Mine to Fear (Mine #3) Series: Mine By Janeal Falor


Being in Envado when those I care for the most are stuck in Chardonia makes me want to spit. What terrors are befalling them while I’m here, unable do anything to help? Cynthia is being hidden by our rebel group. Serena is living alone, away from her sisters and mother who are once again owned by her father.
Mine to Fear
Mine to Fear (Mine #3) Series: Mine  By Janeal Falor


I’d like to think at least my brother Zade and Serena are happy now that they’re engaged, but knowing they could have gotten engaged just a little sooner while I was there to witness it? It makes me want to spit again. And to make things even worse, Zade’s previous fiancée arrived here for a visit this morning. Unfortunately, I did witness her engagement, which makes it all the more awkward.

What’s worse is that Zade’s previous fiancée doesn’t know about Serena and Zade. I need to tell her that he chose a girl Zade formally owned over her. He didn’t just give Serena her freedom, but he gave her his heart. While the two fell in love, Cynthia proved to everyone at the tournament she can do magic, and do it well. Maybe it’d be easier if I wasn’t such close friends with both Serena and Zade’s previous fiance. It’s dreadful this is much too formal of a setting as my mother’s entertaining room to spit. Plus, my mother is here, and she wouldn’t put up with it.

“I’m so glad you came to visit.” The words are true enough, though they would be even more heartfelt if she already knew about the engagement.

“I should have come sooner,” Tawny says. “I’d like to use my duties as an excuse for not coming, but really, I just didn’t know how long it would take you to adjust to returning home. With the things they say about Chardonia it must be a challenge.”

I’ll never adjust. This no longer feels like home, even though it’s safer.

“It was very thoughtful of you to take time away, Tawny.” Mom fills my silence, pouring sincerity into her words. Since my return from Chardonia last week, she knows what a pest I have been.

“How was Chardonia?” Tawny’s question is sure to make Mother cringe inside, even if she doesn’t show it. “Were the men as bad as everyone says?”

“No. They were worse.” Which is why I should be there, helping, instead of here having tea and biscuits in a room with pictures spelled with sparkles and a floor spelled to stay cushioned and warm.

“Will you tell me about it?” Tawny presses.

She’s just like everyone else who’s paraded through our entertaining room since my return, all wanting to know the gossip from Chardonia. Politicians wanting to know the state of the government, women wanting to know how much better off we are, men wanting to know how other men really behave, shop owners trying to see if there’s any news on trade. All wanting something for themselves.

Except Tawny. She seems different, even if her question is the same. There’s a glint in her eyes as she holds herself as if ready to jump up for a fight instead of leaning in to pick up every word to pass onto others. It would be like her. She always was ready to take action when others just wanted to talk. Perhaps it’s time to really tell someone about what things are like. Lands know I’m well past wanting to.

“Mom, would you mind asking Cook to make those new treats she’s learned? I’m sure Tawny would love to try them.”

“Wonderful idea, dear. I need to check on your father anyway.” She brushes a kiss to my forehead, something she’s done much more often since my return. “I’ll see you again soon, Tawny. Send your mother my regards.”

“I will.”

Once the door closes behind my mom, I grin at Tawny. “Mom always did like you.”

“I think she’s still hoping Zade will come back for me.”

Discussing the state of Chardonia is much more preferable to this. “And is that what you want?”

She looks at her hands. “I don’t know. We grew up together. We always thought we were destined to be married. It’s almost expected. But since he wrote to break off the engagement… Mom isn’t taking it well. Dad seems to have expected it, though.”

That doesn’t answer my question about her, though. It’s the perfect time to tell her about Zade’s engagement. “Chardonians are horrid,” tumbles out instead.

“How so?”

“The warlocks treat the women worse than animals and those who have been tarnished, people who are spelled to be bald, inked, and barren. Then the women who they want to discard or men that have little to no magic, are taught to believe they aren’t even people. They’re just tools with brains.”

“Could you do anything to help?” Her eyes grow bright with interest.

“Not nearly enough.” The words feel so good to get out. “Just trying to get the women to understand their worth was a chore. I wish I was still there helping them figure it out.”

“It does sound like something worth doing.” She glances up shyly and in a whisper says, “Something I’d like to help with. Not just here yammering about things, but over there making a difference.”

Shock courses through me. I would have never guessed she would have an interest in such things. “Would you truly?”

“I would.”

The room is silent as I think about that. What would Tawny’s parents say? Her mother, the Queen, would likely not want her daughter, the third in line for the throne, in harm’s way. It would probably be my head on the chopping block since I brought the idea back with me from Chardonia.

Tawny breaks the silence. “Mother wanted to make certain your family got the invite to the ball this evening.”

I’m still lost on the idea of her wanting to help in Chardonia. Mother would want me to accept the invitation even though I’d rather stay home and father is still too weak to leave. “Thank you. We did and would be delighted to attend.”





***





After Tawny leaves, I remain in the sitting room staring at nothing, wondering what to do, if anything, about Tawny’s declaration. Not that I can even be in Chardonia like I want to, though, so I don’t know why I’m contemplating anything to do with her declaration. There’s no way she could go. Besides, Zade would have my head.

“Are you pining for Chardonia or for Chadwick?” Mom’s question startles me from the thought.

“That’s not even a question.”

“Both then?”

I don’t have the heart to tell her it’s definitely only one. Though I do miss Chadwick, it’s not the way she means. At least I don’t think it is...

“I accepted the invitation to the Queen’s ball this evening,” I say.

“Oh good. It’s been too long since Queen Brundy and I chatted. When I saw Tawny, I was hoping her mother had joined her. I suppose she’s busy with government, especially with all the growing political problems with Chardonia.”

“I’m certain she is.” New rumors spread everyday, and it quickly feels like I’ve lost touch with those I care about. The border closures are getting tighter. The watching, even the lower class, is stricter. The hunt for the rebels is vigorous. There hasn’t even been word from Cynthia. Why hasn’t she spelled me a message to let me know if she’s safe? Have they caught her and Lukas?

As I enter my room, it just makes me long for a room back in Chardonia, whether one of the cramped ones or big, it wouldn’t matter. At least in Chardonia I was not only helping but I gained freedom from the expectations set on me here in Envado. Of marrying and becoming a woman of taste and elegance. Of course, those expectations are nothing compared to what the women in Chardonia face, and they still don’t even realize how bad it is. The horrors of being beaten and hexed by men who owned them. If I could bring them all here for a month, maybe then they’d begin to understand.

Going there was the best choice I ever made. After Zade freed Serena and Cynthia showed everyone that women could not only do magic but win the entire tournament with it—me doing a few magic spells when no one was looking and helping with simple chores there doesn’t seem like enough. I want to be more. I want to do more. I want to make a difference.

Instead, I’m going to a ball.

Gee, what good am I doing? If only Sanos, the rebel group secretly aiding Chardonia, would have let me help. They should have at least sought my opinions instead of just rumor digging like everyone else. If only they didn’t see me as a liability because I wasn’t as trained as they were, thanks to Zade and Chadwick trying to protect me. I shouldn’t be home while they’re in Chardonia helping. Just thinking of it makes me wish Zade was around to argue with.

I still can’t believe they sent me home.





