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We tied the bits of glass with soft string stolen from the seamstress’s basket and put it around our necks. They were our secret. Late at night, my sister and I would share secrets or plans. Even when she grew up, her voice was there for me. Eventually, the glass would grow as cold as the sea and as dead as driftwood. But there was always blessed sea glass, and two sisters who always believed.
Camille unpinned her hair and shook her head to loosen her chestnut curls. She fought the urge to curse violently and fluently in front of her little sister, but Muriel certainly had some demands all day!
Flipping her hair back, she turned from the long mirror hanging on a wall in Abigail’s bedchamber towards Abigail herself. As usual, her sister was gently swinging one leg as she flipped through a book. One of their mother’s if Camille had to guess. Ever since their mother had died, Abigail had been almost obsessed with her library.
Camille collapsed into the plush chair separated from Abigail’s by a small, round table piled high with books. The plant that usually rested there was under the table and likely wilting by now. Abigail had never had a green thumb, but that didn’t stop her from trying to grow something, anything.
“This is our home more than hers,” Abigail said softly. “You shouldn’t be doing as she orders.”
“Like I said, Gail, this is between me and her. We’ll see who breaks first.”
Abigail turned her head and snorted. Their mother would have rounded on her and sternly reminded her ladies do not snort. But Camille was with her instead of their mother, and she only rolled her eyes. There was no stopping the unladylike snorts her sister was prone to. It was like a nervous tick for her.
“It won’t be Muriel,” Abigail said. “She’s the one who gets to order you around. I’m sure she’s loving it.”
Camille lifted one shoulder in a shrug, her hands dangling over the sides of her chair. “Just collecting information to pass on to Father when he returns.”
“Like he’ll care any more than Muriel.”
Camille’s eyes sharpened. “He will. It’s his responsibility to care for his family, to protect his children. You know it as well as I do. Family protects family.”
“Muriel’s family now, too.”
“Blood family, Abigail.”
Her sister looked down at the book in her hands. Camille pressed her lips together briefly before she felt her face soften. It had been generations since the family’s blood had been called on, so long ago that it was nothing more than mere myth to the royal family now. The stories said the fae, when crowning the first king and queen, had strengthened their blood by giving them the ability for blood to sing to blood. Anyone of royal blood could be called by another of the same. She knew it was a nice fairy tale in Abigail’s head since it was so rarely done, but Camille remembered when their father’s mother was near death and Lawrence had almost magically come to her side. Abigail had been only a few years old.
“Is that another of Mother’s books?” Camille said instead, tilting her head slightly.
A soft smile lit up her sister’s face as Abigail’s fingers trailed over the cover. “One of Mother’s favorites. She spent almost a year reading it to me every night.”
“It looks quite hefty.”
Abigail laughed softly, her hands barely fitting around the sides of the tome. “Mother said her father told her it was one of the longest books ever written in the other world.”
Camille smiled. Abigail was a lot like their Mother, always getting lost in stories. The other world had always fascinated them, but neither of them had ever gone.
“What will you do?” Abigail asked softly, suddenly.
Camille jerked her head slightly, frowning. “What do you mean?”
Abigail waved a hand. “About all of this. What if Father doesn’t do anything? What if he just leaves us with Muriel?”
“Don’t worry so much, Gail,” Camille said, slightly more cross than she had intended. “You just stay out of Muriel’s way. I’ll handle her.”
Camille caught the flash in her sister’s eyes just before she turned her face away. She bit her lip, but was resolute. She was the older sister. It was her duty to protect her younger sister. Especially when her sister was so painfully shy.
“Madeline wants me to teach her royal etiquette,” Abigail said softly.
Abigail looked up, one brow arched. “Madeline is our new sister, which makes her part of the royal family.” She waved a hand to forestall Camille. “You can say all you want about blood, but, if were part of the royal family and Muriel and Madeline married in, then they are also part of the royal family. When our attendance is required, so will they need to be there. Besides, Muriel is hoping her daughter will catch Adrian’s eye.”
Camille raised a brow of her own. “Adrian? As in the Prince’s son?”
“Is there another Adrian we know?”
“Now why can’t you be more like this in public?”
Abigail made a frustrated sound and turned away. Camille saw her hands grip the book tightly, her knuckles starting to go white. It was the one nerve they always hit. It never made any sense to Camille, her sister’s unwillingness to mingle with others, her desperation to keep to the shadows and corners. Their mother had called it shyness and had taken great pains to make her younger daughter presentable.
“You must look after your sister,” Genevieve had told her mere days before the horse had thrown her. “Abigail is nothing like you. She’ll need you to look after her.”
So Camille had taken it to heart, was shielding her from Muriel and Muriel’s demands. Was drawing away Muriel’s attention so she wouldn’t wither beneath it.
