About the book
She stilled the storm in his heart to a whisper…
Demon. Abomination. Touched by the devil.
Words that have haunted Miss Ingrid Evans’ life since the day of her birth. Blind and chased away from her home after her parents’ death, she drops unconscious outside the door of a manor.
The death of his wife in a carriage accident due to his driver’s negligence has left Alastair Hargreave, Marquess of Farbridge, with a bitterness towards commoners. Until the day he finds a half-dead woman right outside his door and Alastair suddenly feels his heart start to mend.
After weeks of newfound bliss, a sudden change in Ingrid’s behavior makes Alastair realize that the shadows of her past have flesh and blood. And they are closer than he thought. When she is snatched away right after he’s promised her protection, his only hope of finding her alive lies in the cloth she always kept tied around her eyes…
Ingrid Evans stumbled through the woods, staggering, struggling to keep her feet beneath her.
She had no shoes. She could feel the frozen earth with every step. It should have numbed her feet, but it felt like it was burning her instead.
She had no cloak. She shivered violently each time the wind gusted. The branches of trees whipped at her arms punishingly, as if to reprimand her for going into the woods on her own.
She had nowhere to go.
That thought was at the forefront of her mind. Where will I go? What will I do? She had no answers.
She heard something move in the woods behind her and gasped, jumping like a startled deer. She pressed herself up against the trunk of a tree and waited, feeling panicked and desperate.
There it was again. A rustling noise. Something—or someone—was moving through these trees.
I have to get out of the woods.
Yes. But where?
It was horrifying to realize that she couldn’t think of a single place of safety.
Ingrid was accustomed to being on her own. That was the way it had been since the untimely deaths of her parents five years earlier. They had fallen to consumption, leaving Ingrid all alone in the world, and since then, she had had to fend for herself.
She had grown used to that.
She had grown used to keeping secrets and struggling to get by.
But tonight was the first time she had realized that her life was in peril.
She waited, listening for the rustling sound to repeat itself. She held her breath, trying to make her body as small as possible against the tree. She had no idea what might be lurking in these woods, what might be following her, but she could think of plenty of truly terrifying possibilities.
But the sound didn’t come again.
Slowly, quietly, Ingrid allowed herself to breathe.
She listened. Nothing. No response from the forest.
She stepped backward, away from the tree, shifting her weight slowly so as to make as little noise as possible. Step by step, taking the utmost care, she crept away.
She heard the sound of wheels on cobblestones and her heart leapt. If she could make it to the road, she could make it into town. She didn’t know what she would do from there, but it would have to be better than being lost in these woods.
She ran, staying light on her bare feet, following the sound of the carriage. As she went, she kept one ear attuned to what was going on behind her, knowing that the danger wasn’t past. Far from it. If there was a threat in these woods, it was still out there.
Please don’t let him catch me.
If there’s something out there, let it be a deer. Even a bear might be preferable.
And then, suddenly, she was on the road.
The carriage was gone. The road was empty. But she could follow it and it should lead her into town. There would be people there, people who would be able to help her. People who would be able to protect her.
I’ll find some kind of work. I’ll find a place to stay. Everything’s going to be fine.
The wind gusted, blowing her skirt up against her legs, and Ingrid wrapped her arms around her body and shivered. She wished she had had time to put on something warm before going out into the cold tonight.
She wished it was a warm summer night instead of late autumn, about to turn to winter.
I wish my parents had lived, she thought bitterly. Since I’m wishing for things, that’s the thing I wish for most of all.
If they were alive, Ingrid knew, she would be safe and warm tonight.
She needed to get to town. If she could get to town, she believed she would be safe. But there was no sign of the town yet. Ingrid couldn’t even be sure she was going the right way. What if town was in the other direction? What if she was walking away from where she needed to be? No, she couldn’t allow herself to dwell on that. The best thing to do was to keep moving. She would be there soon enough. She had to believe that.
She walked on resolutely, trying to think how she would explain her bedraggled state to whomever she found when she got into town. She certainly didn’t want to tell anyone what had really happened tonight. She couldn’t fathom how that kind of honesty would possibly work to her advantage.
