making,” Sybil had the gall to point out, confirming she had told Abigail’s younger sister of the wedding plans.

The truth that the slight had been on purpose could not have been more obvious.

Abigail had to swallow back bile as she became physically ill at this additional evidence of her mother’s hatred. “The only future you are securing is your own.”

“Think what you like.” Sybil shrugged. “You clearly place no importance on my motherly wisdom. Thankfully, I still have a daughter who listens to my advice.”

The unjustness of the accusations took Abigail’s breath. Sybil had withheld both motherly affection and advice ever since her eldest child had become an abomination to her. Saying as much would carry no weight with her lady mother, though, so Abigail did not try. “I think the Sinclair laird will be furious when he realizes he has been deceived.”

“Then you had better make sure he never finds out.”

“How can I do that? We will be married.” She didn’t have Emily to nudge her when others spoke to her or cover for her when she missed something.

“You need spend little time with him. He is after all, a barbaric Scot.”

According to Emily’s rare letters, Talorc of the Sinclairs was both barbarian and proud. What would such a proud laird do when he learned of the deceit? Would he kill her? Declare war on her father? Sending her to a nunnery or back to her family was the best possible scenario, but not one she could rely on.

And the sad truth was, Abigail’s mother obviously didn’t care what the outcome would be, so long as she was rid of her cursed daughter.

“He will be my husband regardless. What if he seeks out my company?” she asked, with little hope of reasoning with Sybil.

Her mother’s expression revealed what she thought of that possibility. “He hates the English. He is acceding to the marriage because of the dowry his king has offered him.”

The king’s missive had said as much, outlining a very generous dowry that sounded more like a bribe from monarch to laird to ensure the Highlander’s cooperation.

“What of my dowry?”

“You think I would provide such when your sister ended up married to the wrong laird? I insisted that the dowry provided with Emily be returned to the Sinclair laird or for him to do without.”

Cold certainty settled in Abigail’s heart. “You want to rid yourself of me and had no intention of paying a nunnery a proper dowry to do so.” That was supposing a nunnery would take her, even with the right monetary incentive. “So, you have orchestrated this bargain made in hell.”

Sybil slapped Abigail, knocking her backward. “Do not dare speak to me thus.”

“Why not? It is the truth.” Abigail put her hand over her throbbing cheek, screaming in her head, but unable to express the pain through her voice.

“The truth is, you will no longer be my problem.”

Abigail staggered under the verbal blow so much more painful than the slap. “What if I tell him before he is bound to me? What will you do then?”

She could stop the madness before it began.

Those words were the last Abigail was able to utter as Sybil lifted the stick that hung by a thong from her girdle—the one she used to pound on the table for attention or as a weapon to punish servants. Realizing what her mother intended to do, Abigail turned to run, but tripped on her gown.

The first blow fell across her shoulders as she tried to regain her footing. The second came swiftly after, and soon Abigail gave up on trying to get away, but merely curled into a ball, her only protection in making a smaller target for the enraged woman to hit.

The blows stopped abruptly and Abigail sensed a scuffle above her, but she refused to uncover her head to see what was happening. Gentle hands lifted her as a familiar scent told her who held her. It was her stepfather. She raised her head to discover Sir Reuben looked furious. He yelled something at her mother, but Abigail could not read his lips from her position. She could tell the words were strained and angry from the taught muscles in Sir Reuben’s neck though.

Her mother opened her mouth, but he spoke again, shaking his head. Abigail could feel the vibrations in his chest.

Sybil’s eyes widened in shock and then narrowed in anger, but she left. And at that moment, Abigail craved nothing more.

Sir Reuben said something but clearly was not attempting to communicate with Abigail as he tucked her more firmly against his broad chest. He carried her through the keep to her small bedroom and laid her on the bed.

“I have called for Anna to come tend you.” He spoke carefully so Abigail could read his lips without effort.

“Thank you.” She was too distraught to be sure her words had voice, but she hoped he understood.

He sighed, looking guilty—which surprised her. “I should have realized she would not tell you of the wedding.”

Not knowing what to say, unsure if she was capable of speech at all, Abigail looked away.

Sir Reuben turned her head back. “Listen to me, child.”

She gave him a look.

He smiled. He actually smiled. “Then read my lips.”

She nodded grudgingly, barely moving her head up and down once.

“At first, I thought your mother’s idea mad, but then we got the first letter from Emily.”

Abigail sucked in a betrayed breath. So, her mother had planned this as soon as the rumors had reached them that Emily had wed not the Sinclair, but the Balmoral laird? She had long suspected Sybil wanted to send Abigail, rather than Emily—the stepdaughter she relied on to help her run the keep—in response to the king’s initial marriage edict.

Only Emily had refused to confirm Abigail’s fears. She had even acted excited about the prospect of going north. She had promised to send for Abigail as soon as she could.

Now Abigail knew for certain that it had not been Sybil’s choice to send Emily. She did not know how her stepsister had managed, but Abigail was certain Emily had arranged to be sent in order to protect her from the very outcome she now faced.

“Emily . . .” It was the only word she could get out.

Chapter 2

Sir Reuben sighed. “Your mother never intended to allow you to go to Emily. She saw that solution as too tenuous.”

“She hates me,” Abigail whispered, the words burning like acid in her throat and heart.

“Sybil is a perfectionist. She put great store in your looks and the probability you would make a good match and advance her aspirations. The fever that took your hearing stole her dreams as well.”

Abigail glared, trying to move back from her stepfather, causing pain enough to make her wish she had stayed still.

His shoulders sagged and an expression of deep sadness lurked in his usually commanding eyes. “Her behavior was not justified, but none of us are perfect. We often hurt those we love the most when our disappointment is too great to overcome.”

Emily had told Abigail a story of when she was little, before her father and Sybil had married. Abigail wondered if he spoke of that time now. It did not matter though. No matter what her mother’s reasoning behind her cruelty, it left Abigail in a horrible circumstance.

“He will kill me,” she said, giving voice to her worst fear.

Sir Reuben’s shoulders drew back and his pride settled on him like a mantle. “I would not allow it if I thought there was even a remote chance of such a thing.”

“You cannot know.”

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