In Bed With A Stranger(7)

By: Mary Wine



“Mother, you must give me Anne. For the books. I don’t know how to keep them.”

Anne’s throat constricted as she caught the look her half-sister aimed at her. It resembled the way the lady looked at a new mare she was considering buying. Philipa turned to consider her and Anne lowered her head even as her temper began to simmer.

“Everyone, out! Except Anne, you stay.”

Joyce cast her a helpless look as she herded the rest of the maids out the door.

“Come here, Anne.” Philipa was in her element, her voice full of commanding authority.

Anne moved toward her without a scuff from her boots. She might be bound to serve the lady but she was not afraid of her. Fear was for children and fools.

“Remove your cap.”

The linen head covering was held in place by a thin strap running under her chin. There was a single button on the left side of it that kept the cap on her head and her hair out of sight. Removing it, she looked at the lady to see what she wanted. Philipa studied her for a long time, her eyes roaming over every detail.

“Leave.”

Replacing her cap, Anne made it halfway to the door before Philipa stopped her.

“Have you been attentive in your studies, girl?”

Turning back to face the lady, Anne answered, “Aye, lady.”

But not because of your dictates.

Her temper would be the worse for her but she couldn’t stop it from rising. Still, she studied hard because learning was something that was a skill. It resided inside her and could never be stripped away.

“Take yourself up to the books and remain there.”

Anne lowered her head because she didn’t trust her voice to be smooth or anywhere near respectful. Lady Mary getting married wasn’t any reason for the mistress to turn sour. Anyone with half a wit in their head had been expecting such an announcement for years. Having to be dragged home by her father—now that was reason for worry. Mary was fortunate her new husband didn’t know what a brat she was; otherwise she just might gain her wish and escape consummating the marriage. But that would brand her a spinster and the gossips would have a heyday with it. Suspicion would grow as everyone wondered why Mary was so loath to commit to a marriage that would gain her a better estate than her mother governed. With her dowry to join with her husband’s land, their children would live a better life than they did. It was a grand match.

Lady Mary was simply too childish to understand how food appeared on the table when she sat down for supper. Anne knew where the grain for every loaf of bread came from. She knew when the harvest was slim or the sheep not lambing as often as they should. It took a keen wit to balance everything and ensure there was enough stock to see the castle population through the winter. If you sold too much, there would be empty bellies. A true noblewoman was the mistress of the castle, shouldering the responsibilities of running the estate.

“What did she want?”

Joyce was hiding around the corner, the senior housekeeper wringing her apron as she waited to hear what had happened after she left the chamber.

“She ordered me to the books. I’d wager she plans to raid the coffers again for Mary’s wardrobe.”

“That tongue of yours came from your father. Only a noble would talk that way. Better have a care, girl; the mistress has no love for you.”

“I know it well.”

Joyce softened her stern look. “Oh, my lamb, I’m sorry as can be. She’s a mean-spirited one. You’ve been a faithful daughter. Your father should be proud of the way you give that sour cow her deference.”

Anne felt her face brighten. Her father was home. At least she might enjoy the secret that he’d be in her mother’s chambers tonight. He always came when he was home, much to Philipa’s disdain. Sometimes Anne suspected that he did it to annoy his fine-blooded wife.

After sunset

Anne hurried along the corridor; her duties had kept her late tonight. A smile brightened her face when she neared her mother’s chamber. It was on the far end of the castle, facing north. It could be a bit chilly in the winter but Ivy refused to leave it even when the earl suggested it.

Ivy didn’t want trouble. Her family had to live with Philipa while the lord was away at court. The lady had given her the chamber, so she would be content in it. Winter chill or not.

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