RATING: Adults Only
Warnings: Adult language, violence and m/m sexual situations
Summary: Set in 1920 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Xander Harris is a wealthy
young man who lives with his family in a mansion on the hill. He has
no idea that a new man, a revelation and a deadly mystery are about
to enter his life.
Thanks to Petxnd for the preread and all of the wonderful manips
Full disclaimer page
The carriage house
"Lordy! Lordy! I is whooped! I has never had to work dis hard, Miz Harris. Ain't nobody done
told you? Misser Lincoln done freed the slaves." Berta stood with the back of her hand to her
forehead as she swayed dramatically on her plump, stubby legs. The front of the red kerchief she
had tied around her coarse black hair was stained and wet from the absorption of the perspiration
on her scalp.
"Oh for heaven's sake, Berta. It isn't all that bad." Jessica's hands were perched on her hips, yet
she found it hard to look her housekeeper in the eye. The truth was, when they had started this
morning, collecting rags and buckets, mops and brooms, Jessica had no clue as to the extent of the
task ahead. Now her back ached and her arms felt as if they would drop off. Her delicate hands
were raw from the unaccustomed physical labor, and she could feel her feet swelling within her
snug button shoes.
She was hungry, thirsty and her lungs burned as if she had breathed in a ton of dust and cobwebs, yet
she would not give Berta the satisfaction of admitting her condition.
She had been thrilled and delighted to get started on her new venture and immediately enlisted the aid
of the hesitant housekeeper, all the while assuring the older woman that this would be a piece of cake.
A little spit and shine and nothing more. Much.
But that had proven to be a gross understatement, with the emphasis on the word gross.
Bright and early, as soon as the family had left, the women gathered up their cleaning supplies
and trudged across the lawn toward the carriage house. Once there, because of the tenuous state
of the rickety outside stairway, the women decided the safest way to gain access to the rooms
overhead was by way of the interior. At the left of the huge double doors was a small, single
entryway that was known as the horseman's door. It was the entrance used by the stable workers
and it afforded them access to the animals in their care without having to swing open the huge
barn doors, especially in the winter.
As soon as she stepped foot inside the cavernous lower level, Jessica was astounded. She had only
been in the carriage house a few times since the removal of the horses, carriages and the family's
hansom, and her recollection of the stable was that of a musty place of dust and insects. But this was
not. This was bright and open and clean. Even the layer of sawdust on the floor looked as if it had
been placed there by design and not careless disarray.
The wall hooks that had once held harnesses, grooming brushes, and horse hoof scrapers now
contained saws, sanders, hammers and files. It was an entirely different purpose and intent, and
the occupant clearly took pride and care in his environment. It was, for the most part, neat, tidy and
well organized. Jessica frowned. It was disorienting. It was as if a big part of her own son had
become a stranger to her. She found that very disconcerting and she vowed to take more of an
interest in his hobby.
"This is Xanny's workroom, Berta." Jessica's statement was issued as a matter of fact, with pride
and awe as the morning sun streamed in the spotless windows and the space was flooded with the
warmth of the late summer season. Setting down her buckets, Jessica took the time to walk around
the vast, circular open room of the stable and examine the various projects he was working on.
The wood-crafted furniture was in every stage of completion, from a neatly stacked pile of
planked lumber to several items that seemed to have been finished some time ago and now
waited patiently to be employed. Jessica touched several of them reverently and wondered why
they sat out here rather than being brought into the house for the praise of the family.
The heady smell of rich oils and citrus stains that filled the air were enhanced and increased by the
stuffy warmth of the closed up stable, and she was uncertain if the lightheadedness she was feeling
was from the inhalation of the strong chemicals or from the realization that she apparently knew so
little about her eldest child.
"Look, Berta. Isn't this magnificent?" Jessica ran her hand across the top of a highboy that
was apparently his current project. It had solid drawers and carved, intricate detail. The drawer
handles were gold colored and polished to a high sheen. It stood a good five feet in height and the
rim around the top had been scrolled and capped. Everything about the piece was magnificent and
it easily rivaled some of the finest handmade woodcraft she had seen in the stores in New York. It
was simply astounding.
Berta stood impatiently at the bottom of the stairway to the upper level with her arms folded over
her ample bosom and tapping her foot. "Yes, 'um. It's nice as pie, now if we is gonna get started
on this crazy idea of yours, we best get to it. I still gots supper to plan and the wash ain't gonna
Jessica tore her attention from the incredible items and she huffed as she snatched up a bucket in
each hand. "You should remember your place, Berta. You are rude and insolent!"