Chapter Two





The ball is more lavish than others I remember attending. Spells are everywhere, sparkling, dancing, swishing across the room in the form of birds and butterflies. Drinks are flaring up like fireworks. Dresses are changing colors and styles. Men’s suits are too. It used to impress me, but now it’s a waste. Don’t these people realize what’s going on just across the border?

Apparently not.

A woman approaches mother and me, hair spelled bright fuchsia, twisted up too high atop her head with pink and purple spelled butterflies flitting around it. Her dress is spelled to sparkle in time with the music, and her make-up changes every few seconds, each time to something more gaudy than the last. “Waverly, you’re back! Are you going to hold a party soon? No one throws parties as grand as yours.”

I make some excuse, but my thoughts are on the parties I held. Is she right? Were they really more garish than this? What type of example did I set? The thought sends my stomach churning as I disengage from the woman. Who did I used to be? When did I change?

I want to be back at home, and my mom knows it.

Mom pulls me forward. “We have to greet the Queen at the very least. It would be rude to leave before then.”

It’s true, but being here has only made me more frustrated with the frivolous behaviors of my fellow countrymen when there are women who can’t breathe without their husbands’ permission back in Chardonia. The way everyone here flitters about without a care, or at least cares that aren’t life-threatening, drinking and talking and casually casting their spells, makes me long for a place that actually needs my help. Or someone to punch.

When I don’t respond to mother’s statement, she says, “I’m worried about you. Nothing has been the same since you came home.”

Nothing seems the same as it did before.

“I thought this ball might cheer you up. You always loved them before,” she says. “When you told me you accepted the invitation, I thought it might be the opportunity you needed to return to your old self. I think I was wrong, though. Not just about the ball but about more. This feeling, and the way you’ve been since coming home, it goes deeper than socializing, doesn’t it?”

I wave randomly around the room. “All this, everyone here, all the spells and extravagant things? It seems wasteful after living with women who can’t even go out in public without a male chaperone. Who can’t even make their own choices without being punished because of them.” And I need to get back to where I can do some good. How do I convince my parents of that?

“I suppose living in Chardonia would change how you see things.” Her shoulders slouch like the weight on them is growing too heavy. She has enough to worry about with Dad and Zade. I shouldn’t add to it. I’m just so restless, and the words keep popping out.

“It has changed everything,” I say.

She dabs her eyes with her kerchief even though there’s no sign of tears. “Honestly, with your dad feeling so sick when we left, I’m not of the mind for this type of thing anyway. Let’s pay our respects to the Queen and King and return home.”

“Thank you.”

As we make our way toward the thrones, another woman stops me. “You’re Waverly, yes?”

“I am.”

“It’s such an honor to meet you. I’ve heard all about everything you’ve done for Chardonian women.”

Oh, she has, has she? It’s funny that she knows more than I’ve told anyone. Someone in Sanos, the rebel group, must have been talking, but even they don’t know everything.

“You’re held in such high esteem,” the woman continues. “What, with helping the first woman to duel in the Chardonian tournament.”

This is ridiculous. I did so little, and everything they think they know about what I did is just a rumor. They have no idea what it’s really like. I’ve heard more than enough. “I did nothing but teach her to make bubbles and color nails.”

I storm away from the woman, fuming as I head toward the Queen. What an inane country I belong to. They claim to want to help the Chardonian women, yet all they do is parade around in the spelled finery. No, I want out. I’m needed out there.





***





Mom parks the motor car.

“This is one thing I did miss,” I say. “It’s such a refreshing change to be able to get places faster. They don’t even have windows in their carriages, Mom. And they wouldn’t let me ride a horse unless we were hidden from prying eyes.”

Mom blanches. “They grow more barbarous every time you say something about them.”

She would never survive without her daily horse ride.

“The girls were wonderful, though,” I say, trying to point out at least something good since I did nothing but complain about Chardonia on the way home. She’s probably sorry Zade didn’t send me home sooner, so I’d have less to complain about.

We wander into the house together and head toward the study. “They sound wonderful the way you’ve described them. It’s amazing how they could turn out so good with such terrible surroundings.”

I suppose I may have over-talked the girls. Even if I’ve been hesitant to speak about anything else but Chardonia up until this point, I haven’t refrained from telling her all about the girls I now consider my sisters. My heart aches from missing them so much, each and every one of them.

It’s too quiet here without the little ones and lonely without the others.

The study is quiet as we enter. Dad is pale and much too thin where he sits near the fire reading. Zade’s so much like him, but the resemblance has been worn by sickness. It makes me ache for them both.

“How are you feeling tonight, Daddy?” I place a kiss on his forehead and curl up by his feet.

“Dandy.” He does sound better than when I first left for Chardonia. “How is the Queen?”

“As graceful as ever.”

Mom sits on the arm of the chair and wraps her arm around Dad’s shoulders. Something about the movement reminds me of Zade and Serena, and Lukas and Cynthia. It pierces my heart with longing.

I stand, even though I just got settled. “I think I’ll do some reading.”

I take a step, but Dad stops me. “Wait a moment, dear. Your mother and I have been talking.”

Perfect. The last time they said they’d been talking like this, I ended up cleaning out the horses’ stalls for a month. Best nip that. “You’ve decided to buy me my own motorcar?”

“That may actually be preferable to what we’ve decided.”

Lovely.

Mom shifts uncomfortably. It must be worse than I think. I plop down on a nearby chair. “What is it?”

“We’re so glad to have you home,” she says. “We missed you so very much.”

And that’s one of the reasons I haven’t snuck back to my almost-sister’s yet despite the overwhelming desire to run off. “I know.”

“But you’re not happy,” Daddy says.

I force a smile. “I am happy. I missed you both so much.”

“But we’re not enough. You miss your brother and new friends.”

Sigh. “It’s not that you two aren’t enough. It’s only that they need me more.”

“We know, and we love you so much. Love having you home, love spending time with you, love only having to worry about the life of one of our children. It’s been a good week. But we know there’s greater things out there for you.” My heart pounds. “This isn’t where you want to be, or where you need to be. Zade and Chadwick had good intentions, but they were wrong to send you home.”

Are they really saying this? Is this really leading to what I think it is?

“Your notes sounded like things were hard, but you knew how to handle them. How to help your friends and the other Chardonians. To make things better. Without that, well, sweetie, you now seem to be floundering.”

“Just look at you,” Mom says. “You’re already perking up just at the mention of it.”

Guilt pricks me at the fact, that this is what makes me happy and not my parents. Despite that, the drive to help is too strong to pretend otherwise. “What are you both saying?”

“We’ll miss you dearly, but if you wish to return, you have our blessing.”

I bounce from my seat and wrap them both in a hug, unable to contain my excitement. “Thank you! Oh, thank you so much. I will do my best to stay as safe as possible. I promise!”

Plans are already forming in my head regarding what I need to pack and do before leaving. I never thought I’d be so happy to return to such a vile place.

“There’s just one thing,” Dad says. “We need you to deliver a message to Chadwick.”

“Why Chadwick? Can’t I give it to Zade?”

“I thought you’d be happy to have a reason to talk to him.”

I shrug. Interactions with Chadwick are hard enough as it is. What’s more, I plain just don’t want to interact with him if I don’t have to.

“The fact is, Zade is already overworked.” Stress lines Dad’s face. How hard is this on him, having Zade, and soon me again, in Chardonia? “Chadwick can do as much, or even more than Zade in some cases, since he’s not in the spotlight.”