And yet how could she explain the fact that she was out alone at night, that she was practically indecent in her manner of dress, and that she had nowhere to go?
She would just have to think of something. Some explanation.
Anything but the truth.
The wind blew hard, stealing the breath from her lungs, and Ingrid felt as if her throat was closing in response. She stood there for a moment, fighting for air, trying to recover. It was so very cold.
And then she heard the sound of a horse approaching.
Stay or hide? She had only a moment to decide. The rider, whoever he was, was approaching.
A part of her knew this could be her chance. It was likely enough that the rider was a kind person, someone who would take her to a safe place and help her find food and shelter.
But what if he isn’t?
It was a chance she couldn’t take. She darted back off the road and flung herself flat on the ground, stretching out and hoping that the rider would pass her by without stopping.
The clip clopping of the horse’s feet drew closer. Ingrid held her breath.
The wind blew fiercely again. Ingrid managed to tuck her leg around her skirt just in time, preventing it from blowing in the breeze and alerting the rider to her presence. Panic rose up in her throat, threatening to choke her.
The horse was right beside her now…
And then it was gone, moving onward, leaving her behind.
She exhaled and got to her feet, her entire body shaking with fear. That had been such a close call, and she still didn’t know if she had made the right choice. Maybe the rider would have helped her.
She wished she could feel sure of anything.
She pressed her hands to the front of her dress. It was damp now from lying against the dirt, and the cold was hitting her even harder. Her teeth chattered uncontrollably.
It had been warmer on the ground. She had been warmer when the wind hadn’t been blowing all around her. Maybe I should lie down again, she thought. Maybe I should try to sleep here.
That was crazy. Ingrid knew that was crazy.
And yet, at the same time, it felt right.
Maybe she was just getting herself into more trouble by continuing to walk. Maybe she should stop.
But not on the road. She had just enough of her wits about her to know that the road wasn’t an acceptable place to stop.
She crossed the cobblestones, wanting to put the woods behind her, and stepped into a grassy area. Her feet were soaked immediately—the grass was wet and cold. The hem of her dress grew heavy and saturated.
This is bad. This is terribly bad.
She climbed a hill, stumbling every few steps, falling to her hands and knees. Every time she fell, she forced herself back upright. She knew she had to keep going. She couldn’t stop until she found some kind of shelter. It was too cold to sleep out in the open tonight.
And she didn’t want to risk being found by someone she didn’t want finding her.
She slipped again and skidded several feet down the hill, her hands catching on brambles. She cried out as she felt the skin of her palms tear open, dirt grinding into the cuts. She tried to get her feet back under her, but they felt clumsy and thick, as if she was wearing bricks for shoes, and she struggled even to take a few steps at a time.
If only she could make it to safety. But right now, it was hard for Ingrid to even imagine what safety might look like.
Perhaps she had been wrong to run tonight. Perhaps the toll it was taking on her was too high.
But I couldn’t have stayed. That would have been even worse.
She felt dizzy and confused. Had she been climbing up the hill or trying to go down? Was there something she wanted at the top or the bottom? Suddenly, memory eluded her. Everything felt very distant.
She was in the mud. On her hands and knees, she propelled herself back into the grass. She was tempted to stop, to lie down and rest, but here was a brick pathway.
Not the road. Something else.
She crawled onto the brick. It was easier to stand here, even though just taking weight caused her feet to scream in agony. She let out a little cry as she righted herself.
But it was good to get off her hands. It was good to give them a rest. She wondered how severe her cuts were. If dirt had gotten into the cuts, she was at risk of infection.
She had to find sanctuary, and quickly.
Then, just as she thought things couldn’t get any worse, she heard a crack of thunder overhead.
The rain came down in sheets, drenching her. Her dress, sodden now, felt as if it weighed a ton. She had gotten turned around again somehow, and she was no longer sure which direction would lead her back to the main road and which would lead her onward.
If only I could find a barn, she thought desperately. I could hide in the hay and get warm, and nobody would find me. That would be the best possible solution.
She couldn’t go to the constable. If she went to him, too many secrets would be revealed. Too many things she had worked to keep hidden would become known.
She took another step. Another.
How far had she come? Was she going in circles? Maybe she was delirious.
