Highlander series book #1
June 25, 2013
Avon
ISBN-10: 0061963119
ISBN-13: 978-0061963117



 

She never expected to marry…

Annabel was about to take the veil to become a nun when her mother suddenly arrives at the Abbey to take her home…so that she can marry the Scottish laird who is betrothed to her runaway sister! She knows nothing about being a wife, nothing about how to run a household, and definitely nothing about the marriage bed.

He never expected to fall in love . . .

From the moment Ross MacKay sets eyes on Annabel, he is taken with his shy sweet bride…and the fact that she's blessed with lush curves only makes him utter his own prayers of thanks. But when an enemy endangers her life, he'll move the Highlands themselves to save her. For though Annabel's not the bride he planned for, she's the only woman he desires.

 

"With humor, wit and compassion, Sands spins the touching tale of a lonely outsider who is rescued from the jaws of a bleak future… Watching Ross and his clan fall in love with Annabel is touching, and Ross' prowess at maneuvering the church's "bedding laws" and Annabel's entrenched religious obedience are highly amusing. A sweet, sexy, fun romance, with clever accents of suspense and entertaining dollops of humor." ~Kirkus Reviews, July 1st print edition

“Sands takes a break from her paranormal Argeneau series to charm readers with a classic marriage-of-convenience plot. Maintaining the tenor of the era while building a love story with sensuality and humor is one of Sands’ talents, and one she displays with relish...” - RT Magazine, July issue

“Another delightfully charming historical romance from the talented Lynsay Sands… The writing was flawless. The characters were wonderful and the plot engaging… An English Bride in Scotland was a wonderful book. Sure to appeal to readers who enjoy Highland romance. Sure to appeal to lovers of intrigue.” ~Night Owl Reviews

“In a time, where there are so many Scottish historical romances out there, this one stands out for its romance, its antagonists and its tale. I thoroughly enjoyed Lynsay Sands An English Bride in Scotland and I think you will as well.” ~Under the Covers

"An English Bride in Scotland is a very sweet, light-hearted read which I enjoyed from the first page through the last." ~Book Savvy Babe

"I loved the story. Annabel was refreshing and Ross himself was the perfect combination of man for Annabel." ~Nikki's Wild

"A beautiful love story, AN ENGLISH BRIDE IN SCOTLAND, is a witty, intriguing historical romance that I could not get enough of." ~Romance Junkies Reviews

"I have to say I love reading Sands’s historical novels. She always writes such great characters and puts them in situations that are completely believable and could have actually happened but that are almost ridiculous in nature…and pulls it all off. She’s got such a great sense of humor and it really shows in her historicals." ~Tracy's Place

"With compelling characters,and an interesting plot,Ms. Sands has done it again with her witty banter between the characters, her Highlanders,and her wonderful plots. I can hardly wait for her next historical romance set in the Highlands of Scotland. A must read!" ~My Book Addiction Reviews

"I am so happy Ms Sands has come back to writing more historicals!  AN ENGLISH BRIDE IN SCOTLAND is just a fabulously entertaining novel and so very much recommended!" ~CK2S Kwips & Kritiques

"An English Bride in Scotland is a ‘stay-up-late-to-finish’ story. Lynsay Sands is a fantastic teller of a tale with an easy writing style that lets the reader glide right along with the emotions and actions as if right there with the heroine and hero." ~Long & Short Reviews

"An English Bride In Scotland is one of my favorite books of hers, and tops her historical's in my opinion. I really enjoyed how this author put these two characters together." ~Addict of Romance

"I enjoyed this book from start to finish! There was love, laughter, suspense and anger, yes… all the makings of good romance. Ms. Sands is permanently on my auto buy. Regardless of the genre, I’m buying it as soon as I am able and I suggest you do it too!" ~The Window Seat On A Rainy Day

"I LOVED THIS STORY! An English Bride in Scotland is a refreshing, uplifting romance with tons of heart and soul. Lynsay Sands creates a band of characters you want to know, riveting you to the pages and leaving you wanting more. " ~Tome Tender

Ms. Sands writes heroes and heroines who feel so real, it's easy to forget that they're just characters in a book. They laugh, they cry, they learn, they love, and they often make me do the same. Blithely Bookish

Be prepared to fall in love with Lynsay Sands's new Scottish romance! It is quite a mix of tender romance, sizzling passion, and dangerous intrigue, all smashed up in one entertaining story. I'm happy to report that Sands has not lost her humorous touch with historicals, nor her trademark originality when it comes to characterization.Buried Under Romance

Life doesn't always go as planned, but the unexpected turn of events can offer even more wonders.  There's a beauty to be found when stumbling after adversity, after defeating the monsters that plague you.  A sweet story about love and acceptance and the differences that make life worth celebrating. Reviewd by Carmen @ Bodice Rippers-Shauni Blogspot

 



Chapter One

"Annabel? Annabel?"

