I was restless on the walk back to the main building, my thoughts drifted back to the mysterious rider. I didn't know his name, didn't know anything about him. I replayed the image of his hands tight around the reigns, his long, elegant fingers curled around the strap, the swirl of his grey cloak around his broad shoulders, the pale skin and sharp cheekbones. Above all I remember the perfect blue of his eyes.
I reached the main building in no time, and set the toys on Mrs. Fairfax's desk. Only she wasn't at her desk, or out near the cameras and directors in their canvas seats. I searched the nearest areas for over a half hour and found her as she scrambled out of the medic tent.
"Jane! Where have you been? There's been an emergency. Our star is injured, and we have got to get him fixed up, or shooting will be pushed back again."
Mrs. Fairfax grabbed my hand and directed me toward the main house.
"Go get an ice pack, Jane. They're in the cabinet by my desk."
"Oh my God, what happened?"
Mrs. Fairfax shook her head and the stain was evident in her voice.
"Apparently, he fell off his horse."
The rest of the day passed in a blur. Apparently, my rider, Ben Rochester was the star of our movie. The Ben Rochester, as in Ben Rochester, Oscar nominee. As in Ben Rochester, box office gold. He's only doing the film as a favor for another acting friend.
The crew brought supplies in and out of the medic tent well into the evening. Mrs. Fairfax had worked with the director to re-organize today's shots, so that they could film scenes that didn't involve the rider, and the day wouldn't be a total loss. When I wasn't inventing excuses to hang around the med tent in the hopes of checking on him, I threw myself into playing games with the set children.
One of the girls, Adele, was my favorite. She was about 8, with golden curls and dimples. She beat me at the card game, "war" several times. She giggled sweetly when she won, a bit of her British accent peaked through, and I dreaded giving her up for the day. I knew she'd be a champ when it was time for her folks to show up, but no one ever came to claim her. I asked Mrs. Fairfax about Adele, but she muttered so I couldn't hear what she said, and then told me I should keep an eye on Adele until morning when all the madness on the set was over. Mrs. Fairfax shoved a key to one of the estate rooms in my hand, and a handful of cash for dinner.
I pitied Adele, no one cared enough to come claim her. Her parents were probably still in the U.K. I could sympathize. Much of my childhood was spent shuffled between two equally disinterested parents. I grabbed Adele in a bear hug, and kissed her on top of her adorable head.
"You, young lady, are getting the finest Chinese takeout known to man!"
"Wonderful! I've never had American Chinese."
"You're in for a treat." After a really pleasant dinner, I took Adele back to the main building and got out some pajamas Mrs. Fairfax had left in an overnight bag for her.
"You're about the cutest kid I've ever met, you do know that?" I asked her after she was in her jammies with flying cows on them, and a light blue that reminded me of nothing so much as certain pair of eyes I had seen earlier in the day. I shook the thoughts away.
"Nooo!" Adele said, with a bit of a spoiled lilt to her voice. She was getting tired and grouchy.
"OK, OK. Come sleep with me, but I've got to get up early, so I hope you're a deep sleeper." I pulled back the covers of the big Edwardian bed. She bounced in like a puppy and before my head was against the pillow, I heard her quiet snore. I was exhausted too.
Stupid, stupid, Jane, I thought. "Afraid to be alone in the woods with me, " hmmf, I snorted. Ben Fucking Rochester! There are hundreds of girls that would kill me and walk over my still-warm body to be alone in the woods with Ben Fucking Rochester.
The last thing I saw as I closed my eyes was the sky-country blue of his eyes, looking down on me.
My phone woke me up at 6 a.m. Adele still dozed under my arm. I crept away from her and when I had escaped the bed, I tucked the blankets back in around her. She yawned and burrowed deeper into the covers. I smoothed yesterday's clothes and shivered. I didn't know how drafty these old houses can be. I shook again and my teeth chattered. I took a look around the room for sharp objects, made sure the third story windows were locked. Adele might wake up before I got back, and I want her to be safe until I do.
