The rain slowed and then stopped as we trekked over the first rise beyond the village.
“Wait until I tell Amity.” Beauty jostled my shoulder as she gripped my hand with both of hers.
I pulled the sack with our purchases out from between us, praying that she hadn’t squished the bread. We hurried along the muddy path, sidestepping the deepest puddles and avoiding the soaked knee-high grasses as best we could.
“Lord Brackenhurst is a giant.” Beauty hissed the word in my ear like a child, marveling with equal parts wonder and horror. “He stands at least four hands taller than Father.”
“He is tall,” I admitted, hoping that would be the end of it. I didn’t want to dwell on our difficult conversation with our new lord and master. Our new home, the tenant-holding my mother grew up on, lay beyond the next hill and about an hour’s walk from the village. Our middle sisters would have dinner prepared and the table set by the time we arrived home. If we hurried, there might still be enough to blunt the sharp emptiness of my stomach.
“Is he taller than any man you have met?” Beauty shoved at my shoulder so hard that I stumbled to the side of the path in my effort to keep my balance and avoid a particularly deep puddle. The bread and the apothecary’s small pouch of herbs for grandmother bounced against my hip.
“Aye. Please don’t jostle me so.”
“And his hands!” She sucked in a great breath in awe. “The one we saw was the size of my head!”
“You have a small head.”
“No smaller than yours.” She dragged at my arm so that my joints ached. “Come and admit it, Grace. He was a sight to behold.”
I wasn’t willing to admit anything. I just wanted to go home, back to Braulyn and the great port of Mayfair. I longed to breathe the tangy scent of the sea air and feel the sand beneath my toes. Not even the impressive, hulking sight of our new master could overcome that longing.
“My, was he ugly! Those scars! I have never beheld such a mangled visage—”
“Cease!” I yanked my hand free of Beauty’s viselike grip. “Leave the poor wretch alone.” I took three steps further along the rutted path before I realized Beauty no longer walked with me.
Stopping in the center of the path, I turned back to find her crouched in the grass with her arms about her knees.
“Oh, do stop pouting.” I crossed my own arms. We had more important things to discuss, like whether or not we mentioned the contract to our father. The strangely intense bailiff and the far-too-watchful eye of his master had made the terms clear enough. Still, part of me rebelled at signing away half a decade of my life. Not that it changed reality. Father would happily bargain Beauty’s and my freedom for such a prize as a regular income for which he didn’t have to work. He would see it as a chance to turn his fortunes around.
Beauty lifted a prettily damp face to stick her bottom lip out at me. “I only spoke the truth.”
“Hurtful truth,” I pointed out. “A person’s character isn’t based on their exterior. Neither of us knows the measure of Duke Brackenhurst’s character. He is to be our new master, and we need to show respect.”
“I would prefer a handsome husband.”
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