A Housekeeper forthe Earl of Drinkwater
The drawing room of Magnolia House was cherry. All the furniture was crafted from light-brown wood, and the upholstery alternated between pale-blue and white. The drapes were seafoam-green, and the décor consisted of pewter candlesticks and crystal vases filled with bright yellow and pink flowers.
The paintings on the walls depicted beautiful landscapes and smiling people. It was, perhaps, the brightest room in the house.
The mood inside the room, however, was far from cheerful. Serena White looked over the paper in front of her, presented by her family’s solicitor, Ezekiel Tate, shaking her head in disbelief.
“I do not understand,” she said. “Mother assured me that I would inherit the house, and that there was enough money to keep me for life.”
The solicitor gave her a smile she thought was meant to be sympathetic.
“I am sorry, Miss White,” he said with a shrug. “But, as you can see here, the house has been mortgaged. And the money, unfortunately, is sorely depleted.”
Serena shook her head again, and a strand of her golden-brown hair fell down into her eyes. She brushed it back behind her ear.
“Mother has only been dead for a month,” she said. “How could I possibly have spent everything in such a short time? I only just began purchasing new supplies the day before yesterday. And if the house was mortgaged, there should be something left, even if the rest of the family fortune is gone.”
Ezekiel shrugged again, his black eyes regarding her intently.
“It appears as though the house mortgage was used to pay off debts from bad investments,” he said with a long sigh. “I advised your mother against these investments, but she insisted that my father believed them to be a good idea. I wish I could say so for myself, but I am still very new to his business and clients.”
Serena looked at the red-headed young man for a moment. Irwin Tate, Ezekiel’s father, had been her family’s original solicitor. He’d served her family for many years, and he’d proved both honest and shrewd when it came to his advice. He’d been a good man, and Serena had been deeply saddened to learn of his death just a year prior.
But his son had been his assistant for a few years before his death. She would have expected him to have a better understanding of his family’s business. She was hardly a business expert, however, and she scolded herself for being so judgmental.
She could not begin to guess how difficult it must be to have to suddenly take over his father’s business with so little warning. And he was trying to help her, now that both the Baron and Baroness White were gone.
“Mother would never have followed advice she believed to be bad,” she said. “Maybe your father told her that just after my father died, but she waited too late to act on it, and the timing was wrong.”
The solicitor sighed.
“It is possible,” he said thoughtfully. “But regardless, the situation remains the same. I am afraid you have almost nothing to your name.”
Serena’s lip trembled. She looked away from the young solicitor, staring at her reflection in the window glass. Her peachy complexion was gone, as was her usual natural blush. As they had been so often in the weeks since her mother’s death, her cheeks were pale, and her light golden-brown eyes had a haunted look about them.
Now, however, they had a look of shock and betrayal in them, as well. How could her mother have lied to her? How would she survive, without so much as the house she was supposed to have inherited?
“I don’t understand,” she repeated, but she did, unfortunately, understand. She was penniless as well as homeless, and she had no idea what she would do. She had been sure her mother had been telling her the truth, as far as she understood it. And now, she would have to find a solution to her problems, practically overnight. What was she to do?
“I am sorry, Miss Serena,” he said, reaching out and taking her hand. “I know this must be devastating news for you to hear, and so soon after your mother’s death.”
Serena gave the man a small smile, trying to take comfort in his gesture.
“I cannot thank you for the news that you have given me,” she said sadly. “But I do appreciate your candour.”
The man suddenly grinned, and, for a reason Serena could not explain, it made her shudder.
“I am glad to hear you say so,” he said. “I have a very candid question that I would ask you.”
Feeling suddenly on edge, Serena nodded.
“Very well,” she said. “What would you like to ask?”
He suddenly took her hand with both of his, which startled her, and he looked at her intently with his black eyes.
“Will you marry me?” he asked.
Serena recoiled, yanking her hand from his, and looking at him with horror. She searched for any signs of jest, in poor taste though it would have been. When she saw none, she shook her head.
“I certainly will not,” she said. “And how could you even ask such a thing, at a time like this?”
The solicitor looked very flustered at her sudden and fierce rejection. His cheeks flushed, and his eyes flashed, and he sat up, straightening his coat.
“Well,” he said, clearing his throat and setting his jaw. “It is because of this time, as you say, that I ask you such a thing. Marriage would be a remedy to your predicament, and, I dare say, a good one at that.”