Annabel sighed sleepily and rolled away from the persistent voice interrupting her exhausted slumber.

"Annabel, wake up," the voice said more insistently.

"Sister Clara and I were up all night with a foaling mare," Annabel mumbled wearily, recognizing Sister Maud's voice. "The abbess said we could sleep in today."

"Aye. Well, now she wants you up. Your mother is here."

Annabel rolled abruptly onto her back in the small cot and blinked her eyes open to peer at Maud with amazement. "What?"

"Your mother is here and the abbess sent for you," Maud repeated patiently. She then moved away to collect the gown Annabel had stripped out of and left on the floor when she'd reached her room.

Annabel sighed when she saw the disapproving expression on Maud's face as she shook out the wrinkled gown. She had no doubt the woman would tattle to the abbess about the ill treatment of her clothing. The thought made her wish she'd taken the time to fold it neatly and set it on the chest at the foot of her bed, but it had been near dawn when she'd stumbled to her room. She'd been so exhausted she'd simply dropped it and tumbled into bed to fall into a dead sleep. That error would see her doing penance rather than going back to sleep after she saw her mother, she was sure.

Recalled to the fact that her mother was there, Annabel sat up on the side of the small hard bed in her hair shirt and chemise, and wiped the sleep from her eyes as Maud turned back.

"Why is my mother here?" she asked, standing to take the gown the woman held out.

"I would not know. She was taken to the abbess the moment she arrived and they have been sequestered in her office since," Maud said stiffly, her gaze sliding over the hair shirt visible beneath Annabel's chemise.

The hair shirt was to remind Annabel not to rush about in an undignified manner. She was always to walk slowly with poise as a bride of God should. Since she was already wearing it for one offense, her punishment for the discarded gown would probably be a whipping, Annabel knew, and had no doubt Maud was enjoying the prospect. The woman had always disliked her for some reason.

Annabel tugged her gown on over her head. She was waking up quickly, now, worry rushing the process along. Her mother's being here couldn't be a good thing. After all, the woman hadn't been to see her since delivering her to the abbey fourteen years before. It had to be something important that brought her now. Had her father died? Her sister? Had Waverly Castle been taken by marauders? The possibilities were endless and none of them were good. Good news would hardly bring her mother with the dawn. She must have ridden through the night to arrive that early.

"How long were they sequestered in the abbess's office?" Annabel asked with a frown, doing up her stays.

"How should I know? I have better things to do than stand about keeping track of your visitors," Maud said primly, watching Annabel grab her brush and begin dragging it quickly through her hair, ripping viciously through any knots encountered. "Does the abbess know you have not yet shorn your hair?"

Annabel stiffened at the question. The abbess had ordered it several weeks ago, but Annabel simply hadn't been able to bring herself to do it. She was not yet a nun, so hadn't felt she needed to perform the mutilation yet and had kept it a secret with her wimples.

Rather than admit as much, Annabel set down the brush, donned her wimple and headed for the door with a rushed, "Thank you for waking me, Maud."

She could feel the woman's eyes burning into her back as she hurried out of her room and took a moment to worry over whether the nun would search her cell for other infractions to tattle on her for. But there was nothing she could do about that so Annabel turned her attention to why her mother was there instead.

She started out nearly running in an effort to get to the abbess quickly, but a scowl of displeasure from the prioress as she passed her made Annabel slow to a fast walk … until she turned the corner and the prioress could no longer see her. She then broke into a run again and didn't slow until she turned into the hall where the abbess had her rooms and office.

Annabel spotted the two women talking outside the abbess's door at once, but knew her mother only because she wasn't the abbess. Annabel had been sent to the abbey at the tender age of seven and hadn't seen her since. This woman looked nothing like the mother of her memory. Her mother had been a fair-haired beauty with sparkling eyes and color in her cheeks. She'd always been smiling or laughing. This woman was pale, her hair more gray than blond, her eyes alive with worry rather than joy. She wasn't smiling. Her mouth was tightly compressed, anxiety showing there as well as in the way she was wringing her hands.