Berta immediately humbled herself and batted her dark eyes as she cringed in mock terror. "Oh,
yes 'um, ma'am. I is sorry. Please don't beat me Miz Harris." Berta deadpanned the monotone
speech she so often used and, as usual, Jessica just rolled her eyes as she made her way over to
where the interior stairway led up to the forgotten apartment. "Oh, for heaven's sake, Berta, just go."
Following the wave of her mistress' hand, Berta chuckled and started up the dusty stairway.
Although seemingly solid, each board they stepped on creaked in response to the unaccustomed
weight of their feet and the banister wobbled within their grasp. When they reached the top of the
steps, Berta gripped the handle to open a door that had been closed and unused for the past decade
and she pushed but it wouldn't budge.
Years of shifting temperatures that saw winter colds below zero and summer blasts of over one
hundred had caused a repeated cycle of swelling and shrinking of the wooden door, making its
"Is you sure dis ain't locked, Miss?"
"Oh for goodness sake, Berta. Put your shoulder to it."
Berta gave a nod of determination and she did as she was told with a grunt and a heave. On the third
try, the door swung open. Immediately their noses were assaulted with the dust and must of years
of containment and both women turned their faces and held their noses. "Woo weee! Dis here
smells like a tomb of da dead, Miss. Cain't no cleaning make dis fit for livin' in."
As Jessica poked her head in and looked around she began to wonder what the hell she had gotten
herself into, yet it was far too soon to admit defeat. "Don't be silly, Berta. It's nothing a little soap
and water and fresh air won't fix." Even as she spoke the words, Jessica could hear the doubt in her
Hesitantly, the two women stepped off the stair landing and side by side they eased in, and stopped
dead in their tracks. They dropped the buckets from their hands and the mops hit the floor as one of
them whimpered at the sight of the monumental task ahead.
Twenty five years ago, as a young bride, it would have been highly improper for Jessica to ever enter
the residence of a hired hand and, as such, she had never actually been up here before. She knew that
the main level of the stable was huge and in theory she understood that the set of rooms overhead
was equal in size, but two and two had never equated to four when she had advanced her plan
The apartment was huge, especially in comparison to some of the homes of the lower and middle
class residents of the town. On the downside that meant that the cleaning and preparation was going
to be a bit more challenging than she had anticipated, but on the upside, the rental figure in her mind
just doubled. "Well, nothing is going to get started by us just standing here. Why don't you go to
the kitchen, Berta and check the water. I'll take a look at the bedrooms."
The main room of the apartment was the living room. It was wide and rectangular in shape with the
front wall being curved. It sat directly over the area of the stable that Xander now called his
workshop and had ample space for a sofa, chair or two, a book case for reading and a side table.
On the back wall, centrally located in the room, was a large stone fireplace that still contained the
cold, dead ash from the last occupant's final fire and a black, charcoal piece of partially burned wood.
To the left of the living room was a doorway that led to the primitive kitchen and to the right was
a similarly plain archway that led to two spacious bedrooms. Each bed chamber had a small
fireplace, and the largest room held a dusty, foul-looking kidney shaped copper bath tub.
Years ago when Harris Hall had been one of the first homes in town to be given the modern upgrade
of electrical wiring, the carriage house was not included. The kitchen stove still cooked with wood
and the wall sconces lit with hissing gas. Since water was needed in the stables, it had been no
real hardship to run the pipes straight upwards to the sink, but the addition of a full bathroom with a
toilet was a luxury the family felt the stable boys did not need.
All in all, there was certainly nothing luxurious about carriage quarters, especially when you
considered the seventeen-room mansion that was adjacent to it, but it was more than adequate.
Over the years of its use, it was functional. It was practical. It was home to various stable masters
and animal tenders with no complaint, and in fact it was much nicer than the dwellings of most of
the families on the other side of the tracks of the river town.
As all of this mulled about in her brain, Jessica chose not run screaming from the daunting task
ahead and again reminded herself of the much needed influx of cash for the wedding. Adding to
her determination was the understanding that this was something she herself could do for the family,
and after years and years of living comfortably off Anthony's efforts, it was a thrill to imagine herself
as an equal partner in the financial support of the home. Okay maybe not equal, but certainly substantial.
So they began. Jessica and her faithful maid put their heads down, threw open the shutters, and
they organized a plan of attack against the spiders and the dust mites. As they fell into a rhythm,
the hours of the day flowed with the buckets of dirty water they dumped out the open windows
and refilled, until finally Berta admitted exhaustion.
"Oh, my soul! Miz Harris. Look where the sun sits in the sky. We hasn't eaten a bite all day and
I is about to swoon from hunger. We has been out here all day and the mister will be home right
soon and I has no dinner on his table. You will get my hide tanned for sure." Berta stared out the
freshly washed window in the main room that looked out toward the front of the property. Her dress
and apron were filthy and her dark skin shone with a sheen of perspiration.