Serena stared at him, still hoping he would suddenly laugh and tell her it was all an attempt to raise her spirits. She would likely slap him if it were so, but it still seemed better than him being truly serious.
But as she studied him, good humour was not what she saw. Instead, his now narrowed eyes suddenly seemed cold, as though he were calculating something distasteful.
Clearly, she had upset him by denying him, but his eyes looked almost sinister. His gaze was so intense that she had to look away. But when she looked back, he was smiling again, though the expression looked far from sincere.
“It is something you should really consider before rejecting it so readily,” he said. The tension in his jaw was apparent as he spoke, and Serena shivered.
“I am sure that your proposal was well intended,” she said, though she was, in fact, sure the opposite was true. “However, I am hardly prepared for marriage, and I cannot fathom thinking of such a thing at this time.”
The solicitor continued to smile, but he began to blink rapidly. Serena grimaced, wholly unnerved by his expression. Could her rejection truly have made him so angry?
After another long, uncomfortable moment, he nodded.
“Of course,” he said. “Perhaps I was too bold with my proposal. Please, forgive me.”
Serena nodded, but she shivered again. Maybe it was just her bereavement, but she thought he sounded more as if he’d said, how dare you think yourself too good to accept my proposal for marriage?
“It is quite all right,” she lied, giving him a tight smile. “Is there anything else we need to discuss today?”
He studied her for another moment, and she tried not to shudder under his gaze. She had not thought it possible after he’d asked her to marry him, but the atmosphere in the room had become even more awkward. So much so that she would have done almost anything to get him out of her house.
“No, Miss Serena,” he said, causing her to shudder again. “I believe everything is in order for now. I will have paperwork for you to see in the coming weeks, and I will be in touch.”
Serena felt bile rise in her throat as he spoke his last words. She should not be so squeamish with her family’s own solicitor, but she was more uncomfortable than she had ever been in her life.
“Very good,” she said curtly. “Then our business is concluded.”
She rose from her seat to punctuate her words. It took the solicitor a moment, but he soon copied her. He reached out his hand to her, but she opted to curtsey instead. Another moment later, he bowed to her, with that same strange smile plastered on his face.
“So it is,” he said mysteriously. “Thank you for your time, Miss Serena. I expect we shall speak again soon.”
Serena blinked, wanting to ask what he meant. But he simply bowed, giving her another flesh-creeping smile.
“Evelyn,” she called, hoping the housekeeper was nearby.
Thankfully, she was, appearing in the doorway within seconds of Serena calling.
“Yes, Miss White?” she asked, eyeing the solicitor carefully.
“Mr. Tate is ready to leave,” she said. “Would you show him out?”
The housekeeper curtseyed, motioning for the man to follow her.
“Good day, Miss Serena,” he said, bowing stiffly to her. “If you need me, do not hesitate to send a word.”
With that, he at last left her drawing room. She waited until she could no longer hear his footfalls in her home. Then, she collapsed back into her chair. Had she imagined the entire uncomfortable exchange between herself and the solicitor?
When Evelyn returned, she hurried over to Serena. Only when the woman hugged her did she realise she had begun to cry.
“Are you all right, Miss White?” Evelyn asked, clearly concerned.
Serena nodded, laughing bitterly.
“He asked me to marry him,” she said, swallowing rising bile. “Can you imagine?”
Evelyn shuddered, glancing over her shoulder, as though expecting the solicitor to reappear.
“I understand that your family trusted him,” she said. “But I do not. I never have.”
Serena nodded, thinking of his strange smile and burning black eyes.
“Nor do I,” she said.
She did not dine that evening. She could not think of food, and she simply wanted the day to end. After a glass of wine, she bade Evelyn good night and retired to her bedchambers. She did not bother undressing for bed. She just collapsed onto her bed, instantly sobbing into her pillow.
She was not surprised when sleep would not come, and the tears would not cease. She still struggled to believe she could truly be in such a bad position, even after seeing the little bit of proof the solicitor had shown her. She and her mother had adored one another, and there had never been anything they could not discuss or share with one another.
And yet, when it came to something so important, the baroness had failed to warn her daughter. Serena was upset, not only because of her current circumstances, but also because, if her mother had told her what was happening sooner, Serena might have been able to help her better manage things. How could the baroness have lacked the courage to tell her the truth about the financial situation?
