"Mallory's home, he's back from sea!" Gemma St. Martin watched her younger sisters dash through their old damp family castle, headed toward Mallory, and his pretty young wife.
Only Ann, the sister next in birth order to her remained behind. Their mother rushed out of her morning room, stopping briefly to regard them.
"Allow me to ascertain the situation first, Gemma, dear, before you make your appearance. I shall see for myself what sort of a woman this Elizabeth Caulfield truly is."
"Mother, her name is Elizabeth St. Martin now," Gemma said gently, watching her mother's face flash briefly with deep sorrow.
"I know." She sighed. "I must remember that she is indeed Mallory's wife. Why did he have to marry her at sea? Couldn't he have put it off long enough to announce the banns and do everything the traditional way?"
"I guess he ruined her honor so he had to make her respectable," Ann said softly. Gemma could see how it pained her to realize that her surviving son had made their sworn enemy's daughter his duchess. Her mother's face drained of color.
"I shan't know why he would do this to us, but we must be brave, my darling girls. The younger ones, especially those younger than you, Ann and Maud don't really understand what this means for the family and how it will impact our way of life." Their mother stepped toward them taking their hands into hers. "You've been brave young women these last few years, helping me to run what is left of our estate, and I want you to both know how much I appreciate you."
"We know, mother." Ann sounded choked up.
"He's going to take us away from this place. As soon as he remembers how old and dilapidated it is, he'll whisk us off to one of our more stylish estates, now that he has them back. No wonder Old Caulfield never wanted this terrible place, it's barely staying together," Gemma sighed.
"Terrible or not, it's the original seat of the St. Martin power and glory. William the Conqueror himself gave these lands to your ancestors. In its day this castle saw many kings and queens, we should be proud of its history."
"We are, mother. But Mallory isn't. We'll never be as happy as we were here again." Gemma sighed mournfully.
Her mother's gaze rested on her. "Gemma, you shall be happy again, our little piece of heaven on Earth couldn't last forever. These should have been the most trying years of our lives, and yet, through the hardships, my daughters became good women. I am so happy for that. You both have level heads on your shoulders, and even though your life is about to change, you must always remember that Mallory loves you all."
"He has a funny way of showing that by flaunting that woman in our face. She's the daughter of the man that ruined us! That fat pig, Geoffrey Caulfield put father into an early grave--and now, I'm supposed to embrace his spawn and call her sister?"
"She didn't choose her father, Gemma. You shall do well to remember that. I don't want either one of you snubbing Elizabeth. Nor do I expect you to call her sister until she has earned that coveted place in your heart. You will be civil and you will grace her with all of the ladylike manners I tried so hard to instill in all of you. Please don't let me down."
"We won't mother," Ann said, darting a furtive glance at Gemma.
Gemma smiled at Ann and then at her mother. "Of course we won't ... but who's going to make sure that Elizabeth doesn't let you down?" Gemma grumbled.
Their mother gave them a quick kiss and then walked toward the once grand entryway. Mallory had just stepped inside of the castle.
"Mother!" His voice boomed out at her.
"Mallory, my dear boy." She embraced Mallory, forcing Mallory to release his hold on Elizabeth.
Elizabeth stepped further into the entryway, and at that precise moment their gazes locked. Gemma bowed her head at her, forcing a smile for her new sister-in-law's benefit. Elizabeth returned the smile with a curt nod. She nodded at her! Good lord!
"Gemma, come and step out of the shadows," Mallory said. She obeyed her brother, wincing as the bright sunlight hit her full on in the face. "Elizabeth, this is my sister Gemma. She's the eldest sister, and as a matter of fact, I think you and she will take to each other like ducks to water."
"Don't bet on it," Gemma mumbled.
Elizabeth shivered. Mallory caught the shiver, and reached out for her pulling her close. "Don't worry, Elizabeth, we'll leave this place as soon as we can get the family packed up. I wouldn't want you to have to live in this old moldy castle."
Gemma's heart sunk down into the pit of her stomach. Mallory had done exactly what she'd predicted, all to please his little wife.
Life as they knew it was over.
The enemy was in her house, and now, she had to call that enemy family.
She'd never forgive Mallory--not for as long as she lived.