The ad in the classifieds read: F-Dom with room for Sub., and it wasn't long before Samantha Dupree found out that Sub. wasn't short for Sublet after all. Her new landlady, Raine, has her write a list of all the things Sammy's done that she feels sorry for, all the things she needs to fix in order to have a clean slate again. One by one, Sammy must relive her transgressions, and with Raine's strict guidance, be purified of the lingering guilt in each memory by walking the path of the penitent.
Samantha Dupree circled around the huge cream-colored house twice before parking her dusty Honda Civic in the stately elm-lined driveway. She sat, nervously gripping the wheel, staring in doe-eyed panic at the newspaper folded open at the Classifieds page, sitting there beside her in the passenger seat, and tried to grow some courage. She was wearing her �interview� outfit � a dark blue skirt and jacket over a crisp white blouse, with stockings and sensible flat-heeled shoes. She was trying to make a good impression, so she even wore earrings, dark blue to match her suit, and if one didn�t look too closely one might not notice they were little cloisonn� images of the Beast from the X-Men comics. She�d worn her long, dark hair in a loose cascade (mostly to hide her ears), and now she regretted not putting it up somehow. There was just something about a huge Victorian manor home that made a girl feel she ought to have her hair up. In a bun, preferably. Or a bonnet.
Sammy realized she had her fingers in her mouth and quickly dropped her hands back to her lap and wrung them in an effort to keep from biting her nails. She�d never been so nervous.
She stole another glance at the front doors, standing as they were beneath a covered faux-balcony, and crowning a set of stone steps that fanned out dramatically onto a walkway that wound through the elegant grounds, all in flower of course. Not a hint of moss or dandelions in this grass, no sir! Whoever owned the house probably had a heavyset stone-faced mafia gardener come out in the dead of the night to take out any intruding greenery of the undesirable kind.
�I can�t afford this,� Sammy said to herself. It was a bad habit, rather like biting her nails, but she was helpless to do anything about it. She�d given herself very stern lectures on the subject, but they hadn�t helped. �I haven�t got a prayer.�
But she was already here, so she might as well try.
Sammy slid nervously out of the car, clutching the newspaper classifieds to her chest as if they had some shielding powers, and stood awkwardly in the driveway. She had parked beside a silver toned Lexus. Beside that, a dark gold BMW. Both had vanity plates. The Lexus was MISTRSS. The Beemer was GODDESS. The license plate on Sammy�s Civic was 861-URG and had a salmon on it.
�I can�t afford this,� she said again, and chewed on her lips. She was afraid to knock on the door, feeling more like a girl of twelve than the woman of twenty that she was. She was afraid that she�d knock on the door and the maid would answer and Sammy would throw up on her.
Sammy looked down at the wrinkled newspaper in her hands and read the ad again.
F-Dom with room for Sub. Rent/labor negotiable, all Tools inc. S/P Basement. 1202 Regency Circle.
It was the Rent/labor negotiable that had caught her eye. Sammy had some $3000 in her savings account, but no job.
Tears threatened, but Sammy pushed them back with her knuckles. For once, it wasn�t her fault. Her-mom�s-husband-Eric, had been good enough to let Sammy work for him as a kind of gal Friday in his office building ever since graduation, but that did not guarantee her a job forever and she knew it. When the company took a nosedive, layoffs were inevitable and her position was one of the least secure. She knew it, her-mom�s-husband-Eric knew it, and when she got her notice no one was surprised. No, that part was okay.
What was not okay, what did hurt, was having to sit in the living room and listen as her mom and her-mom�s-husband-Eric told her that her-mom�s-husband-Eric wanted to have his own room for all his special camera stuff and his own darkroom and whatever, and it was time for all little birdies to leave the nest. Like, sometime this week.
How they expected Sammy to be able to find an apartment with no job and no references she had no idea, but she tried anyway. In ten days, she interviewed at thirty-six different apartment complexes and put in dozens of job applications. At the end of that time, her mom and her-mom�s-husband-Eric sat her down again and told her, very generously, that they supposed she could stay, but she�d have to move down to the basement and pay $500 a month in rent until she could move out.
