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From a line of felons…
Violet Kingsley’s parents, convicted of conspiring against the crown, were sent to the penal colony, leaving Violet with her abusive uncle. Escaping his home was easy, living on the streets was a matter of survival. At nineteen, she wants nothing more than to see her parents again. With no other way to discover their whereabouts, she forces her way inside a restaurant and breaks in to the kitchen, delivering herself one last hot meal before she too is sent to the penal colony, in hopes of finding them again.
Officer James Foster patrols the streets of London and is called into a different district to cover a shift. Catching Violet red-handed with stolen soup right out of the ladle, he has no choice but to arrest her, except his heart won’t let him send this poor woman to the magistrate for further proceedings. He’s seen her before, bought her a meal two years ago, and feels nothing but guilt for her still living the same life she had back then. He should have done more for her. He knows what will become of Violet as a convict on a ship set out for the penal colony – she would be one of only a few women against hundreds of men who want to take her virtue. Violet would not survive the transport, let alone the life of a convict in New South Wales. Needing a caretaker for his fourteen-month-old daughter, James offers her a chance to pay off her debt, with the same sentence term, seven years.
Will she behave as a lady should, or find his expectations and her new life to be too difficult?
DISCLAIMER: This book contains elements of domestic discipline and power exchange. If any of these offend you, please do not purchase.
Violet tiptoed through the darkened streets, her stomach grumbling as hunger struck her again. Food was hard to come by with no job and little prospects. At nineteen, Violet had managed by pick-pocketing and begging from strangers. A few had recognized her face and had left out food that was on the brink of spoilage.
Tonight, the weather was much too cold, and as she wrapped her torn shawl around her shoulders to keep warm, her body trembled and swayed, unsteady on her feet. Her gait was poor, her lack of nourishment and dizziness didn’t help.
She had tried getting a job, applying to be a nanny for a family but one glance at her as she arrived for the interview and they had slammed the door in her face. Violet hadn’t been given a warm bed in years, let alone easy access to a bathhouse. She hadn’t seen her parents after they had been ripped from her home and arrested on charges of treason. Violet had been fifteen at the time, confused and not entirely certain on what they had done. A neighbor had used the words “political prisoners” but Violet hadn’t the slightest idea what that had meant.
A distant uncle, Cornelius, had come to take her in after her parents had been shipped out to a penal colony, but he had not been a good man, sneaking into her bedroom late at night. Violet had slipped out from his home, wearing only the clothes on her back, and never thought about him again.
She had managed through her teen years easier than it was now. Strangers were less kind to her, a few even spat at her as she asked for bread. Violet could still remember the last warm meal she’d had, when a gentleman by the name of James had offered her a bowl of soup and a comfortable seat at a table. He had invited her into a restaurant and sat with her, hearing all about her family and how she hadn’t seen them and never expected to again. James hadn’t said much, mostly just listened to her ramble on. He had been a few years older than her and looked much wiser in his eyes.
Violet had been seventeen at the time and had thought quite often of that day. She had never seen James again, not that she knew where he worked or what he did for a living. He had been kind to her, treating her with respect.
Glancing down at her hands, she had lost that level of respect even for herself. Food was getting harder to come by and though she sifted through garbage behind restaurants, lately they had been chasing her away like a rodent.
There were ways to ensure she had food, but Violet was not interested in prostituting herself for a few pence that would darken her soul. Besides, getting caught meant death, and Violet still very much enjoyed her life, even if it wasn’t what she wished it to be.
Through the cold nights of winter, Violet had been contemplating allowing herself to get caught by the authorities. Being sent to the penal colony would mean daily food and a bed to sleep in. There would likely be hard labor or some other task that she would be assigned to perform, but was it worse than the life she lived in London?
Violet knew the chances were slim but she hoped that she might even find her parents in New South Wales. She had heard rumors that they were still alive and well. Were they free but without enough funds to find their way back to her? Violet hadn’t garnered much knowledge, looking quite pathetic in her smelly and torn rags, begging for information and food. Was she foolish and stupid for desiring to be arrested? Perhaps, but Violet was out of options. Feeling optimistic, the slightest glimmer warmed her heart and eased her mind.
