Maid of His heart
Pretty Claire O’Reilly is a maid in 1878 New York City at the grand mansion, Stanton’s Settle. Her employer, Andrew Morgan-Stanton, a wealthy railroad baron, introduces the innocent Claire to the pain and pleasure of discipline and obedience and, in the end, they both find an unexpected love.
Release Date: February 26, 2019
Genre: Historical Erotic Romance Novella
Manhattan, New York
Christmas, and all of its hustle and bustle, would soon arrive, much to Claire O’Reilly’s chagrin. She hated the holiday, mostly because she dreaded the amount of work involved readying for it, as she’d been doing the past week with heavy cleaning. Sitting with her eyes closed, she was on the ragged edge of slumber upon the divan at her employer’s home when Snap! Blazing pain tore through her breasts and startled, her eyes opened in stunned surprise.
“Oh, heavens,” she gasped, scrambling up from her prone position on the rose-colored divan in the parlor.
Her hands flew up to protect herself from further blows and she groaned in horror at Mrs. Henderson, the head housekeeper, standing over her with a long, wicked cane in her hand.
“What be ye about, girl? Ye can’t be sleepin’. Christmas will soon be here. Sleepin’s not what Master Stanton’s paying ye fer, either. Ye’ll need to learn, and the only way I know to teach ye is to beat ye, the master’s rules, not mine, but a good thing!” Mrs. Henderson narrowed her already small eyes and raised her arm as she moved closer, ready to strike a second time.
“Please, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I hate the Christmas season. All it means is more heavy work than I do now for the same pitiful pay,” Claire retorted, keeping her arms across her breasts.
Shaking in outrage, the woman snapped, “And if ye didn’t stay awake all hours of the night readin’ those silly books ye wouldn’t be too tired to do yer work. Plenty more of your type to fill yer shoes,” she said, her arm raised as she went after Claire again.
Claire huddled on the divan, arms up as she tried protecting herself from the blows raining down on her, since she couldn’t escape the woman’s bulky body hovering over her. Humiliation swamped her when she heard the tittering of the assembled staff outside the door, knowing they heard the fall of the cane on her body.
“What in the world is going on here?”
A man had asked the question, in a calm but deep, menacing voice.
Mrs. Henderson immediately dropped the cane on the floor, whirled around, gasped, and bobbed a quick curtsy. “Master Stanton.”
Claire looked toward the parlor entrance. There stood a tall, broad-shouldered, dark-haired man. With the brilliant sunlight streaming through the windows Claire noticed he was dressed rather formally for morning. But the frock coat, white shirt and silver-grey waistcoat enhanced his masculinity and his handsomeness. His face held a mixture of exhaustion, inquisitiveness, and anger as he glared at her tormentor.
This man, the master of the house, had arrived home from a business journey yesterday, and spent his first evening with his mistress, according to the gossiping staff. Upon his return in the wee hours of the morning, he’d instructed the staff to leave him be for he’d sleep the day away. Now Claire believed she was in even more trouble for he’d wakened early, likely because he’d heard the ruckus Claire and his housekeeper had made.
Upon this first meeting, Claire guessed him to be about thirty, much older than her, but so virile and gut-wrenchingly handsome. With great effort, she looked away and focused on the housekeeper hunched over her still, cane lying on the floor at her feet. Mrs. Henderson wrung her hands and perspiration dripped from her forehead.
Good! She hoped the woman paid for her wrath. Justice would be served.
“I asked you a direct question, Mrs. Henderson. What has the girl done to warrant your wrath?”
Claire’s eyes widened, and she gulped as she watched the master prowl across the parlor floor and then stop beside Mrs. Henderson where he bent down and swept up the cane, tapping it against his thigh. His very muscular thigh, Claire noted, her eyes riveted to it.
The woman straightened a bit and blustered. “She was sleeping that’s what! It isn’t allowed, Master Stanton.”
Claire cowered now as her employer’s piercing gaze settled on her. “Is that true?” he asked in a dangerously soft voice. “Were you sleeping instead of working?”
With a short nod, Claire averted her eyes, not wanting to see his anger. Andrew Morgan Stanton possessed the face of an angel, yet she wondered at his looming reaction to her transgression. He had every right to be furious for she’d disobeyed one of the rules of the house. What Claire had yet to determine was if the rule truly was his, or something the nasty Mrs. Henderson had determined.
Master Stanton directed his argument back to his housekeeper. They moved further away from Claire, who ignored their words and instead studied this man she’d heard so many roguish things about. What a horrid thing to happen; meeting her employer for the first time under such awful circumstances. She sat there quietly, utterly taken by him, all thoughts of anything else left her mind.