They took the first $500 up front, and even went so far as to pack all of Sammy�s belongings (all the ones they let her keep) into cardboard boxes and move them down to the basement. She didn�t get to keep her bed, because, as her-mom�s-husband-Eric explained, it wasn�t really hers and anyway his brother�s kid was out of diapers and ready for a big boy bed and they�d already told him he could have Sammys. Instead, Sammy had an old army cot next to the dryer. And lying there that first night, staring miserably at the spider-infested bare beam supports of the basement, Sammy realized that in a few months, she wouldn�t have any savings left at all and if she didn�t have the money to pay her rent, she might just end up on the street. Either that, or working Cinderella-style for her-mom�s-husband-Eric and all his relatives and friends to make up for it.
She�d tried to like her mom�s new husband. She really had. He had to be better than Sammy�s real dad, or the string of awful boyfriends her mom went through after they came back from Aunt Sally�s. And Eric seemed like a nice guy for the most part. But he was awkward around her on the best of days, and alternated between attempting stilted conversation and picking fights with her over the stupidest things. He made no attempt to disguise his disappointment with her when she turned eighteen and did not immediately run out and get another place to live. He�d made dozens if not hundreds of acid remarks to the effect that he had moved out the same year he�d graduated and how it made a man out of him.
Sammy dreaded having to go home today and face him, admit that she still hadn�t found any place to stay, and have to stand there and listen while he patiently told her it was only because she wasn�t trying hard enough and was in fact, whether aware of it or not, attempting to sabotage his relationship with her mother and that was very immature of her.
Sammy had hoped that a room in a house would require less paperwork than an actual apartment and that subletting would be even easier than renting. She understood vaguely that subletting wasn�t always strictly on the up and up and maybe she�d only be able to sublet this room for a few months but maybe by then she�d have a job and if nothing else, at least she�d have a residence history and a landlord to use as a reference when she found her new place.
�Okay,� Sammy whispered and squared her shoulders. She smoothed out the newspaper as best she could and marched resolutely across the walk, ascended the stairs, and took a deep cleansing breath before the doors.
She started to knock and paused. There was a brass plate set into the left-hand door and hanging from a hook on the porch wall, a black-lacquered cane with a brass head in the shape of a ram�s head. A plaque mounted above the hanging cane read simply, KNOCK.
Hesitantly, Sammy reached and lifted the cane down. It was very heavy for its size, she thought. But the ram�s head had obviously been used and so had the brass panel. Half-afraid that she was about to do something dreadful to some very ceremonial display pieces, Sammy lifted the cane and tried to pound gently on the brass strike-plate. Her blows rang out as from a gong, and Sammy hurriedly returned the cane to its hook and shuffled back from the door.
She heard footsteps, muffled through the heavy wood, and then the door swung open and Sammy was looking at a statuesque young woman, but one that was almost certainly not a maid.
The woman was dressed in black leather pants, very stylish, snug without being sausage-roll tight. She wore a cream-colored poet�s shirt beneath a black and violet patterned corset, laced with ribbons, and her hands were concealed beneath custom-tailored black leather gloves that went clear up to the elbow before flaring out in a dramatic scoop. She also wore knee-length boots with high, stark heels, and the tops of the boots were folded out and downward beneath thick leather bands and shiny buckles. The woman�s hair was blindingly blonde, and hung over her left shoulder in a casual yet stunning braid. She had the bluest eyes Sammy had ever seen. And God help her, but she looked like a pirate.
�Hello?� the woman said patiently, and Sammy realized she had said her simple greeting at least three times while Sammy had been staring.
�Um, I�m here because of the ad. In the paper,� she clarified, holding it up for the woman�s inspection.
�Oh, of course,� the woman said with a cheerful smile, and put out her gloved hand. �I�m Raine Lienhart. Come on in.�
The leather was soft as rose petals. Sammy shook tentatively and then let herself be swallowed by the house.
She was standing in a foyer roughly the same size as her bedroom back home used to be before she was moved to the basement. Against the wall immediately opposite her was a beautiful little display table and over that, a mirror that showed her just exactly how freaked out she looked. To the right of the mirror, a beveled door opened onto a pale and elegant room. To the left, another door, every bit the twin of the right, stood closed and somehow stark and final. The wall beside the open door boasted a tall armoire, a ficus in a stone urn, and a free-standing set of racks and hooks bound to a central pole that Sammy eventually decided was meant to hold coats, hats, and boots. The wall beside the closed door was bare except for a large painting in a dark frame.
