Excerpt for The Wolf Mirror by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Special Smashwords Edition


The Wolf Mirror

by Caroline Healy



Published by

Fire and Ice

A Young Adult Imprint of Melange Books, LLC

White Bear Lake, MN 55110

www.fireandiceya.com


The Wolf Mirror, Copyright 2017 Caroline Healy



Smashwords Edition, License Notes


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should go to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author.


ISBN: 978-1-68046-414-6


Names, characters, and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.


Published in the United States of America.


Cover Design by Caroline Andrus


While thoughts exist, words are alive and literature becomes an

escape, not from, but into living.

Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave.


For another CC, Colette, this book is for you. Like a lighthouse is to a ship, your beam keeps me on the straight and narrow.


THE WOLF MIRROR

Caroline Healy

Changing places doesn’t always help you see things differently.


Cassie throws the first punch in a brawl at Winchester Abbey Girl’s School. Her subsequent suspension is a glitch in Cassie’s master plan; Finish School/Get Job/Leave Home (and never come back). As punishment, her mother banishes her to Ludlow Park, their creepy ancestral home. In the dark of a stormy night Cassie finds herself transported to 1714, the beginning of the Georgian period.

With the help of a lady’s maid and an obnoxious gentleman, Mr Charles Stafford, Cassie must unravel the mysterious illness afflicting Lord Miller, a malady that could guarantee his untimely death. If Lord Miller kicks the bucket the house goes to Reginald Huxley, the brainless cousin from London.

Cassie’s task is to figure out who is poisoning the Lord of Ludlow without exposing herself to the ridicule of her peers, getting herself committed to the asylum or worse, married off to the first man who will have her.

Cassie must learn to hold her tongue, keep her pride in check and reign in her rebellious nature - because the fate of her entire family, for generations, rests on her shoulders.

Meanwhile, Lady Cassandra Miller frantically searches for her smelling salts or her trusted governess Miss. Blythe, whose soothing advice she would dearly love. Instead Cassandra finds some woman and a boy squatting in the Ludlow mansion; her father, her lady’s maid and all the servants have magically disappeared.

Tell-a-vision, the In-her-net, horseless carriages and women wearing pantaloons; Cassandra is afraid that she might have inhaled fowl air causing her to temporarily lose her senses.

With the help of Tallulah, a black witch, Cassandra finds her feet in this strange land, challenging Becky ‘The Troll’ Travers, learning about feminism and standing up for what’s right.

Only when both girls can get over their pride, societal prejudices and self-importance will they be able to return to their rightful century. Until then, they are free to wreak maximum damage on their respective centuries.


Table of Contents


"The Wolf Mirror"


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven


About the Author

Previews



Chapter One


~ Cassie ~


Cassie lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. Smoking on school property was strictly forbidden.

Who cares!

A black Mercedes waited for her by the gates. News of Cassie’s suspension had travelled fast. She walked down the stone steps and across the green, her satchel swinging from her slim shoulders.

The Principal must have phoned Cassie's mother straight after the Incident.

She narrowed her eyes at the dark car. Justice Miller of the Queen’s Bench had sent a driver. Irritated, Cassie flicked the half-smoked cigarette onto the manicured lawn.

At Winchester Abbey Girls School, no student had ever been caught fighting. It was unheard of. The principal had spent a good twenty minutes lecturing both Cassie and Becky ‘The Troll’ Travers.

“My ladies should never lower themselves to that of brawling delinquents.” Mrs. Pritchford’s glasses slid down her nose as she gesticulated in annoyance. “You have a reputation to uphold for the junior girls. Your behaviour is inexcusable,” she sniffed. “Now, would one of you care to tell me what is going on?”

Cassie had remained tight lipped. To confess that they had been fighting over a boy, a flaker like Dwane Rubens, was not an option. It didn’t matter anyway. Becky ‘The Troll’ Travers was the Vice-Principal’s niece. Cassie was as good as done for as soon as she threw the first punch.