She waited until the night air grew still and she caught sight of an officer patrolling the streets. Violet needed to be caught; it was the only way out of London. With no money, she couldn’t legally travel to find her family. Why had her parents left her with her disgusting uncle? She had no answers, only further questions.
With her hands shaking and her stomach tight, she was quite evident a bundle of nerves. The hour was late and the markets had already closed. Violet rushed for the nearest restaurant, busting in through their front door and rushing straight for the kitchen.
“Miss, you can’t be back here,” a gentleman shouted at Violet.
She paid him no attention, grabbing the ladle from the cook’s hand as she dipped it into the giant vat of soup, taking a taste for herself. The vegetable stock was delicious and rich, with a warm savory taste that tickled her tongue. One spoonful wasn’t enough. Violet dunked the ladle back into the pot and grabbed a second taste, slurping unceremoniously as she ate. At least her last hot meal would be well remembered again. She hoped she wouldn’t have to wait another two years to taste the warmth of a bowl of soup and some bread.
Violet grabbed for the basket of bread near the counter, ripping off a piece and shoving it into her mouth.
The commotion from not only inside the kitchen but also the restaurant grew louder.
“She’s in the kitchen, eating all our food!” a gentleman from inside the restaurant said.
Violet assumed he must have been speaking to the officer who was flagged down and brought inside the establishment. Was he the owner or just the gentleman who seated the patrons who visited for dinner? She kept stuffing her mouth, unsure when she would enjoy such a delightful dinner again.
“Stop!” the officer shouted at her. His icy blue eyes locked onto hers.
Violet dropped the ladle, the soup splashing about the pot. She swallowed the last bite of her bread, her eyes wide, surprised to recognize the officer standing in front of her. “James?” Was she wrong in remembering him? Perhaps he had a brother or there was a likeness between them. It had been years and Violet had spent less than an hour with him.
He sighed heavily, shaking his head, looking quite displeased. “I am going to have to arrest you, Violet.”
For the first time, she felt conflicted regarding the entire ordeal. For weeks, she had been talking herself up, deciding this was the only way to see her parents again. Not that she even knew with absolutely certainty where they were in New South Wales. It was quite a long shot, leaving London and hoping to stumble upon her parents. Laying eyes on James, it made her question all of it. Had she made a mistake?
“I…uh,” she stuttered with a response, trembling as he cuffed her hands and escorted her out of the restaurant. “I’m sorry. I was hungry. I must have been delirious.” All she had planned for seemed to slip from her thoughts as she felt his warm strong grip on her wrists. He had saved her once before, inviting her for a meal and staving off hunger.
“That’s no excuse, Violet. It is Violet, isn’t it?”
She nodded with wide doe-filled eyes, surprised that he had remembered her name. “Yes,” Violet whispered.
He led her down a darkened alley, away from curious eyes. “May I make a proposition?”
Violet swallowed nervously. Was he going to ask her to do lewd acts in exchange for her freedom? She was not interested in such an offer. “Sir, I may assure you that I am prepared to pay for my actions. I am not afraid to be sent to the penal colony.”
“Do you know how few women there are transported on each ship? I’ve heard tales of women forcing themselves to pair up with a guard or prisoner for protection. Is that what you want for yourself?”
Violet hadn’t even considered such a notion. She remained silent for a long moment before emitting a heavy sigh. “I was hoping to find my parents. I haven’t seen them in four years. Surely they are free and have not been able to travel back to London to bring me with them.” She did not know the terms of their sentence, but suspected they had paid their dues.
James shuffled his feet, undoing the ties around Violet’s arms. “A prisoner ship is no place for a woman. Write down their names and I will look into their whereabouts. A prisoner manifest would at the very least give us a location of where they were being kept and if they are still prisoner or have been allowed free. Violet, you will come home with me, where I will provide you food and a bed to sleep. Upon discovery of your parents’ whereabouts, I personally will see to it that word is sent on your behalf.”