But more than failing to tell her the truth, she had outright lied to Serena. Not long before she’d died, the baroness had told Serena outright that she would never have to worry about a thing after her death.
She had assured her that the finances were secure and would be so for the rest of Serena’s life. Learning that her mother had lied to her was almost as devastating as the death of the baroness itself.
Whatever had made the baroness lie to her, Serena’s plight remained the same. She still had no clue how she would manage to survive without her family’s fortune.
She would no longer even have a home. She could not even afford to attend the Season to find a husband to pull her out of poverty, so that option was lost to her, as well.
She thought back to Mr. Tate’s proposal, shivering through her sobs. The proposal did promise to solve all her problems, as he was a prominent businessman, and surely, he had plenty of wealth to his name. But there was something about him she just did not trust. Even his smile made her flesh creep, and her stomach knotted when she looked into his black eyes. Being tied to him for the rest of her life was simply out of the question. What, then, was she to do?
Edward Taylor bounced along the road on horseback, weary and disheartened, and disillusioned by war. The low, rolling green hills of the countryside were beautiful and familiar to him, and he’d known each of the small farms, and their tenants, by name, since his childhood.
The fields were a luscious green, and the flowers dotting the roadside were bright and lovely. The breeze carried their sweet fragrances to his nose, and he felt a small comfort in the familiarity.
And yet, he could not help feeling like a failure. He was a captain in the Hussars, and he had been in the front lines of the fight in France against Bonaparte. He had been proud to serve, and he had planned to remain enlisted for more years yet.
However, he had suffered a serious leg injury when he was shot in the thigh by an enemy rifle, and it had been nothing short of a miracle that he could walk after his recovery. Despite his tall frame and strong build, he would have a terrible limp for the rest of his life. Thus, the Hussars had discharged him from his service.
He had not had the heart to write to his parents to tell them. On the journey home, he’d thought he could mentally prepare himself to give them the news when he got home. But all the trip had done was to give him too much time to dwell in his shame.
He had no idea how he could face his father and mother with the news that he would no longer be serving in the military. And yet, as he approached Chimneys, the family home, all those thoughts fell away, and his heart dropped into his stomach. He pulled his horse to a stop at the entrance to the driveway, his mouth falling open in shock.
The gate separating his family’s country estate from the road was rusted and broken, hanging off its hinges on one side. What he could see of the driveway before it disappeared over the hill leading up to the mansion was overgrown with weeds, nearly invisible beneath the long grass. It was clear it had not been traversed in ages; from the looks of it, not since he had left for battle two years before.
A sense of foreboding began to creep into his bones as he travelled up the overgrown path. The park and surrounding fields of the estate looked much like the driveway, only littered with dead flowers and sickly shrubs, as well. Piles of stone which he knew had used to be statues lay crumbling on the ground, and the fountain in the centre of the grounds was broken into pieces.
But it was the manor itself that finally made Edward realise that something was terribly wrong. Its once white wooden walls were stained with black dirt and green mould.
The wisteria vines, usually kept in check by the gardeners, had taken over large areas of the exterior walls, climbing all the way up to the roof of the five-story mansion. The wooden lattices supporting them were decayed, and he saw that two of the windows upstairs were broken. Edward picked up his pace, spurring his horse into a fast trot toward the stables.
Despite the condition of his family home, he was still caught off guard by how rundown and empty the stables were. Half the roof was sagging, and only one of the stalls still had its door attached. Behind it was an old, frail looking mare that appeared to have not eaten properly in days. And, in front of her, sweeping the floor with a rotten broom, was an ancient stable-hand.
It took Edward a long moment to recognize the old man as Robert Ebbs, the family’s devoted stable-hand. His face had been taken over by a scraggly grey beard, much as the estate had been overtaken by grass and weeds. Edward could not discern what colour the man’s clothes were because they were covered with stains and dirt. Though his breath did not smell of alcohol, his eyes were red and glassy.
Edward stared in shock. If he had been filled with apprehension before, it had just turned into outright panic.
“Robert,” he breathed, struggling to find his voice. “Robert, what has happened?”
The stable hand looked around as though searching for the source of the voice. Edward stood right in front of him, debating on whether he should reach out to the man. He decided against it, lest he’d become blind and truly did not see him.