I toddled down the hardwood stairs and tried not to slip on my socks. I stretched at the bottom of the stairwell. There was an overnight bag down of the other staff must have gone to my dorm room to pick up my clothes, because it had my warmer shirts in it. I pulled on a lavender sweatshirt, and changed into a pair of jeans in the bathroom, brushed my teeth and spit in the sink, rinsed it away.
When I came out of the bathroom, Mrs. Fairfax was moving around papers at her desk.
"Hey, we've got to be quiet, Adele's still asleep upstairs," I whispered making the 'silent' gesture with my finger against my lips.
"Thanks for having someone get my clothes." She nodded.
"Where are Adele's parents? They must be worried sick," I said. Mrs. Fairfax shook her head.
"There's still in the U.K.," she whispered. "I'm so glad you could take care of her last night."
"No problem, she's an angel," I said. I smiled as I remembered her cute yawn.
"I can take care of her for the rest of the morning. We're having a special staff meeting out in the courtyard to discuss shooting repercussions from yesterday's accident. We'll all have to pitch in more now that our star is not at the top of his game. You'll take your cue from Alice." I nodded and rummaged through the bag for some comfy shoes. I got them on, and went out to the courtyard with the other staff.
Alice had us all line up in the courtyard, and I was embarrassed of my mussed hair. It was obvious I had slept here. Oh God, I hope none of the staff thinks I'm screwing one of the directors. I cringe. Alice said something important. "New opportunities, rising through the ranks, job of a lifetime." What is she going on about?
Then I heard his voice.
"I prefer to be by myself on set, and I particularly dislike having an assistant. However, the director has informed me that in order to keep from exacerbating my sprain, I need someone to be my hand until we finish shooting here in the U.S. for liability reasons. This is not going to be a pleasant job," he said with a cruel twist to "pleasant" as if he meant to say "run for your life."
I shuddered when he said it. It took me several seconds to still the tremble of my hands. He walked behind us as he spoke, I could hear him behind us. He moved down the line until he reached the last staff member on the far left of where I was standing. Now he faced us.
He wore black tailored slacks that flattered his lean hips and an indigo dress shirt with silver cufflinks that managed to be at once loose and fitted. His shoulders and chest rippled with muscle. His abs twisted in the shirt as he walked. His right arm was in a plain white sling that crossed his shoulder, but the injury did nothing to slow the elegant, predatory grace of his walk.
I don't know what I was thinking yesterday, he isn't handsome.
The rage just beneath the aristocratic delicacy of his deep, sensuous voice, the flash of his eyes, blue as rain, blue as his bloodline. The privileged otherworldly timbre of that voice, from private school, money, and everything I've never had, made me feel both thrilled and insignificant. His high-cheekbones are flushed, a sweet smudge of pink stark against his flawless cream colored skin, his black soft curled hair around him in a halo. He looks younger than he does in the movies and taller. His lips are full and shapely. Unbidden I remember the sight of him biting his lower lip as he lowered himself into the saddle.
I was wrong before, so very wrong. He wasn't handsome. He is gorgeous.
He is a terrible, angry god, and I made him that way. My heart flutters into every part of me, and I'm more scared than when I hid from the horse. I pretend to be fascinated by the ground. Don't recognize me. Don't recognize me. Please I'll do anything. Just don't recognize me.
He continued to inspect the line of assistants as he walked toward me. He kept up his inspection until he was very close by, and he reminded me of a drill sergeant surveying his troops. I could smell him again, cedar and lime.
"It will be grueling work, and involves spending a great deal of time with me. You will be available to me 24 hours a day as I see fit, no job too small, too humiliating, or unpleasant." He gazed into the downcast eyes of the girl next to me, and then focused the full force of his gaze on me.
"You!" I felt rather than heard him growl. He turned, "Alice, this is the girl who spooked my horse!"
I froze. His voice chilled my blood, but I loved it too. It was thrilling. I've always been good. I've always done what I was supposed to. But that voice, that deep, devilish voice made me long to be naughty, made me desperate to be the kind of girl that deserved a spanking. Without wanting to, I imagined being bent over his lap, my skirt hiked over my back his hand raised over my backside. I whimpered, bit my lip, and failed to meet his eyes again.
