the task of helping Abigail hide her burden from the rest of the keep. She had worked tirelessly with Abigail, teaching her to read lips and to continue to speak in a well-modulated voice.

Emily had been a strict taskmaster, but Abigail knew her sister’s insistence on practice to the point of exhaustion had been motivated by love. Nevertheless, there had been times Abigail had wondered if waking from her fever had been for the best. Out of her own love for Emily, Abigail had never given voice to her doubts.

She had not wanted to hurt the stepsister who loved her and treated her more kindly than her blood sister ever would. Abigail missed Emily so much.

And without her there to help, Abigail’s voice had dropped to what she knew was a near whisper. Speaking was difficult enough; speaking normally was almost impossible without Emily’s constant covert instruction. It was a testament to how well Emily had trained Abigail to speak that none of the servants had discovered her secret in more than two years since her sister had gone to Scotland, however.

Abigail lived for the day she would join her sister and be able to escape the Hamilton Keep.

Sir Reuben’s attitude had softened toward her once he had seen that she would not embarrass him by making her affliction known, but her mother made it clear that she considered Abigail a stone around her neck. She pinned all her hopes of a progressive marriage match on Jolenta.

Yet Sybil had refused Emily’s initial petition to send Abigail to the Highlands for an extended visit.

Abigail did not understand why. Unless her mother simply hated her so much that Sybil could not stand the idea of Abigail happy, as she surely would be, reunited with the one person in the world who loved her and truly desired her presence.

Abigail spent most of her days in her own company. Thankfully, Emily had taught her to read letters as well as lips. Though few and far between, letters from her sister had been her only link to Emily since going north to marry her Highlander. Abigail studied the books Sir Reuben allowed her to read and the letters Emily had left behind from her friend, the abbess. In the past six months, Abigail had begun her own correspondence with the learned woman as well. Her inability to hear had no power to tarnish a friendship carried out in writing.

Their housekeeper, Anna, was kind, but she was a busy woman, and Abigail did not like to be a bother. She only continued to work on improving her Gaelic with the old woman born in Scotland because she refused to give up hope. Eventually Sybil would allow the daughter she considered useless to join Emily in the Highlands. She had to.

Indeed, Abigail had been sure that time had come when Sybil had taken her aside these seven days past and told her that she would be leaving the keep with Sir Reuben and Sybil on a trip. Abigail believed Sybil had finally acceded to Emily’s entreaties and thrown herself into preparations for the trip with excitement she had not felt since her sister had been taken from her.

Of course, Abigail had experienced some trepidation at the prospect that she was being taken to a nunnery. But surely the abbess would have said something in her last letter if that were to be the case. Abigail had asked her mother if she would be seeing Emily.

Sybil had replied that it was possible. Abigail had thought she was just being coy. Now, she feared the older woman had meant exactly that. It was possible, not probable.

Finally, Abigail found the letter from the king and read it with growing panic.

It could not be possible. Her mother would not be so cruel. But the missive from the king said otherwise. Sybil, damn her avaricious soul, had said nothing of the true reason for the upcoming journey, but the letter laid out her mother’s greed and treachery in ink, sealed by the king himself.

How could a mother plan something so nefarious for her blood offspring? Worse, how could she do so without warning Abigail of what was to come?

A hand grabbed her shoulder, fingers that felt like claws digging into her. Her heart stopped and then began beating faster than a rabbit’s.

She was spun violently around and came face-to-face with her livid mother.

Sybil demanded, “What do you think you are doing?”

She could not hear the words, but Abigail had no trouble reading the anger or the question coming from her mother’s lips.

At first, shock and fear at being discovered paralyzed Abigail’s thoughts. She tried to speak, but could tell no sound had made it past her throat from the disgusted expression twisting her mother’s features.

That disgust sliced through Abigail, leaving a bloody trail of inner pain behind. However, instead of the shame she usually felt at her inabilities, fury at her mother’s betrayal boiled up inside Abigail.

More than two years had passed since the first edict from the king that had torn Abigail’s world apart for the second time. Because of Sir Reuben’s miserly response to the king’s call for soldiers from his landed knights, the king had demanded his vassal provide a marriageable daughter. He and Scotland’s monarch wanted to intermarry English nobility with the hard-to-control Highland nobles.

Emily had been sent to Scotland to marry Talorc, Laird of the Sinclairs. Only she had ended up kidnapped and wed to his rival, the laird of the Balmoral clan.

When Abigail had learned of this situation, she had assumed that would be the end of it. Scotland’s king should be happy one of his Highland lairds had taken an English wife. Naïve as that thought might have been, she was certain she had been right.

According to the king’s letter, Abigail’s planned upcoming marriage to the original Highland laird was the result of Sybil’s petition for redress, not the Scottish king’s. Her mother had petitioned her king, knowing the outcome would be that her deaf daughter would be given in marriage to a stranger in a foreign land.

Abigail put every bit of loathing she felt at her mother’s perfidy in her glare. “I was looking for the truth; something difficult to come by in your company.”

Sybil dismissed the insult with a sneer. “You have no business in here.”

“By your action, you believe I have no place in this keep at all.”

A silent stare answered her accusation, but it spoke more loudly than words could have. Sybil wanted Abigail gone. Pain tore through her, the years of rejection coming together in one moment to pierce her heart with a mortal blow.

“When were you going to tell me?” Abigail asked, making no effort to modulate her voice.

“When I felt it necessary,” Sybil replied with dismissive venom.

“At the altar? When I stood before a priest to say vows?”

Her mother’s expression was all the answer Abigail needed. Sybil had had no intention of preparing Abigail for the wedding that was to take place across the Scottish border. Abigail didn’t think anything could hurt worse than the betrayal she found between the lines of the king’s missive. She had been wrong.

Knowing not only that had Sybil arranged for this marriage, but that she intended Abigail to go into it not only deaf, but blind as well, destroyed the last vestiges of hope of her mother’s love to which she had stubbornly clung all this time.

“How could you be so cruel?” How could any mother set her daughter up so foully?

“It is not cruel to secure your future.”

Abigail didn’t believe the benevolent justification for a second. “There is no security in subterfuge.”

She should know. She lived in daily fear of being revealed as deaf. Many considered such an affliction the result of demon possession. The Church’s answer to such a circumstance was enough to give Abigail nightmares. Many, many nightmares since her sister left at their king’s edict to marry a Highland laird.

“You should be grateful. What chance would you have to marry without my machinations?” Her mother had the gall to look self-righteous, but Abigail knew better.

“Emily wanted me to live with her. I would have been out of your way then.” Abigail forced the words out, knowing her mother had no patience for her affliction.

“Not permanently. Once her husband realized you were cursed, he would send you back to us.” Sybil spoke as if the words were not daggers to the heart of her eldest daughter. “This is a better solution.”

“Emily’s laird knows of my affliction. She told him.”

“Of course she didn’t. If she had, he would never have allowed her to extend the invitation for your visit.”

Abigail felt herself shaking. “Do you hate me so much?”

“I am showing a mother’s concern in securing your future. Jolenta is jealous of the good match you are

Вы читаете Moon Craving
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату