In Bed With A Stranger(8)

By: Mary Wine



Anne opened the door. Yellow light shone out from several candles.

“There’s my girl. My wife claims you’re the worst maid she’d ever had to tolerate.”

“Good evening, Father.” Anne lowered her head, for once meaning the respectful gesture. Her sire nodded with approval. His face was unreadable for a long moment before he spread his arms wide.

Anne flew into his arms, laughing as he squeezed her tight. He released her and thumbed her nose.

“You’re a good girl to not complain. Nothing pleases my wife but ’tis not your fault.”

“I promise to try harder tomorrow, Father.”

The earl smiled. “I know you shall. Just as I know that Philipa will still be unsatisfied. But I am not here to talk about my wife.”

He laughed as he reached for Ivy. Drawing her close, he placed a kiss on her cheek. “I have missed you all very much.”

“Tell us about court, Father.” Bonnie, her parents’ youngest child, eagerly awaited her father’s tales.

The earl held up a thick finger. “I suppose I might tell you about the mask the Earl of Southampton presented last week…”

Bonnie wiggled with excitement. Anne enjoyed watching her younger sister. She reached for a dried fruit sitting on a plate. The humble table that often held only porridge and whey tonight offered fruits, scones and small beer. Brenda must have snuck the fruit tarts out of the kitchen in response to the tongue lashing Philipa had given her that morning. Such treats were only made for the mistress of the house but since the lady of the manor didn’t know the first thing about how to prepare a meal, her servants could retaliate by using more than they needed. Philipa would have a fit if she witnessed Anne’s children eating the same fine fare that was presented to her and Mary.

That fact made the tarts taste so much better.

Anne tried to reprimand herself for thinking so meanly but failed.

The rich fare made for a holiday humor but it was her father’s attention that all the occupants gorged on. The chamber was lit well into the night, laughter spilling beneath the doorjamb. When Anne finally sought her bed, her heart was full.

No, Philipa’s insults could never puncture such love as Anne had from her father. The mistress of the house might believe herself powerful but she could not break the bond Anne’s sire had with her.

Everyone had something distasteful to bear in life. Philipa’s disdain was hers to bear. It was nothing to worry about. It was, frankly, not important at all.

Sunrise

The Earl of Warwickshire swung up into his saddle with as much skill as any man riding with him. There were no fine clothes on him, but good English wool to keep the chill at bay. Anne watched from a second-floor window, the shutters pushed open, her sister Bonnie sharing the last view of their father.

“Do you think Father will bring you back a husband next time?”

Bonnie, at fourteen, was still unaware of the harsher realities of being born out of wedlock. Of course, the entire family went to great lengths to shelter her. Bonnie would grow up soon enough.

“I don’t know, sweet, but I will try not to worry. Father always takes care of us.”

Bonnie laughed, her blue eyes sparkling. “I think he shall bring you a knight. One who earned his spurs doing a noble deed for the queen and she dubbed him a knight with her own hands.”

Bonnie sighed, lost in girlish foolishness. Anne couldn’t help but enjoy the moment. Even she liked to believe that there was happiness for everyone. Tugging on Bonnie’s hair, she smiled at her.

“Maybe that knight is waiting for you to grow up.”

Bonnie’s eyes glittered as her chin dropped and her mouth hung open in surprise. “Do you really think he might?”

“I do. Every town from here unto London knows what a treasure you are. You will likely have to choose between suitors.”

“You are teasing me.” Bonnie’s lips twitched. “That isn’t very nice. I might become vain.”

“Now, sweet, I am but joining you in your daydream. You wouldn’t deny me that pleasure, would you?”

Bonnie lifted a hand, waving to the earl. Their sire spurred his mount and started for the outer gate. Anne left her hands on the wooden window casing because she knew that her sire would not turn to look back. He never did. Philipa and Mary stood on the front steps, in their place as the ladies of the house. Her father never looked back at them when he left.

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