No one was ever kind without expecting something in return. “What is it that you want?” Violet asked. She wasn’t by any means agreeing to his offer, though it sounded much more promising than her own idea of asking everyone in the prison if they’d heard of her parents.
“I have a daughter, Grace, who is just over a year old, her mother died as my daughter was born. It is a burden on me to find a nanny who is only looking for room and board. I do not have funds to pay you a salary, Violet, nor do I think you should be given one considering your crime. You will work for seven years, same length of time that would be expected at the penal colony. I will ensure that you have food and a roof over your head. There is a spare bedroom for the nanny, which is probably far more than you’re accustomed to having. Although I do not think you should be given a salary, I will take you shopping to ensure that you have more than the rags on your back.”
“That is quite kind of you, sir.” Violet had not known James’ last name and had wanted to address him with as much respect as possible. “However, I know nothing of children.”
“You will learn, Violet. Raising a child comes naturally to most women. Grace is easy to look after, at fourteen months old. She needs to be fed, her nappy changed, and a little bit of attention. I will be here this weekend with you to ensure that this arrangement benefits both of us and that you and Grace do well to get along.”
Violet would most certainly try her best. If James had any ability to discover where her parents were located, then she had to trust that he wouldn’t use her solely for her mothering abilities. Besides, it wasn’t as though she had much of any. She could not remember ever being around children. Living on the street didn’t exactly give her any experience with babies. Violet had learned to fend for herself, though she recognized that a young child would need someone to care for her. Was she capable of doing so without hurting Grace?
She did not admit that she was terrified of looking after a little girl. For the past four years, Violet had fended for herself and counted on no one. Now, she was going to be responsible for another person? It was a frightening aspect to consider.
Violet would do her absolute best. The thought of being around hundreds of men on a transport ship weighed heavily on her. Dark thoughts swirled and made her shudder remembering her disgusting uncle and the night he had crept into her bedroom. There was no way in hell that she was going to subject herself to such torment ever again.
“Very well. I do not wish to be subjected and forced to prostitute myself to ensure my protection.” She was making it clear to James that her body was her own, and that she would not give him access to it just because she had made a mistake. He had been kind in offering her a job with room and board in exchange for her sentencing. Violet was aware of the knowledge that if she faced a judge, there would be little to no leniency. She hadn’t stolen a single apple; she had raided the kitchen of a popular London restaurant.
James had thought about Violet quite often in the two years that it had been since he’d last laid eyes on her. Often he wondered what had become of the young woman who had lost her family and was left on the streets after she felt unsafe with her uncle. He hadn’t asked her questions regarding her uncle, the frightened look in her cognac gaze when she spoke of him said more than words needed to say.
He hadn’t thought he’d see her again, and in many respects, he had hoped that she had found her way, landed a job as a governess and perhaps even married. It seemed her luck hadn’t changed, at least until now.
His patrol had been stationed on the west side of town, but tonight he’d been given orders to change shifts and locations after one of his men had fallen ill with the flu. Perhaps it had been fate that led Violet back to James. He had been in desperate need of a nanny, often asking his sister, Anne, to watch Grace. She had repeatedly told him that she wasn’t always going to be available, but her husband had been kind, and seeing as how she had no children of her own, she was always over the house, watching his daughter.
That was all going to change now that Violet was available to watch Grace. His motives had, in part, been selfish. Violet was a beautiful young woman with long wavy brunette hair that shimmered in the sunlight. She was much shorter than him and had curves that showed she was no doubt a woman. Just glancing at Violet, he was attracted to her, even with her unkempt hair and dirt licked skin. Yes, she was in dire need of a bath and new clothes, but there was a softness behind her hardened exterior that he had witnessed years ago. James hoped that it hadn’t entirely crumbled away.
He led her from the city streets to the outskirts of town where he lived. The walk was quiet, Violet keeping her thoughts to herself, and James wasn’t particularly certain what to talk about. He didn’t have to ask if she had anything else she needed to bring. It was obvious that she wore the only clothes that she had, the rags torn and thin, making it clear to him that if she owned anything else, she’d be wearing it instead. There was no sense in embarrassing Violet by even so much as asking such a senseless question.
