“What is wrong with you?” Winston yelled.
Louella kept her back to the ungrateful man. She was tired of the coming discussion. They went over the same route every time he had customers. Why did he have to keep rehashing old news?
She picked up the tray full of dirty dishes and walked away from him.
“Don’t you dare walk out on me,” Winston said, rushing up behind her, grabbing her shoulder in a punishing grip as he spun her around.
The goblets and bowls swayed on the tray, tipping over a few goblets. “We have nothing to talk about,” Louella said, trying to jerk her shoulder from his grasp. She hated it when he touched her.
His grip tightened. “I am sick of you acting that way in front of paying customers. You do realize who that was, don’t you? That was the bloody prince. If he likes the shoes I make him, he’ll keep commissioning shoes from me.
“And more importantly, every noble in the land will commission shoes from me and I will be known as the Prince’s Cordwainer.”
“Bully for you, but I could care less. All I want is my freedom and you out of my house,” Louella said. “When you do that for me, then I’ll be happy for you. Until then, leave me the hell alone.”
Winston’s hand tightened until Louella had to bite her lip to stop the cry of pain which wanted to leave her body. But she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
Instead, Louella rammed the tray into his gut. At his oomph, his hand released her, giving her the opportunity to step away from his aggression.
“Don’t touch me. Don’t you remember what happened the last time you tried to hurt me? If you don’t want a repeat, you’ll keep your hands to yourself.”
Winston’s hands opened and closed as he fought his rage. The last time Winston manhandled her, he’d ended up with two black eyes and a broken nose. True, she’d received a few cracked ribs and a bloody lip, but it had been worth every ache to see the looks on his customer’s faces when they saw his injuries. An accident in his workshop had been his explanation, but none believed him, not that Louella blamed them. The moment anyone saw her and Winston in the room together, it was evident the injuries were a result of violence between the two.
A year had passed since that last incident and Winston was doing better at keeping his hands to himself. But there were times when he needed the not so subtle reminder of the consequences of fighting with her.
“Or maybe you want another black eye. Do you think the Widow Candace will return if she sees you with one? She sure didn’t look very forgiving the last time she showed up here. I thought she would jump out of the window when she saw your broken nose. Can you really afford new damage to your face with all these people wanting shoes for the ball?”
Garrett moved in front of his father. “She isn’t worth it. Think of the customers and how much they’ll pay for our creations,” her stepbrother begged. “She isn’t anything but a nuisance. If only you hadn’t married her mother...”
“But you did, gods rot your soul.” Louella slammed the tray onto the kitchen counter and grabbed the bucked of well water which would be used to clean the dishes. “You married her knowing you didn’t care for her or her child. Why do you keep me around? I despise you more than you could ever hate me, so why not release me and let me live my life?” Louella shook her leg. “Or do you have a chain fetish you haven’t shared with the family?”
“I keep you because you are mine,” Winston growled. “The moment I married your ungrateful mother, you became mine. I may loathe that you were ever born, but you are my slave and I will never let you go.”
And on that happy note, Winston turned and stormed away.
“Probably going to his workshop,” she thought as her stepsiblings followed him. He was forever going to his workshop when he couldn’t win an argument. While that helped him get his work done, it simply made her frustrated for she was still chained.
Leaving the dirty dishes, Louella followed the thick metal chain to its bolt in the middle of the house. At one time, the bolt had been flimsy and Louella had easily broken it, almost making it out of the house before being caught.
After that, Winston installed a stronger bolt, but she’d gotten through that too. She’d managed to almost get out of town before one of Winston’s friends caught her and dragged her back to her prison.
That last incident, five years ago, convinced Winston that he needed the strongest bolt ever made. The day it had been installed, she’d cursed its existence, and she continued to every day since.
It was as thick as a man’s wrist and embedded into the stone floor. There was no discernible way to separate it from the chain, which was as thick and strong as the bolt. Louella had tried weakening both in her attempts to get away but without a forge hot enough to melt the metal, she was out of luck.
That had left the shackle around her ankle. Of everything Winston commissioned, it was the lightest for anything heavier would have made it difficult for her to do her work, something he still expected from her. The custom-made ankle shackle fit her perfectly, allowing only a tiny bit of space between flesh and metal. The only time she got it off was when Opal transferred it from one leg to another, something they did every few days using the key her stepfamily kept hidden in the workshop.
The longer she stared at the bolt in the floor, the more frustrated she became. Something had to change. She couldn’t, wouldn’t, stay a slave her entire life. She had better things to do, but how would she get free?
With no readily available answer, Louella went back to her dishes, cursing the day her mother had met Winston and decided he was the husband she wanted. If only her mother could see them now, then she’d know the truth. Her decision had plunged her daughter into a perpetual nightmare.
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