Frustrated, she yanked open the door of the car and slid into the back seat. She buckled her seat belt and turned to stare out the tinted window, ignoring the driver. They changed all the time anyway, so what was the point in making conversation?

The trip across London passed in silence. Cassie daydreamed about having a full-time job, her own car, independence. All she wanted was to finish her exams. Then she would be free. Maybe she would go to France, visit her Dad. That would really piss her mother off.

The car turned a corner and pulled into a tailback of lunchtime traffic. The chauffeur muttered something under his breath.

“A few minutes more Miss,” he said, trying to catch her eye in the rearview mirror.

Cassie grunted, resenting every second spent in the confines of the Mercedes’s plush leather upholstery. A chauffeur was the sole perk of Judge Miller’s job that she allowed her children to partake of.

A normal upbringing is important, that was her mother’s philosophy.

Bullshit!

How can you have a normal upbringing when your father lives in another country and your mother is a workaholic?

“I’m in the middle of a case, Cassie, I can’t take holidays now.” That was the excuse, every time.

Sixty hour working week, constant meetings, never-ending phone calls with clients, a nasty habit of forgetting important details, like the birth dates of her own children; Justice Miller was a perfect role model.

The whole thing made Cassie shake with anger.

No wonder her father had married a French tart. She felt the prickle of tears to the back of her eyeballs but she ignored it. She hadn’t cried in over two years.

Cassie picked at the black varnish on her nails, trying not to think, concentrating instead on the sharp pain to her lower back.

The car wound its way along the embankment, parallel to the brown waters of the Thames, before taking a turn to the left.

The driver pulled the car smoothly to a stop in front of the Royal Court of Justice.

“Here we are, Miss.”

Cassie glanced up at the building before unfolding herself from the confines of the car. “Have a lovely day, Miss Miller.” The chauffeur called after her, his voice eager.

Newbie, thought Cassie, as she banged the door closed. She didn’t bother to say thanks.

Tugging her blazer into place, she hitched the strap of the satchel over her shoulder. It was too hot for this crap. The collar and tie around her neck were strangling her.

“Screw this,” she said out loud as she stomped up the limestone steps to the main entrance.

The building was old and built of squared, grey stone. To the casual observer, it could be mistaken for a church, complete with turrets, spires and a rose window. The only hint as to its real purpose was the milling of people in and out of the bowels of the building.

Cassie hated coming to ‘The Office’. She stood out like a sore thumb in her bottle green uniform and formal grey blazer. The security guard eyed her lazily as she crossed the marble tiled foyer towards the lift.

She pushed the button and waited, her foot tap-tapping with impatience. Eventually the doors opened. In the privacy of the lift she adjusted her skirt, rolling the material up at the waistband. She opened the top button on her shirt and pulled her tie askew. If she was going to get in trouble she may as well make the most of it.

As the elevator ascended to its final destination, Cassie brushed her long mahogany hair away from her shoulders. She fingered the piercings at the top of her ear, a habit she unknowingly performed. The base of her back burned fiery red so she shifted the satchel to her other shoulder, trying to ignore the discomfort.

Keith Dobson, her mother’s aid, was standing at the reception desk talking quietly to a receptionist. Dobson glanced up when the lift doors opened.

“Cassie,” he said warmly, as he moved forward to greet her, his hands outstretched. “Oh my! Your mother mentioned something about your hair, but she didn’t say it was so,” he paused, “bright!”

Cassie smiled at him. The ends of her long hair had been dyed pink these last two months. Her follicle antics had lost their ability to irritate her mother so Cassie was considering a trip to the hairdressers for an undercut.

“Hi Dobson. How are you?” She unceremoniously dropped her satchel to the floor.

“I’m fine, thank you, Cassie. How are you, more to the point?” Somehow, he managed to waggle his eyebrows, a trick Cassie had tried many times but failed to master.

“I’m great. I’ve just been suspended from school and summoned to my mother’s place of work. I’m just perfectly peachy.” Cassie’s shoulders slumped.

