CONTINUATION OF CHAPTER 1 .....
“Married?” Chloe couldn’t keep herself from responding, or from the horror that invaded her voice. She didn’t want to marry. Not yet anyway. She hadn’t been home more than a few hours. There’d been no time to meet any of the eligible bachelors, make her choice. But from the determined set of her father’s jaw, she could easily surmise, there wouldn’t be a choice. The picture of her own knight sweeping her off her feet reared up and then started to fade away.
“Aye. You will do your duty.” His statement left no room for argument.
“My duty.” Chloe let the words roll off her tongue. How bitter and rancid they tasted.
“My second in command, Angus is in need of a wife. Since Jon, my son and heir has passed on from this earth, I naturally want to make sure the Fergusson clan is in capable hands. Your duty as my daughter, and only child, is to marry whom I choose for that purpose.”
“Angus.” Chloe tried to remember the man, and then there he was, melting from the woodwork it seemed as he suddenly appeared at the table.
He was old, nearly her father’s age. Still built like a warrior, but old none the less. His face was cruel. Lines etched into the corners of his eyes and brow. But no lines around his mouth. He didn’t smile much.
When she met his eyes—cold watery brown eyes—he nodded.
“Angus, you remember my daughter, Lady Chloe?” her father asked, without even so much as looking at Angus or herself.
Angus didn’t say a word, just nodded again.
The man sat down, and the meal began. She watched as he stabbed at a piece of meat, the movement almost like he was stabbing at her heart. There was no talk of wedding plans or even a date, and for that, Chloe was relieved. Mayhap she could push it far enough off, that the man might perish. What a perfectly horrid thing to think! She berated herself and immediately said a prayer for the man’s health.
After that, Chloe tuned out the conversation, and no one made any comments to her either. When the meal was complete, she snuck out the buttery door and headed for the family chapel. No one deigned to stop her, and even if they did, she would have pushed past them. Her father was going to force her to marry the cruel, old, Angus. From the look of him, he would be rough with her, unkind. Not a match she would have chosen for herself if they were the two last people on earth, and humankind’s survival depended on it.
Angry tears welled in her eyes. She’d always thought she had a good sense of honor and duty. But never in her life had they been put to the test. Not until now. At the French court, all the men she had interaction with were romantic, handsome, not rigid and cold.
She entered the chapel and went to kneel before the altar. She crossed herself and began her prayers. Prayers for strength. Prayers for salvation. Prayers for patience. Prayers that her parents might change their minds.
When she finished, she exited the back of the chapel and headed for the family crypt. Would Jon’s tomb still be there? Had the heathen’s who’d taken South Hearth from them before destroyed consecrated grounds? She was relieved when she found his tomb, undisturbed. Carved with his name, birth and death dates, their family motto, beside several other Fergussons. She dropped to her knees and let the tears fall.
“Oh, Jon!” Her head feel into her hands.
If only her brother were still here, still alive. He would have been able to talk sense into her father. Not make her marry his second in command, simply because he didn’t want to lose a battle.
Then again, mayhap Jon would still be there if it weren’t for her.
She wiped her tears away with the length of her sleeve and tilted her head to the heavens. She stared up at the graying sky. Jon had been her best friend, her confidante. He’d taught her so much, loved her for who she was.
“Help me,” she whispered to the sky. “Show me a sign that you are there. That you can hear me!”
But there was nothing. And she was sitting on the ground in front of his tomb talking to no one.
With a heavy sigh she stood and ambled her way back to the keep.
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