He turned and marched back to Alice. They bickered in lowered voices, and he pointed angrily at me. Several minutes passed. There is no way I'm not fired, absolutely canned right here on the spot. I'm going to need to update my resume, and start searching online for job postings. I wonder if they'll let me say goodbye to Adele. I liked her so much. I brace myself. It's unprofessional to cry, no matter how much you may want to. So, no matter what you do. Don't. You. Dare. Cry.
My eyes are tearing up, but I look up at the sky until they stop. I can see him and Alice continuing to argue. He probably wants me beaten as well as fired. Alice's face is scrunched up. I can see out of the corner of my eye, she is not happy.
They've come to an arrangement, whatever was said. Ben stalks back over to me. I still can't look him in the eye, but I don't have to, he towers over me by a foot anyway.
He leans in until his chest is inches from my shoulder. He pauses and his lips are against my ear. I blush, and brace for the worst.
"You're mine now," he whispers, brushing my earlobe with his lips as he speaks. I swear I can feel his lips everywhere when he does it, and a surge of lust mixes with terror in my brain.
"Mine, to do with as I wish," he says. He raised his head for a moment; his gaze focuses on the set behind us. I try to remember to breathe, to process the words he said, but the throb between my legs is too intense. He leans closer into me, breath in my ear again.
"And I wish to make you suffer for spraining my arm," he hisses. He pulled back some so he wasn't quite so intensely close.
"You're going to be my right arm now," he whispered. He reached out with his left arm and stroked my right arm. His touch was languorous like a lover's. He leaned in again, so close he brushed against my chest.
"A man needs his right arm," he whispered. "For all sorts of things."
He turned and stormed out of the production area. My knees buckled as he slipped out of sight, but I caught myself before I fell. The girl next to me patted my back. She hadn't heard what he'd said, because he'd been practically inside my ear when he said it, so she assumed he'd been lecturing me about his horse. Her expression said, "It will get better, we've all had that boss before." I cringed. At least she didn't know what he'd really said to me.
Alice walked over. She frowned as though she were being paid to do it.
"Apparently, you spooked Ben's horse. He felt it only fitting that you help him out a bit until he recovers," Alice said. She did not seem happy to be saying it.
"I'll check in with Mrs. Fairfax and let her know you've been reassigned."
The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur. I didn't have much to do for Ben during the day when he was filming, but I would have extra hours in the evening as I'd be sleeping in a small servant's quarters in the main estate in the room next to his larger, master suite. I tried to tell Ms. Farifax that I would have to go to class eventually, but no one seemed interested.
Instead, I walked back from the set to where the child actors were playing while they awaited their scenes. Adele wore the most beautiful blue dress the color of a robin's egg, layered delicately in ruffles. She smiled up at me.
"Jane! I was hoping you'd come," she said in her adorable accent. I grabbed Adele in my arms and swooped her in a circle. She was light and warm and like holding a smile.
"I'm happy to see you, too Adele! But I might not be around as much as I was yesterday. I've been reassigned."
"Oh, why, Jane? I so liked spending time with you and having American Chinese. I can talk to someone if you like, about getting you to stay and play with us actors," Adele said, bowing gracefully into a mock-curtsy.
I thought of Mr. Rochester and the way he had lectured Alice, my boss, as though she were a child. I don't think Adele can get me out of that mess. I force a smile.
"Don't worry, little love," I cooed. "It's a great job with a lot of opportunity for . . ." I trailed off as I remembered him trailing his good hand up my arm, "lots of things." Adele smiled.
"If you do a good job, you'll get a present. I always get a beautiful new dress at the wrap party, if I did a good job on the set," she said.
"Maybe I will," I said, absent-mindedly petting her curls, "but I doubt it."
I left for the main set, where Mr. Rochester was filming a few scenes with a tall blond American man. Mrs. Fairfax had informed me that I needed to stay within about 500 feet of Ben at all times, so I was back past the cameraman and slightly up the hill from where they were shooting in the courtyard in front of the main house. I was close enough that Ben could wave me in with his good arm, but so far he had acted as though I didn't exist. He hadn't said a word to me since this morning, and promptly fetched anything he might need himself, even if it pained him.