The door at the other end of the reception area opened and a meek looking secretary exited, scurrying down the hallway, past the reception desk. She glanced over her shoulder, her gaze lingering on Cassie for a moment.

Cassie felt a stab of pity for the secretary. Justice Miller was a hard lady to work for. She turned her attention back to Dobson, “What should I hope for? Sunny temperament? Happy disposition?”

Dobson lifted his shoulders in a slow, lazy gesture. “Your guess is as good as mine, sugar plum. But when the phone call came through this morning,” he leaned in, so only Cassie could hear him, “I think I heard her use a bad word.”

Cassie fumbled the retrieval of her satchel from the floor. She swallowed loudly; her mother must be mad, really mad.

Straightening up, Cassie spied the receptionist looking at her, a fleeting look of distaste crossing her otherwise marble features. It was enough to rally Cassie’s fighting spirit. She gave a quick toss of her head, the motion causing her pink-tipped hair to flick back over her shoulders. She walked briskly down the hallway, her heart rate accelerating. Best get this over with, she thought, as she pushed open the heavy door. Cassie didn’t bother to knock.

Justice Eve Miller sat in a burgundy, leather-backed chair, behind an impressive mahogany desk. Along the walls were a number of bookshelves, crammed with files and folders of various shapes and sizes. A tall, green lamp stood in the corner of the room, next to a large sash window. Cassie could make out the grey limestone facade of an office block across the courtyard.

The rest of her mother’s office was relatively ordinary, a sparsely populated coat rack stood sentinel at the door. There was a seat, positioned just in front of the desk. Cassie made her way to it and sat down heavily, dropping her satchel at her feet as she stretched out her legs in front of her. She hated this chair, it was low and creaky and to keep her mother’s gaze she had to strain her neck upwards. Cassie concluded that her mother liked it that way, towering over her underlings.

Justice Miller was scribbling on a notepad, seemingly unaware of Cassie’s presence. Eve Miller was good looking, Cassie supposed, for a woman her age. She was forty-five years old, sharp grey eyes, an auburn bob to just below her jaw line. Cassie stared at her, willing her to speak. The sound of the pen scratching over pale cream paper filled the space around them.

Chipping week-old polish from her finger nails, Cassie began to tap her right foot, conveying her impatience, hoping it would annoy her mother.

“Are you deliberately trying to irritate me, Cassie?” Sometimes Judge Miller had a freaky habit of reading Cassie’s mind.

“No.”

Her mother stopped what she was doing, put the lid on her fountain pen and laid it gracefully on the sheet of paper in front of her. She looked up at Cassie, her steely eyes cold and still as water.

Oh no, thought Cassie, she is really mad. “Mum, I…”

“Forget it Cassie, I don’t want to hear it.” Her mother held up her hand, magically cutting off Cassie’s ability to speak. “The principal phoned me this morning in the middle of a chamber session telling me that it was urgent. I thought there had been some kind of an accident, only to find out that you had been caught fighting with another student.”

Cassie snorted. She wasn’t sure if her mother was put out by the fact that her daughter had been suspended or that her own chamber meeting had been interrupted. Either way, Cassie resigned herself to the fact that there was no point in trying to explain. Her mother would believe the principal, whose version of events had been tainted by Becky ‘The Troll’ Travers’ lies. She slumped back in the seat and gazed over her mother’s shoulder, out into the autumnal day.

“Do you have anything to say about your behaviour?” her mother asked.

“No.” Cassie continued to stare blankly out the window.

“Nothing to put forward in defence of your actions?”

Cassie bristled, hating the fact that her mother was using legal jargon on her. “It’s not like you would even listen to me anyway.” She picked at her hair, examining it for split ends.

“So much for justice being blind,” Cassie continued petulantly, “It looks like you have made up your mind, so there is no point giving my side of the story. You’re as bad as that lot at Winchester.” Cassie looked at her mother, challenging her to disagree.