After a moment, the man’s eyes settled on Edward. Though he appeared to be rather more looking through Edward than at him, he grinned.
“Oh, heavens, milord!” he said, with a wheezy chuckle. “Is it you? Truly?” He paused, slapping his knee, and laughing wildly. “Your father will be awfully glad to know you’re back from the war at last. He’s been fretting over preparing you for the earldom, I understand.”
It took Edward a minute to realise the old man thought he was his elder brother, Austen, and therefore heir to the family title. The confusion answered at least one of his questions; his brother was not home yet from the war. But it also filled Edward with a dozen more.
Skipping over the mistake in identity, Edward then put gentle hands on the man’s shoulders.
“Robert,” he said softly. “What has happened to the estate? What is going on?”
The man stepped back, blinking in confusion. Edward thought Robert might have realised his mistake, but he just laughed again.
“It is good to know you’re back, milord,” he said. “Things have gotten into quite a mess while you’ve been away.”
Edward ground his teeth, trying to keep his composure. With all he’d seen so far, he had little tolerance for a half-mad man who didn’t even know to whom he was speaking.
“It looks that way,” Edward said with exaggerated patience. “Can you start from the beginning?”
“Things have changed at Chimneys since you’ve been gone,” the old stable hand said.
Edward waited; the man was barely coherent. He held his breath, waiting for anything the old fellow had to say. But when five minutes had passed without any further explanation, Edward sighed with frustration.
“What has changed, Robert?” he asked, more forcefully this time. “What has happened?”
But the old stable-hand no longer seemed to see him. He was staring through Edward, as though looking into some distant time and place.
“Things have changed at Chimneys, milord,” he repeated. “They have changed a great deal, indeed.”
Edward growled, not surprised when the loud sound did not faze the clearly half-witted old stable-hand. He ran his hands through his hair, barely restraining himself from pulling out his thick black locks.
“I do not understand what that means, Robert,” he said. “How have things changed? Why has everything gone to pot?”
But it seemed the stable-hand was no longer in the present moment; he was muttering instructions to stable lads whom only he could see, no longer acknowledging Edward’s presence. He was pointing to empty stalls as though counting imaginary horses and babbling incoherently, an eerie smile on his face.
Edward quickly realised he would get nothing further out of the man. He turned away, closing his eyes against a sudden wave of nausea. If the stable-hand believed him to be his brother, and thought he was talking to real people, what could he expect of the rest of the manor?
With great hesitation, Edward made his way to the manor. He did not bother knocking on the heavy wooden door, as he was sure no one would answer. And when no one came to investigate the loud creaking of the opening door, his heart sank. Surely, the mansion could not be as abandoned as it appeared, could it?
Things have changed at Chimneys since you’ve been gone: Robert Ebbs’ words rang in Edward’s head as his footfalls echoed through the empty halls of the manor. Things had changed, indeed. And Edward was suddenly terrified to find out just how much.
“Hello?” he called, wincing at the loud reverberation of his own voice. “Mother? Father? Austen? Nathan?”
Only as he stood surrounded by nothing but the sound of his voice bouncing off the walls of the entryway of his family’s country seat did he notice the feel of the place. If he were blind, it would be easy to imagine that he had entered a mausoleum, rather than his own home.
The air was cold and damp, smelling of mould and decay, and the lack of light reminded him of a funeral long since ended. Dusty draughts of stale air whisked past his head like so many ghosts, as if begging him to release them to their eternal rest. He shivered as his skin broke out with goosebumps, and suddenly, he longed to be anywhere except for this place—what he’d always thought of as home.
The rug in the great hall was filthy; it was impossible to tell what colour it was. Edward knew it was a light, patterned beige, but now, one might have thought it to be mud-brown. Or blood red. In the poor light, it could have been either.
Stranger still, it was cockeyed, wadded up at one end, so that anyone wandering through in the darkness would surely trip and fall. There were yellowed crystal vases with long dead flowers on the tables lining the great hall, and the smell of decaying plant matter assaulted his nostrils. He swallowed, flinching with each loudly echoing step he took.
Glass crunching beneath his feet made him stop for a moment. There were small streaks of sunlight coming in from nearby windows, and he quickly realized the glass was in fact crystals from the chandelier. Then, he saw with shock, just ahead of him, on the filthy floor by his feet, lay the chandelier itself.
