The Manor House Ch. 06byvelvetpie©
"Shandi!" Rob came sailing out of the house, wiping her hands on the bottom of her apron. Shandi gratefully sank into the circle of Rob's arms, suddenly overcome by emotions that she hadn't known that she was holding back. She was happy that Rob welcomed her tears, the woman's hands gently massaging her back softly. "Oh, Shandi, you're safe here. Welcome."
Shandi didn't know why she was crying but the release and Rob's soothing voice felt good. She swallowed her sobs and shook her head, unable to find words immediately. It took her several seconds before she could squeak out two words: "Thank you."
Rob pulled back and surveyed the woman, noticing that the bags beneath her eyes were slowly retreating and that her smile was quicker to turn the corners of her mouth upward. "No need to thank me. I'm glad that you came." She shot a glance at Milo who gave her a nod. "Did Milo scare you?"
"A little bit but he sorta reminds me of Robbie Coltrane ... "
"Jesus, is there no bloody actor that I remind people of?" The large man huffed, skulking to the side of the van and retrieving Shandi's luggage.
Rob grinned. "He's kinda sensitive about that."
"I gathered as much. He complained about some guy named Connolly ... "
"Ah." Rob put her arm around Shandi's shoulders and steered her into the back door. A magnificent kitchen opened into the bowels of the house and three women were busily preparing a meal. A heavyset white woman looked up from her job of stirring a huge pot and set the spoon down, striding over to Rob's side. "Shandi, this is Lisa. Lisa is our master chef and commander supreme of the kitchen staff."
"Nice to meet you."
Lisa cast a discerning eye on her. "You're too skinny."
The woman's harsh comment took Shandi aback and she looked away, tears burning in her eyes. Rob noticed the way that Shandi reacted and knew that this one would have a long way to go before she found her way back to herself. Lisa's comments were always the first test to see if the incoming person had any will to fight. Clearly, Shandi had none. Rob tightened her arm around Shandi's shoulders and turned her toward the other girls.
"These are two of our staff members, Colleen and Melba." The young women shook Shandi's hand, both bearing bruises that were yellowing in retreat. Seeing their injuries made Shandi self-conscious of her own and she raised a hand to her eye.
"Don't worry. We've all had them."
Melba's words struck a nerve and Shandi lowered her hand, her eyes sweeping the floor. Colleen and Melba turned back to their job of making lattice pie pastry tops for the couple dozen cherry and apple pies that patiently waited.
"Everyone gets a job around here, Shandi. What are you good at?"
"Painting. It's what I do ... er, used to do."
Rob caught the slight change in the woman's tone. "When was the last time you painted?"
The pain and loss of losing the single thing that fed her soul bloomed fresh in Shandi's chest. "Three years ago." She took a shuddering sigh. "Donnie said that it took too much time away from him."
Anger burned in Rob's chest and she immediately knew what needed to be done for Shandi. "Well, we can fix that. Have you ever worked with horses?"
"Would you like to try?"
"I guess so."
"Good. Let me introduce you to Hannah." The stable was huge and fragrant with the mixed scents of warm horseflesh, steaming manure and leather and Rob noticed that Shandi wrinkled her nose. "You'll get used to it. Believe me, horse manure is the tamest of manures to have to smell."
"Wait until you meet our pigs. Then you'll understand." Rob located Hannah in one of the stalls, shoveling chunks of manure into a wheelbarrow while a dappled gray mare watched. After a quick introduction, the tall woman handed Shandi a pitchfork and gestured toward a bale of hay. She had never done work in a stable before but Shandi knew that fresh hay had to be laid down in each stall. She took the fork, grabbed a portion of hay and began to spread it out in an adjacent stall.
She worked steadily under Hannah's direction and two hours later, the woman told her that she had done well and that she'd done enough for the day. Sore and weary, Shandi headed back to the house and was grateful when Melba met her at the back door with a steaming mug of cinnamon tea.
"You did good. Come on. I'll take you to your room."