“The facts are pretty conclusive, Cassie. You were caught by your biology teacher in the hallway of your school…scrapping!”

Cassie said nothing, just shrugged her shoulders.

“Do you know how this will look on your record? Do you know how much that school costs me? How many strings I had to pull to get you in there after your last episode?”

Cassie bit back a smile. She found it amusing when her mother referred to her expulsion from the Greystone Girls Grammar as an episode. Shortly after the divorce, things had gotten a bit messy.

Biology class, her one-time favorite subject; she had been etching graffiti on her desk with a black pen when her lab partner dared her to mix the chemicals in the test beakers. On a whim Cassie had added salt to see what would happen. The fire had been an accident. She hadn’t meant the solution to ignite. No one believed her when she tried to explain.

Judge Miller was glaring at her across the desk, her face stony.

Cassie nodded her head, if only to move things along and get the lecture over with.

“Your actions reflect badly not only on yourself but on others too. Did you ever consider that?”

Subtext, Cassie wanted to add, my actions will reflect badly on your standing as a representative of the law.

Experience told her to keep her mouth shut. This would be over sooner if she just kept quiet.

“Do you have anything to say?” asked her mother.

“No.” Cassie just wanted to go home. This whole day had been a disaster from start to finish.

Her mother threw her hands up and sat back in her chair, sighing heavily. “Fine then.”

Cassie waited. Fine then what? She had expected the usual sentence. No phone for a week, no internet, no going out, having to babysit her brother. But her mother hadn’t mentioned any of these things. A finger of dread brushed along Cassie’s spine. The silence was making her twitchy. What was her mother playing at? If Cassie was to get out of here she was going to have to capitulate.

“Fine what?” she asked sullenly.

“You leave me no choice. We are going to Ludlow Park.”

Cassie almost jumped out of the chair, “NO! Mum, come on. I hate it there. It’s ages away. There is nothing to do, no WIFI, no way of contacting my friends…” Cassie was panicking, gibbering on like an idiot. She stopped listing off the disadvantages of going to Ludlow Park, aware that these were the exact conditions, in her mother’s mind, to constitute an appropriate punishment.

“We leave first thing in the morning. Until then, you are duly grounded. Your phone will be confiscated, no internet, no television.”

Cassie started to complain, to fight her corner but her mother held up her hand, the action bringing instant silence. “You will go home, pack your things and make dinner. Your brother will be in from school shortly, and I have given Mrs. Jenkins the afternoon off. I will be home from work early. I want you to take this time to think on your actions. When we get back from Ludlow you will go into school and apologize to your principal, your teacher and that poor girl who you attacked.”

Cassie’s teeth clamped together. She felt the burning of dry tears behind her eyes. She could practically taste her anger. She was duly dismissed, as Judge Miller had returned her attention to the paper work on the table in front of her.

“Oh, and Cassie,” her mother said as she looked up, “Leave your mobile with Dobson.”

Cassie wasn’t able to say anything. She knew if she opened her mouth she would probably start to scream. She turned with as much composure as she could muster and walked steadily from the room, her fists clenched by her sides.

Dobson was waiting at the reception area. He held his hand in her direction and wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Sorry Cassie honey. Boss’s orders. I’m going to have to take your phone.”

Cassie felt a sudden kind of pressure, like a golf ball stuck in her throat. It pushed against her esophagus and larynx making it both hard to breath and hard to speak at the same time. A flash of Becky ‘The Troll’ Travers’ face after Cassie punched her came into her mind and for a moment she thought the whole thing had been worth it. She slipped her phone from the front pocket of her blazer. “Dobson,” she asked, her voice raspy, “one text. Just one?”

He glanced at the solid door to her mother’s office and hesitated.

Time to drive it home, thought Cassie. “Please,” she begged, looking as dejected as possible.

“One text,” he conceded. “Quick now. You have five seconds.”