A message to Chadwick it is. I just don’t know how I feel about it.





***





As I’m frantically throwing things into my pack, I’m making a mental note of what I’ll need. I can’t take much since I have to carry it all, but I should be able to pack the basics. If only the Grand Chancellor hadn’t closed the borders, this would be so much easier.

“Going somewhere?”

I whirl around to see Tawny standing in my doorway, hands behind her back.

“As a matter of fact, I am. I’m going back to Chardonia.” I grab an extra pair of shoes and throw them in my pack. “And don’t try to talk me out of it like everyone else has done. Zade’s already sent three notes telling me not to go, even though he knows better than anyone how desperately I’m needed.” No word from Chadwick, though. I’ll have to talk to him at some point.

“I’m not going to talk you out of it.”

“Good.”

“I’m going to try and talk you into taking me with you.” She pulls a pack out from behind her back.

My frantic movements come to a screeching halt.

“You can stop looking like I’ve grown an extra head,” she says.

That knocks me back into reality. “I don’t know. It sort of feels like you have.”

She snorts. “Mom and Dad thought so too.”

“They know and are fine with you coming?”

“I wouldn’t say fine.”

I snap my fingers. “Under no circumstances will you be coming with me without their permission. Even with their permission, I can’t imagine having to take care of you. You’re one of the heirs to the throne.”

“Oh, I have their permission. They just aren’t fine with it.”

“Well, that makes me feel better.” Not.

“Please let me do this, Waverly. I need to do more than just sitting through yet another useless meeting. I need to make a difference, too.”

I should probably try harder to dissuade her. Chardonia isn’t a place to go on tour, especially not for an heir to the throne. But there’s a glint of determination in her eyes. I doubt I could stop her even if I tried. She’d find another way to go, and it wouldn’t be with someone who knows what it’s like. Besides, if the Queen has given her permission, who am I to argue?

“A two-headed person may be just what I need for this trip,” I say, happy to have a friend along.

“Does that mean I can join you?”

“It does.”

Zade is going to kill me. Serena just might do the same.





Chapter Three





“I understand now why we couldn’t bring our trunks.” Tawny is almost out of breath from our journey up the mountainside. Though in all fairness, she’s done a fantastic job so far. How does a princess stay in such good shape? From exercising more than I, a non-princess.

“Hard to decide what to bring when you have limited space, though.” I scan the area until I see the rock with an ‘S’ etched into it. “It’s just over here.”

“Thank the Queen.”

“You thank your own mother?”

She shrugs. “People’s words rub off on me.”

I stop near the entrance. “You have to promise never to reveal the location of the secret entrance into Chardonia.”

“Of course not. I’m very good at keeping secrets.” I suppose an heir to a country would have to be. “I’ll even do the promise spell.”

It’s not really necessary. I do trust her, but if she’s offering, I’m taking.

“All right then,” I say. I think of a tie, binding us together in this secret, both a physical tie and a mental one. A bond that will keep the secret safe between the two of us. I let the spell out in a soft pink. She reaches out, and we shake hands, the pink spell encompassing our touch. Once complete, I pull my magic back in.

“Thank you. It’s just that we can’t be too cautious. There’s only a few ways to get in Chardonia now, especially since we’re not technically allowed in. We have to keep them well guarded.”

“That’s as it should be.”

I move back around the tree and into the cave. It’s dark and narrow, looking as if it ends before it even begins, but I press on, slipping through a crack in the back just wide enough for a person. It’s even darker back here. I pull my energy to my core and release it in the form of pure light. Only it’s not very pure. My nerves have brushed hints of green into it.

Tawny casts her own spell, white and pure with the tiniest touch of purple. I have no clue what purple means to her. Even after knowing each other our entire lives, I have a hard time reading her emotions.

As we walk through the rocky tunnel, we chat, our voices echoing through the chambers. The chamber is damp and smells of earth.

“Will they be suspicious of us being in Chardonia?”

“They are suspicious no matter if we try to enter legally or not,” I reply. “If that bothers you, it’d probably be best to turn around and go home.”

“I’m used to suspicion. After all, I have lived at court all my life.”

“At least you’ve had practice. Though that’s going to be one of the smaller problems.”

“What’s the biggest?”

“I don’t know which threat is bigger yet. The council or Zade.”

“Zade’s temper is something fierce,” Tawny replies.

“It’s only gotten worse.” The tunnel grows steeper, making my legs ache with exertion.

“Worse? How’s that even possible?”

It’s then I realize how bad it is that I haven’t told her yet. The ground levels out, and we come to a cavern the size of a small room. I motion to the cave floor. “We might as well rest here.”

She doesn’t hesitate to follow my direction, which bodes well for how seriously she’s taking this. Besides, we haven’t eaten since we left and that was hours and hours ago. I’m starving, even if my nerves are trying to say otherwise.

Once we’re sitting, I pull out hard tack, and we munch on it while I think on how to tell her that my brother was serious about not marrying a princess. About wanting instead another girl who’s sweet and kind. A girl who barely knows magic, though I know that’s not why they fell in love.

After we’ve been eating a few minutes, she asks, “Do I get to know how Zade’s temper could have possibly gotten worse?”

I set my food down, guilt making it too difficult to eat, even if I’ll need the strength later. “The girl he owned, the one he set free…”

“Serena.”

The fact she remembers Serena’s name is either really good or really bad. “Uh, yes, her. She um…”

“Found a way to make his temper worse?” Her expression is so neutral in the light of our wavering magic, I can’t decide how she’s taking this all.

“Actually, yes.”

“Truly? How did she manage that?”

I just have to spit the words out, no matter how much they stick to my throat. “She captured his heart.”

“Oh.” The defeated word echoes through the cave.

I’m the inconsiderate person for not telling her sooner. My words grow quieter as I continue. “He proposed, and she has accepted. They are engaged to be married.”

“Oh.”

Guilt presses in on me more than the walls of the cave. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. I didn’t know how.” I’m selfish like that. And still slightly upset that I wasn’t there for the engagement. Or rather, majorly upset.

Her expression remains carefully guarded. There’s no telling what she’s thinking. Being at court has probably given her ample opportunities to practice because she’s terribly good at it. Even her spelled light hanging just above her head and to the right doesn’t change color to hint at what she’s feeling.

“Tawny, are you all right? Do you want to return to Envado?”

Finally, she squeezes her eyes shut as if in pain, but it’s the only indication she’s feeling anything. One that passes all too quickly. “I’m fine. It’s just unexpected is all. He made it clear that our relationship would be no more. I was fine with that. Our parents had more plans for us than I think we did. They’re still disappointed he cut it off, though they understood why when they heard of his gaining ownership of a Chardonian woman. We heard of Zade breaking the first engagement with Serena, and we thought maybe… But it’s fine.”

That may be what her words say, but her heart said differently when they were first engaged. “You don’t have to go through with this. I can make it on my own, and Envado still needs you.”

“Envado has what it needs.” The skin around her eyes tightens. “I’m coming.”

And so she is.

I should have told her sooner. The thought haunts me all through the tunnel, the cavern we stay the night in, and the tunnel out to Chardonian territory. I don’t know if the guilt will ever leave or lessen. Sometimes I just make bad judgments. The thought still plagues me as we step into Chardonian sunlight.