Sammy studied this uneasily, aware of Raine standing off to one side watching her. The painting depicted some sort of gothic courtyard, with two rows of gargoyle-like statues, or perhaps they were people in strange, daemonic armor. At the far end of the courtyard, on a raised dais, stood a barefoot woman in a long, shimmering blue robe. The woman�s eyes were fixed before her, one brow was coolly swept up as if in inquiry, and a thin gold crown rested on the crest of her raven hair. Kneeling before her, his head pressed to the ground and his back to the eye of the viewer, was a nude man.
There was a sense of utter stillness to the painting. If it were to come magically to life, Sammy doubted she would see more movement than she saw in it now.
There was no artist�s signature that she could see, but on a brass plaque in the center of the dark frame there were two titles. CIRCE said one. The Supplicant, said the other.
For some reason, this made Sammy glance at the closed door.
�Do you like it?� Raine asked.
Sammy jumped a little, caught out yet again at staring while her host waited to regain her attention. She started to stammer out an answer, got a good look at Raine�s face, and blurted, �It�s you!� She spun and stared at the painting, at the woman on the dais. The hair was different, but it was the same woman. �Did you paint this?�
�No. It was a gift, given me by a good friend. Rather a good likeness, I think.� Raine stepped back towards the open door and made a sweeping gesture with one arm.
Sammy, feeling even more horribly out of place than ever, went awkwardly before her host into the brightly-lit chamber beyond. There was another door opposite this one, closed of course, somehow not as foreboding as the one in the foyer. There were layers and layers of drapery over tall windows, eight or ten chairs of varying yet complementary styles set around the room, with tables of differing widths and heights near at hand. The walls hosted several paintings and famous prints, and seemed almost to be paneled in low bookcases. No tawdry bodice-rippers and Stephen King page-turners in this library�all were leather-bound and dramatically lettered literature. The tops of the bookcases held a deliberate array of clutter in the form of very expensive-looking knick-knacks, vases, statues, one or two open books in special wrought iron stands, and a tiny globe in earth-tone paints, complete with scrimshawed sea monsters and that ancient mariner warning: Here be Sarpents.
�Have a seat,� Raine invited, motioning at one of the chairs. �Do you take tea? Coffee?�
�Tea,� Sammy said faintly, and winced. She hated tea. She liked coffee. Why hadn�t she asked for coffee?
Raine departed through the other door, revealing a brief glimpse of the rich red room beyond, all hardwood floors and overstuffed furniture, and (bringing a deep glow of relief in all the antiqued surroundings) a huge television with Murder, She Wrote on mute.
Sammy put her newspaper down, nibbled on her fingernails, picked the newspaper back up and smoothed it out, stared in dismay at the smudges of newsprint on her palms, and put her hands firmly in her lap so she wouldn�t touch anything. The chair she was sitting on was a floral over cream. She didn�t want to give it a nice newsprint motif.
Raine nudged the door open and backed into the room, wheeling a delicate cart with a full tea service laid out over it. Biscuits, cookies, and those little toy hotdogs. China of course. Probably from China. Or Paris or wherever they make really nice tea sets.
Raine poured for two and lifted the lid off the sugar bowl, then sat back in her chair and sipped at her drink, looking expectant as Sammy struggled to sugar and cream her tea without looking like an idiot.
�You use the little tongs for the sugar cubes,� Rain remarked. �The fork is for the little wieners.�
�It is customary,� Raine continued after Sammy had situated herself with a teacup of cream and sugar with tea flavoring, �to give one�s name upon introduction.�
Sammy stared at her blankly.
Raine�s mouth quivered as though she were trying not to laugh. �Hi,� she said in a cheerful let�s-start-over voice. �My name is Raine Lienhart.�
�I�m pleased to meet you.� Sammy enunciated carefully. She wanted to make a good impression.
Silence stretched out between them. Raine�s smile escaped a little further, and there came a muffled puff of laughter from some hidden place in her corseted chest.