"Ah, Annabel," the abbess, said as she spotted her. The good woman then turned to Annabel's mother and offered a reassuring smile as she patted her hand. "Here she is. You can be on your way now. All will be well."

"Thank you," Lady Withram whispered, staring at Annabel with fierce concentration as she approached.

Actually, the way she was looking at her was rather disconcerting, Annabel decided. If her mother was not quite what she recalled, she herself apparently was nothing like what her mother had expected … or perhaps hoped for. Annabel was sure it was disappointment she saw flash across the woman's face before her expression closed up tight.

Annabel was still only halfway up the hall when the abbess turned and strode into her office, leaving Lady Withram to rush forward to greet her. Although greet would be something of a misnomer. She didn't even slow, let alone stop, but hurried forward, catching Annabel's arm and whirling her back the way she'd come, saying, "We must hurry!"

Eyes wide, Annabel allowed herself to be dragged along to the front doors. Frowning slightly then, she asked, "Where are we going?"

"Home," was her mother's surprising answer.

"Home?" she asked with bewilderment. "But I thought this was to be my home. What—?"

"Are the horses ready?" her mother interrupted her and for a moment, Annabel thought she was asking her the question, but they had just stepped out of the abbey doors and a burly old man waiting by a carriage answered.

"Aye, my lady. The abbess sent the prioress out to ensure we got two of the finest beasts they have here in trade for our own. They're well rested and fit. They'll get us back easily as quickly as ours got us here."

The answer drew Annabel's gaze to the horses in question. She recognized both of them and they were indeed the best the abbey had to offer. Annabel had no doubt the horses being left behind were of equal or better quality though. The abbess would accept nothing less. Annabel glanced forward again at a tug on her arm. Her mother still held her tightly and now dragged her toward the waiting carriage.

"Thank you, Aelric." Lady Withram climbed grimly up into the carriage with his help, and dragged Annabel behind her by the arm she still clasped. Really, the woman had her in a death grip, as if she feared she might break free and flee at any moment. Her nails were actually digging into Annabel's flesh, so it was something of a relief when her mother pulled her down to sit beside her in the carriage and finally released her hold.

Annabel took a moment to rub her arm as Aelric closed the door and sent the carriage rocking as he climbed up onto his bench. But once they started to move, she glanced to her mother a little warily and asked, "Where are we going?"

She thought she was being rather forbearing. After all, she'd just been dragged from her bed and out of the only home she'd known for the last fourteen years with nary a word of explanation. However, her mother looked vastly annoyed at the question.

"I told you. Home."

"Elstow Abbey is my home," Annabel said quietly.

"It was your home," she agreed and then added firmly, "But no more. Waverly is."

This news was quite unsettling. She was being taken away from the only home she really knew. Young as Annabel had been when she'd left, her memories of Waverly were faint at best. So she was relieved when her mother added, "At least for the next day or two."

So, she was only being taken home for a short visit, she thought, and then felt foolish for thinking otherwise. After all, she hadn't even been allowed to pack a bag or bring anything with her. That now made her frown, because she would be without anything but the clothes on her back until she returned. The fact that her mother had rushed her out without such a consideration told her the situation was a dire one.

"Is it Father?" she asked sympathetically. The idea that her father may have died and she was being brought home for the funeral made sense to her. It also raised a surprising bit of sadness in her. Surprising, because her memories of the man who had sired her were faded at best, but she recalled a tall, bluff, handsome man with a beard that had tickled when he'd hugged her good-bye. As she recalled, he had often been away fighting this war or that battle for their king.

"Is what Father?" her mother asked and Annabel peered at her more closely as she noted the exhaustion in the woman's voice. One glance at her weary, bloodshot eyes told Annabel that the woman must have been up all night during the ride from Waverly, but then it would be hard to sleep while being jostled about so, she supposed. She hadn't ridden in a wagon since being delivered to the abbey and didn't recall it being this bumpy, but then they appeared to be traveling more quickly than one would normally dare with a wagon.

Realizing that her mother was still awaiting an answer, she said, "Has something happened to Father? Is that why you are bringing me home for a visit?"

Lady Withram opened her mouth, hesitated, and then sighed and said, "Nay. Your father is well. Your sister is the reason I came for you."

"Kate?" Annabel asked with surprise and dismay. Of everyone at Waverly, she remembered her elder sister, Kate, the best. They were only a year apart by birth and had been fast friends as children. Kate was the one she had missed most when she'd first landed at the abbey. Annabel had wept for her every night for the first year, but eventually, as time had passed, even Kate had faded somewhat in her memory. "What happened? Is she—?"

