Chapter Eleven – continued
The halls were quiet and empty, all of the household staff having retired for the night, weary from preparing for the Prince and Princess. As soon as Muriel had proclaimed everything perfect, well, Camille couldn’t blame them for how quickly they had scattered. She was feeling exhausted as well. The great hall had needed another thorough cleaning and the front gardens, full of winter blooming flowers, had needed some pruning.
Camille sighed. She was ready to fall on her bed, but headed down to the parlor instead, just to ensure the room was still spotless. Why she bothered, she wasn’t entirely sure. But the Olidans needed to impress the Murants, return to their good standing with the king’s brother. Muriel had potentially ruined any chance of Camille and Andalissa matching Abigail and Adrian, and Camille was set on ensuring that wasn’t going to happen.
Her slippers shuffled quietly over the freshly washed hall floor as she crossed to the closed doors of the parlor. But voices from within had her stopping abruptly.
Now fully awake, she gently pressed her ear to the door and had to stifle a gasp at the sound of Madeline and Muriel’s voices. What were they doing in the parlor so late at night? Her heart rate picked up as she hardly dared to breathe, to move. Madeline didn’t quite sound like herself.
“It was foolish, Mother,” Madeline was saying, her voice crisp and clear and cold.
“What choice did I have?” Muriel snapped back. “The Prince and Princess were refusing to respond to my notes, my invitations, my requests. You must remember, Madeline, I am doing all of this for you, so you can marry the Duke.”
“Don’t worry so much, Mother,” Madeline responded, her voice dismissive. “I have Abigail in the palm of my hand. She’s given me invaluable information about them so I can shape myself into the perfect bride for Adrian.”
Camille ground her teeth together and balled her hands into fists. She’d suspected Madeline had ulterior motives! The woman would pay for using her sister. Dearly. With blood, if she had her way, but then Abigail would never forgive her. Instead, she held her breath and listened closely.
“If you hadn’t caused such a scene, I would have already been introduced to Adrian!” Madeline hissed. “But, no, my mother prefers to take things into her own hands, to speed things up in her own way.”
“Adrian was nowhere in sight,” Muriel bit out. “The man had been in the gardens all evening, and there was no sign of him returning to the ballroom. The next best thing was to get the Prince and Princess’s attention. Which I did. Now, Madeline, I don’t want to hear any more of this from your mouth. You are my daughter and you will act that way. Do not presume to order me about.”
Camille heard a sharp inhalation before Madeline said, seemingly through clenched teeth, “Yes, Mother.”
“Now,” Muriel said, her voice more settled. “You have absolutely befriended Abigail?”
“Yes, Mother,” Madeline said, though it sounded like she was forcing the words out. “But being banished from the kitchens did not help.”
“It couldn’t be helped,” Muriel said dismissively. “A Countess’s daughter does not work in the kitchens.” She sniffed. “Besides, Abigail shouldn’t have been there in the first place. She ruined my plans.”
“And you ruined mine. Honestly, Mother, you’re not helping at all, like you promised you would.”
“Temper, Madeline,” Muriel said sharply. “As I said, it couldn’t be helped.”
“Then what do you expect me to do?” Madeline asked, exasperated. “If you think you have everything all planned out.”
“Use your brain, girl,” Muriel snapped. “If you want to be a Duke’s wife, wife to the king’s nephew, you’ll need to exercise it more.”
There was silence for a long moment, and Camille held her breath, hardly daring to move or press her ear against the door.
“Fine,” Madeline finally replied, her voice muffled as though she didn’t completely open her mouth to speak.
“I’m only trying to help you accomplish your dream of marrying the Duke,” Muriel said, her voice a little softer, a little more maternal now. “Think of all the sacrifices I’ve made for you.”
Now Madeline sighed loudly. “I remember, Mother. Don’t worry. I do appreciate it.”
Camille could hear a “but” in Madeline’s voice, but her stepsister didn’t voice anything else. Instead, the conversation turned to what Madeline would wear the following day. They could hope for the Duke to accompany them, but impressing his parents would do just as well.
“And, for fae’s sake, Mother, you can afford to update your wardrobe. You’re a disgrace.”
Camille could hear Muriel sniff. “You know it’s becoming on me. Besides, it attracts attention, which means more attention is put on you, my little one.”
“That’s not the kind of attention I want,” Madeline ground out. “I hardly dare leave the Manor for fear of overhearing what someone has to say about you.”
“Tsk, Madeline. Have patience, dear. You’ll be wed to the Duke soon enough and then you can house me in the castle and no one has to see me again.”
“I’ll make sure of that,” Camille heard Madeline say, her voice very soft.
Thoroughly disgusted, Camille stalked back from the doors and up to her room. She would need to speak with her sister. Early in the morning. Warn her about Madeline. The woman wasn’t as twitchy and nervous as they had thought.
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