He squinted to see in the marginal light, noting how rusty the metal parts and chain that had held it up had become. There was not a single candle in it, and the impact with the ground had bent and warped the frame. Upon further inspection, he saw the chain had snapped. But why had no one removed and replaced the broken chandelier?
“Mother?” he called as he approached her parlour. The room was completely dark, the curtains fully drawn. There was a terrible draft, and the room smelled of rot and sour champagne. His heart pounded in his chest, and he moved on to the other rooms.
Next, he paused at the door of his father’s study. There was only enough light for him to see the edge of the large desk, which was coated in a thick layer of dust. With the aid of a weak sunbeam coming through the window, he could also see papers scattered on the floor in front of the desk. He walked forward, and only when he kicked something with his foot, did he realise that the door was held open by one of the chairs.
No, he thought with deepening horror as he knelt to move it and found it in pieces. The chair was thrown here.
“Mother,” he called loudly, chilled at the dismal echo. “Father.”
Still, no one came, and panic claimed Edward. He ran toward the stairs, slipping on debris and patches of dust.
As he rounded a corner, he caught a glimpse of himself in one of the cracked mirrors on the wall. His deep-green eyes looked as though they had aged ten years just since that morning. His black hair was loose from its ponytail and hanging in damp clumps around his waxen face.
His sharp chin quivered, and he turned away from his reflection. With his gaze fixed on the floor, he finished traversing the way to the staircase with great care. The dread mounted within him with each step, and it was all he could do to keep going.
He paused, staring up at the stairs with a grimace, as bile bubbled and threatened to spill past his lips. Surely, it was his imagination, but for a moment, he thought he could smell the familiar odours of sickness and death. What on earth would he find when he reached the top of the stairs?
The following day, Serena sat in her father’s study, her arms resting before her on the desk and her head buried in them. The room normally brought her comfort, with its dark wooden furniture and warm-colored curtains and upholstery. But on that day, it only seemed cold and unforgiving, more like a tomb than her beloved father’s office.
It may as well be a tomb, she thought bitterly, sitting up to wipe her eyes, which she was sure were blood-red from crying. It will surely be the final resting place of everything I ever knew and believed.
She wanted to sit and cry forever. Or, at least, until the bank sent the bailiffs to force her out of her home. She was scared and distraught, and worst of all, she was all alone in her woes. She had thought the worst pain she could suffer was that of losing both her parents. She had quickly realised, while speaking with Mr. Tate, that she was very wrong.
But she could not just sit by and do nothing either. In a matter of days, she would end up on the streets, too poor even for the poorhouse. She was angry with her mother, but she could not bear the thought of shaming her family in such a manner. She was a woman, but she knew she must be strong. She could not allow herself to end up on the street, as well as broken.
Pulling herself together, Serena rose from the chair behind the desk. Her mother had not wallowed in self-pity, even as she lay dying. Serena was determined not to either. Besides, she knew as much about running her family’s estate as Mr. Tate surely did about the legal business.
She had often observed her father keeping careful financial records. While she knew nothing about business in general, she felt she knew enough about estate matters and finances to look for solutions to her current situation herself.
The will had spoken only of the house and the family fortune. It had mentioned nothing about other assets belonging to her parents. So, she decided to scour the study, looking for any financial records her father might have put away.
A thorough search of the office, however, left Serena both panicked and confused. She found a stack of papers that detailed every record and ledger her father was keeping. However, though she searched, there were some she could not find. She practically tore up the study in her eyes, collapsing into a chair in frustration when she discovered that much information was, in fact, missing. But where could it have gone?
Mr. Tate, she thought, with as much disgust as despair. He must have it. She could not fathom why he’d not brought all the necessary ledgers and papers to her when he’d brought the will to read to her. Probably, he had not deemed them important, as the will listed everything she owned. Or, rather, did not own. She covered her face again, but this time, there were no tears. This time, there was only anger. Anger toward her late mother.
“Why would Mother not have simply told me the truth?” she wailed aloud to an empty room. “How could she just leave me like this?”
The funereally silent room did not answer her, of course. It only began to spin as the fear began to take hold once more. With the records missing, her hopes of using them to solve her troubles were crushed. She was out of ideas and filled with a hopelessness that only seemed to grow by the minute.