“I’m tired, Camille,” Abigail said softly.
Silently, Camille nodded and rose. She left a soft, light kiss on her sister’s cheek before heading for the door, two fingers rolling the piece of sea glass hanging around her neck. “Remember, I’m just a call away.”
Abigail didn’t turn to look at her; only nodded and bent her head over the book.
Camille closed her sister’s door behind her quietly. Madeline was a start, but, at some point, her sister would have to leave the manor, would have to find a suitable life partner. She bit her lip as she started down the carpeted hallway to her own chambers, worry nagging at the back of her mind. Her mother had always told her Abigail would get there in time, but how long would it take? She should have been married by now herself, but how could she when Abigail still needed her so much?
Measured footsteps brought her to a sudden standstill, stirring the embers of anger in her chest. She knew who was about to turn the corner, and knew it couldn’t be anything good. Her chambers were on the floor above. There was no reason to be in the wing reserved for Abigail and Camille. After everything she’d put Camille through all day, she was the last person Camille wanted to see, especially so close to Abigail’s door.
Drawing light, silent breaths, Camille glanced back before lifting her skirts and hurrying a few feet closer to the oncoming steps, a few feet closer to her own door, and a few feet further from Abigail’s door.
Muriel turned the corner, her head held high, her skirts daintily held up with one hand so she could walk unimpeded. Her powdered curling locks were still impeccably done up and still decorated with a few colorful ribbons. Camille had to force herself to not roll her eyes at her stepmother’s vulgarity. Full skirts of silk and satin at home so late at night with glittering slippers and a face still lined with inks and powders was so far overboard it made Camille speechless. Even Genevieve, the daughter of a nobility, only dressed in a light gown at night.
Muriel’s skirts swished along almost the entire width of the hall as her eyes landed on Camille. A smile was pasted to her face, meant to be motherly and failing miserably.
Camille stood her ground, her own chin tilted up. She kept her arms loose at her sides, but ready to protect her sister. She would not let Muriel get past her.
Slowly, with a sashay that had Camille longing to gag, Muriel stalked towards her. The two women held each other’s eyes, both haughty and disdainful. Camille had never been so thankful for her unladylike height before; it meant she towered over Muriel by two full inches despite the heeled slippers Muriel wore. She would never have to look up at her stepmother, one small thing that brought her immense satisfaction.
“Camille,” Muriel said, purring out her stepdaughter’s name as she came to stand one foot away. She dropped her skirts and reached out to flick a curl from Camille’s shoulder. “Such lovely hair. I suppose you must have your poor late mother’s looks. All the stories I’ve heard of her always spoke of her beautiful chestnut hair. It’s a shame you’ll have to cut it all off.”
Camille couldn’t stop the slight jerk backwards, and longed to punch the smug look from Muriel’s face. She grit her teeth and fought the urge to ball her fists. “I’ll cut nothing off.”
Muriel’s smile slipped and her cold mask fell into place. Though shorter than Camille, she did her best to draw herself up as tall as she could go. “No one may outshine my Madeline, especially not her new sisters. She will marry into the royal family. To do that, she’ll need to be the belle of the ball. Literally. That means you may not be more beautiful than her.”
“And does your Madeline have the same ambitions as you?” Camille asked, tilting her head up slightly, just to needle her stepmother with her additional height and to mask her sudden fear that Madeline was only using Abigail.
Muriel waved a dismissive hand. “It doesn’t matter what my daughter wishes. I am her mother and she will do as I tell her.”
Camille gave an exaggerated shudder. “Thank goodness you are not my mother.”
“I am your stepmother,” Muriel snapped, right before her eyes flashed and her mask fell into place again.
But Camille noticed, and she smiled. “You could never replace my mother. My sister and I are of age. We do not need to be under your thumb. And you can’t throw us out. Father would never allow that. Besides, our blood is tied to this manor and yours is not.”
Muriel’s eyes flicked down the hall, a bemused light in her eyes, making Camille’s spine stiffen a little. “I know what you’re doing, Camille. You can protect you sister only by obeying me.” She let out a little laugh as fear and anger filled Camille’s chest, burning her from the inside out. “Cut your hair, Camille. If it’s not enough, you’ll know.”
With a last sweep of Camille’s body, Muriel turned and sashayed back down the hall.
Camille stumbled the last few feet to her chambers, her hands shaking and her legs threatening to give out under her. But she made it inside and slammed the door closed before she collapsed. It wasn’t so much the order to cut her hair as it was the threat to Abigail that was arresting her breath.
“Mother,” Camille whispered, “how do I protect Abigail? How can I keep her safe without losing my mind?”
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