The next time she fell, she didn’t try to get back up.
After some time, she became aware that the rain wasn’t hitting her face anymore. She crawled forward and found a bit of shelter. The wind still tore through her wet clothes, freezing her, but if she could dry off, maybe things would be better.
She could hope, anyway.
Ingrid lay there, arms wrapped around her body, shivering. She lost track of time. She forgot that she needed to go on. The only thing she could think of was the cold. The wind seemed to pass right through her clothes, right through her skin, infiltrating her blood and freezing her bones.
She had heard the stories of people left out on their own overnight, people without homes. She knew that they didn’t often survive the winter. Ingrid had never, in her darkest imaginings, thought that her own life might end that way.
And yet, here I am. I have nowhere to go, and I can only pray that I won’t be found. As tragic as it would be to lose my life here tonight, I can imagine things that would be worse.
If she were to die, at least death would carry her beyond the reach of anyone who sought to harm her.
After some time, the wind didn’t feel as violent and cruel. Ingrid didn’t know if it had actually subsided or if she had just ceased to notice it, but it didn’t matter. The pain was ebbing. That was the only thing that was important.
She wrapped her arms around herself and gave herself over to unconsciousness.
Alastair Hargreave, Marquess of Farbridge, followed behind his solicitor as the two of them made their way from the foyer to Alastair’s study.
He had never quite trusted the man inside his home. This was the best place for them to meet, the best place to talk business, and so Alastair reluctantly allowed him in. But on the whole, the only commoners he was comfortable with were those in his direct employ.
No one who works for me would steal from me. It would be too risky for them, since they would have to keep returning to the scene of their crime.
But his solicitor was different. Alastair didn’t think much of the way the man looked around in frank astonishment every time he visited Farbridge Manor.
Once inside the study, Alastair pulled the door closed behind them. Here, at least, he could keep a close eye on things. “What brings you here today, Mr. Connolly?”
“You asked me to keep you apprised of your assets,” Connolly said. “I have a new balance on one of your accounts.”
“Let me see it,” Alastair said.
Connolly handed over the paperwork, and Alastair studied it carefully. It contained nothing he didn’t already know. He kept his own private records of his transactions. This account showed the result of a diamond sale he had conducted about a week ago. He wondered what Connolly thought of the new figure, whether he knew where the money had come from.
“Very well,” he said. “Thank you for bring this by.”
“Anything I can do to be of service,” Connolly said with a nod.
He’s trying to curry favor. It wouldn’t work on Alastair. He knew better than to extend this man, or any other, any trust. “Is there anything else?” he asked.
“Then I’ll call for my butler to show you out.”
“I know the way out,” Connolly said, getting to his feet.
But Alastair had already taken up the little bell that would alert Niles to his need. He rang the bell, and a moment later the elderly man appeared in the doorway.
If there was one member of the common class that Alastair had trust for and placed value in, it was Niles. The man had been with him since childhood. “Show Mr. Connolly out,” he said, not looking up from the array of papers on his desk.
“Yes, My Lord,” Niles said. “Mr. Connolly, this way please.”
Connolly looked back over his shoulder at Alastair as he departed. He hadn’t been Alastair’s solicitor for long—only about a year—and Alastair was certain he was still trying to figure him out. He would sit in a pub tonight, no doubt, surrounded by the other commoners, discussing what they knew about the reclusive Marquess.
They all ought to keep their thoughts to themselves.
It had been seven years since the tragic accident in which Alastair’s wife and parents had been lost. He had been stunned by how salacious the whole town had seemed to find the accident. A carriage driving over the side of a cliff—it was a terrible tragedy. But so many had seemed to treat it as nothing more than an entertaining story.
He had stopped attending parties. He had stopped inviting other members of the ton to the Manor. Every time he had seen someone during that first dreadful year, he had felt angry to the point of violence.
But there had been Grace to think of.
Little Grace. The light of his life. His only daughter.
It wasn’t her fault the carriage driver had been drunk that night and had veered off the edge of the cliff when bringing her mother and grandparents home.
She couldn’t lose her father too. She deserved better than that from Alastair.