“Do you live alone? I mean I know you have a daughter, but do you have any other help?” Violet asked as they approached the manor.
James shook his head. “When my father passed away last year, he left me the house. I do what I can to keep it up, but I don’t have the necessary funds to hire any staff.” He might see where she thought he was wealthy upon stepping foot on the property. There were no neighbors in sight, the land extending as far as the eye could see, on each side to a small mound that blocked the view of the house down the street. The lawn was mowed and maintained but the bushes had overgrown and needed a bit more work to look like it had been.
He hadn’t had time to keep up with the house like his father had. Though in truth his father had quite easily thrown money at a gardener with upkeep on the landscaping and a chef to prepare him meals. James had grown up in that house and had a governess and nanny until he was in his mid-teens. Looking back, he hadn’t realized what a spoiled and well-off child he was until he had grown up.
“Oh. I see,” Violet said.
She remained quiet, perhaps being contemplative of her surroundings. James didn’t know what was running through her mind, but he was grateful to have found her. Maybe he was being an idiot, letting her into his home, allowing her to care for his daughter, but he’d spent enough time with her to see who she was as a person and gain insight into her life. She hadn’t been lucky like him. Violet needed a break in life and he was going to give it to her; it was either that or send her in front of the magistrate who would undoubtedly have her shipped off to the penal colony.
“Come inside. I’ll see if I can find you something to wear until we have time tomorrow to buy you a few new pieces of clothes.” He didn’t have a fortune, but he had enough money to afford the necessities for his family. That wasn’t to say he considered Violet family, they had only just been reacquainted, but he did want to help her out in whatever way he could.
She stood on the doorstep, staring up at the wooden door, taking the sight before her in. “I feel a bit overwhelmed,” she confessed, exhaling a soft breath, her hands at her sides.
“That’s to be expected. It’s probably been awhile since you slept in a bed.” He hadn’t intended to sound rude or harsh. James imagined that it mustn’t have been easy for a young woman to be stuck on the street. He commended her attitude, that she wasn’t about to prostitute herself for food or shelter. The same couldn’t be said for every abandoned woman in London. Though the rate of prostitution wasn’t incredibly high, he had encountered a few ladies who roamed the streets while he was on patrol. It sickened him to think what they would do for a few pence, but he couldn’t save everyone.
“Yes. I forgot what it smells like,” Violet said, her voice barely above a whisper as her cognac eyes were wide, taking in every detail.
James hadn’t particularly paid much attention to the décor of his childhood home, but now, looking at it through new eyes, watching her expression, he realized the furniture was dated and the paintings were old. The walls needed a fresh coat of paint and the pictures required a proper dusting. He hadn’t the time to consider cleaning when his daughter was his priority, making sure when he came home from work that there was a proper meal to be eaten. Though she was young and was only babbling mostly nonsensical words, James had wanted her to try everything that he enjoyed, cooking long drawn out meals. It had been exhausting.
“James?” Anne’s voice echoed from inside the house.
“Papa!” Grace’s voice squealed as his sister carried his little girl over in her arms. She glanced Violet over disapprovingly.
“What’s going on, James? Why are you bringing a street urchin into your home?” Anne asked.
He stared into her pale blue eyes, her cheeks reddening with anger. Her long blonde tresses were tied up on her head, probably to keep Grace from pulling on the strands. “Her name is Violet and she is not a street urchin.” How dare Anne speak to him with such a vulgar tongue! “I expected more from you.”
She pursed her lips and grumbled under her breath, handing over Grace to James. Shaking her head, she eyed Violet from head to toe. “You still haven’t answered my question.”
“No, I guess I haven’t.” It wasn’t James’ place to explain everything that was going on to Anne. Yes, she was probably concerned about Grace, but he had his daughter’s best interests at heart. “You’ve made it perfectly clear that you can’t watch Gracie anymore. You won’t need to concern yourself with my daughter,” he said.
