware of, but when he caught the annoyed look on Ty's face, he felt embarrassed.

“Not listening?”

“Sorry,” Brett said, ducking his head. “I'll do better.”

“Hey,” Ty said, his eyes flashing. “Don't have to talk like that.”

No, he didn't. It just came out naturally that way. “Sorry,” he said, catching himself apologizing again. “Er, keep going.”

After shaking his head, Ty asked, “Something on your mind?”

“Nothing important,” Brett denied, resolving to focus on Ty now. There was something niggling at him, but he couldn't put it into words. “What were you saying that customer did?”

Ty gave him a frustrated look for a moment, then let it go. “The supplier, not a customer. Guy thinks I can't count. Tries to deliver the wrong amounts.”

Brett grimaced. So many citizens assumed slaves were clueless. Unfortunately, many times they were right; laborers like Ty usually weren't given a very extensive education. That didn't mean they couldn't manage basic things though, like count for themselves that someone had brought six bags of flour instead of eight.

They reached the local grocery store, having walked there from Ty's bakery. His friend grabbed a small cart while Brett dug his list out of his pocket. He had only a half dozen things to get, so this shouldn't take long.

When they passed a display of mangos for a second time, he saw Ty looking at them as intently as he had the first time. Brett stopped nearby, pretending to study the shelves before him, but really watching his friend out of the corner of his eye.

“Put one in the cart.”

Ty looked up, flushing. “S'ok. Don't need it.”

Brett gave him a patient look. He knew what it was like, what the Shelters taught slaves. “It's not about need.”

Shaking his head, Ty moved away from the display. Brett sighed and placed two ripe mangos into the cart for him.

“Brett,” Ty protested, “your mistress...”

“She gave me permission to buy extra things.”

Actually, she'd done far more than that. Jenna had set up a bank account specifically for his use. He'd gaped at the allowance she'd put into it—easily more than twice as much as he needed to do the household shopping—but she'd ignored his protests. That amount would be deposited into the account each month, she wouldn't touch it, and whatever was left over after the required shopping he could spend as he wished.

Not that Brett had dared use the extra money so far to buy anything for himself. Well, he had bought some cookies the other day that were really more for him rather than Jenna… but food for both of them fit what the household money was supposed to be for anyway. And buying fruit for Ty didn’t seem like much of a stretch either. Jenna had said he was a guest.

“A-are you sure?” his friend asked, glancing at him with a frown.

“Yeah,” Brett said, giving him a reassuring smile. He understood the frustration of forever wanting but never having, and he couldn’t imagine his generous mistress begrudging his friend such a simple pleasure.

A while later they sat together at the table to one side of Jenna’s balcony, each slicing up a mango. Brett looked over at his friend, who had insisted he have the second fruit. Ty’s eyes closed, a blissful expression on his young face as he swallowed a piece. Hiding a grin, Brett scooped up a spoonful of his from the skin, savoring the sweet taste. With the afternoon breeze in their faces and a beautiful view of the city spread out before them, a rare sense of peace settled over him.

“Could get used to this,” Ty said, looking at the skyscrapers across from them.

Brett laughed a little at the echo of his thoughts. “Me too.”

It was almost enough to make him forget Jenna’s upcoming Founders’ Ball.

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