Jessica dropped her rag into the bucket of scummy water and she pressed her fingertips into her
lower spine as she leaned backward with a groan. "I'm sorry Berta. I didn't realize that it had gotten
so late. I'll take the responsibility for dinner not being ready. You go ahead and I'll...." Before she
could finish the sentence, Berta flew out the door and down the steps and within seconds,
Jessica watched out the window as the stubby black woman waddled quickly into the back door
of the main house. Jess snorted.
"Hey, what's all this?"
"Oh!" Jessica jumped straight in the air and spun around. Her mind had been so focused on the
maid's hasty retreat that she hadn't heard his footsteps on the stairs. "Xanny. You scared me. I
"What's going on? What are you doing up here?" Xander moved into the room and immediately
began looking around and observing all of the changes. The rotted rugs were rolled up and shoved
aside. The windows were cleaned and the floors swept. The old pictures were taken down from
the walls and he had a niggling of concern in his bones.
Immediately, Jessica wished she had escaped with Berta. This was not the way she had envisioned
this conversation going. She had, in fact, imagined her husband calling the boy into the library where
the two of them would have a man to man talk that she would be well out of. Yet here she was and
if the truth be told, as this had been her idea, this was probably the correct way for the subject to fall.
Avoiding her son's eye, Jessica brushed off her clothing and she smoothed back her hair. "It is
cleaning up nicely, don't you think? Of course we still have a long way to go but...."
Xander scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. "Cleaning up? Nicely? Why?"
Jessica fussed with her skirt and she snuffled a dust bunny from her nose. "Well for the boarder
of course. You can't expect...."
"WHAT? What boarder?" Xander's arms fell to his sides and he took a step backwards looking
all around as though he expected some stranger with suitcase in hand to pop out.
Jessica licked her lips and chuckled nervously. "Oh, you must have forgotten. I'm sure we mentioned
it. The carriage house is being cleaned for rental. We are taking in a tenant. Isn't that exciting?"
Xander felt as if he had been slapped. "What? No. You can't do that. That isn't fair. I was given
use.... My workshop. Father said...."
Quickly Jessica hurried to his side. She realized that she was making a mess of this and she did her
best to reassure him. "No, honey. The stable is still yours. Your father and I would not take that
from you. It is only the driver's quarters up here that we are putting to let. The boarder would never
have to be down there at all. This door could be bolted and if you will repair the outside stairway,
that would be the only way in and out. I promise. Nothing would change. Your workshop would
stay the same. You wouldn't even have to know anyone was here."
It was a lot to take in, and despite her words Xander still felt as though he had been violated, yet
what could he do? This was his father's property to do with as he wished and Anthony Harris was not
a man to be challenged. Besides that, to question his father's decisions would be an unforgivable sign
of disrespect that Xander would never display.
Still, he was hurt and confused. "But why? Why now?"
Jessica sighed. She was unaccustomed to the discussion and involvement in matters of money and
yet with this move, she had put herself squarely in the middle of it. "Its just that with the
upcoming weddings and parties.... It is just going to be so much.... It isn't that we can't afford it,
I only thought...."
Understanding and shame flushed a pink hue to Xander's cheeks and he drew his mother into
his embrace. Over the recent past years he had seen a slight decline to the shop's business and,
as the one who retrieved the shipments from the docks, he knew the expenses of the deliveries
had increased substantially. It wasn't much of a step to reach the conclusion that financially they
were not in the same position they had been a decade ago. "Oh, Mom, of course. I'm sorry. I
think it is a brilliant idea. I will be glad to help in any way I can."
Jessica relaxed considerably within the strength and reassurance of her son's arms. "Thanks, honey,
I appreciate your understanding and, actually, there is a lot you can do to help. Of course we don't
expect you to do all of the repair work by yourself. Your father is going to speak to Mr. Osborn in
town about sending his son out to help with a lot of the manual labor tasks. Along with the floor and
the back steps, if you make a list of the other things that need to be fixed, he can do the bulk of it so
that you will not have to abandon all of your own craft and construction projects."
Xander's head snapped in the direction of the stairway that led to his wood shop. "My projects?
You were looking at my projects?"
Jessica beamed with pride. "Oh, Xanny. They are incredible! Especially the chiffonier. It is
just magnificent! How did you learn to do that?"
Xander shook his head. "You like that one, huh?"
Jess placed her palm on her chest and her voice was breathless. "Oh, my, I love it!"
Xander smiled weakly. "Good. Happy birthday."