The land is more beautiful than the evil hearts ruling the country. Hills covered with forest as far as the eye can see. Most women don’t even know how pristine their country is because they’re too busy spending their lives locked up. If Tawny wasn’t present, I think I might just curse.

“This is Chardonia?” she asks, surprise tinting her words.

I glance over the forest. Rightness hums through me. This is where I belong. Where I need to be. “This is Chardonia. A place of repressed dreams and trodden hopes. Dreams and hopes we will help set free.”

“I like the sound of that.”

I do too. Except the problem will take more than just saying a few words to be fixed. I don’t even know where to begin with helping them put the idea forward except by continuing with what I was doing before. Helping Serena with whatever she needed while trying to place hints she was worth more than she thought. It wasn’t enough, but at least it was something.

A few Chardonians may have come to accept some women have the same rights as a man does, like owning themselves and land, and that women can do magic, yet there’s a long, long way for them to go. The women need freedom from men. A say in things. A right to do what they want. And if most of those in power had it their way, the little progress we’ve made would be stomped on. The Grand Chancellor will use any means necessary to do the stomping.





Chapter Four





“What’s this place?” Tawny asks.

“It’s a house owned by a Chardonian who helps our cause. My friend is here also.”

My skin tingles as I hurry toward the building. Suddenly, someone grips my arm and yanks me to the side. I whip my hand out, slamming it toward the side, just stopping myself from spelling Cynthia.

“You scared me.” I embrace her tightly with a laugh. “It’s been too long. How are you?”

“Shh.” She pulls me further into the trees, Tawny following. “This house has been compromised.”

“What?” I whisper, but roughly. “How did this happen?”

“I don’t know. We think there’s a mole.”

A mole? My heart twists. Who would do this to us? Why would they do this? Everyone who’s helped us acted so genuine.

She flashes a message spell that darts away. “I tried to get word to you but didn’t know where you were. Lukas will meet us somewhere safer.”

Not safe, but safer. Too bad I have Envadi royalty with me. What was I thinking, letting her join me? We follow Cynthia through the trees until we reach a clearing that can be seen from the house. She stares at it, biting her lip.

I almost ask how bad it is but clamp my mouth shut. If she wanted to talk, she would have said something. Seemingly satisfied with whatever she’s staring at, she motions for us to run. We take off.

Once we get going, I see what is making her so stressed. Law officers. And they’re coming this way. I move faster, only in my haste, I run into a bush. Drat!

“This way,” I hear one of the warlocks behind us call.

Land sakes! How are we going to ever get out of this? We’re going to end up captured. My chest burns with more than the need for air as we run.

I glance back. The warlocks are closer now. I duck my head, not that it helps hide my tall height, and place myself behind Tawny.

“What are you doing?” she demands.

“Keeping you safe.” I throw a spell behind me, black and thick. A blinding spell. If they can’t see us, they can’t hit us.

My heart pounds as we make headway. When I peek back, one of the law officers is in sight, and another comes into view, the black spell hovering behind them like a fog. They’re further away than they were but still not far enough.

A golden spell flies from the closest one, straight at me and Tawny. I jump on Tawny’s back, throwing us both to the ground. The spell soars over our heads, and crashes into a tree beyond us, making the inner layer visible. That could have been Tawny or me. I shiver.

But there isn’t time to do more than that. I’m pulling Tawny to her feet as Cynthia bursts an emerald spell at them. They slow as it hits, coughing.

We press harder, running until my already sore legs burn. Cynthia turns and aims a burgundy spell at our pursuers. It slows them enough that they are out of sight, but they zap several spells our direction. Cynthia throws a dark red shield spell up, protecting all three of us from the attack.

As we continue to run, I can’t help but wonder what I’ve done by bringing Tawny into Chardonia. This isn’t the welcome I wanted for her or me.

“Get back here, wenches,” one of them calls.

Yeah, like that’ll entice us to stop.

Tawny flashes a pink spell behind us. It goes out of sight for a moment, only to flare up.

“Got them,” she says.

I gasp for breath as we continue to pull ahead. Cynthia covers our tracks with a spell I don’t take time to study, though I’d love to see how she does this one. My own track-covering spell isn’t what it should be.

After we’ve been running off and on for what seems like all day but is probably closer to an hour, Cynthia stops us. She looks around and then moves a dead bush to reveal a cave entrance. Despite how hard the cave floor is, we all collapse on it, heaving for breath.

“That was not fun,” I say.

Tawny nods. Oh lands, her parents will never trust me again when they learn how serious of a situation I’ve dragged their daughter into. Why did they ever agree to let her come? They know things are unstable here and getting worse.

Suddenly, Lukas is hugging Cynthia, gripping her tightly and whispering in her ear. I stare the other way, trying hard not to intrude on their moment.

“Are you two well?” he asks us after finally letting Cynthia out of the hug but still keeping an arm around her.

I wait for Tawny to nod before saying, “We’re fine. What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Cynthia says. “Things seemed to be going well and were safe, but this morning while Lukas and I were on our way back from a walk, we saw several law officers go in the house. We hid in the trees but never saw them come out. And…”

“There was screaming,” Lukas finishes for her, his voice hushed.

Pain shoots through me. “But George has been working with us for years.”

“They are determined to have me,” Cynthia says. “I showed everyone what women can do with magic, and they want to annihilate that.”

Determination fills me. “They can try, but they won’t succeed.”

“No, they won’t. There have been a few other girls who have run away from home. I’m going to try and find them.”

“That sounds like a good plan. Do you need help?” I ask, excited there is a chance for me to do something.

“I think it’d be best if Lukas and I keep the search group small.”

“I should really move on anyway.” Though I long for a way to do more.

“Go to Serena,” Cynthia says.

“Thank you.”

If only Serena’s family situation weren’t so fragile. If only her stupid father wasn’t around so I could go directly to the girls. Better yet, if only I could spell his lights out. “I just don’t know if we can get there safely now without the male chaperone our contact was supposed to provide.”

“I can take you and catch up with Cynthia later,” Lukas says.

“Haven’t they been coming down on foreigners?”

“Yes, but we’re not completely banned. It will be less hassle for me to be caught than you.”

“He’s right,” Cynthia says, though I can tell it makes her nervous by the way she twists her hands together. “Take him with you. Please give my love to Serena.” Her voice aches with longing.

“Of course I will.” I give her a tight hug. “I hope to see you soon.”

She hugs Lukas. “Come back to me.”

“You know I will,” he replies.

They kiss, fierce and loving. I turn away to give them privacy. At least someone understands what love is.





Chapter Five





Looking at the house Serena’s staying in, I’m grateful for the choice to come here instead of Zade’s, even if it meant taking longer to get here. Lukas got us here safely, so hopefully he can return the same way. And now I’m not only where I need to be, but I don’t have to face Zade’s wrath quite yet. Unless he’s visiting Serena.

I gulp past the thought, even though it’s highly likely, especially the way things have been going since our arrival. When Zade and Chadwick find out I’m not only here, but I’ve brought Tawny with me, there will be two very angry warlocks.

At least, I assume there’ll be two. Perhaps it will be only my brother and not the man everyone expects me to marry. It’s been so long since I’ve heard from Chadwick. Maybe he doesn’t care where I am. Maybe he’s so wrapped up in the reason he left Envado in the first place to help the Chardonian people that I’m only a distant memory. I don’t know if the thought is for better or worse. Whichever it is, I have to find him and deliver the message from my father in person.