Not for the first time did she wonder why an unmarried man would reside in such an enormous house—a house with an enormous name—Morgan-Stanton’s Settle, named after Andrew Morgan-Stanton himself, who’d ‘settled’ there five years ago, upon making his fortune in the railroad business. She thought it a rather pompous name but there was no accounting for nouveau-rich folks’ eccentricities she’d learned since her arrival in America three years ago, at the age of fifteen. With a sigh, her eyes misted over as she thought of the green hills and valleys of Ireland, but she for certain didn’t miss the abject poverty.
Oh, how she longed to rest. She secretly worked late at O’Gara’s Pub in the evenings, sneaking off when the household was quiet. Last night she’d had very little sleep. She leaned back to wait for them to stop, her arms still protectively crossed over her breasts. Perhaps she’d been lucky with his intervention. Unable to help herself, she slumped down against the divan’s back cushions again and closed her eyes, awaiting either further punishment or release. How much worse could it be?
“Would ye look at that, sir? She’s at it again!”
Claire’s eyes shot open, startled by Mrs. Henderson’s shrill voice and she shot up straight once more. She met the master’s eyes, saw he’d crossed the room to her side without a sound, his expression haughty yet, dare Claire think it, concerned as well? She started to stand but sank down and shrunk back when he reached out and placed his hand against her forehead.
“I won’t hurt you,” he murmured. “Mrs. Henderson, she’s quite warm,” he said. “I’m wondering if she has the fever.”
Claire couldn’t tear her gaze away from Mr. Stanton, so delightfully cool was his hand on her. She felt captivated by him, and the rest of her world dwindled away to nothing. Heavens, she was drawn to him as a moth to light, as a bee to a flower...
“Are you ill?” he asked.
Shaking her head, Claire started to stand once more but he held her down with a hand on her shoulder.
“Then what ails you, girl?” When she didn’t reply, his low voice raised, “Are you with child?”
She gasped, “No!”
Mrs. Henderson growled, “No, Master, you mean!”
Claire’s eyes widened as she darted a quick look at the woman, then she looked away, directly into the master’s eyes.
He swept her body a long look and heat permeated her from top to bottom at the displeasure on his face. Looking down at her ugly, heavy, gray woolen gown, the skirt covered with a white apron, she didn’t see any tears or stains—nothing for him to show his distaste.
He strode to the hearth and laid the cane down upon the mantle, turned and faced Mrs. Henderson, his hands behind his back, his stance wide—intimidating. Gruffly, he asked, “Do I, or do I not provide coin for proper staff attire?”
Mrs. Henderson nodded. “Ye do, Master Stanton.”
“Then why is the poor girl dressed in this heavy, itchy woolen gown when you’ve stoked the heat so high? My God, no wonder she’s exhausted and can’t stay awake. The heat is stifling.”
But, sir, it’s freezin’ cold outside! Some of the other household workers were complainin’ it was cold in the house.”
“Perhaps, if the rest of the household actually worked hard, they’d warm up some. By the way, since I installed the new, efficient furnace, the heating bills over the past few months have been horrendous, which they shouldn’t be. First thing you’ll do is lower the heat. And if lowering the heat doesn’t improve the heating bills, we shall return to heating the house in the old-fashioned way, by stoking up the fireplaces.”
Another heating source? Claire thought. No wonder she always felt so warm when the hearths were never lit.
A large degree of satisfaction filled Claire as she stared at the head housekeeper, who appeared flushed and decidedly uncomfortable under her employer’s reprimand and harsh scrutiny.
“She’s only been here a month, sir. Just haven’t had time to purchase the clothing yet,” Mrs. Henderson muttered.
“Make it a priority, then,” he replied. He went on to list some examples of suitable clothing. Claire withdrew to her own thoughts again.
So, the old biddy had lied, telling her it was Claire’s own coin and responsibility to provide work attire. Claire heaved a relieved sigh. The little she’d tucked aside to purchase new work gowns could now be turned over to her aunt whom she paid to care for her poor, sick mother. She was so thankful for the Lord of the Manor’s appearance now she found herself feeling positively joyous.
Master Stanton’s intervention on her behalf made Claire’s heart beat wildly as she looked intently at him. He was, by far, one of the most handsome men she’d ever seen. What was there not to like? Though she knew, upon occasion, a man’s handsomeness could conceal an arrogant attitude, perhaps even a ruthless and nasty disposition. But then she thought about how highly the other staff spoke of him. There was much talk about Master Stanton being a fair man. Claire decided he couldn’t possibly be anything but decent and honorable. Then she came back to reality.
She was certain several admiring ladies fawned over him, besides his mistress. He didn’t need Claire doing so as well. And she’d heard from gossiping staff, how he’d been searching seriously for a wife. Claire knew he’d never give her so much as a miniscule look of interest since she was nothing but a poor, simple house maid.