Cassie fumbled with the key lock, her fingers feeling large and clumsy in her haste. She scrolled through the menu, frantic in her hurry. Who should she text? Dwane wasn’t exactly top of her list at the moment and Tallulah was probably still fuming after the bust up in the hallway. Cassie bit her lip, knowing she did not have the luxury of time to overanalyse. She typed the words quickly, her thumbs flying across the buttons.

Being sent 2 Ludlow—Hell Will try 2 contact u soon. Cx

She pressed send and waited for the delivery before dragging the key lock button and slowly, ever so slowly, handing her phone to Dobson. “Thanks D.”

“No problem, C. Now I have been given instructions to get you home and to do a pit stop at the shops. You are on galley duty this evening, cooking for your brother. What’s your poison?”

Cassie shrugged. She may have to cook for the little rug rat but it didn’t mean that it would have to be nice. “Macaroni and cheese.”

Dobson looked disgusted. “If you say so sweet pea, rather him than me. I’ll have a car brought around. Say hi to Jonah.”

Cassie moved slowly through the reception area towards the lift, her shoulders sagging under the weight of her punishment.

Dobson followed her and pushed the button. “Hey, don’t worry.” He tried to sound cheery. “It might not be that bad. It’s always nice to go on a holiday.”

Cassie nodded and smiled a tight smile as the doors of the lift opened. She stepped in and waved half-heartedly. A holiday was not how she would describe her punishment. Dobson had obviously never been to Ludlow Park, never had to spend time in the depths of a communication black spot and more importantly, he had never met Mrs. Rivers.


Chapter Two


~ Cassie ~


Cassie could see the corner of her mobile phone. It was peeking out from her mother’s handbag; tantalisingly close. She desperately wanted to check for messages. The last sixteen hours of technology withdrawal had been hell. No Facebook, Twitter, emails, text messages; even a phone call to Tallulah had been off limits.

Now, here they all were, the happy family, driving out of London.

The prospect of being stuck in their exclusive company was a depressing one.

“Did you tell your teacher about the squirrel you saw in the park?” Cassie’s mother chatted sporadically with Jonah, ignoring Cassie completely.

“Yeah. She asked me what colour it was. I told her pink, ‘cause it was a girl squirrel.” They both laughed. Jonah turned his attention back to his Nintendo, her mother to the road.

Cassie stared out the window, silent, her fingers rotating the silver sleeper in the upper cartilage of her ear.

Communication with her mother was clipped, all interaction brief. Their communal exile to Ludlow Park was not in Judge Miller’s best interests either. She had, no doubt, a very full schedule. The lack of reliable internet connection and phone would set her back a few days. Cassie got some pleasure in knowing that her punishment would inconvenience her mother also. She sighed, the scenery flying by as they joined the motorway.

“How long, Mum?” Jonah shouted from the back seat, the beep of his computer game beginning to irritate.

“We should be there by six.”

“Six! That’s ages.”

“Ludlow Park will be worth the trip.” Judge Miller’s voice was bright and positive, the lie sounding dubious.

Ludlow Park was Judge Miller’s family home. It was over two hundred miles from London, and in the middle of a dead zone; the Bermuda triangle for communications and I.T. They rarely made the journey.

Cassie sighed. It was going to be a long two weeks. She began to shift in her seat. Her back was particularly uncomfortable today. The pain changed depending on the way she was sitting, what clothes she was wearing, how tired she was. Right now, it was a thumping kind of ache, increasing in spasms every time she moved. She bit her lower lip and tried to distract herself from the discomfort, counting the road signs. The car wound its way off the motorway, going deeper and deeper into the countryside.

“Hey, Cassie.” Her brother kicked the back of her seat. She winced. “CASSIE. Cassie.” Again, he pummelled the headrest. She knew that he wouldn’t leave her alone unless she turned around.

Her younger brother by nine years, Jonah was all the things she wasn’t. He was fun, even-tempered, made friends easily and their mother actually liked him. She shifted around in her seat and glared at him. “What?”

He waved his Nintendo at her. “Level twelve!”

“So? That game is for retards.”