They’ll soon know we’re here, if they don’t already. Warlocks are visibly guarding the house, not even trying to hide like when I left. Have things gotten worse here as well?

“Let’s go see Serena.”

Tawny follows me and Lukas up the walkway. “Does she know I’m coming?”

More trouble. “I told her someone was joining me.”

“But she doesn’t know who I am.”

“I told her your name,” I hedge.

She gives me a look. “But not who I am.”

“Fine. I didn’t tell her of your previous relationship with Zade.” I eye Lukas, knowing I can trust him, but it’s probably best to keep her identity from being spread around even with those we trust. “Or anything else.”

Her entire posture takes on a regal bearing. “She needs to know. About me and Zade at least.”

At least she agrees about keeping her royalty status under wraps, even if it’s clear just by the way she acts. “I know. Only there are more pressing things happening than just relationships.” And it makes me feel like the worst friend for keeping their former engagement a secret. Why am I doing this?

“True. It’s not as if I’m here to steal Zade.”

Lukas gives her a sharp look. She’d better not be. As much as she’s a friend to me, and possibly even my future queen, I won’t let anyone put Serena through more grief.

Before I can reply, the door bursts open, and Serena’s coming to me with a big grin on her face. “I can’t believe you’re here! I didn’t know if I would ever see you again.”

“It was only a little over a week.” But I hug her tight anyway like it’s been years.

“Let’s get inside,” she says when I let her go, eying Tawny.

She ushers the three of us in quickly, looking around as if there’s something to fear. If I hadn’t already known things were getting worse, this would confirm it. When she closes the door behind us and bolts it, her entire body eases.

“How about I make you a treat?” I say.

“You just got here. You don’t need to cook anything,” Serena says as she leads us through the house.

“Hasn’t it been too long since you had cinnamon cookies?”

She laughs. “You know my weakness, but if you want time to settle in first, it’s fine.”

“I can settle later. Food is much more important.” Always more important than dealing with necessary chores.

She leads us to the kitchen, which is smaller than Zade’s or even the house that’s now her father’s again, but it’s workable. I don’t hesitate to get cooking, looking through cupboards and pulling things out.

“How are your mother and the girls?”

“Who’s this you brought with you?” Serena asks, ignoring my question.

It must be really bad for them. Maybe I don’t want to know how bad until there’s something I can do about it. Still, I will try to find out when she seems more open to talking.

Tawny is graciously waiting next to a wall, looking so regal I expect any moment to have one of them shout that I’ve brought royalty with me because I’m a dunce. And an even bigger dunce for not giving introductions right away. Even if I’m not going to reveal exactly who her parents are, she deserves my respect both because of who she is to my country and as my friend.

“Sorry, the excitement of the moment caught up with me. This is Tawny, a very good friend of mine.”

“I’m happy to have met you, Tawny,” Serena says. “Even if the circumstances are not what I’d have them be.”

“Thank you.”

“Come sit by me while Waverly makes us something mouthwatering.” When Serena sits down at the counter to watch me, the time and strain is immediately evident by the lines of worry etched in her face. Tawny eases into the chair next to her, back rigid. I suppose even court doesn’t prepare one for sitting next to your ex-fiancée’s new fiancée.

“How are the girls, really?” I ask Serena about her sisters.

Her shoulders seem to cave into the rest of her. “I’ve only managed to sneak in to see them once. The girls aren’t handling things well. Most of them seem to be shutting down. Bethany’s doing what she can for them, but I’m afraid of the strain it’s causing her. Especially as she tries to take care of Mother.”

“Will the baby be born soon?”

“Within the next month or two. She seems to be taking this pregnancy harder than the others. Don’t tell her I said this, but I think she’s getting too old for this. I wish there was a way to rescue all of them before then. It’s going to be very unpleasant when she has another girl.”

Unpleasant to say the least. Who knows how Stephen will take his wrath out on his wife and daughters? I wish I could march over there right now and slam a hex into him so hard he wouldn’t wake for a year. Never mind that I lack the power to actually do so.

Serena opens her mouth but closes it again before saying, “Zade said you weren’t coming. I didn’t tell him about the letter you sent claiming the opposite.”

“Don’t know if he’ll like the fact you’re keeping secrets from him.”

“You can’t keep a secret from someone who isn’t around to speak with.”

Lands, Zade, how are you treating your intended this time? Sometimes my brother needs a hit over the head with a frying pan to knock some sense into him. “Well, what he doesn’t know will keep things going smoothly enough.”

“That will change as soon as he knows you’re here and can get away from his duties,” Serena continues. “He’s not going to be happy.”

“So all his letters told me.” Over and over again. “You didn’t really think I’d stay away, did you?”

“No, but part of me hoped you would.”

A slice of pain cuts through me. “You don’t want me here?”

“I only said a part. It’s just that as much as we love your company, I fear for your safety.”

“As Zade fears for yours.”

“Yes, but there was a reason Zade sent you away. Things are changing. Things I can help with, and I need to do what I can for my sisters and Mother. But if I had left with you, or if I went now, who would take my place? Who will do what they can to protect my sisters? Who will show Chardonian women what sort of life they can have? What sort of power they can have? What sort of freedom they can have from being owned?”

“That’s exactly why we’re here as well.”

“But it doesn’t have to be your fight. You’re not a Chardonian.”

I stand taller. “Just by being a person in this world, it’s my fight.”

Serena gives the faintest of smiles before turning to Tawny. “What do you think? Did you come for the same reason? Did she warn you how dangerous things are?”

The mention of danger makes me wonder if she knows about Cynthia’s situation, but I don’t want to place more worries on her if she hasn’t heard Cynthia has dealt with it as needed, and the Sanos contacts have been notified. There’s nothing Serena could do about it but worry more.

Tawny says, “I was warned, but I need to be here. I’m sick of leading an idle life that is useless to anyone.”

“You’ve found a precarious way to try, but if Waverly brought you I won’t turn you away. Do you know magic?”

This is such a good change from having Serena cringe away from even the faintest hint of magic.

When Tawny doesn’t reply, I say, “She’s much better at it than I.” Magic tutors are required for the next monarch. Those protection spells she was required to learn are stronger than an entire mountain.

“You’re much too kind.” Tawny blushes.

“Good,” Serena says. “Even if Waverly is exaggerating, we could use the help. I’m trying to learn and am coming across more and more women who are requesting help to learn as well.”

She was warming up to it when I left, but I didn’t expect her to willingly get so involved. Things really are changing. With Serena at least.





Chapter Six





The door slams. Serena jumps, but I know that sound all too well. Zade is here.

I take a deep breath and prepare myself for battle. Tawny is resting in our shared room, which I should have been doing as well, but sleep wouldn’t come. Instead, I sought Serena out to find more details about what’s been going on. I should have forced myself to stay in bed, though it’d be cruel to leave Serena alone with his wrath. At least she can probably calm him better than I can.

Zade storms in with a force of tense muscles and a glare in his eyes that could turn into magic sparks at any moment. Serena relaxes back into her chair with a giant grin on her face. Either she doesn’t realize how seriously his temper is flaming right now, or she doesn’t care.

“What are you doing here?” His words boom at me.