Ben and the blond man were supposed to be brothers according to what little of the day's script I had seen, but the blond man kept mucking up his lines. Alice said his name was Nick Pack, but then none of these actors used their birth names anymore. His real name might have been Tom Dwellington or Perceival Snit for all I know.
The director yelled cut again after Nick couldn't remember his line for the third time. Everyone scrambled back to their original places for the beginning of the scene. Mr. Rochester ran his hands through his hair and turned his head to hide his grimace. I could practically hear him think, amateurs.
Nick looked up at the hill I was standing on, and for an instant we made eye contact. He held my gaze for longer than I expected, his eyes friendly and brown. He looked back at the ground he was supposed to be standing on. A few of the crew not on camera or sound duty, turned their heads to see what had caught the lead actor's attention on the hill, but they seemed puzzled when I waved weakly around my clipboard. I don't like to be the center of that kind of attention. I let my gaze drift down the hill as the crew prepped for the scene to begin for maybe the fourth time.
I felt hot and prickly all of a sudden, as my eyes wandered over the cast before settling on Ben. He was glaring openly at me. I braced myself for another of our "discussions," but he blanked his face and turned back to the scene. Mr. Rochester was nothing if not professional.
Filming went on for much longer than any of us would have liked, thanks only partially to Nick, who was having a very off day. It was dark out. The crew was putting away gear where they could stash it, and the actors who stayed in the main house wings had gone to change their clothes. Mrs. Fairfax was showing me my new accommodations in the house.
"Mr. Rochester's room is on the fourth floor of the house. As our little production's only real star, he had the entire floor to himself. Of course, now you will be in the room next to his," Mrs. Fairfax sighed. "Do you remember what I said when you interviewed?"
I racked my brain trying to remember something other than my uncomfortable bra and one of the extras in British uniform picking his nose.
"Childlike tendencies," I said.
"Exactly! Well, Jane, I'm afraid you've managed to get shackled to the most intense of all the actors on this production."
I nodded. So "intense" was code for "disaster of the year," good to know. She led me up the long winding staircase until we were on the fourth floor. Most of the rooms were empty like she said. I admired the large antique windows with their long rows of crisscrossed bars. They let the stars shine in the rooms, taking some small edge off of the empty feel of the floor. The hall we walked in was well-lit with older, twenties lamps.
"This part of the building has been partially updated. It's too modern for filming, so it's a natural place for our star to say," she added, smiling.
I still needed to talk to her about going back to school, but I was tired from the long day, and I knew she would only ignore me anyway. So I smiled, politely.
"Beats the dorms," I said. We had arrived at the end of the hallway where there were three rooms lit. A smaller room on the left, which I assumed was mine, and a large room right next to it which must be Mr. Rochester's. Across the hall was a living room, or I guess in these older houses, you'd call it a parlor.
"Here you are," Mrs. Fairfax said cheerily. Then less enthusiastically, "Good luck." She turned and walked back down the hallway.
I meant to go to the smaller room I would be staying in. I really did, but I found myself stepping into Mr. Rochester's room. It was the size of four of the rooms in my dorm, and near the back of the room between two of those large windows, was an even larger bed. One of the older four-poster types with lovely chestnut wood and the lushest crimson-velvet comforter I had ever seen. The furniture was all period stuff, expansive and polished and wooden. I felt myself drawn toward the bed, his bed. I trailed my fingers along the crisp, white sheets under the comforter. Oh how it smelled of him!
Less the expensive, sophisticated smell of sandalwood and fresh limes, and more the sweet, delectable scent of clean, naked man, and I loved it, well, parts of me did. I felt the spark rustle low in my belly. Blood rushed to my sex. For the third time today, Mr. Rochester had me throbbing. Then I saw it. The riding crop from yesterday lay on the unused side of the bed. I bit the inside of my cheek and tried not moan.
