Rygal Saline has always stood in his sister’s shadow. As heir to the Clan Chief, Rhea has been trained in the art of leadership and warfare. Rygal is just, well, Rygal.
After several years away at a College in Ismera, Rygal returns to Jaram for his father’s funeral only to find a letter from his sister. She’s gone, she’s sorry, and she expects him to take her place as the next clan chief. Never envisioning a place for himself within the clan, let alone taking on the responsibilities of leadership, Rygal finds himself alone and out of his depth.
Desperate for companionship and for someone he can turn to for help, he writes a letter to every eligible maiden on the continent, hoping to find a wife. The letters travel far and wide. Most are rejected until an accident of fate sends Rygal’s letters into the hands of two women for whom they were never intended, setting in motion a plot that threatens to bring Clan Jaram to the brink of war.
“You!” Cook exclaimed.
Emily grinned, showing teeth. It was a nervous reaction that almost always got her into more trouble than she started with.
“Aw, forget it,” the fat woman waved a chubby hand as if swatting at a buzzing fly, “I don’t work here no more. There’s no sense in us both being miserable. Shoo, little one, before the Lady takes notice.”
But it was too late, the Lady had taken notice. Emily could see her through the open doorway beyond Cook’s wide frame. Dorothea was wearing her usual high collared grey dress, severe in colour and style, and without any curves to soften her presence. There was no discernible expression on her stony features, but Emily knew she was in deep trouble regardless.
“Emily,” Dorothea commanded, pinning her with a stare colder than the tiles beneath her feet. “Come here.”
Emily did as she was told and squeezed past Cook into the lavishly decorated dining room with its dark mahogany furniture and brass fixtures. She made no attempt at hiding the scone in her hand; it was too late for that.
Dorothea eyed the baked good for a moment, saying nothing. Emily frowned and bobbed a deep curtsey, trying to come across as polite and respectful, even if she felt neither. “I was going to toss it in the bin,” she lied. “It’s far too small and lumpy to be served with the others.”
Dorothea regarded her shrewdly for a moment and Emily remained with her head bowed and her eyes downcast. “Yes, well, we should never waste food, no matter its appearance,” she counselled, when Emily could have sworn that last week she’d reprimanded Cook for serving something that wasn’t visually to her liking. “You may have it,” she continued, uncharacteristically magnanimous, given the circumstances, “provided your hands haven’t already contaminated it beyond the point of safety.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s fine.” Emily brightened and immediately straightened her spine to look Dorothea in the eye. “I mean, I will make sure it is not wasted. Thank you, my Lady.”
Maybe she isn’t planning to make me leave like the others, then. And since she’s given me the scone, that means no lashes either! Emily could barely contain her elation, but Dorothea was still regarding her with that cold, blue-eyed stare. Emily stiffened again, swallowing hard. “Was there something else my Lady wanted?”
“Yes, in fact,” Dorothea answered, “a great many things, but this afternoon I must settle for what I have. Emily, as you know, we have had to make some concessions around here.” Emily stumbled over the word ‘concessions’ and silently vowed to look it up in the library later. “After the incident with Darla, and now with the cook’s departure…”
Emily’s belly started to grumble for a different reason. Maybe she is going to send me away after all. It would explain letting me have the scone. Is this how it went with Darla, Sophie, and Cook? Panic started to set in and she fought the urge to flee, knowing Dorothea would only grow more displeased with her if she did. Where would I even go? I’ve never been anywhere else my whole life.
Emily was eighteen now, or thereabouts. She didn’t know her exact birthday, but she did know that her parents had given her into the Hyatt’s care when she was very young. Too young to remember anything before her service at Hyatt House.
“Child, are you even listening to me?” Dorothea demanded.
“Yes, of course, my Lady,” Emily lied again, snapping her attention to the mole on the right side of Dorothea’s mouth and locking it there.
Growing up, Emily had made a game out of pretending that the Hyatts were her real family. Donovan and Sebastian Hyatt, Dorothea’s sons, were just a few years her junior and, in her mind at least, she liked to think of them as her pesky younger brothers. They were off apprenticing now to learn a trade. Sometimes Emily missed them, though Sebastian had been a loud-mouthed terror and Donovan an entitled prick. Then there was Lady Anastasia Hyatt, her aging grandmother and matriarch of the House, now shut up on the third floor of the house and bed-ridden so that none saw her other than Becca and, she assumed, Dorothea on occasion.
Then, and of course, there was Dorothea; her mother, or at the very least, her evil stepmother. And her father, Lord Benedict Hyatt, who had died when she was four and left a angry, tragic widow and a bereft child behind. Lord Hyatt had been injured heroically in the revolutionary war, and had died at home in Emily’s arms when his wounds festered upon his return.
She’d gotten so caught up in the fantasy that she’d slipped up once and called Dorothea ‘Mother.’ That had earned her two weeks of the worst chores imaginable and twenty strokes of the lash. She’d never made that mistake again.
“So are we clear, then?” Dorothea asked, tapping her foot.
“I’m sorry?” Emily said before realizing that was the exact wrong reaction.
Dorothea pursed her lips, tightened her brows, and said, “Five lashes for failing to listen to instructions and Becca can fill you in on your new duties. You’ll be working with her now.”
“But who will be giving the lashes now that Cook’s gone?” Emily regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth.
Dorothea scowled. “Make that six, just for lip, and I’ll be giving them to you myself just as soon as you’ve cleaned yourself up. I won’t be touching that filthy body of yours.”
Dorothea’s lashings are the worst. Ugh. Emily eyed the scone in her hands. At least one good thing had come out of today.
Dorothea must have followed her gaze because she said, “And you can throw that mashed up scone to the birds, it’s not fit for human consumption.”
Consumption, Emily repeated the new word in her mind, storing it for later. Her spirits dropped, the scone gone the way of so many other good things she’d tried to hold onto in her life. “Yes, my Lady.”
Publisher: Mirror World Publishing; 1st edition
Publication Date: September 17, 2022
Print Length: 339 pages
Justine Alley Dowsett (right) is the author of more than ten novels and one of the founders of Mirror World Publishing. Her books, which she often co-writes with her sister, Murandy Damodred (left), range from young adult science fiction to dark fantasy/romance. She earned a BA in Drama from the University of Windsor, honed her skills as an entrepreneur by tackling video game production, and now she dedicates her time to writing, publishing, and occasionally roleplaying with her friends.
With a background in Drama and Communications from the University of Windsor, Murandy Damodred enjoys fantasy fiction with strong romantic subplots. She is an avid role-player and is happiest when living vicariously through her characters. Though she'd rather think of herself as the heroine of her next novel, in the real world she is a nurse and a mom of two living in Windsor, Ontario.
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