It’s then I realize Chadwick is behind him. I stare at him, ignoring Zade’s fuming. My heart doesn’t give a thump or a flutter or anything at all. Why can’t it respond to him like I think it should? Like everyone expects it to? Maybe my idea of how loves feels, how it looks from outside, is wrong. Maybe the warmth of friendship is all there is for someone like me.

“Waverly!”

I roll my eyes and say in my sweetest voice, “Yes, Master Zade?”

“Don’t you dare give me that. This isn’t the time for jokes. Mom and Dad are going to have a heart attack when they realize you didn’t listen to me and returned. You should know your brother only wants to keep you safe. What’s that going to do to Dad? Did you think of him when you went gallivanting off?”

He’s right. It’s not the time for games even if it’s fun to tweak him. There are some things too precious to joke over. “They’re the ones who told me to come.”

This seems to trip him up. He pinches the bridge of his nose. “Why would they do that?”

“Because they understand as much as I do that I need to be here.”

He huffs. Serena goes to him and puts a hand on his arm. The change is instant. His eyes soften, and his shoulders relax. He kisses her full on the mouth like none of us are even there. I glance away, which leads to catching Chadwick’s eye. I hurry to stare at my hands. More awkward than when I accidentally spelled his hair pink.

I make an exaggerated sound of clearing my throat.

Zade gives an exasperated sigh. “Well, you’re clearly not in the mood for my temper, so just let me and my fiancée have some time together. Maybe then, just maybe, I’ll be able to talk to you without wanting to strangle you.”

“By all means, go right ahead. It sounds as if you’ve been neglecting her.”

He growls. “Stupid council.”

“Oh, just kiss me again,” Serena says.

I turn away as he passionately does so. I’m all for true love and kissing, but my brother doesn’t seem like the best person to illustrate the point. Ew.

Chadwick hurries past the couple, turning away from them as soon as he can. The kissing must bother him too. Or maybe it’s my presence that’s causing issues. At least Serena and Zade finally seem to take a hint and move into the hall.

Chadwick takes the chair Serena vacated. “You shouldn’t have come back.”

“I think my brother already made that clear enough.”

“We have seven warlocks guarding this house every day. There’s a lot of people who come here to learn more about what Serena’s done and to hear more about Cynthia. About what they’re doing with freedom and magic. But some guests aren’t as harmless as they appear. Attacks are almost a daily occurrence. And…”

Almost daily? I knew it was bad but not this bad. “And what?”

“It’s not just that I’m trying to keep you safe because I care about you. It’s…”

My chest gives a strange little twist. The warmth of friendship could be enough. But I doubt it would spark kisses the likes of which came from Zade and Serena. Besides, doesn’t he deserve that as well? “And what, Chadwick?”

“And I don’t think having a Chardonian, especially a female Chardonian, in the house will help.”

“Zade and you are already here, what difference does it make?”

“Zade is at least on the council, and no one notices me when he’s around. I’m just a shadow,” he says. “Things are bad enough without adding to it.”

This is exactly what I didn’t want to hear. Of course I knew they sent me away for a reason, but I thought it was just for my own safety. How can I endanger Serena more? Some people still think we’re cruel giants, barbarians, not worth being near.

In any case, he needs his message. “Dad sent me to tell you something.” I scoot closer. Even in this house that is supposed to be safe, rebellion words aren’t to be treated lightly. Exactly why Dad didn’t just send a spell message. “The Envadi rebels are lessening. With the borders closed, not only is it harder for them to get in, but they don’t want to come in. We’re on our own with whatever is already set up here.”

“That’s the note your dad sent? Why in all of Envado did he send you here if he knew things were getting worse?” He jumps to his feet.

Tawny picks just that moment to enter, a big, silly grin on her face that falters the moment she glances into the hall. Zade and Serena must not have gone far.

“Tawny!” Chadwick practically shouts.

Instantly, there’s a giant thump from the hall, and Zade appears. Serena is not far behind with eyebrows crinkled. I am in so much trouble.

“What are you doing here?” Zade demands Tawny.

Well, there’s the fact that this is not only very awkward but also unexpected. He’ll probably chew me out for bringing her as well, but I wasn’t going to be the one to stop her.

She glances at the floor, back rigid. She could give these perfect posture Chardonian girls competition. “I wanted to help like Waverly.”

Zade is still staring at her. More like gaping.

“Of course you already know each other,” Serena says, not realizing what she’s walking into. What I didn’t get around to warning her about. “I should have realized if you knew Waverly, you’d know Chadwick and Zade.”

That’s such a small portion of it.

Tawny looks away from us all. Zade seems like he’s going to rip his nose right off with how hard he’s rubbing it.

“We’re all acquainted,” I say.

Zade glares at me. “You are either completely inane or mad.”

“She’s both,” Chadwick says.

“Hey, I—” deserve both of their comments entirely. “Her parents agreed, and it was her idea to begin with.”

“You could have said no,” Zade snaps. “They should have said no.”

“And you could all talk with me instead of around me,” Tawny snaps.

We all scuff our boots on the floor.

Serena glances at Tawny, clearly confused. “Is there a reason your coming is worse than Waverly being here? This all seems a little extreme and everyone seems to know why except me.”

Tawny seems to remember herself then. “They just don’t think I can protect myself properly.” Her voice lowers. “And…” She eyes Zade.

“And she’s my previous fiancée,” he admits.

“Oh.” Serena’s face goes calm. Too calm. “Well then, can I get you something to drink and eat? You didn’t eat much earlier.”

“That would be lovely, thank you.” Tawny’s training has probably never been tried so thoroughly.

Zade mumbles some claim about needing to check on the guards, and Chadwick hurries out after him. Neither Serena nor Tawny respond but avoid eye contact as the men walk outside. What a fine place to leave us in. And I don’t know which of us has it worse. Tawny intruding on Zade’s new love, Serena just meeting his old fiancée, or me for being the biggest dunce for bringing them all together.





Chapter Seven





The day doesn’t get any more comfortable after that, but at least everyone pretends it is. When I get Serena alone and ask her about it, she claims it’s fine. She still has trouble opening up to others, even if we’ve known each other over a year now. Tawny won’t say anything either, but at least she doesn’t pretend there’s not a problem, just that she doesn’t wish to discuss it.

I toss and turn all night, unable to sleep for thoughts of our situation. I don’t just worry about bringing Tawny here but also Chadwick saying our presence will make it worse for Serena. Which also means worse for Tawny. Even though it’s dangerous here, I need to keep her in a place that’s safe, if such a thing is possible in a place like Chardonia. At the same time, not clue her into the fact I’m keeping her safe because she’d be livid to know she can help, but I’m not letting her.

I find Serena in the barn brushing Goldie. She pats the horse down, speaking in a soothing voice. Does it do more good for her or the horse? It’s difficult to say.

“Morning,” I greet her.

“I thought you’d be making breakfast.”

“Who, me?” I tease. “It’s good that Zade was able to sneak Goldie away before Stephen got a hold of her.” Her dad is the biggest jerk of them all.

She nods, though her expression remains passive. “I just wish I could ride her more. But it’s too dangerous for me to go gallivanting out in the open.”

“That must be hard.” When she doesn’t say anything, I decide I just need to come out with it. “There’s something we need to discuss.”