"You won't find what you're looking for," he growled behind me, his voice more anger than silk. I had been too caught up in the smell of the bed to hear him come in.
"I don't bring anything personal to these shoots. You won't be able to sell anything about me to the tabloids. Even if you could find anything, you signed your life away when you started on the set," he said.
"Mrs. Fairfax brought us up tea. Apparently, she wishes to chaperone us for a bit."
Finally, I found my voice.
"I'm not snooping. I'm just dazed from the long shift is all," I said and shook my head. "I should have paid more attention, my mistake, sir."
He obviously didn't believe me, and turned and headed into the parlor room. Mrs. Fairfax was already sitting in there with tea for the three of us. I sat next to her, and with some difficulty with his arm which was back in the sling immediately after filming, Mr. Rochester sat by me.
"I'm sure you've had a very long day on the set. You're such a hero for working with your injured arm like that. We appreciate everything you've done for this production," she began. He arched an eyebrow and gestured with his injured arm.
"Madam, I should like some tea," he said, his tone curt.
I bet he gets sick of people kissing his ass all day, I thought. I bet it's exhausting to be famous. Mrs. Fairfax handed me his tea. I got up and brought it to him, careful of the delicate china cup. I didn't know how to hand it to him, because he only had the one hand available, and he wore a bitter smirk as I tried to hand him the cup and saucer before setting the saucer on the table, and handing him the tea cup with the handle out. Our fingers brushed again. The spark I was trying to suffocate in my belly leapt to a flame. I sat back down. He sipped his tea, his lips plump and lingering around the delicate edge of the cup.
Oh God, I thought. Don't Look at Him. Don't Think about Sex. Don't Think About Those Lips on Your Clit or You're Going to Die of Embarrassment Right Here.
"Who recommended for you to come work on this film?" He said, his tone intentionally casual, as his eyes found mine over the edge of the teacup.
"I applied with the other film school students. Mrs. Fairfax was nice enough to offer me the job," I said. I took care to choose my words. There is always a chance he will have me fired, just decide he's done toying with me and end it. Mrs. Fairfax chimed in.
"It's only Jane's first day, and she has great potential. She gets on naturally with the child actors. I think she will be a real asset to the film, and . . ." Mr. Rochester cut her off.
"I'll judge for myself, thank you. She began by felling my horse," he said. "I've looked you up, Jane. I found the usual things about you online. Your facebook profile, some university news articles where you're the secretary in some foreign film club, but then I found something, interesting." He sighed as he said "interesting" as though he was surprised to be saying it. My heart thudded painfully in my chest. Had I drank too much at a party and someone photographed me? Did all my angry ex's get together and form the world's most dreadful blog? A girl can't Google herself all the time, or she'll go crazy.
"What did you find?" I asked.
He set his teacup back in its saucer on the table and made a show of how difficult it was for him to fish his phone from his pocket with one arm. It's a high-tech model, slim and black with a black leather case. A coat of arms had been stamped into the leather, the outline of a knight's helmet and a symmetrical ribboned design, like a tribal tattoo only English. Probably family coat of arms. Figures.
"Open it," he said, his smile was mock-innocent. "Excuse me, I am used to saying, 'Do this and it is done.'" I shiver, involuntarily. I should not like being bossed. I should argue, protest, but some dark corner of me thrills at his tone, longs to be commanded.
"Cold?" He asks. I manage to shake my head, no. I pull up the first picture I ever took on his phone.
It's a panoramic shot high up in the mountains. It is fall in the photo and the leaves are burnt oranges and sunny yellows and deep, sports car reds. It's lovely up there on the mountainside in the morning, and I remember the moment I took the photo holding my breath so the warm vapor wouldn't cloud my shot. And above the trees, the reason I had slogged five miles up early in the morning, was the sky. Well, it was the color of the sky, a steel-blue like looking up through the heart of a glacier. Cold, serene, and unnerving. I looked up from the phone into that same blue of his eyes.
"Surely a professor helped you set up this shot," he said.
"No, I did it."
"Hmmm. Where did you get the idea?" His voice was low. I wanted to lie. I wanted to say anything but the truth. I stammered it out anyway.