"Not now, Annabel," her mother said wearily, closing her eyes. "There is time enough to explain things, but for now I am exhausted from riding in this ridiculous wagon and need to close my eyes for a bit."

Annabel hesitated, but then said, "I am surprised you did not come on horseback."

It was really a question. Her mother had loved to ride as she recalled and few would choose to ride in the back of a wagon. It was not exactly a comfortable journey and much slower than horseback.

"Your father did not think you would be able to ride alone," was the abrupt answer. "There would be no need for you to know how to ride at the abbey."

Annabel didn't comment. There was no reason to ride at the abbey and most of the women there rarely or never did. However, Annabel spent half her time working with the abbey animals and rode them often. Although she had to do it at night when everyone was sleeping so that she wouldn't get caught, and then rode bareback. She'd never even bothered to try one of the saddles or sidesaddles hanging from the stable walls.

Annabel considered asking again about her sister despite her mother's request that she wait, but then caught herself. Lady Withram really did look exhausted. A state she could sympathize with since she herself hadn't slept more than a matter of moments before being woken that morning. She could wait to find out what ailment or accident had taken Kate. Truthfully, Annabel would rather sleep a bit before she heard the sad story anyway. As exhausted as she was, she feared she might turn into a sobbing Sally did she hear the tale now.

That thought uppermost in her mind, Annabel leaned into the corner of the carriage and tried to make herself comfortable enough to sleep, but suspected it would be a difficult task with the carriage bumping and thumping about as it was.




"How the devil did you end up betrothed to an English lass of all things?"

Ross smiled faintly at Marach's question. The man, one of his finest warriors and about his own age, sounded horrified. But then most of his men were probably horrified at the prospect of having an Englishwoman for their lady. Ross opened his mouth to answer, but had hesitated too long. Gilly beat him to it.

"The Waverly lord saved Ross'd da' while they were on crusade some twenty years ago," the older warrior explained. He then added sorrowfully, "And Ross is paying fer it by being shackled to the English lord's daughter for the rest o' his days."

Ross barely refrained from smiling at the claim. Gilly was his first. He'd also been Ross's father's first before that. While his age usually meant Ross could count on the man for wise counsel, it also meant he had a long memory of what the English had done to the Scots. That fact alone had almost made Ross decide not to bring the man along on this journey, but there was no one he trusted more to watch his back than the two warriors riding on either side of him: Gilly and Marach. They were both excellent in battle as well as good friends to him. He'd trust either of them with his life anywhere, anytime.

"Is that true?" Marach asked with a frown as they rode out of the trees and started up the hill to Waverly Castle.

"Aye, Waverly save me father," Ross rumbled, and added, "But the two men became friends afterward and decided to seal the friendship by marrying the two houses. I was seven and Waverly's wife had given birth to a girl the year before, so a contract was struck."

Gilly shook his head woefully at this news. "While I am glad yer father lived, 'tis a terrible price ye're expected to pay fer it." He tilted his head and added slyly, "And well ye ken it, else ye would no' ha'e waited so long to collect her. I suppose ye were hoping the lass would fall down a well or something and save ye having to marry her?"

"Nay," Ross denied the accusation on a chuckle and then said more seriously, "Ye ken I intended to collect her four years ago, but Father's death interfered." "Oh, aye." Gilly nodded solemnly.

Ross fell silent at the memory. The death of his father, Ranson, had been hard enough to bear. The MacKay clan chief had been a good man, and a good father, but what had followed his death had made it all that much harder. His cousin, Derek, had taken the opportunity to try to wrest the title of laird from Ross, claiming that at twenty-three he was too young for the task. The moment Derek had done that, others had stepped forward wanting to claim the title. The clan had split into several factions, each backing another male member of the family. Ross had spent the last three years fighting off the claims and proving himself, but it had taken his defeating his cousin, Derek, in battle the year before for the clan to settle down and accept Ross as clan chief.

He'd waited this last year to make sure that peace and acceptance remained before risking leaving MacKay to collect his bride … and he had no doubt she would not be pleased at having been left on the vine so long.

"An English lass," Marach muttered, joining the conversation with a sorrowful shake of the head.

Ross chuckled, but shrugged mildly as they approached the gates of Waverly. "A lass is a lass."

"And an English lass is an English lass," Gilly said grimly as they rode over the bridge across the moat. "I've yet to meet an English lass who did no' look down her nose at us'heathen Scots.' They're all spoiled rotten."