He ambled to the hearth, snatched up the cane once more, and clenched it firmly. Claire’s eyes widened as she stared at his large hand, shuddering at the thought of him striking something—rather someone with it. It would hurt, she decided, very much and she gasped.
He lifted one brow and pierced her with an intent look on his face. Immediately, she lowered her gaze; he was the master of the house and she knew her place.
She heard his voice rumble, “Well, then, Mrs. Henderson, is this how you usually punish my workers?”
Claire looked up just as the housekeeper gave an abrupt nod. “And no meals for an entire day, besides.”
Another lie! Claire thought. The beatings were not his rules but hers.
He frowned. “I don’t abide abuse in my household, as you are well aware. Though a bit of physical correction helps in some of the worst cases of laziness,” he amended. He nodded at Claire. “Do you believe it will in hers?”
The woman nodded curtly and folded her arms across her matronly breasts, looking positively self-righteous.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve caught her sleepin’. Besides,” she added, “what’s correct for one is correct for the next.”
He moved again, pausing directly in front of Claire.
“Well, stand up, girl!” Mrs. Henderson snapped. “Show some respect for your master.”
While she wanted to inform both of them that no man, only God above, was her master, she jumped to her feet, straightened her white bob cap on her head and kept quiet. Twisting her hands in front of her, she stared at his broad chest, specifically at the third black onyx button on his waistcoat. He was tall, but then, she was quite short, so everyone was tall in comparison.
“Explain to me why you fell asleep, Miss...?”
She just stared at his shirtfront until the housekeeper shouted, “Reply, you insolent girl.”
“O’Reilly, sir. Claire O’Reilly.”
“Claire,” he said softly, his low voice caressing her name.
“Pretty name and it suits you. Irish, are you?” She nodded and looked up at him.
He’d managed with his low voice to make her short, simple, common name sound beautiful. Claire caught the admiring glint in his eyes and faint smile as his gaze moved over her face, then lower. Heat filled her cheeks when she saw he’d focused on her breasts. She raised her hands to cover them as humiliation swept through her. His gaze met her eyes once more and one corner of his mouth quirked up in amusement.
His smile left then, replaced by that scowl once more, and she once again lowered her gaze to the floor.
“Why had you been sleeping instead of working?”
She couldn’t tell him about her other work, for fear of being let go. She needed both jobs. Relaxing a bit, guessing he wasn’t all that angry with her, she said, “As Mrs. Henderson said, I was up late reading the latest penny dreadful novel, sir.”
“I see,” was all he said, and he moved in a circle around her. She grew uneasy as heat streaked through her body. She felt him at her back and shivers prickled down her spine, warning prickles that she was in possibly more trouble than she realized.
“Well, then,” he said, his words barely above a whisper in her ear, “I’m inclined to agree with Mrs. Henderson that you must be punished.”
With a gasp, Claire squeezed her eyes tight.
“Then I’ll continue where I left off, sir,” Mrs. Henderson stated firmly, holding her hand out for the cane.
He lifted one hand and the woman paused. Frowning, deep in thought, he finally spoke. “No. I’ll deal with her. “You may leave us, Mrs. Henderson.”
The woman protested, “But that wouldn’t be proper! Besides, you’ve always said it’s my position to handle household matters, including the workers and that you didn’t care to be bothered.”
“I know exactly what I said and frankly can’t believe you have the temerity to remind me of it,” he said icily. “Suffice it to say I’m making an exception with this particular maid.”
The woman stuttered, “I’m...I’m sorry. Of course, you may do as you wish with the girl. But, in all fairness, the staff needs to know she’s been punished.
“She will be,” he snapped. Eyeing Claire again, he added, “How many strokes?”
“For this infraction, forty,” said the housekeeper.
“My God...” he gritted out. At her firm nod, he said, “Leave us and I’ll deal with her.”
“I shall assemble the staff in the hallway,” she informed him.
He sighed. “If you must.”
The older woman left, closing the door behind her. Claire knew well of Mrs. Henderson’s temper and guessed it had taken all of her willpower not to slam the door in her wake.
Claire chewed her lower lip and fidgeted as she stood before him, knowing with increasing dread that he would be the one to mete out her punishment. What an inauspicious first meeting between them. She wondered how long her little lie about why she was tired would hold up, though. One evening she would be caught leaving or returning to ‘the settle’ then she would lose her position.
Covertly, she watched him settle the cane next to the fireplace, shuddering when he removed his coat, leaving him clad in his shirt, tie and waistcoat, Claire prepared herself for a beating. She stood stock-still, fear building inside her as he pulled silver studs from his cuffs and rolled back his sleeves. Claire gasped quietly at his strong forearms then cast her gaze to the floor once more as a shiver rolled through her body.