It was Grace who had brought him back to himself. It was for Grace’s sake that he had risen above his anger and managed to resume his life. Now he conducted his business and took meetings as necessary, but he still avoided parties or any place where people might be indulging in gossip.
And he avoided commoners.
A bunch of irresponsible drunks, that was all they were. He understood now why the noble class held itself apart. Commoners were barely above animals. They had to be given simple tasks that were easily managed, and they had to be reminded of everything that was expected of them.
Alastair so despised them that he hadn’t hired a new hand into his home in years. His staff was comprised of the same people that had served him since his own childhood. And so much the better. Who could better understand how to cater to his needs than someone who had been doing it all his life?
When he was sure that enough time had gone by that Connolly would be gone, Alastair got to his feet and left the study. Niles was in the corridor waiting for him.
“You saw him out, then?” Alastair asked.
“I did, My Lord,” Niles agreed.
“Unpleasant little man, isn’t he?”
“I can’t say I know, My Lord,” Niles said.
Alastair nodded. Niles would never contradict him. He was too loyal a servant to do something like that. But Niles knew how Alastair felt about the common class of people, and he was sure that Niles felt an urge to defend his fellow commoner. “Is supper almost ready?” he asked, steering away from the contentious topic.
“I’ll consult with the kitchen,” Niles said.
“See that they prepare ice cream for dessert,” Alastair decided. “That’s Grace’s favorite, you know.”
Niles nodded. “I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to do that, My Lord,” he said. “You know how everyone loves Miss Grace.”
It was true. Alastair knew that he wasn’t exactly loved by most of his staff, even though they all felt some measure of loyalty to him. But everyone adored Grace. She was so charming and precocious that no one could help but admire her.
I’m going to have a battle on my hands corralling her suitors one day, when she’s a little bit older.
He went upstairs to his daughter’s wing of the Manor. She would be studying now. She was already a diligent student, even though she was only eight years old. She was such a source of pride to him.
He found her in her room, seated at her desk with a book in hand. “Father!” she said, setting it down and jumping up to embrace him.
He returned her embrace. “What are you reading today?”
“Poems.” She showed him. “I found these in the library. Have you read this book?”
“I have,” he said. “Many years ago.”
“I think the man who wrote it must have been a genius,” she said. “They’re all so beautiful.”
“I don’t doubt he was a clever man,” Alastair agreed.
“I want to write poetry someday, when I’m older,” she said.
“You can write it now, if you like,” he told her.
“Could I?” She frowned doubtfully. “I’m not old enough to be a real poet, am I?”
“I’d say that a real poet is anyone who writes a real poem,” Alastair said. “I’ll get you a notebook, if you like, and you can put your poems into it. And when you’re finished, we can add it to the library.”
“Could we really?” She bounced on her toes. “It would be like I wrote a real book!”
“It would be exactly like that,” he agreed.
“I didn’t know I could just do that,” she said.
“Not everyone can,” Alastair said. “But you are the daughter of a Marquess, Grace Hargreave. Your life will be rich with opportunities. You can do whatever you want. You need only to ask.”
“Why?” she asked.
He didn’t understand at first. “Why what?”
“Why does being your daughter mean that I should have more opportunities?” she asked. “What about Imelda’s daughter?”
“Imelda the cook?” He frowned. “Well, what about her?”
“If Imelda’s daughter wrote poems, would you put them in the library?”
“Would that please you?” Alastair asked.
“Yes,” Grace said.
“Then I would do it,” Alastair said.
Grace nodded, satisfied.
Someday, Alastair knew, he would have to teach her this lesson. Someday he would have to explain to her the difference between her station in life and that of their cook. But today was not that day. If it made her happy to think of a kindness being done for the cook’s daughter, Alastair would happily promise it.
“Speaking of Imelda,” he said, “I heard a rumor that she was making ice cream for your supper tonight.”
“Oh!” Grace leapt in the air with excitement. “And can we have fresh fruit on it?”
Alastair laughed. There was little in the world that so delighted him as his daughter. “If that’s what you’d like, then that’s what we’ll do,” he told her.
She wrapped her arms around his waist. “Thank you, Father!”
“Finish reading your poetry,” he said. “I’ll expect you to tell me all about it over supper.”
