Chapter One – continued
Olidan Manor was one of the more ornate manors in the city. Since Lawrence was a distant cousin to the king, he was afforded more luxuries than most of the wealthy in the city. Since he was also the closest of the king’s kin living permanently in the city, it was situated just down the hill from the castle overlooking the sea.
The carriage that had taken them to the pink sands now rumbled into the manor’s courtyard after passing several smaller manors and elegant houses belonging to the city’s wealthy. Though none of the families were related to the king, or even the queen, they still carried themselves with dignity and their facades shimmered in the rising sunlight.
“Peasants,” Muriel had hissed as their carriage rolled by.
Startled, Abigail had turned wide eyes on her new mother, but Madeline had quickly reached out to grab her wrist. With a tiny shake of her head, she had pursed her lips and gently squeezed Abigail’s wrist. Unfortunately, Camille was on the other side of Abigail, so hadn’t had Madeline stopping her.
“That’s uncalled for, Muriel,” Camille had said sharply. Abigail knew where her sister was coming from. After all, the “peasants” had been their neighbors all their lives, no matter that some of them rotated in and out. “They’re hardworking people who have earned a place of honor in the city.”
Muriel had sniffed and looked down her nose at Camille, not seeing her daughter’s hand wrapped around Abigail’s wrist. “If you think that kindly of them, then perhaps you belong with them.”
Camille had narrowed her eyes. “You may be my father’s new bride, but you do not have charge of me. I am a grown woman, and you are the one being welcomed into my family home.”
Abigail had stiffened at the cold look in Muriel’s eyes. She had never trusted the woman, never trusted the cooing and tenderness she had shown under Lawrence’s passably watchful eyes. There had always been something cold and calculating in her eyes, something of a gold digger in her bearing. But her father would not have listened to her. How was Abigail to know anything of people? She rarely wandered out the door if she didn’t have to. But Abigail saw, and knew. Her new stepmother was not a kind woman, and she and Camille were about to find out just how deep she could cut.
Now, silently, solemnly, the four women trooped into the manor. Madeline’s hand was still around her wrist, keeping the two youngest women as close together as possible. Camille was stalking in front of them, silently seething and storming. Leading them all, though, was Muriel, her head held high and her skirts swishing with purpose around her.
The heavy mahogany doors slammed shut behind them as servants scurrying through the hall stopped to bow and curtsy. The chandelier was brightly lit, tiny crystals glimmering with rainbows to light up an otherwise dark and dreary Great Hall. The stairs before them curved along both sides, white marble glistening under the light while blonde oak gleamed along the railings. Beneath the platform they met under, a tall, serious man stood waiting, hands behind his back.
“Not now,” Muriel said, waving him off without a glance.
The man, with hesitation written all over his body, stole a glance at Camille and Abigail, the two women he had been serving since their births. Abigail could see the question in his posture, the uncertainty in his face. He had always been the first to greet them, even if they’d only gone out to pick a flower, the first to attend to them. It was his duty, as given to him by their father.
Before Abigail could smile and let him know everything was fine, Camille cut her a quick glance and called out, “Everything’s fine, Geoffrey. Please check on breakfast.”
The man bowed and turned away as Muriel rounded on her older stepdaughter. Madeline’s hand tightened almost painfully around Abigail’s wrist, making the younger woman wince, but she wasn’t quite sure of how to ask her new sister to let go. Perhaps something in her father’s words rang true. How was she to know how to properly talk to a person if she never left the manor unless forced? Madeline wasn’t paying her any attention, anyways.
“Let’s make one thing clear,” Muriel said, her soft purring voice deep and dangerous. “I am your mother now. I am the Countess Olidan. This manor is under my reign.”
Camille, never one to back down, drew herself up, her eyes flashing. Abigail wished she could disappear, or hide behind a vase. Camille was little more than a whirlwind, a force to be reckoned with when she was like this. Abigail had no desire to watch her sister and stepmother face off. She’d rather go hunt down the family cat or run among the chickens running free across the extensive land. But Madeline was still clinging to her. The one saving grace was that Madeline kept her nails trimmed short so they weren’t digging in and drawing blood.
“Madeline,” Abigail whispered, her voice wavering and so faint she wasn’t sure the other woman would hear her, but Madeline only threw her a warning glance before tightening her hand just a little more.
“I beg to differ, Muriel,” Camille said, biting off her stepmother’s name. “Father may have married you, but my sister and I are grown women. Besides,” she said, managing to look down her nose, “Abigail and I are of royal blood while you’re little more than a peasant yourself. Do not rise above your station.”
Anger rolled off Muriel like waves, making Madeline tug on Abigail to draw them both back a little. Clearly, Madeline had an idea of what her mother was capable of as Muriel drew closer to Camille, their noses almost touching, though Camille never moved a muscle. Abigail wished she could tell her new sister they could back all the way to the stairs and then flee to their rooms.
“I am the Countess Olidan,” Muriel said softly, quietly. “I am your new mother. My marriage to your father proves that. It is my responsibility and duty to take care of you and Abigail.” A slow, dangerous smile spread across her face. “I intend on doing just that.”
Camille smiled back. Viciously. A glimmer in her eyes.
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