Rygal Saline has always stood in his sister’s shadow. As heir to the Clan Chief, Rhea has been trained in the art of leadership and warfare. Rygal is just, well, Rygal.
After several years away at a College in Ismera, Rygal returns to Jaram for his father’s funeral only to find a letter from his sister. She’s gone, she’s sorry, and she expects him to take her place as the next clan chief. Never envisioning a place for himself within the clan, let alone taking on the responsibilities of leadership, Rygal finds himself alone and out of his depth.
Desperate for companionship and for someone he can turn to for help, he writes a letter to every eligible maiden on the continent, hoping to find a wife. The letters travel far and wide. Most are rejected until an accident of fate sends Rygal’s letters into the hands of two women for whom they were never intended, setting in motion a plot that threatens to bring Clan Jaram to the brink of war.
Emily was a scullery maid. She knew this beyond a shadow of a doubt because her head was in a pot, her hands were raw and chafed, and she sat on the worn stone floor of the scullery, her legs splayed out to either side of the aforementioned pot, bracing it so she could reach the very bottom and scrub it until it shined. Or at least until it gleamed dully; the pots were getting old, like everything else in Hyatt House.
Nothing less would do. Not for Lady Dorothea Hyatt and not for Cook, who would swat Emily’s bottom with her long handled spoon if she so much as thought of doing less than was expected of her. Speaking of the cook…Emily ducked her head out of the oversized stock pot and listened for a moment. The kitchen beyond the partially open scullery door where the light was coming from was uncharacteristically silent. Maybe she fell asleep again.
Emily gave a sniff and could just make out a whiff of blueberry scones, fresh from the oven. Her stomach growled plaintively. She listened a moment longer, but didn’t hear any sounds of Cook pattering about, or even the woman’s snores, which were quite distinctive.
Curious and more than a little hungry, Emily got to her feet, leaving the scrubbing brush on the floor of the scullery. She wiped her hands on the front of her already filthy apron, and then darted to the faded wooden door for a look. Peeking her head slowly around the door, she found the kitchen devoid of people. There was no Cook in sight and no other staff either; not that that was odd, there were hardly enough of them left to bump into each other anymore.
Absently smoothing her unruly nest of curly red hair in a futile attempt to make herself look like she could possibly belong in a room where food was prepared, Emily strode purposefully into the old, but well-appointed kitchen. Her feet were chilled by the cool tiles of the kitchen floor through the holes in her worn stockings, while her nose led her to where the scones rested on the countertop.
She took a deep sniff, filling her belly with the warm fragrant fumes in case they were all she got, then after looking both ways she confirmed she was indeed alone before she reached out and snatched the smallest, most misshapen looking scone; the reject, the one nobody would miss. Emily was about to shove that scone between her meagre breasts to hide it and then scurry back to the scullery to devour it in secret, when the faintest hint of a conversation drew her attention beyond the world of misshapen scones and dirty dishes.
“No, there will be no discussion,” Dorothea’s voice rose to the point it could be heard clearly from the parlour, two rooms away. “Your services are simply no longer required.”
There are so few of us left now as it is. Emily worried her bottom lip, wondering which of the maids would be leaving this time. A list of possible victims floated through her mind. Old Victor? She considered the gruff old groundskeeper, who was surly to everyone but had always been kind to her in his own way. He’d let her pick flowers out of the gardens a time or two to decorate her little attic bedroom and he let her visit the stables sometimes to spend time with the horses.
Becca? Oh, I hope it isn’t Becca. Until recently, Becca had been the house’s chambermaid, responsible for cleaning rooms and turning down beds and such. But ever since Darla had been dismissed Becca had been doing double duty, serving at meals, taking care of the elderly Lady Anastasia, and handling tea service on top of her regular duties. From where Emily stood, Becca was indispensable, but there was no accounting for the thought process of a woman like Dorothea.
Emily was just about running out of potential subjects as the washing-woman already only came by on Sundays, when the person in question spoke and her thick, mannish voice gave her away as nothing else could have. “I’ll take my leave then,” Cook said, “but mark me, you won’t find anyone near as good willing to work for the pennies you provide. Perhaps you’re doing me a favour in the long run. I can make more coin elsewhere.”
Emily could just imagine the expression on Dorothea’s lined face. Her pursed lips and pinched brows over icy blue eyes. The wrinkles on her forehead pulled tight and straining against the clips that held her greying black hair in an immaculate bun without a single strand out of her control, despite the white strip that always made Emily think of a skunk and reminded her to always be wary of Dorothea’s temper.
“Perhaps,” Dorothea responded and it was not in agreement.
In her preoccupation, Emily had gotten right up to the pale blue kitchen door so she could better hear what was going on. Now, heavy footfalls warned her that somebody, probably Cook, was headed her way, and if she didn’t snap to she would be crushed by the door swinging inwards on its hinges.
Emily jumped backwards like a cat startled by a foreign object. She narrowly missed being struck by the door, but she hadn’t moved fast or far enough to avoid being spotted by Cook and she still held the incriminating scone tightly in her grimy fist.
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Publisher: Mirror World Publishing; 1st edition
Publication Date: September 17, 2022
Print Length: 339 pages
Justine Alley Dowsett (right) is the author of more than ten novels and one of the founders of Mirror World Publishing. Her books, which she often co-writes with her sister, Murandy Damodred (left), range from young adult science fiction to dark fantasy/romance. She earned a BA in Drama from the University of Windsor, honed her skills as an entrepreneur by tackling video game production, and now she dedicates her time to writing, publishing, and occasionally roleplaying with her friends.
With a background in Drama and Communications from the University of Windsor, Murandy Damodred enjoys fantasy fiction with strong romantic subplots. She is an avid role-player and is happiest when living vicariously through her characters. Though she’d rather think of herself as the heroine of her next novel, in the real world she is a nurse and a mom of two living in Windsor, Ontario.