She nodded eagerly. Alastair knew how she loved to dazzle him with the things she was learning. “I’ll be ready,” she said.
“I’m sure you will,” he said. “If you need me before supper, you’ll find me in the library, all right?”
“Making a space for my poems, once I’ve written them?”
“Of course,” he said. “They’ll need to be on display, so that anyone who wants to read them sees them, won’t they?”
She grinned and returned to her desk.
Alastair retreated to his library. He knew that his late wife, Felicity, would have taken great pride in their daughter as well. It broke his heart that Felicity was not able to see Grace grow up. She had missed so many wonderful stages of their daughter’s life.
And it caused him terrible sadness that Grace had never really had a mother.
He knew that she had no memory of Felicity, who had died before her first birthday. She asked him questions about her mother sometimes, childish questions that hinted at a deeper hurt. She often wondered whether she was like her mother in looks or in character, and Alastair suspected that she loved ice cream as much as she did because he had told her how Felicity loved it.
I would do anything to bring her mother back to her. I would do anything to give her that.
If anything, it made his resentment of the common class sharper to think of what they had taken from his little girl. Because some peasants had decided they needed to drink to excess at a pub one night, because his driver had decided sobriety wasn’t a necessary condition of doing his work, little Grace had to grow up motherless.
It was bitterly unfair.
Alastair had reached a point in his life where he no longer pined for his wife. He remembered her fondly, and he still mourned her death. But the ache of her absence was no longer as overwhelming as it had been.
But never, as long as he lived, would he forgive what had been stolen from his daughter.
A little girl ought to have her mother.
Alastair knew he was a good and doting father. But there was no substitution for the bond between a mother and a daughter. It was something he would never be able to provide or replace. It was something she would always lack.
He cleared away a spot on a shelf. If she did decide to pen some words in a notebook, he would display it proudly here. He couldn’t give her the world. He couldn’t give her a mother. But he could give her this.
He turned. Niles was at the door, his face drawn and anxious.
“What is it?” Alastair asked, hurrying over.
“Perhaps you should come and see for yourself,” Niles said.
“Come and see what?” Alastair asked.
“There’s…there’s someone at the door,” Niles said.
Alastair frowned and hurried downstairs after his butler.
Alastair strode through the foyer to the front door. One of his footmen was standing there, staring down at the ground. “What is the matter?” Alastair demanded. “I was told there was a visitor.”
“Not a visitor, My Lord,” the footman said. “At least, I don’t think so. Come and see.”
He pulled the door open wide.
At first, Alastair didn’t understand what he was looking at. It looked like a clump of wet rags deposited on his doorstep. He opened his mouth to tell the footman to clean this mess up—and stopped.
The rags were moving.
And now the strange vision resolved into the shape of a woman, dressed only in her undergarments, soaking wet and covered in mud.
Harriet, the housekeeper, now appeared in the foyer. “What’s all the commotion?” she demanded. Then, seeing that Alastair was present, she addressed him directly. “The staff is concerned, My Lord. All this running around has raised an alarm.”
“There’s a beggar woman at our door,” Alastair said. “It’s no cause for alarm. Tell the staff to return to their duties, please.”
“Yes, My Lord,” Harriet said. Then she paused. “What about the woman?”
As if aware that she was being discussed, the woman at the door let out a low groan.
“She seems unwell,” Niles commented.
“That wouldn’t surprise me.” Alastair said. “No doubt she lives in squalor. Send for the police.”
“The police?” Harriet asked.
“We’ll have her taken away,” Alastair said. “She can’t very well stay there, can she?”
“Perhaps we ought to bring her inside, My Lord,” Harriet suggested. “We could take her to the kitchen and give her something to eat.”
Alastair was disappointed in how easily his staff seemed to be manipulated. “If we bring her into the Manor, she’s liable to rob me,” he said. “We don’t even know that this little performance is real. She might be just fine.”
“If she was fine, she would have run when you threatened to bring the police,” Harriet said.
“Don’t speak to me that way,” Alastair said. Harriet was the only member of his staff who ever dared to contradict him openly. She had helped raise him, and he knew she was not as intimidated by him as the others. He also knew that Harriet knew her position in the household was more than secure. The last thing he wanted was to bring in a new housekeeper, someone he didn’t know and trust.
