First: A story featuring a male keeper and a female Kept.
They drank coffee together, smiling at each other and, at least in Mélanie’s case, thinking of how many ways the day could go. If he were like her earlier masters…. but he wasn’t.
She cleared her throat. “If there are things in the kitchen, I could cook breakfast,” she offered. “And then you can tell me what, specifically, you want me to do over the next couple days. I imagine,” she chuckled, a little nervously, but trying to still sound casual, “that you don’t want me to clean up the yard.”
“No, sadly, not that. I think she would like it better – but I think she understands the need for the mess, too. If you want to make breakfast, I won’t argue. The ‘fridge runs – you know what a ‘fridge is?”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “I’m not that young. Besides, dairy farm. We have – had – a generator.”
“All right.” He bowed from a sitting position. “The ‘fridge runs on magic, mostly, since we don’t have a generator.”
She glanced at the light switch. “This is one impressive house.”
“…You’re not running for the hills yet. I’m impressed.”
She swallowed down a surge of pleasure at the praise. “You meant to say ‘again’, sir, I think. And I do believe I have orders against running for the hills?”
“Well, only in a manner of speaking, I suppose. But you’re also not screaming, and you have no orders against that.”
“Why should I?” She gestured around. “You have, in an era when many people – even rich people – don’t – a warm and clean place to sleep, a roof that does not leak, refrigeration, light on demand, and tea. I don’t think I can quite express how impressed I am. And then, on top of that, you steal nice clothes and share them with your Kept.”
“Don’t forget nice tea cups for the house,” he added, smiling. “Oh, and I stole her a very nice rug a few months ago.”
“Have I seen that one yet?”
“No, it’s in, ah. Her room.” He gestured vaguely. “That is on a later tour.” He draped an arm around her and tugged her close to him, planting a kiss on her cheek.
She didn’t remember to be worried until after she was leaning against him, noting his warmth. Then, for a moment, she stiffened.
He loosened his hold immediately, the hand only very lightly resting on her back. “I apologize. I forgot myself.”
“So did I,” she murmured. She snuggled very closely to him, thinking about how nice he felt, how careful he was, how sweet and considerate he had been so far. She thought about her breathing, and how it didn’t seem to catch and falter when he spoke to her.
She thought about her bare neck, and the fact that he had taken the poison off of her and showed no signs of replacing it.
Her breathing settled. His warmth was very nice.
She didn’t know if she could really, honestly trust him forever, not yet. There were so many things he might still do, so many ways this might still go bad.
She let herself enjoy, for the moment at least, the few heartbeats of warmth with none of that happening.
Nothing bad happened.
Nobody struck her, nobody moved her, nobody told her she should be doing something.
After a moment, she took a few breaths, and her own conscience told her she ought to be doing something. “I said I was going to make breakfast…” she offered.
Jasper kissed the top of her head. “You did. When you’re ready.”
She sighed happily. “Any more coffee and I might just vibrate down there. Thank you, sir. I think I can do that now.”
His very loose hold on her slipped away, fingers drifting over her shoulder. “In case it needs saying, you may take anything you want for clothing from the storage room. I don’t think you want to spend all the time in that lovely lingerie.”
“After breakfast…” It was almost a question. It really was lovely lingerie.
“After breakfast,” he agreed. “I’ll be down in a little bit.”
She slipped ruefully out of bed and gave him a little curtsy. “I will see my lord down there, then.”
“I look forward to it.”
He was giving her a very warm gaze, a smile with a sort of consideration to it that should have made her blush, that instead made her skip a little as she headed for the stairs.
“Did you hear that?” she murmured. To the walls. She was talking to the walls.
She’d read a story about that. Well, there were really worse ways to go insane, and there were people who said that long enough under the collar made you crazy, even if you had volunteered for it.
Maybe especially if you had volunteered for it.
The wallpaper, at least, did not answer. However, when she came into the kitchen, the house seemed bright, cheerful. “Good morning,” she told the kitchen. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”
What they had was a ‘fridge that happened to have eggs – in an ancient styrofoam carton, milk – an old glass jar with the paint all worn off – what looked like a rasher of bacon of some sort, and two loaves of bread. “Deal with someone local?” she murmured. “I didn’t see any livestock except the horses… the horses! Do we need to feed them?”
The side door opened a few inches and closed again, twice.
“…One click for yes, two slams for no?” she guessed.
The door slammed once, rather quietly.
“Thank you. All right. Breakfast.” She kept talking to herself – or the house- as she got the stove going – gas! She didn’t want to ask any questions about that, but it burned. That was the important part, right? – found the pan she wanted – he had stolen some very nice pans – and made breakfast.
She was just sprinkling a little parsley – the kitchen had a very nice window-box of herbs – on breakfast when Jasper came down.
“I heard you talking?” He was dressed in a robe that made him look like he needed a pipe and some sort of wood-paneled library with a leather wing-back chair.
“Oh, yeah, mostly to the house? I think she said we didn’t need to feed the horses?”
“She does that part, yeah. Although they will want to be let out later, and that works better with a person involved.”
“I can do that!” She looked out the window and cleared her throat. “That is. I would like some time to just walk around and… get used to the yard? And letting the horses out is a good chore for me, anyway. I like animals.” She busied her hands with putting Jasper’s breakfast in front of him so she didn’t have to look at his face.
His voice said that he was smiling. “That would be nice, yes. This afternoon, perhaps you could spend a little time getting to know my inventory? It really does need a system, but I don’t want you spending more than an hour or two on it a day. This shouldn’t be work. Sit down; you can eat, too, or I’ll just be watching you hover the whole time.”
She had the presence of mind to take her own breakfast off the counter before she sat down across from him. “Not work?”
“If I wanted life to be work, my dear Mélanie, I wouldn’t have ended up a thief.”