She starts flicking the brush rougher. “I already told you I don’t wish to speak about it.”

“Not about yesterday, about something else,” I say. “Tawny and I have been talking.”

At the mention of Tawny, Serena goes oddly still. Despite saying she doesn’t want to talk about it, she doesn’t stop me.

“We think we should find work in another household.” The explanation doesn’t have to do with her being in more danger because of our presence, but it has to be the right choice. She’d likely insist her safety isn’t jeopardized by me even if it is. “Tawny wants to see more of Chardonia, and I think I’d like to go with her. Maybe somewhere where they aren’t as antagonistic toward us Envadi, but where we can still do some good.”

And keep everyone safe.

“You’re going to leave us? You just arrived.” Her big eyes are so sad, it makes me wish things were different. Safer.

“I want to stay. I missed you so much. More than I would have ever thought. But I came back to help. I feel like you have the help you need here now, and there may be something more I can do elsewhere.”

“I understand.” She’s silent a moment but continues brushing Goldie. “I may have somewhere that fits your needs. Councilman Daniel and Annabelle are very opened-minded, but there are other servants in their household and people they visit with that you may be able to reach out to.”

“I remember them. They’d be perfect if they’re willing.” I give her a tight hug. “Thank you. Would you mind giving us a reference?”

“I doubt you’ll need it, but I’d be delighted to help both you and Tawny.”

“Thank you for your help,” I say. “Do you also think maybe it will help you by not having her around?”

For a moment, I think she’s going to disagree, but then she says, “I admit, the thought crossed my mind. I’m certain we’d be fine if she stayed, though, and I will miss you.”

“I will miss you too.” I wrap her in a hug, tightly like she was my own sister. “I better go help with breakfast.”

“I knew it.”

“You already know me too well.” I turn to leave.

“Waverly?”

“Yes?”

“Is your leaving because of Tawny being Zade’s previous fiancée?”

I swallow past the tightness in my throat. “Zade loves you. He would never, ever leave you for anyone else. I’ve never seen a love as fierce as his.”

“Yet, you’re going.”

“It will be good for us. All of us.”

I’m not sure she entirely believes my response, and she shouldn’t, just not for the reasons she supposes.





Chapter Eight





Leaving Serena again is harder than I expect. Even harder than being so close to Serena’s sisters and not being able to see them. There’s an ache inside me without them here. Serena promises to send word if there’s any news or change with them and when her mother has the baby.

Tawny is silent the entire ride except for once saying, “I always thought the windowless carriages were an exaggeration. If anything I see now that it was under exaggerated.”

I’ve never seen Annabelle and Councilman Daniel’s house before. It’s large, though not as grand as Zade’s. Ivy climbs up one side of their house, over all three floors reaching the roof. The rest of their house is white, with a good number of windows.

Annabelle greets us with a smile, wearing a pair of tan breeches. No one has embraced Katherine’s designs as much as she has. Not only is Katherine, a friend who pretends to be a tarnished, an amazing seamstress, but she has a flair for women’s independence that influences others. Knowing Annabelle gets along so well with her makes me feel more at home already. “I’m so glad you’ve decided to join us. When Serena told me not one, but two Envadi were looking for a place to work, I was delighted. Let’s have a sip of tea and discuss your duties.”

As we move to the sitting room, Tawny asks, “Do you typically take tea with the servants?”

She most definitely does not sound like a servant herself. It will be a miracle if she can not only do her work but do it without giving away who she really is.

“Usually, and of course, since Waverly and I have met, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to get to know another Envadi.” She insists on pouring the tea for us both, and once we’re all settled, she leans in close and whispers. “Do either of you use magic?”

I want to exchange a glance with Tawny to know what she thinks of this, but I don’t dare give us away so blatantly. Instead, I mimic Annabelle by leaning closer and whispering, “Do you?”

She giggles like my evasive reply pleased her and, with a wink, pours more tea in my cup. “I think we shall all get along just fine.”

We chatter as we sip our tea. Annabelle and Tawny agree to try her as Annabelle’s personal maid while I’ll help with general housework. It suits me and keeps Tawny more with someone I trust and myself out moving among the other servants. Hopefully, since Annabelle and Daniel have accepted me, we’ll get rid of their notions that I’m a barbarian, and what’s more, convince them of women’s worth.

Once we’re finished, Annabelle instructs another servant to show us around, including where we’ll we’ll be working, our bed chamber, where we are to report each morning, and where to eat.

The servant is nice, but quick, hurrying through the house as if it’s a struggle just to find a little time to show us around, even though doing so will mean we’ll be able to help ease her load. The last place she takes us is a tiny room.

“These are the living quarters you’ll be sharing. The Councilman was kind enough to install a flushing toilet down the hall we all share. We may even get the electric lights in our quarters if things continue to go well.”

It would be a nicer prospect if it wasn’t already expected. It’s hard to remember people live without these things and think it’s perfectly normal. Electricity and flushing toilets should be as standard as food. Especially the toilets.

“That sounds wonderful.” I fake a smile.

“We’re excited you’re both joining us,” she replies.

“Thank you,” Tawny speaks up for the first time since we left Annabelle. Her good manners never fail, even when she most likely feels like keeping silent.

“You can unpack and come help in the kitchen when you’re finished if you’d like. It’d give you both a chance to get to know the others.”

“We’ll be there shortly.” Once she’s gone, I ask Tawny, “What do you think so far?”

“She was nice.”

“Hopefully, the others are as well.”

“Annabelle is great at the very least. She’s the one I’ll be spending most of my time with anyway.”

“Remember to be really careful about how you do magic. Some women are aware they can do it, but that doesn’t mean the council will let them.”

“Of course.”

Will the strides we’re trying to make with these people ever be enough?





***





I’m so focused on Tawny and how she’s taking everything and if she’s giving anything away about who she is or the magic she can do. If only I had her skills when I was here, maybe I could have taught Cynthia something more useful. It doesn’t matter. It’s too late. Cynthia survived and won the tournament, even if she’s now on the run. Thousands of Chardonians know about her and what she did, too many minds for the council to erase.

Mine feels erased. After all my wool gathering, all the servants are heading off to their duties. One of the other servant girls shows me my duties for the day and leaves me to clean the study while she goes off to accomplish her own chores.

I start with dusting the bookshelves, wishing I could pick up one of the books to read instead of cleaning them. Being Serena’s maid was a lot more exciting than cleaning all the time. At least I usually had someone to chat with. I trace my finger down the spine of one of the books. It’s unfamiliar, but the title is interesting. My fingers itch to pick it up and see if there’s something good inside.

“What are you doing?” A harsh male voice demands.

I whirl around, my feather duster landing right on a warlock’s chin.

He coughs and smacks it away. “You’re supposed to be cleaning the room, not covering me in dirt.”

“I didn’t know you were standing so close.” Not much of an apology but true.

“Excuse me? Did you just make an excuse instead of doing your job?” Now that he’s smacking the dirt off his face, it easier to see his firm jaw line, golden brown eyes, and dark hair.

“Just letting you know why it happened. I don’t usually greet strangers in such fashion.”

He wipes his face with a handkerchief before yanking the duster out of my hand. “Neither do I, but for you I’ll make an exception since you haven’t learned Chardonian ways. Do not address me so informally again. I may be a servant, but I’m still a warlock. You will treat me with the respect I deserve. Call me sir or Master Jack.”

