Jasper didn’t talk with customers much. Not like they were his friends, anyway. People didn’t come to The Red Pearl for a lovely chat with the owner; they came for the flip everyone talked about, and sometimes for a place to stay the night.
Across the room, I saw him laughing with one of the late-night men. The same one who, last night, had pressed the coin in my hand after offering to pay for me.
You should tell him what happened. It was Betty’s voice, not mine. Henry would never let someone do that to me. But Henry was off firing a musket, not at home with his newborn. Maybe Betty had a point. Maybe I’d have been happier with Sam, who would be throwing fists with that Tory right now. But hadn’t I turned this question in my head a thousand times since my wedding day? This wretched mind of mine had twisted an honest thing into regret.
Later, when Jasper was in the back checking on Robby, I felt the brush of a body behind me. “Did you keep that coin?” One of the Tories.
“I appreciate your generosity, sir,” I said, stiff as a hunted deer deciding where to run.
“Now that I’ve paid,” he growled, “I think I should receive the service.”
“I’m not sure what you mean, sir,” I breathed, praying for Jasper to come back out.
From behind, the redcoat grabbed my hip. “You know what I mean. Someday I’ll take what I’m owed.”
My life would have been entirely different, I am certain, if I had noticed him slink into the back, a predator sneaking into the darkness, ready to pounce. But I was busy with the sweeping and the serving, and although his words and his touch had left an uncomfortable tingle that stayed with me the rest of the night, I didn’t think about it much. Men looked, they talked, and sometimes they even touched, but at the end of the day I sank down into Jasper’s bed, and he kept me safe from anything worse than that.
When all the guests had retired, Jasper nodded towards the stairs. “Let’s go.”
“Wait,” I said, noticing the fireplace. “The fire’s dying down. I’ll get more wood.”
I can get it, he could have said, and that, too, would have made everything different. Or he could even have said, I’ll wait here for you to come back. I didn’t blame him, because in any case I’d have turned him down, told him to go upstairs and I’d meet him there shortly. I’d have told him I could do it, and not to worry about me. But he had never worried in the first place. He nodded and left me.
I stepped into the bitter cold. It didn’t take long to gather an armful of firewood from the shed and carry it back. And then, so close to the door, a hand on my mouth.
I dropped the firewood. A silver blade at my throat. “You thought I’d forgotten?”
I struggled, but he pressed the blade harder. Jasper was within earshot; if I screamed, he’d be out here in seconds. “One noise and I’ll slit your throat.”
So I was silent. When he turned me to face him, I was silent then, too. And when he unbuckled his belt, one arm still tight on my shoulder, I didn’t make a single sound.
I don’t remember the sensations. I think I never felt them in the first place; it was like I watched the whole thing from above. Silent, while he pushed me against the wall of the shed, which was rough and splintery, silence while he lifted my skirts, and when he finally did with excruciating pain what Jasper had done hundreds of times without a wink of discomfort, and what I had once longed for Sam to do, I didn’t make a single sound. In the beginning, his knife was still at my throat, but as he carried on he lowered it. He knew I couldn’t scream; he knew I couldn’t move. I was a corn-husk doll being ripped apart piece by piece.
When he was done, my whole body ached. “Well,” he said, voice echoing through the darkness, “I will say that was worth the price.”