Shannon here: Roseanna White shares a romantic tension scene from her novel, A Stray Drop of Blood. Last day for a chance to win her book. Leave a comment by 8:00 PM Central and enjoy the excerpt:
Abigail stepped out of the small tub, humming the psalm she had heard Dinah singing minutes earlier. Morning stillness bathed her as surely as the water had and brought peace to her soul. In a few minutes, the day would truly begin. Breakfast preparations, helping Ester rise, seeing to the daily tasks. But for now, she was alone.
She wrung out the sopping mass of her hair, then straightened with a start when a creak disturbed her peace. It sounded almost like someone entering the house . . .
The young master–he would be returning from his night watch, and she had completely forgotten. Panicked, she grabbed her tunic and pulled it over her head. The hem settled into place just as the shuffles that had replaced the creak solidified into a tired-looking Jason.
He looked a bit surprised to find her in the empty kitchen, and the way his gaze trailed over her made her uncomfortably aware of the way her tunic clung to her still-wet figure. What must he think of her? She quickly veiled herself with her hair, face down.
“I have interrupted you, I think.” A smile saturated his voice, but Abigail dared not look up to see it.
“My apologies, Lord. Dinah and I always–that is, we forgot . . . . You must be famished. May I bring you food in the triclinium?”
“I will await my parents, thank you.”
He said no more, but still she felt his gaze on her. Hot, more intense than ever. Certain her cheeks had turned scarlet, Abigail averted her face and prayed he would leave.
Instead he motioned to the tub. “Shall I dispose of that for you?”
The offer, though more thoughtful than she would have expected of him, unsettled her all the more. Why did he not just dismiss her as usual and go to his chamber? “No, Master, but thank you. Simon always takes care of it after Dinah and I are through.”
“Ah. I shall leave you to it, then. I trust you will bring fresh water to my room once you have . . . dried out a bit?”
Could her mortification increase any more? She thought not. “Of course, Lord.”
Thankfully, he started toward the kitchen’s exit, though he paused in the threshold. “Abigail?”
Again, his voice was smiling, teasing. “You have lovely hair.”
She covered her face with her hands as he left, groaned into them. A more humiliating experience she could not recall. Best not to dwell on it. She knocked on the door to Simon and Dinah’s chamber to signal she was finished, then quickly dried off, changed. Her hair she left loose, otherwise it would still be wet this evening.
Back in the kitchen, she put water over the fire for the young master. Dinah entered with a smile. “Good morning, Abigail. Have you started the meal?”
“Not yet. This is for the young master.”
Dinah paused with her hands on a stack of bowls, eyes wide. “We forgot! He did not walk in on you, did he?”
“No, but barely.” Her heart stuttered again at the mere mention of it.
Dinah covered her mouth with her hand. “We shall not forget again, hm?”
Cleopas then stuck his head into the room. “Abigail, my wife did not sleep well last night, but she is finally resting. Let her sleep for another hour or two, if you would, before bringing her breakfast.”
“Of course, Master.” She nodded, though it made nerves light up in her stomach. She had hoped for an excuse to postpone tending to Jason, but now she had none.
When the water was hot, she poured it into a jar and headed for his chamber. He answered her knock with his usual “Enter,” and she slipped inside. Perhaps he would spare her further embarrassment and ignore her.
She poured the water and headed to where he sat on the edge of his bed, working out a knot in his sandal. As she knelt, she wondered again why he had not replaced his personal slave. Surely a master did not enjoy such menial tasks as washing his own feet.
But since it fell to her for now, she went about it silently. Or would have, had he let her.
“Did my mother not need you yet?”
“She is still sleeping. Your father said she had a restless night.”
“Does that happen often?” It was not concern that colored his tone. Curiosity perhaps, but more, it sounded as though he merely wanted to make conversation. A strange thing, given it was with her.
“Occasionally.” One foot clean, she dried it off and guided the other into the basin. “Enough that it is not odd. Not enough to be alarming.”
“You serve my mother well. She depends much on you.”
She could smile at that. “It is no chore to serve her. All I do for her is out of love.”
“The perfect slave.” Was that amusement, now, in his voice? “Such virtue is usually only pretended. Though it does beg the question–were you taught it, or is it the condition of your soul?”
An answer sprang from her lips before she could censor it. “I suppose it depends on if you ask Meno or Protagorus.”
His spine snapped into alignment. Calling herself a fool, she glanced up to see the shock on his face. He shook his head, incredulous. “You are familiar with Plato?”
How had she forgotten even momentarily her concerns about his opinion of her education? She set her gaze back on his feet.“Your parents often wish me to read his dialogues to them of an evening.”
His finger hooked under chin and forced her head back up. Perhaps his touch was gentle, but his eyes were not. “You read?”
She would have preferred to nod, but he still held her face captive. “Yes.”
His hand fell away, his eyes went blank. “Latin?”
She nodded now, and stifled the urge to apologize for the affirmative. “Your father willed it.”
“My father willed it,” he echoed. He shook his head, amusement sparking life back into his countenance. “I am realizing anew, fair one, was a strange family I was born into. A mother educated as the son of the high priest rather than the daughter, married to a Roman who has adopted Jewish law, both of whom educate their slaves better than most do their children.”
“They are the best of people.”
“They are arcane.” At least he smiled. “But yes, very good. They have certainly done well by you. My mother has shaped you into the paradigm of womanhood. Beautiful, modest, humble.”
And very uncomfortable. She dried off his foot and prayed she could make her escape without the need to respond.