But sometimes she needed to be reminded of her place. It wasn’t appropriate for her to criticize his choices in front of the rest of the staff, and she knew that.
“Summon the police,” he said to Niles.
“Wait a moment,” Harriet said.
Alastair raised his eyebrows. “You have something to say, Harriet?”
“Yes, if My Lord will hear me.”
“Say what you will,” he said.
“This young woman is clearly ill,” Harriet said. “Possibly injured. It’s raining out there. Now, I can’t imagine what might have happened to drive her to our door on a night such as this, but I know you, My Lord. You’re a good man. You’re a kind man. I know that if some terrible circumstances ever drove your daughter into such a dire situation, you would want her to be cared for.”
Alastair frowned. It wasn’t acceptable that she had used Grace to win her argument. But at the same time, he could hardly disagree with the point she was making.
“Bring her in,” Harriet said. “Give her something to eat and talk to her. Find out what brings her here tonight. Then, if you wish, you can still contact the police. She won’t steal anything. She’ll be under our supervision the whole time.”
Alastair sighed. “Very well,” he said. “But it’s on your head, Harriet, if she turns out to be a criminal and takes advantage of our kindness.”
Harriet nodded. “Help her in,” she said to the footman.
The footman took the young woman by the arms and lifted her to her feet, supporting her.
“Can you stand?” Harriet asked.
At first, the young woman didn’t seem able to. Her legs buckled beneath her, and she nearly fell into a heap on the foyer floor. Alastair took a quick step back, alarmed.
Her clothes were ragged and torn. She had blood on her hands and on her bare feet. Her hair hung loose around her shoulders, dirty and knotted. And she had a thick strip of cloth tied around her eyes.
“Is she blind?” he asked.
Harriet stood before the woman and rested her hands on her shoulders. “You’re safe,” she said. “You’re in Farbridge Manor. We’re going to clean you up and get you something to eat, all right?”
A long pause. Then the woman gave a slight nod of understanding.
“Can you tell me your name?” Harriet asked.
“Ingrid. Ingrid Evans.”
“Ingrid, I’m Harriet,” Harriet said. “I’m the housekeeper here. Can you tell me where you’re coming from tonight?”
Harriet stepped back and looked at her. Then she turned to Niles. “That young seamstress’s assistant is about her size,” she said. “Will you go and ask to borrow a clean set of clothes? We need to get her out of these things.
“Of course,” Niles agreed. “With your permission, My Lord?”
“Go on, then,” Alastair said. The sooner this was dealt with, the sooner his home would be his own again.
“Your eyes are covered, Ingrid,” Harriet said.
“I’m blind,” Ingrid murmured.
“All right,” Harriet said. “We’ll help you. We’re going to get you some dry clothes, and then we’ll see about something to eat. The cook is making supper right now.”
“She isn’t having supper with us,” Alastair protested.
“She’ll eat in the kitchen,” Harriet said. “I’m sure there’s some broth or something that we can give her, that won’t be missed.”
Alastair nodded. “Very well.”
The conversation was interrupted by the clatter of footsteps on the stairs. A moment later, Grace appeared in the foyer, eyes bright with curiosity.
“Who is that?” she asked.
“Take her into the kitchen,” Alastair said to the footman, who nodded and disappeared with Ingrid. Harriet cast him an inscrutable look and then followed behind them.
Alastair turned his attention to his daughter. “What are you doing down here?” he asked her. “The supper bell hasn’t rung.”
“I heard a lot of noise,” she said. “A lot of voices. It seemed like something was going on, and I wanted to see what it was. Who was that girl? And why did she have that thing on her face?”
“She had her eyes covered because she’s blind,” Alastair said.
“She can’t see?” Grace clapped a hand to her mouth. “That’s so sad! Is that why you’re helping her?”
“We’re just going to give her a meal,” Alastair said. “Then she’ll be on her way again.”
“But it’s raining outside,” Grace protested. “And it’s so cold. I wasn’t even allowed to play in the garden today.”
“That’s not the same,” Alastair said. “This Manor is your home, Grace. You belong here. That doesn’t mean we can take in every stray off the streets.”