As she thought back over her conversation with the solicitor, her emotional trembling turned to shudders of repulsion. She could not believe that, in a time of such great grief and distress, he could have had the gall to ask her to marry him. She had never felt completely comfortable with him, though she could never quite explain why. But she did know she could never marry him. Not if she could help it, at least.
Using her outrage to overcome her crippling sadness, she rose from the chair and began to pace. If she could not use her father’s records to help her, and she would not even consider marrying Mr. Tate, what options were left to her? She regretted having not attended more social events in the past three years. She might then have been able to consult with dear friends about her predicament.
The thought came to her as though it were not her own. Employment. She gasped, surprised she had not thought of it sooner, rushing back over to the desk to see if there was a recent copy of the London Times buried under the scattered paperwork. She was thankful to find it quickly, discarded and teetering on the edge of the desk.
She scooped it up, taking the seat at the desk once again. She cleared away the messy papers in front of her, so she could spread out the paper. But as she reached the listings for employment, another question came to mind. What would she do for work? She had never worked before, and thus, she had no employment skills or experience. Could she be a governess with no experience? A housekeeper, or a cook? Perhaps even a maid?
I could never suffer the dismal life of a governess, she thought, immediately feeling guilty for thinking such a thing. She was hardly in a position to be choosy, but she didn’t believe she could put on a happy face in what was reputedly a gloomy position to occupy. She had never cooked anything in her life, so being a cook was out of the question. And it was highly unlikely that anyone would hire a baron’s daughter as a maid.
Housekeeping, however, was something she was sure she could do with great ease. She had been running the home on her own while her mother was ill, with only the help of Evelyn, who was like a second mother to her.
She was confident in her skills as a housekeeper, and if there was anything she should know about housekeeping for someone else, she knew Evelyn would teach her.
With determination replacing the fear and hopelessness, Serena began scanning the paper for the ads specifically seeking housekeepers. She found the employment section, scanning the columns closely for any available housekeeper’s position.
Her hands were trembling, and her mind was racing too far ahead of itself. She forced herself to take a deep breath and then try reading the pages once more.
At last, she saw an advert that caught her attention. It was not one for direct employment, however. As she read, she realized it was an ad for an employment agency that recruited staff for prominent families. She smiled. Going through an agency would likely be easier than trying to find work on her own. And it would surely produce results more quickly.
She took a sheet of stationery from the desk and dipped the pen in the inkwell. She thought it over for a moment, knowing she would only get one chance to make a good first impression. Her lack of skills worried her, but she had to put that aside. Determined, she penned her letter:
To Whom it May Concern,
My name is Serena White. I saw your advert in the London Times, and I am interested in being taken on by your company. I am seeking employment, and I can take up a position as soon as it is available.
I have excellent housekeeping skills, as I learned all about running a household from my father. There is no housekeeping task I cannot manage, and it is work that I enjoy.
Thank you for your time. I will be anxiously awaiting your reply.
She hesitated, scrutinising her short letter critically. She regretted not having more to add, particularly in the way of references and experience. She prayed that a lack of such things would not hurt her chances of being taken on by the agency, and that she would receive a swift, favourable reply.
This is what these agencies are for, she reminded herself. People who did not have any work experience often relied on employment agencies to help them get started. It was the people who already had experience who succeeded in finding work on their own. She was sure the company would be able to help her, too.
She realised she would also have to write to Mr. Tate, as well, asking him to call on her at his earliest convenience. He was the last person she wanted to see, but she needed to speak with him about the missing ledgers. She hurriedly scrawled out the letter, shuddering at merely writing his name.
Feeling accomplished, and with a new sense of hope, Serena carefully tucked both the letters into envelopes. Then, she hurried from the townhouse, letters in hand and walked down to the village post box to post them. She prayed for favour from the heavens as she put the letters in the box. It was a lovely day, so she kept a more leisurely pace on her way back home.
As she walked, she imagined what it would be like to work as a housekeeper for some noble family. Would they be kind? Would she enjoy working for someone else? She believed she might, as she knew the tasks well. Even if she were to be hired by someone proud or cold, she expected she would find comfort in her work.
Even a cruel employer would be preferable to the alternative. She knew, if she did not find a job in the next few weeks, that she would be forced to reconsider marrying Mr. Tate. The thought chilled her to the bone, despite the warm breeze. She wrapped her arms protectively around herself.
I can never allow that to happen. I must not!
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