�My name is Raine Lienhart,� she said again, exaggerating the sound of each word. Long pause. �And you are?� she said finally.
�Oh no!� Sammy cried, almost at a dead shout, and Raine didn�t laugh so much as explode, throwing her blonde head back and unleashing a lungful of suppressed good humor at the white ceiling tiles. �Oh, I�m so sorry! I�m Sammy! I�m not normally this stupid!�
That set Raine off in howls again, but she managed at last to control herself, rubbing at her eyes with the backs of her gloved hands and winding down into chuckles as Sammy sat, nervously pawing at her own wrists.
�I�m sorry, I didn�t catch that.� Raine was grinning, but not in a mean what-a-jackass way. She was grinning like...well, like a sister or a best friend, when you go to camp and stay up too late and everything is funny.
Sammy felt herself relaxing. She offered a tentative smile. �My name is Samantha Dupree, but I�m really just Sammy.�
�You are really nervous, aren�t you, Sammy?� Raine asked gently.
�Just a little.�
�Lots of people are, when they first meet me. But we�ll get along just fine. Tell me about yourself, and relax. I�ve heard it all. Just be honest with me and know that everything you say is held in absolute confidence whether or not we form a business relationship.�
Impossible to describe the great gust of relief and yearning that these words set free in her. Sammy opened her mouth but at first couldn�t make any sounds. Everything she wanted to say seemed to need more and more explanation, and so at last, she started at the beginning. The very beginning.
�My dad died, a long time ago, and my mom married kind of a jerk. Only kind of. But still a jerk. And now I have to move out. I need a place to stay, even...just for a while. I don�t have a job, but I�m looking every day, and I have lots of money saved up. I...I know that you�re probably looking for more rent, but...but the ad said rent and labor were negotiable and I can do a lot of housework. I don�t smoke and I don�t have pets and I don�t make noise and I�ll buy my own food and I won�t take long showers or...anything. I just...please?�
Raine�s expression had grown quietly confused and finally she cleared her throat and said, �You...you say you saw the advertisement, right? You read it?�
�Right.� Sammy smoothed out the newspaper again. �F-Dom with room available to Sublet. Rent/labor negotiable, tools included.� She broke off and eyed Raine nervously. �I don�t really know about repairing stuff. I mean, I can hang a picture, but power tools make me kind of nervous.� When Raine�s expression did not change, Sammy returned to the advertisement. �S/P Basement,� she read and looked up uncertainly. �Swimming Pool?� she guessed.
�Sound-proofed,� Raine replied, still staring at her.
�Oh. Um, what does F-Dom mean? I couldn�t figure that one out.�
Raine blinked, slowly, like an owl.
�I mean, I thought it meant Fabricated Domicile, but this sure doesn�t look like a manufactured.�
Raine�s right eyebrow rose. Now she looked even more like the woman from the painting.
�Front domicile? Um, it�s probably not a duplex either.�
Raine�s other eyebrow slid up.
�First...? Do you rent out the whole block?�
Raine closed her eyes and covered them, just for an instant, and Sammy fell sickly silent. She wasn�t sure exactly what she�d said or done, but the interview was obviously over. She looked back down at the newspaper in her lap and watched as it blurred together. She could just hear her-mom�s-husband-Eric now, his long-suffering tones as he explained that she just wasn�t looking, just wasn�t trying, just needed to grow up and go.
Raine�s hand slid around from her eyes to cup her chin and she leaned on the arm of her chair and looked at Sammy again, this time with an unmistakable air of humor. �Well, why the hell not?� she murmured, and smiled. �Let me show you the room, Miss Dupree.�
�Sammy,� said Sammy, startled, and almost dropped her teacup as she fumbled to follow Raine out of the room.
�How much housework were you thinking to offer me?� Raine asked, leading Sammy past the silent television where the inestimable Mrs. Fletcher was fingering another guilty ne�er-do-well, and through a keyhole doorway in a great wrought-iron partition that separated living room from dining room.
�Um, as much as I can, really. I kind of need to keep expenses low.�
�How low?� Raine pressed, taking her through a cheerful kitchen and sunny day room, and around to a broad stairwell curving up to a second floor.