Is he serious? This whiner deserves absolutely no respect.

“While you manage to stay in this position,” the tone of his voice implies it won’t be for long, but Annabelle will surely keep us here as long as we’d like, “you will defer to me in all things.”

“All things?” Just who does he think he is?

“Are you daft? That’s what I just stated.”

I shouldn’t. Oh, I know I shouldn’t. But I just can’t help it. “Even picking out which stockings I’m going to wear for the day?”

For the briefest moment his face transforms, almost like he’s about to smile, but before I’ve had time to decide if he really did, his face is an inch from mine, eyes narrowed. “Do not play games with me, girl.”

The playful spark catches fire, heat flaming my words. “I’m no girl, unless you’re just a boy since we must be about the same age. Of course, the way you’re throwing a tantrum, it must be you never grew out of being a spoiled toddler.”

His mouth tightens into a firm, condemning line. “I won’t hesitate hexing you if you step out of line.”

Though he doesn’t move, it feels as if his weight is pressing into me, forcing me to back off. I refuse to budge, staring him down. Would Annabelle and the Councilman allow him such liberties? I doubt they’d be happy about it, but I’ve often been surprised in this country. No matter. It’s a known fact now that women do magic. If he tries anything, he’s going to get a surprise blasted back in his face that will have him ruing the day he ever looked my way.

Finally, he eases from my space, slowly though, like he wants his threat to linger long after he’s gone. There’s a threat that will linger all right. The threat of me hexing his hair purple and his nose and ear hair to grow to his shoulders.

When he’s several feet from me, I feel like I can breathe again. Only the air isn’t cool enough to douse my anger.

“Return to your work. When you’re finished, go scrub the toilets and remember your place.” He strides toward the door.

“You’re only a servant, too. Like you have room to talk about remembering my place.”

He swings toward me, eyes wild, and my magic pounds through me. “I am a Chardonian warlock. I may be working to keep my family out of debt, but I am nothing, nothing, like you.”

Before I can give another flip response, he stomps off. My magic still pounds through me like boulders falling from a cliff. What a jerk.

“And keep your hands off those books,” he yells over his shoulder. “Chardonian women only read the Woman’s Canon. While you’re here, you will do the same.”

Double jerk.

He stalks from the room, leaving clouds of anger in his wake. I don’t know whose are bigger, mine or his.

As soon as he’s gone, I let a firework spell fly, having enough presence of mind to keep it the size of an apple. If only I could direct it at him. Zade isn’t the only one in our family with a temper. It’s only unfortunate I kept a tight lid on it instead of fully letting it out to teach that jerk how women really can behave. Stuck in the middle of a temper tantrum is enough to get me in trouble. Though I suppose hitting him with the spell would have been worse. That would have been a fantastic report for my first day of work.

I return to dusting, walking around like all the books are fake and don’t need special treatment anyway. It doesn’t last long. Even if that brute can’t treat me with the respect I deserve, I can treat these books better. I’ll just have to pretend they’re all about math so I’m not tempted to open them again.

It’s not until several minutes later when I’ve almost finished the room, I realize he threatened to hex me. But even though he seemed past ready to do so, he didn’t. Most Chardonian men have no such problem. A woman looking at them is enough of an excuse to hex them, especially ones so clearly rooted in their own superiority. I stare out the now empty doorway. So why didn’t he hex me?





Chapter Nine





“How was your first day?” Tawny asks.

“How was yours?” I reply, hoping the evasive tactic works. Not only am I still confused by the incident with the brute, but I’m fuming from scrubbing toilets the rest of the day. I thought I was grateful for them yesterday, but that’s been over-trodden by the plethora of toilets. Disgusting.

“Annabelle is really sweet. I like her a lot. She’s going to be so much fun to work with. I always heard Chardonian women wear only dresses, but her wardrobe varies as much as the topics she likes to discuss.”

“Cynthia and Annabelle are the only women in Chardonia I’m aware of that wear breeches in front of company. And Annabelle is cautious to only wear them when she’s here, never in front of anyone outside of her closest friends.”

“Oh. Well, if that’s all she’ll wear them for, I’m glad she considers me a friend.”

A twinge of jealousy pulls through me, but it’s not of use to anyone. I was the one who chose it to be this way. If I was not working with Tawny and Annabelle, there would be a lot fewer people I could influence. This way I have more opportunities, even if it means dealing with warlock scum like Jack. Unless of course, he keeps me scrubbing toilets all the time.

“You never answered my question. How was your first day?”

With Jack still lingering in my thoughts, it’s hard to think of a decent lie. “It was a day.”

“That bad?”

I puff my pillow. “I’m sure things will go smoother tomorrow.”





***





I gather sheets and head for the laundry room. These people really need to get more appliances. Their lives would be so much simpler. At least I’m not scrubbing toilets today, though the laundry room is steaming in a way that’s almost worse than cleaning toilets.

“Are those from an extra room?” Jack startles me.

I jump, dropping the sheets.

“Perfect. At least they haven’t been cleaned yet.” I bend down to gather them together before looking up. Sarcasm can’t help but lace my words. “I’m so sorry, sir. These will be cleaned as soon as I pick them off the floor from where I dropped them after you scared me. And yes, they’re from an extra room, the blue one.”

His eyes tighten, just like they did yesterday, and I prepare myself for another lecture. And to discover how much like a typical Chardonian warlock he is. Will he attempt to hex me as I suspect he will?

“Look, about yesterday—”

“Don’t bother. The last thing I need to add to this day is another one of your helpful chats.”

“Fine. Just keep doing your job.” He storms off.

Good riddance. By the time I finish gathering the sheets, guilt is nudging in. It wasn’t really his fault I dropped the sheets. Sure, he could have been louder, but I could have been more graceful, or at least gracious. It almost sounded like he was going to apologize before I cut him off.

I grumble at myself all the way to the laundry room before pasting on a fake smile. No sense being rude to them as well, especially since these are the very people whose opinions I’m working on changing.

I spend a few minutes talking with the other servants in the laundry room, being warm and friendly, even though all I feel like doing is shooting a few rounds at spelled targets like those Zade is so fond of. Pushing that desire aside, the girls seem friendly enough, so I must be passably convincing.

We talk of mundane things at first, but it quickly becomes apparent that they have a higher opinion of themselves than most Chardonian women. They don’t cower or lower their heads, even when a man walks in the room. Annabelle and Daniel have already done an amazing job with most of them. Maybe there is more hope for this country than I thought could happen in a short time.

After giving a merry goodbye, I scoot back into the hall, heading for the next room I’m to clean. I’ve gone far enough that I’m no longer in the main hall and shouldn’t have anyone passing by, when I slouch against the wall.

What am I doing here?

I suppose coming to an Envadi friendly home should have been my first clue I wouldn’t be needed. Maybe I can find another place where my skills will be more useful while Tawny stays here.

While I’m still slouched against the wall, Annabelle comes into view. Peeling myself up, I plaster another smile on my face before she sees me moping.

“Waverly. Just who I was looking for.”

My smile feels more genuine. “Glad we could bump into each other then. What can I help you with?”

“I just wanted to say thank you for coming. Tawny is a lovely breath of fresh air. I simply adore her company.”

She does have that effect on people. “She said she enjoys being with you as well.”





* * *







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