Prologue

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Prologue

Edamton, England, 190?

"I. Do. Not. Need. A. Wife." Graham Tate-Fuller looked at his father Samuel who expertly flayed the raw meat in front of him. Samuel Tate-Fuller was known as the best butcher in three towns, Edamton, Shaffshire and Percymory. He was a precise man who worked hard to maintain two butcher shops and a green grocer that worked with local farmers to sell to the public. All of these little ventures made him rich and his family more than comfortable. His wife Miriam and his sons Graham and Ian wanted for nothing. But Samuel's public face was only a shade lighter than his darker, more private one.

He could raise his hand as easily and as expertly as he could raise a cleaver to meat, and Graham knew well enough his father's ways and moods. Graham could see his father's lips flatten as he maintained a trained silence after his elder son's ground out declaration. Samuel chopped again, scraping and moving pieces of meat to the side.

"You take up with whores, find whatever passes for God after you run aground in Camden and declare you want to change your life." Chop. "In Africa of all places."

"There is this town, Eyubea that wants to teach their children."

"Whatever you please, Graham. But if I am to put my money, nothing short of a king's ransom, I might add, and the money of other business men to fund this holier-than-thou about-face of yours, you will not enter that continent without a wife."

Graham knew that his father was about keeping up appearances and keeping his name associated with the well-to-do. As a man who worked with his hands and not beholden to legacy money, he would use the ends of his manual means to blind them for as long as it took to maintain their approbation. Samuel Tate-Fuller was a slave to his reputation and his family was nothing short of a slave to his vainglory.

"I do not--" Graham jumped when his father brought down his cleaver so hard that it stuck in the wood. Samuel wiped his hands with the towel that hung from his flesh-splashed apron. After decades of butchering, he had gotten used to the musky sweet smell of raw meat. Graham however, didn't quite have the stomach for this part of the business, like his younger brother, but he made no bones about enjoying its fruits.

Samuel walked up to his son, who was only one or two inches taller. He coldly held Graham's gaze and could see the film of sweat forming on his upper lip. "You consort with whores and haven't got the decency to keep them in their rightful place." His voice was coarse and biting, causing Graham to flinch. "You think others don't know something of your Camden troubles? There were rumors, and now that you have returned all penitent and changed, you are a boy who failed at handling your private affairs." Giving Graham one last look, he walked past his eldest son to get some needed items from the other side of the room. "No amount of Jesus or mercy will change that, no matter what you claim. You have always had that devil in you, ever since you were a boy and your mother always coddled it. And you."

Graham swallowed hard at the bitterness in his father's low tone. As a child, he had feared his father. His hands were thick and heavy, they felt like stones pummeling skin when he beat him. His arms were like trunks that gave any switch or belt more than enough momentum to draw blood and stripe skin. Graham's jaw clenched and his hands balled into fists as he stared straight ahead remembering how his skin burned at the slightest breeze and how he swore vengeance against his father one day. That day would never come.

Samuel continued. "Those native women, I've heard stories about their blatant nakedness, their wild ways and the way they connive and trap and trick. They will make no bones about latching themselves on to a man of means without a wife. To them you are a prize, a fat calf, and I will not have you dragging down this family's good name in the African mud."

Samuel walked back to the meat and dressed it the way that had become his signature.

"You need a girl, someone young who will do as you say, as you please. She needs to be a virgin, obedient, so she won't stray and she needs to be decent enough for you to look at every day. Your mother was that which made up for all her other failings." Graham's nostrils flared as he flinched at Samuel's unkind characterization of his mother. Focused on the meat, he continued. "We will call on churches and make announcements. We will emphasize this as a mission of religion and education...whatever is called for. You will have your choice of women fawning over you, yes." He nodded. "Once she is your wife, you may do whatever you wish to her, with her and she will not go against you. But you will marry before you step foot on the Gray Line to the African continent."

Graham's fist collided with a table, rattling the contents. Samuel continued with his tasks, failing to acknowledge Graham's outburst.

The matter was closed.

Graham lowered his chin to his chest and turned on his heels, stalking from the room.

He had made his bargain with Almighty God as penance for Mary. He would make his bed with the Devil if it meant he would leave Edamton for the duration.

It was done. He would get a wife.

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