Grace clung to her father’s neck and as he held her in his arms, he knew deep down he was making the right decision, even if his sister didn’t see it right away. She needed to be around her husband and spend time with him, so that they might start a family of their own. It wasn’t his place to ask Anne to watch his daughter every day while he worked.
“Gracie is my niece! How can I not worry about her well-being when you bring a stranger into your home? Do you know anything about this woman?” Anne asked. She didn’t seem to care in the slightest that she asked right in front of Violet!
James glanced at Violet who was now staring at the floor, probably trying to make herself as invisible as possible. He wasn’t about to explain to his sister the deal he’d made with Violet; that would only rile her up further.
“Do you even know how to cook?” Anne asked Violet. “Gracie needs to eat and it’s more than just a bottle a few times a day. You’re going to have to make meals and cut her food up small so she doesn’t choke.”
“I will take care of it,” James said. “Whatever Violet needs to know; I will teach her. You don’t need to worry about us anymore, Anne. I appreciate the fact that you’ve been helping us out for over a year, but you’ve been begging me to bring in help. I did what you asked.”
Anne folded her arms across her chest, clearly agitated. “Don’t place the blame on me, James. I have gone out of my way to help you. I suggested bringing in a nanny, not a stranger to care for your child! How do you know she won’t take Gracie and run?”
He sighed heavily, his face red with anger as he clung to his baby girl. “You should go,” he said.
Violet cleared her throat and shuffled her feet.
“You heard him,” Anne said, staring at the brunette.
James shook his head. “I meant you, Anne. It’s time for you to leave. If I need you, I’ll let you know, but Gracie and I will be just fine.” He hoped he wasn’t making a huge mistake. Anne was right, how well did he know Violet? They’d shared a meal together. Was he being a fool to allow her to stay with him? It hadn’t even crossed his mind that someone might steal his little girl from him. She wouldn’t do that, would she? Anne had managed to get under his skin and put worrisome thoughts in his head.
“Fine. Don’t come crawling back to me when I warned you that bringing in a stranger is trouble.”
James knew that Violet had no references. It wasn’t as though he could ask her former employer that she had been a nanny for regarding the care of the children. Violet had spent the last four years on the street, trying to survive, nothing more. Was she even capable of caring for another person other than herself? He rubbed at his forehead with one hand and felt Gracie curl up in his arms, her head resting on his chest.
Anne stormed out the front door, leaving the house eerily silent as he locked and secured the chain to the door.
“I can go…” Violet said, pointing behind her at the door. “She’s right, you don’t know me and I can’t expect you to open your house and your life up for me.”
Was he supposed to arrest her and send her off to the penal colony? She would likely be raped during transport from an inmate or guard. He couldn’t allow anything to happen to her. James wasn’t sure why but he felt responsible for her well-being. Perhaps because he hadn’t done more for her two years ago when they had met and shared a meal together. Often he thought about her, wondering if her life had turned out better, and now, knowing that it hadn’t, it formed an ache in the pit of his stomach.
“No. You’re staying,” James said, adamant that he trusted his instincts, and she was a good person. He loved his daughter though and every horrible thought of her not existing only hurt him further. He felt the need to save everyone and that had been the reason he had become an officer.
“Are you sure?” Violet asked, her voice tentative and filled with trepidation.
“Yes.” James wasn’t changing his mind because Anne didn’t understand the situation. “Come. I shall take you upstairs and get your bath drawn. After you wash up you can wear something of mine for bed. Tomorrow, first thing in the morning we will venture to the market to find you some fresh clothes.”
“That is incredibly kind of you, sir.”
“Please, call me, James.” He was not one for formalities, especially with Violet living in his home. Besides, it felt quite strange to be called sir and he much preferred to be addressed by name.
She nodded, her eyes trained on the floor, though ever so briefly they would glance up and meet his stare. “Yes, of course.”
“Come. Let me show you to your bath and get the water heated so that you might be able to clean up and relax.” He could only imagine when the last time she had been afforded the luxury of bathing. There were bath houses in London but they required a few pence for entry. Surely if she had money she likely spent all funds on food to survive.
“Thank you,” Violet said, following him up the stairs.