“She isn’t every stray,” Grace said stubbornly. “She’s one person. And we have so many rooms. She can have my bed, and I’ll sleep on the rug by the fire.”
“Don’t be silly,” Alastair snapped. “You’ll sleep in your bed, as you always do.”
“Let her stay in one of the guest chambers then,” Grace wheedled. “They’ll go empty tonight anyway. What difference does it make? Don’t you want to help?”
Alastair didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t very well explain to his daughter that he was afraid Ingrid would rob them. He didn’t want her to feel frightened.
Still, she’s going to have to develop a healthy caution about strangers at some point.
“Go back up to your room,” he said. “The bell will ring when it’s time for you to come down.”
“But I’m ready for supper now.”
“Go,” he said. “If I have to tell you again, there will be no ice cream.”
Grace frowned, but she did as she had been told.
What a mess. Alastair would have greatly preferred not to have Grace know that they had a stranger in the house, but there was little to be done about that now. He turned and went into the kitchen.
Ingrid was sitting on a stool, still in her wet clothes, her feet in a bucket of water. Harriet knelt before her, carefully washing her hands. “She’s cut up pretty badly,” she said. “We’re going to need bandages. What happened to you, Ingrid?”
“I fell,” Ingrid said quietly.
“Niles,” Alastair said.
“Yes, My Lord?”
“Do we have any extra rooms among the servants’ quarters on the third floor?”
“There are a couple of small rooms,” Niles said.
“Go up, please, and make up one of the beds,” Alastair said. “We’ll keep the young woman with us for the night, and get her to where she needs to go tomorrow.”
“Yes, My Lord.” Niles nodded and disappeared.
Harriet looked up at Alastair, and he saw the approval in her eyes. She said nothing, though, merely returned to cleaning Ingrid’s hands.
The young seamstress came rushing into the kitchen, clutching a bundle of fabric. “Your pardon, My Lord,” she said, sketching a quick curtsy before turning to Harriet. “Will this do?”
“That will do nicely,” Harriet said.
“She can change her clothes in the pantry,” Alastair said. To the seamstress, he added, “Wait here and collect her dirty things. You can take them to be washed.”
“Yes, My Lord.”
Harriet helped Ingrid to her feet and into the pantry. Alastair turned and saw Imelda, the cook, watching him.
“That was mighty good of you, My Lord,” Imelda said. “Bringing that poor child in like that. Heaven only knows where she’s been tonight.”
Alastair felt irrationally annoyed at the suggestion that he had done something kind. He didn’t want the staff running away with expectations for what this might mean going forward. “It’s only for one night,” he said. “She’ll be back out the door tomorrow.”
“Her wounds will be clean, and she’ll have dry clothes and a fully belly,” Imelda said. “That can make the difference between life and death. You might had just saved her. You ought to be pleased with yourself.”
“Just see to it that she gets some supper, will you?” Alastair asked.
Imelda nodded. “We have some stew heating up for the staff,” she said. “We’ll see that she gets a bowl of that, and some bread and water to go along with it.”
“Maybe a piece of cheese, too,” Alastair suggested.
“Yes, My Lord,” Imelda agreed.
Ingrid emerged from the pantry, dressed now in the dry things that had been procured for her. She was a bit taller than the seamstress, and the dress she had been given hung a bit short, but it would do, Alastair thought.
Niles returned to the kitchen. “The bedroom is being readied for her,” he said.
“Which one is it?” Harriet asked.
“It’s the one at the very end of the hall, with the west facing window,” Niles said.
Harriet nodded. “Very well. I’ll stay with her while she eats, then, and I’ll take her up and get her to bed when she’s finished.”
“All right,” Alastair said. “Will it be much longer until our supper is ready, Imelda?”
“Not long,” Imelda said.
“Then I’ll go and make sure Grace is ready.” Alastair turned and left the kitchen.
But he couldn’t put Ingrid out of his mind. Who was she? Why had she come to his Manor? What had she been doing out tonight, all by herself?
I suppose I can ask her all of that tomorrow, once she’s had some rest.
And in the long term, what did it matter, really?
It wasn’t as if she was going to stay.
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