"Hmm," Ross said with a sigh. "Well, we shall ha'e to hope this one is no' spoiled."

"Hope away, me friend," Gilly said with a grimace. "But prepare yerself for a fishwife o' a bride who'll make yer life a nightmare."

Ross started to laugh at that prediction, but nearly choked on the sound when a sudden shriek rended the air. They were crossing the Waverly bailey, heading for the stables. Ross reigned in and glanced wildly about, seeking the source. It was Marach who pointed toward a tower window.

"It came from there," he commented as a dark-haired woman moved past the unshuttered window.

"Aye," Gilly agreed, eyes narrowed on the window as the woman appeared again. "And I'm thinking that's yer bride. A fishwife," he added knowingly and then shook his head sadly. "We're all in fer it now."

Marach, Gilly and the three other men traveling with them headed their mounts toward the stables, leaving Ross alone to stare up at the now empty window with dismay.


"Annabel, keep your voice down. Someone will hear you," Lady Withram admonished with displeasure.

The directive made her gape briefly. Annabel could hardly believe that was all her mother had to say. She couldn't believe anything that was happening and would have feared her exhaustion was muddying her thinking, but Annabel had managed to drift off in the uncomfortable wagon and had actually slept through the almost day-long journey to Waverly. She'd slept fitfully, awaking only when the carriage stopped. She'd still been wiping the sleep from her eyes when the keep door had opened and an old man had rushed out to the wagon to peer anxiously at first her mother and then herself.

The sudden relief that had slumped the man's shoulders had made Annabel curious, but before she could consider it much, her mother was poking and prodding her out of the wagon, asking, "Is he here yet?"

"Nay. Thank God," the man said with some feeling. "But the men on the wall just announced that they saw a small riding party entering the other side of the woods. Six men on horseback and I am thinking it is him. You had best get her above stairs and get her ready."

"Aye," her mother had agreed grimly and caught Annabel by the arm to drag her into the castle.

Annabel hadn't resisted, but had allowed herself to be dragged along, her head turned the whole time and eyes wide on the man who she had come to realize was her father. Her mother wasn't the only one who had aged these past fourteen years, Her father was no longer the strong handsome man she recalled from her youth. His muscular chest had fallen, it seemed, down to where his flat stomach used to be, only it was muscle no more. And he had somehow grown shorter, or perhaps he had only seemed taller back then because she had been a small child.

As for his once handsome face, it was now covered with graying facial hair that appeared to have grown in as wildly as untended weeds in a garden. She could hardly fathom that this was the father of her memories. So startled by this transformation was she, that Annabel hadn't really taken note of what had been said, so was completely taken aback when they'd entered a bedchamber in the upper tower and her mother had made her announcement. While her initial response had been a squawk of pure protest, she was now trying to understand the information just imparted, but her brain couldn't seem to absorb it.

Annabel took a deep breath and gave her head a shake. A couple more deep breaths and she felt calm enough to ask, "Pray, I do not think I heard you correctly, my lady. Did you just say—?"

"You are marrying the MacKay in your sister's place," her mother repeated firmly. Oddly enough the firm tone she used did not make the words any more comprehensible.

"How can that be?" she asked with confusion. "I am an oblate. I am to take the veil." She paused briefly, but when her mother didn't comment, Annabel thought perhaps she wasn't grasping the situation, and added, "I am becoming a nun. I am marrying Jesus."

"Not anymore," her mother assured her. "You have not yet taken the veil, and are free to marry. The contract states that Ross MacKay is to marry the eldest surviving daughter of William Withram. With your sister gone, that is you now. You have to marry him or we forfeit the dower as well as a great deal of coin. It would ruin us. You will marry him."

Annabel stared at her silently and then asked, "What happened to Kate? How did she die?"

Lady Waverly released a snort of disgust and walked over to sink wearily onto the end of the bed. "Would that she were dead rather than having caused the shame she has brought upon us."

Annabel's eyes widened and she rushed forward as hope clutched at her briefly. "If she is not dead—"

"She ran off with the stable master's son," Lady Waverly interrupted harshly. "Your father has disowned and disinherited her. For all intents and purposes, she is dead. You are the eldest daughter now and you will marry Ross MacKay."

Annabel sank onto the end of the bed next to her mother, her legs suddenly too weak to hold her weight. Her voice was equally weak when she said, "But I do not know how to be a wife. I was always going to become a nun. All my training has been toward that end. I do not know the first thing about running a household, or—or anything," she added helplessly.