“Cassie!” her mother chastised, taking her eyes off the road, “you know better than to say things like that.”

Cassie made a face at Jonah before turning back to stare out the front window. She wished for the tenth time that she had her iPod. Flicking on the radio, she rested her head back against the seat, her eyes half closed, comforted by the thump-thump of the deep bass. Suddenly, with a click of the tuning button, the nasal tones of the Radio Four news reader hijacked her listening pleasure.

“News time.”

Cassie glared at her mother whose eyes were trained conscientiously on the narrowing road ahead, a hint of a smile on her face.

You are so infuriating, fumed Cassie silently. She crossed her arms and closed her eyes, settling gingerly in to her seat. She was determined to ignore her family for the remainder of the journey.

About an hour later, as the car jolted over a pot hole, Cassie woke. The sky was black and sullen, angry clouds gathering all along the horizon. Cassie looked at her mother. She was hunched forward over the steering wheel, a frown of concentration marring her features. Jonah was asleep in the back, snoring gently. The Radio Four lady voice drifted in and out as the car bumped its way along the muddy roads.

“…Severe weather warning for parts of…and east…poor conditions…” The radio signal was crackling so much Cassie was surprised that they could make out anything. She leaned forward and flicked it off.

Her mother glanced at her. “You’re awake.”

“Yeah.” Obviously. “Are we almost there?” she asked, looking out the window, trying to distinguish any familiar landmarks.

“Yes, another ten minutes or so should see us…” A crack of thunder echoed off the hillside. Cassie held her breath. Two seconds later a bolt of lightning lit up the sky. Then the heavens opened. Torrents of rain lashed against the windscreen battering the wipers, which whipped back and forth across the glass, furiously trying to keep it clear. Her mother muttered something under her breath and hunched even further over the steering wheel, peering into the darkening evening.

Cassie found herself gripping the edge of the seat as the car lurched over every bump and pot hole.

The road took a sharp turn to the right and there it was; the entrance to the estate. Blocks of fluted limestone, over two meters tall marked the gateway. Once-elaborate carvings of two fierce wolves adorned the top of the pillars; their muzzles pulled back, their vicious teeth exposed. She had nightmares about wolves for weeks as a child, every time she came to the estate.

Cassie shivered as the car passed beneath their watchful gaze.

The driveway to the main house was as she remembered it, lined with oak and chestnut trees as far as the eye could see. It was a big estate, built at some stage in the 1600’s by the first Miller. Her mother had attempted to impart the family history many times but Cassie was not interested. In fact, she actively ignored any conversation raised on the ancestral home. It was one of the reasons her parents got divorced. She despised the place.

They rounded a bend in the driveway, and in the blink of an eye she could see it, rising up from the growing darkness; Ludlow Park.

You could not help but be impressed, simply by its size. The house consisted of three parts, the main building and two wings, one to the east and one to the west. Pale grey limestone steps led up to a thick, deep-set door of heavy mahogany. Doric pilasters stood to attention on either side. The walls were a mix of light grey and cream blocks of limestone, interrupted by huge sash windows.

It was as if the house, decrepit from years of neglect strained towards them, welcoming the wanderers home. Cassie averted her eyes, the large windows looked eerily vacant.

The car came to a stop as close to the front door as possible. “You and Jonah make a run for the front door.” Judge Miller raised her voice over the din of the rain on the roof. “Mrs. Rivers should be expecting us. I’m going to gather up a few bits and pieces from the boot.”

Cassie rolled her eyes knowing full well that her mother was going to stand in the downpour, hunting around for her work folders in case she got a spare minute.

“Now please, Cassie.” Her mother’s tone was not one to be argued with.

“Come on, Jonah,” Cassie called as she reached back to shake her brother awake. “We’re here.” She gathered up her bag and pushed open the car door, streaking out into the rain, taking the limestone steps, two at a time.

Jonah squealed as he followed her. Once on the steps beneath the portico, he shook his head, spattering rain drops on them both. “Quit it!” complained Cassie.