"I, I wanted to catch the blue," I said, not meeting his eyes pointing only at the sky in the photo. He made a yes sound, half-way between confirming something and enjoying it.
"Are there more?"
I scrolled through the pictures and found a short series from the summer I spent in India after high school. They were photos of monks and the monastery cut into the white stone of a mountainside. They didn't allow women to set in the monk's quarters of the temple, so I had taken shots of the surrounding areas. They were peaceful photos, a strange juxtaposition of the bright oranges and reds of the temple with the stillness of the monks in lotus position and the even deeper stillness of the white mountain and carpet of dark green trees. I handed him the phone. He studied the photos for a moment, scrolling with his thumb, before he fixed his gaze on me.
"Were you happy when you took these photos?"
"I was," I said, but that wasn't the whole truth. There is a deficiency in my pictures, I've noticed it before. Beautiful mountainscapes, a long pier at the beach, the clock tower in my home town, the monastery, they all have one thing in common: almost no people in the shots, certainly no portraits or images of myself with friends or family. There's loneliness to them.
He eyed me then, as though he had decided something.
"It's time to get ready for bed. Mrs. Fairfax, if you'll see yourself out," he said.
She seemed relieved to go, and hurried with the tea tray down the hall. Traitor. She should take me with her. I stood and nervously started toward my room. I know actors are moody, but Mr. Rochester defined the word. I was halfway across the hall when he said,"Not so fast, Jane. You're my right hand, remember?"
I froze. Was he asking what I thought he was asking? My head filled with images of Mr. Rochester naked, of my hands on his length, rubbing and twisting him as he moaned his eyes fluttering. Was this some new game? Mr. Rochester had followed close behind me.
"You'll need to undress me," he whispered.
He led me by the small of my back with his good arm into his bedroom. The lamp was on low and cast a candle-like glow on the scene. The rich suggestive red of the cover and the smell, heavy and masculine, were nearly too much. For the first time, I understood why all those Victorian women were always fainting. I turned to flee, but he was at my back. I nearly bumped his arm again. He smirked again, but not bitterly like earlier. It was more like someone laughing at their own joke. When he spoke, the words were slow and suggestive.
"Come on, Jane. Undress me."
I met the challenge of his eyes, even if I had to tilt my head back and gaze up about a foot. I stared into that blue as my hands found the top button at the collar of his indigo shirt. I was so close, he could have kissed me with ease, but he didn't. He stood perfectly still. He watched detached as I undid button after button, the opening revealing the smooth cream of his skin, a color which reminded me of marzipan or good white chocolate or anything delicious, really. I licked my lips. He finally ended the stare, his eyes following my tongue. I moved behind him to finish removing the shirt around the awkward angle of the sling.
"Trousers," he growled.
My stomach did a world-class flip as any blood that may have helped run my brain rushed like lightning to throb between my legs. I looked in his eyes again as I grabbed his belt and jerked him forward. I had to help, but I didn't have to be gentle.
I unfastened it and pulled him close again as I ran it through the belt loops and onto the floor with the shirt. I curled my index and middle finger under the fasten and pulled the top button free. His body tensed and he finally broke eye contact when I unzipped his black pants. I knelt to the floor to pull each leg out. He stood in only his boxer-briefs which were the same indigo as his shirt.
Through some sheer madness of will I managed not to look at him, there, where I most wanted to look. Even so, out of the corner of my eye I could see he was not a small man. He was large even for a man of over six feet tall, or he liked being undressed more than he let on. I reached for the top of the boxer briefs, cherishing the feeling of his skin as I grasped them. This was it. Naked Mr. Rochester in 5 . . . 4 . . . 3. . .
"I can get that. Thank you, Jane," he said. I pulled my hand back. I missed the feel of him on my fingertips immediately. I couldn't tell if he was toying with me, if this had all been some game of chicken, or if he was playing with me now instead. He obviously expected me to leave. He gave me a frigid mock-bow.
"Goodnight, sir," I said, doing the best I could to make "sir" a curse word.
I did not sleep well.