Chapter Twelve – continued
Abigail’s head jerked up. Her heart raced as she looked around. She was still freezing in the tree, but the light snow had abated. The copse was still empty of anything but trees and her.
“Abigail?” Camille’s worried voice came from the glass around her neck.
With cold fingers, Abigail fumbled for the string around her neck. She could barely feel the glass pressed into her palm as she gripped it as tightly as she could.
“Thank goodness! Abigail, are you alright? It’s freezing.”
“Y-yes,” Abigail stammered.
“Come back in. Quietly. Through the kitchens. Helene has prepared a hot stew for you. Muriel has retired to her rooms and Madeline is with her. Everyone else has left.”
“I’ll-I’ll be there soon,” Abigail promised.
Slowly, she unfurled cramped muscles and limbs. With cold fingers and toes, she practically crawled down the tree and lumbered back through the copse. The snow had left a white dust over everything, not too different from the powder Muriel piled onto her hair. She grimaced as her feet prickled with every step, wishing the landscape looked less like her stepmother’s hair and more like the pastures, trees, and gardens she loved.
“There you are, child!” Helene cried out as soon as she pushed open the kitchen door.
Abigail could do little more than let the matronly woman hustle her into a stiff chair. A bowl of a steaming, hearty stew was pushed in front of her, the metal spoon clacking against the porcelain bowl. A hunk of bread fresh from the oven was placed on top and a delicate tea cup with wisps of steam accompanied it.
The kitchens warmed her skin while the food warmed her insides. She was so cold and hungry she barely noticed her sister staring intently at her from a neighboring chair.
“Are you alright?” Camille asked once Abigail finished eating.
“Much warmer now. Thank you.”
Camille grimaced and crossed her arms on top of the table. “Muriel is not pleased.”
“I suppose she never got around to her apology.”
“Well, no, but she’s more furious at the fact that Adrian intends on courting you.”
Abigail’s eyebrows lifted completely on their own. “Court me? Are you sure he didn’t say Madeline?”
“Abigail, as much as you don’t want to hear it, Madeline has only been using you. She and Muriel have been plotting to introduce Madeline to the family. Muriel intentionally caused a scene and Madeline intentionally befriended you to get as much information as she could. Today was supposed to be Madeline’s formal introduction to Adrian.” She rolled her eyes. “In their deluded minds, it was also supposed to spark the romance of the ages. Imagine! A young woman lifted from a merchant family because the marriage of her widowed mother to a relative of the King meant her introduction to the Duke.”
“You do remember Adrian has final say in who he marries.”
“That’s exactly what went sideways in Muriel and Madeline’s plans.” Camille pinned Abigail with her hazel eyes. “Adrian has always been smitten with you, ever since childhood. He just kept it to himself considering how large the age difference was back then. He didn’t think Mother would approve since the people of the Great North don’t usually start courting that young.
“He intended on announcing it at Andalissa’s soiree, at Andalissa’s urging, might I add. Except he went to the markets one day and ran into a woman who was extraordinarily like the girl he’d loved as a very young man. She left her basket with him one day and fled. Since then, he’s gone to almost every household that can afford the fine fabrics of the Sun Kingdom, asking after a maid who dropped a white basket.”
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