The front door groaned on its heavy hinges. Cassie and Jonah both froze, before turning in expectation. The door inched open. Cassie held her breath and reached out her hand, pushing against the dark wood. In the dimness of the hallway, Mrs. Rivers stood still, watching them.

Ever since she was a little girl Cassie had been terrified of the housekeeper, of her severe stares, her prolonged silences, and her disfigured face. Mrs. Rivers was as synonymous with Ludlow as the green pastures. Cassie had memories of her as far back as she could remember.

The housekeeper was in her mid-sixties, apparently never seeming to age, stuck in time like the very stones of Ludlow Park. She was tall with broad shoulders, wearing a self-imposed uniform of shapeless, tweed skirts and stiff, starched blouses. Wrinkles colonised her face and silver was the dominant colour in her once dark hair. She wore it scraped back into a bun at all times.

Her eyes scared Cassie. They were deep set and of a dark green, the colour of a cloudy sea on a dull day. Whatever Cassie did, no matter the importance, those eyes would scrutinise her and she would shrink under their steady gaze.

There was also the scar. It ran the length of the right side of the housekeeper’s face, from her hairline to the middle of her cheek. It stood out, a line of angry pink on her aging visage.

And now here they were, the three of them, standing on opposite sides of the threshold. Cassie didn’t know what to say and she could feel Jonah’s trepidation at the prospect of stepping into the hallway without their mother. Cassie risked a glance over her shoulder. All she could see were a pair of legs, her mother’s frame blocked by the opened boot. She would be drenched by the time she rooted out her stupid files.

Serves her right, thought Cassie, as she shuffled forward dragging Jonah with her.

She swallowed nervously. “Hello, Mrs. Rivers. We got caught in the beginnings of the storm. My mother is just getting her things from the car, she should be with us in a moment…” Cassie’s voice trailed away into silence, breaking under the scrutiny of Mrs. Rivers’ gaze.

A wet hand gripped her shoulder from behind. Cassie jumped, stifling a scream.

“What are you doing standing there in the cold?” Her mother was behind her, dripping water on the stone steps. She crossed the threshold into the hallway, her breathing a little heavy. “Mrs. Rivers. We are here, finally.” She shook the rain from her hair. “No thanks to that terrible weather.”

Mrs. Rivers nodded her head, her gaze never leaving Cassie’s face. The way Mrs. Rivers looked at her made her feel as if she had done something terrible, something inexcusable. Cassie blinked and glanced down at her wet trainers, hoping that Mrs. Rivers would look away.

Her mother shook out her jacket, depositing files, and folders onto the dry area of the tiled floor. Cassie risked a quick look around, dropping her bag. The old place hadn’t changed much. The hallway, where they stood, was long and cool, floored with a chequered tile, in black and white. A grand staircase swept up to the next floor. The timber was golden in tone, the wood worn shiny in places. Along the walls of the staircase, a range of portraits from various periods were hanging, their faces stern. She shivered, even though the heavy, mahogany door had been closed against the darkening evening.

“I’m going to see if the T.V. is working.” Jonah wandered off into the reception room.

Cassie noticed that the furniture in the entranceway was covered in a light film of dust. Her mother had informed her once that it was Queen Anne style, whatever that meant. If it was a queen who had designed it, then she had horrible taste. Cassie surveyed the space, her interest momentarily stirred. The low hanging chandelier in the centre of the hallway was greying with age. She wondered how Mrs. Rivers managed to keep on top of all the chores.

“…your room…Cassie?”

Cassie looked up, her mother had moved up a step or two on the stairs, Mrs. Rivers dutifully following. “Huh?”

“Your bag? Do you want to take your things to your room and get settled?”

Cassie looked behind her to the doorway and her discarded rucksack. She made her way over and bent down to retrieve it. Immediately she realised her mistake. The hoodie she was wearing had ridden up, exposing her lower back. She could hear her mother’s gasp from the foot of the stairs.


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