I was plucking mint leaves from the herb garden, hoping tea would soothe my head, when a slim, well-dressed young man strolled up our lane. “Are you the alchemist’s daughter?”
“She’s an herbalist,” I snapped. The scent of crushed mint leaves filled my nose. I took a deep breath and loosened my grip. My head throbbed.
“Yes. Well. Are you the daughter?”
“I am here to inform you that your father has bequeathed unto you his entire estate.”
My mother had always refused to tell me my father’s identity. “My father’s dead?”
“Yes. And all that was his is now yours.”
“Is that a lot?”
The stranger scanned our modest cottage, with its herb garden and climbing roses. “Yes.”
“May I come inside?”
I scanned him up and down. Thin and pale, with short blond hair and dark green eyes. He didn’t look particularly dangerous. “I suppose.”
Inside, I poured hot water over crushed mint leaves. “Would you like some tea?” I asked.
He shook his head. “We should go. The moat will keep out any unwanted visitors, but I dislike leaving the estate empty.”
“Yes. Do you have many possessions to pack?”
I sat down and sipped my tea. Thoughts spun through my aching head. Curiosity and exhaustion warred. “May I ask you something?”
“Who was my father?”
Lord Ruthgar had never made my list of possible fathers. Rich and insane didn’t seem like my mother’s type. “Really?”
“Yes. And you are Lady Ruthgar, now.”
I blinked at him. “My name is June.”
He shrugged. “You are the Lady of Ruthgar.”
I thought of the castle, huge and dark and isolated, and shuddered. I’d been wanting to move out on my own, but that wasn’t the destination I’d had in mind.
“Who are you, anyway?” I asked.
“I am Angus. Your manservant.”
My mother opened the door and came inside, stomping mud off of her boots. “I do wish that these herbs grew somewhere other than the swamp.” She stopped and stared at me and Angus, sitting at the table. “We weren’t expecting company,” she said. “Can I help you?”
“Hello, ma’am. I am Angus–”
“I know who you are,” my mother said.
“He says that Lord Ruthgar has bequeathed me his estate.” I took a deep breath. “And that he’s my father.”
My mother sighed. “I didn’t expect that.” She moved to the sink and rinsed dirt from the herbs she’d collected. “I thought the castle would go to some cousin or something.”
“The estate was his lordship’s to do with as he pleased. And he wanted it to go to his daughter.”
“Well, she’s not taking it.”
“What?” I stood up, and pain spiked through my head. “What do you mean, I’m not taking it?”
“You don’t really want to move to that castle, do you?”
I glared at her. “Well, I can’t decide about that till I see it, can I?”
“Very good,” Angus said. “Let’s go.”
“I’ve seen it,” my mother said. “It’s rubbish.”
I downed the last bit of my tea and followed Angus out the door.
“Promise me you’ll be back for dinner!” my mother called.