�Five...five hundred dollars?� She had wanted to pay less than that, actually, but the manor house frightened her.
�So, in other words, you don�t want to do any housework.� Raine led her upstairs, past a bank of closed doors set in a hallway wide enough to sport a little reading room, and to another narrow stairwell.
�Okay, let�s work with that number.� Raine opened the door at the top of the stairs and turned on a light. �These will be your rooms,� she said.
Sammy stepped inside, her eyes huge. The room was a pale, cloudy blue, the floor hardwood beneath an oriental rug in muted jewel tones. There was a tall bookcase, three half-moon tables, a small sofa with an embroidered afghan casually draped over the arm. It was easily the size of her former bedroom back home. �Oh, it�s beautiful!� she said.
Raine paused and looked back at her in some surprise. �We aren�t done yet.�
Sammy didn�t even see the doors until Raine opened them.
�Bedroom,� Raine said merrily, leading Sammy past a four-poster canopy and opening a set of French doors. �Closet,� she added, gesturing to the small room the doors revealed, and turned to slide open the heavy velvet drapes that covered the wall. �Terrace.� She moved past Sammy, gently plucking Sammy�s fists from Sammy�s mouth as she passed, and opened a final door. �Bathroom,� she finished, and stepped back so that Sammy could move woodenly inside.
Pristine claw foot tub standing alone in the middle of a white-tiled room. Gold-plated showerhead fastened in the lowest of three gold grips. Delicate gold towel stand with two enormous white towels folded over it. Shell-shaped fountain spilling water gently into the spreading bowl of a shell-shaped sink, itself mounted on a raised platform, two steps above the floor. White curls of iron like lace over inset shelves where fresh linens and such could be glimpsed. Four-paneled bathing screen arranged to hide the lavatory from view.
�Sufficient?� Raine inquired, smiling just a little.
�Oh yes please,� Sammy breathed, like a child honoring the offer of an ice cream.
�Very good. Now, you understand that these rooms are yours alone, and you take full responsibility for their care. As for the rest of the house��
�Oh, that�s tempting. But no. I have a service that comes in once in a while for the waxing and upkeep of all that wood and stone stuff, but you�ll need to sweep daily. Don�t worry, I have one of those super-duster electric things. It practically sweeps itself. There are two guest rooms and of course, my rooms, and they need airing and general maintenance every day. I do the laundry. All the laundry. Never touch the laundry. Just have it in the bins for me and I�ll be happy. You do the dishes, the bathrooms, the trash, and the windows. I�ll work out a schedule for you so it doesn�t overwhelm you.�
Raine smiled at her again, shaking her head a little. �This is going to be a new experience for both of us, but I�m sure it�ll work out. I have only a few simple rules. This is a good neighborhood, so no Naked Time in the back yard or in front of open windows. Turn off the light when you leave a room, because I don�t use all the rooms very much and it can be weeks before I notice.� Raine seemed to consider something. �And don�t go in the basement.� At Sammy�s quizzical look, she added, �That door in the entry hall.�
�Okay.� It ought to be easy enough to stay away from that door. It kind of creeped her out.
�Now!� Raine clapped her hands together and looked brightly back at Sammy. �Why don�t you go down and make some calls and get a moving crew to bring your things? You can move in tonight if you like.�
�Of course really. You may find, when you come to know me better, that I don�t often make...suggestions unless I intend them to be followed.�
I loved it. I couldn't leave it alone. It was nothing like I thought it would be. I certainly touched my soul. I forget sometimes why I need disciplined. This certainly reminded me. It really has nothing to do with the pain. It is about cleaning the slate. Ed
Very well written and a fun read. Lots of twists and turns, yet once in a while I felt like I missed something, like a chapter or scene. But all and allnit was the high quality you expect from Robin Smith.
This story really caught my interest from the beginiing and and kept it right up to the end. Very interesting plot and characters.
Definitly an interesting book with characters that really draw you in and make you want to find out what is going to happen in the end. Very good and unique story.
I just had to try this book because I was intrigued by the first chapter. I was not disappointed! What a great story! I became invested in Samantha and had to keep reading to find out what was going to happen. Well written book with a great plot!!