Wings of the Walker - CoraLee June

Chapter One

Josiah Stonewell consumed my every waking thought. I knew how he liked his coffee. How he preferred the summer heat to the chill of winter. I could predict his actions based upon the way his nose wrinkled while reading the morning news. I had a borderline obsession with a man I could never have. Josiah Stonewell was not only the love of my life, he was also my holder.

It was a chilly morning despite the summer season. I placed a breakfast plate in front of Josiah and covertly admired the way the sunlight danced along his blond hair. I noticed grey circles beneath his bright-blue eyes and bit my tongue to hold back the concern that practically poured out of me.

I couldn’t help but worry that he was pushing himself too hard lately. Taking over his father’s job was out of character for the artistic boy I knew well, and each day pushed him farther and farther into the cynical beliefs of the capital. I could sense that the corruptions of the Galla province left him feeling drained and depressed.

“Thank you for breakfast, Ashleigh,” he said in a sleepy voice that made my stomach clench. Its thick and gravelly tone was delicious. I wanted to dive right in and take a bite. No matter what Josiah did, I couldn’t help but want him. My addiction was both dangerous and heavenly.

“You’re welcome, Josiah,” I replied sweetly.

“That’s Master Stonewell to you,” said a proper and high-pitched voice that filled the finely-furnished dining room.

Josiah’s mother, Linda Stonewell, was a nasty combination of distinguished and prideful. Although I will forever be thankful that she procured me when I was orphaned as a young girl, she consistently reminded me of my place in the Stonewell household. I was an attendant in their home, or as commonly called in our society, a Walker.

Josiah smiled at me, causing my cheeks to blush a ruddy hue. We’ve known each other almost our entire lives, and sometimes it was difficult to remember that he was my holder. We spent the majority of our childhood together, sharing secrets and secluding ourselves from the world. Despite our drastic, socioeconomic differences, we were kindred souls.

I was procured at the age of three, but it wasn’t until I turned seven that Mistress Stonewell demanded that I refer to Josiah as ‘Master Stonewell.’ She saw our friendship as a threat to his wellbeing and placed a respectable amount of distance between us. She sought out every opportunity to brand me with the Walker status. I received the highest training in cooking and household management while enduring her outrageous demands.

The life of a Walker was exhausting, but I looked forward to the evenings. After I spent my day scrubbing floors and cooking their meals, Josiah would sneak into my small room and gift me with a glimpse into what our life would be like if I weren’t a Walker. Although we maintained a platonic relationship, the tension between us increased daily.

“I apologize, Mistress Stonewell,” I answered.

She smoothed her floor-length, crimson dress and sipped her breakfast tea with indignation. Her bright-plum lipstick and perfectly-styled hair gave the illusion that she was well put together, but I knew better. She was hanging by a thread. The entire house was.

The Stonewell Family was well-known for their influence in politics and trade. Generations of Stonewells lobbied for various laws still in place today, they also negotiated numerous alliances with neighboring provinces, securing our position as a wealthy and flourishing city-state. Almost every regulation and trade deal in existence was either crafted or signed by a Stonewell.

Before his death last year, Master Stonewell Sr. was working his way up the empirical ladder. He was projected to claim the next empty congressional seat for the entire Confederation of Dasos, but his untimely death left the family struggling to keep up with his shady, gambling debts and failing trade deals.

Josiah took his place as Governor of Galla, but he was unhappy. The violin he used to play for me—in secret—sat covered in dust at the bottom of his closet, and each day I noticed a broader slump in his shoulders.

“Ashleigh, we need to discuss a few things before you begin your daily chores,” Mistress Stonewell said while motioning for me to sit. I kneeled at her feet and bowed my head submissively while she scrolled idly on her tablet. She liked scanning the socialite and gossip columns so she could be up to date on the most recent scandals at mid-morning tea

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