When her mother patted her hand, she glanced to her in the hopes of some encouragement and received, "Aye. 'Twill most likely be a mess. Howbeit, at least your father and I will not be ruined."

"Aye, there is that," Annabel agreed dryly.

Lady Waverly nodded, apparently entirely missing her sarcasm. That was probably a good thing, she acknowledged. The abbess would have frowned on the comment and punished her accordingly. The abbess had punished her a good deal over the years. In truth, Annabel supposed she would not have made a very good nun anyway. Certainly she hadn't made a very good novice. Or a good postulant for that matter. She'd been a postulant for years before the abbess had put her forward to be a novice, and Annabel suspected the woman had done so out of sheer pity.

Annabel wasn't sure what was wrong with her exactly. She had expected to be a nun and had made a real effort to fit into the fold, but despite her best efforts, her tongue did run away with her at times. Her tongue, her temper, her appetite—

Grimacing, Annabel cut off the litany in her head. She was well aware of her shortcomings as a nun. The abbess and prioress had both pointed them out often enough. Still, as bad as she might have been at it, being a nun was the only thing she knew and if she could not manage that after years working toward it, how on earth would she get along as a wife and lady, for which she had absolutely no training?

Annabel sighed miserably and her mother popped up off the bed as if it were some sort of cue.

"Well, I had best go see where the maids are so we can get you dressed," she announced briskly, heading for the door.

"Dressed?" Annabel asked uncertainly, standing as well.

"Well you cannot meet your betrothed in a wimple," her mother said as if that should be obvious.

"But—is he here now?" she asked with new alarm.

"Nay, but he will be soon and I'm sure it will take forever to make you acceptable. Wait here; I will return directly."

"Mother?" Annabel said suddenly as the woman started out of the room.

Lady Waverly paused in the door to peer back impatiently. "What?"

She hesitated, but then raised her head and asked the question she'd wondered since being taken away from her home as a young child. "Why was I sent to Elstow as a child?"

Her mother's eyebrows rose slightly. "Well, you would have been sent there anyway eventually."

"I would have?" Annabel asked with a frown.

"Aye, and Kate would have too had I born a son after you. But as it happens, while I was with child several times afterward, none survived to birth."

Annabel couldn't tell if it was relief on her mother's face or regret … perhaps a combination of the two. She suspected the woman would have been pleased to have born one son for her husband, and that was it. Being hampered with baby girls had not been convenient from what she could tell.

"So," her mother continued with a shrug. "Kate, as the eldest and heir, had to stay here to learn how to run Waverly so that after your father and I died, she would know how to run it when it passed to her and her husband. But there was no reason to keep you here."

"You never considered the possibility of my marrying instead?" Annabel asked quietly, even though she was quite sure she knew the answer.

Lady Waverly grimaced and shook her head at the very suggestion. "Kate was always the one with the fine looks. You were always a chubby little thing. To find a suitable lord, willing to marry you, would have taken more coin than we were willing to invest. Fortunately, the abbey took you for half the dower it would have cost us to marry you off, and they took you young, so we didn't have to feed, clothe, or bother with training you all those years either. And, of course, it's always good to have a family member in the church praying for your soul as we knew the abbess would make you do." Her eyes narrowed. "She did make you pray for us, didn't she?"

"Aye," Annabel said at once.

"Good." Lady Waverly relaxed, but then raked her with a displeased glance. "Now, 'tis going to take a great deal of work to make you presentable. I need to get the servants so they can start on it straightaway."

"Of course," Annabel murmured, and then watched the door close. While her mother had made it obvious she was a disappointment, Annabel was used to that. No matter how hard she had tried, she'd always seemed to disappoint the abbess too … and no doubt would be a disappointment to her husband as well.

Pushing the depressing knowledge away, Annabel peered around the room she was in. She was quite sure it was the room she'd shared with Kate as a child, though the bedding and drapes around the bed were different now. It made her recall nights long ago when she and Kate had lain abed giggling about some joke or other. That in turn made her wonder about her sister.

"She ran off with the stable master's son," her mother had said.

The idea was rather shocking to Annabel. A sense of duty was pounded into postulants and novices at the abbey. All she could think was that Kate must have truly loved the stable master's son to go against their parents so. She would have to ask her mother about it when she returned, Annabel decided as she removed her wimple.

"Thank God I did not cut my hair," she muttered as she ran a hand through the long strands. Annabel was quite sure having a shorn head would not have helped matters here.

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