“It wasn’t so much the man,” Cassie says, and I’m hanging onto every word. “It was his actions.”
“In this house,” my mother tells her brightly. “We poison abusive men, my dear.”
Cassie’s eyes widen and she turns to me. I like that she looks to me for confirmation as if I’m already someone that she has chosen to trust. I like that I’m important to her already.
“That was one time, mother,” I say with a sigh, shaking my head at Cassie. “And it was an accident. Aunt Cordelia didn’t mean to put rat poison in the cookies. She thought it was sugar.”
“Of course she did,” my mother said with a quick laugh. “Just a little mistake, that’s all. The man never laid a hand on her again, and that’s what really matters, isn’t that right Cassandra?”
My mother winks at Cassie and I want to bang my head against the table. The two of them joining sides is the last thing I need. Maybe my mother will teach her to be cunning, though.
Cassie will need that skill if she’s going to be my wife and I’m very sure that she will be.
“I think I’m good for right now,” Cassie tells my mother, clearing her throat.
I look over at her, watching, taking her in, the long lines of her pale neck, and the soft curve of her breasts. She’s a vision, so fucking beautiful that it’s almost too much to take.
“Renner,” I say to change the subject and make Cassie feel less uncomfortable. “I’m planning a trip in the morning to the old estate. I’m gonna stay for a few days, I think.”
“Are you taking some of the staff, then?” Renner asks and I almost feel dirty that my best friend knows nothing of my heart-rending attraction to his only daughter.
Cassie shifts in her chair, but her gaze drifts to me, and I can’t help but let my mouth tilt into a small smile. The thought of her attention on any other man, on not having the chance to claim her as my own, sends a rift of white-hot jealousy through me.
I have to shake myself to clear my thoughts. It’s not the time to let myself feel so deeply and so obviously.
Renner listens as I give him instructions for tomorrow, but I can only see Cassie.
The next day dawns cold and dark over the manor house. The sun has barely risen over the thick copse of dark, wintery trees that shield the manor when Alice comes to my door, knocking quietly. She helps pack the clothes I’ve laid out while I get ready.
All night I lay awake thinking of Magnus when I should have been packing, but I can’t seem to turn my thoughts away from him.
“Alice,” I say to get her attention. “What do you know about—” I shake my head.
“What is it, ma’am?” Alice asks as she tends to the fire. “Did you need something?”
Suddenly, I feel embarrassed for even thinking of asking, but I can’t stop myself.
“I just—” I steel myself for her to look at me like I’m crazy. “I just wanted to know about Magnus.”
“Oh,” Alice says, suddenly perking up. “What do you want to know about him? I’ve been here a little while now and I can tell you anything you need to know.”
“Okay,” I say hesitantly.
I’m not even sure if I want to ask, but the question has been burning a hole in my stomach. “Does he ever bring… women around? I mean to the manor?”
Alice seems to eye me up and I wonder if she’s guessed my intentions already.
“He likes brunettes,” Alice tells me, absentmindedly running a hand through her short, dark hair. “I sometimes find the strands of hair caught up in his bedsheets, though I never see the women. He’s very discreet about his hookups, and none of them ever go any farther than that.”
The disappointment that runs through me is like a shock of cold water. I reach a hand up to touch my soft, pale hair. Magnus isn’t the type to settle down with anyone, then.
“Thank you, Alice,” I tell her, letting out a sigh.
I sit on my bed for a few minutes, trying to push Magnus from my thoughts. It’s a difficult task. I must sit there for longer than I think because I’m dragged from my thoughts by Alice’s voice again.
“Your bags are all packed,” Alice tells me. I hadn’t even noticed she was still in the room.
“You’re good at your job,” I comment, braiding my hair quickly. “I didn’t even notice you were still in the room with me.”
“Most people don’t,” Alice says, and I feel bad for a moment, but she smiles. “I’ll go and put this in the car for you.”
“Thank you,” I tell her from my spot in front of my mirror, but she’s already gone.