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THE MASTER
AND THE
SORCERESS

WILDECOAST SAGA BOOK 4

Bernadette Rowley

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Master and the Sorceress, The

Rowley, Bernadette



Copyright 2018 Bernadette Rowley



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Cover design by Katrina Joyner, www.ebookcovers4u.wordpress.com





Dedicated to my husband and three sons who lift me up, so I can fly free in my fantasy world of Thorius.

Contents

Glossary

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Epilogue

Acknowledgements

About the Author

The Lord and the Mermaid - Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Other titles by Bernadette Rowley

(in suggested reading order)

Princess Avenger- Brightcastle Saga Book I

The Lady’s Choice

Princess in Exile- Brightcastle Saga Book II

The Lord and the Mermaid- Wildecoast Saga Book I

The Elf King’s Lady- Wildecoast Saga Book II

The Lady and the Pirate- Wildecoast Saga Book III

Glossary

Kingdom of Thorius- the kingdom of men which encompasses the King’s seat of Wildecoast and the prince’s seat of Brightcastle

Wildecoast- city perched on the top of a cliff overlooking the sea on the east coast of Thorius; climate is mild but windy

Costa- coastal town around two days ride south of Wildecoast

Crystal Cave- a cavern on one of the Pinnacle islands, which lie off the coast south of Costa; it was the site of a treasure hunt but when Katrine broke through the magic protection, no treasure was found except one opal ear ring; she was almost killed disarming the magic trap

Brightcastle- large inland town surrounded by forests, around four days ride west of Wildecoast

Lenweri- the elven people who are tall and elegant with black skin and pointed ears; live in mountainous forests north and west of Thorius; also known as dark elves

Sis Lenweri- the faction of dark elves that wishes to take the kingdom of Thorius back from men

Princess Alecia Zialni- the King’s niece and daughter of Prince Jiseve Zialni who once ruled in Brightcastle and was next in line to the throne

Vard Anton- the love of Princess Alecia’s life and a shapeshifting Defender

Defender- a race of shapeshifters who are created to defend those in danger; they sense those in need of their help; a Defender can shift into animal form and the ability is inherited through family lines

Night hound- a beast the size of a wolf, with short gray hair, heavy snout, and stumpy ears; the eyes are red; there are six toes on each paw and the back feet have retractable cat-like claws, huge and razor sharp; have not been seen in Thorius for at least fifty years

Esta Aranati- Katrine Aranati’s older sister; she is head of the Aranati estate and was once a smuggler known as Lady Moonlight; heroine of The Lady and the Pirate

Samael Delacost- once a pirate, was captured by Nikolas Cosara, admiral of the King’s Navy and is now sworn to obey the admiral or spend the rest of his life in prison; hero of The Lady and the Pirate and now married to Esta Aranati

Nikolas Cosara- admiral of the King’s Navy; hero of The Lord and the Mermaid; half-brother to Samael Delacost- they share a mother, Vitavia

Reid Vetta- Master goldsmith in Wildecoast; once engaged to Esta Aranati; best friend of James Tomel, hero of The Master and the Sorceress

Master Anza- the master jeweler in Wildecoast to whom James was apprenticed

Queen Adriana- wife of the King in Wildecoast; is a patron of James Tomel

Chapter 1

(Kingdom of Thorius, the road between the King’s seat of Wildecoast and the coastal town of Costa)

Katrine spurred her black stallion into a reckless gallop, the flinty coast road between Wildecoast and Costa disappearing beneath Demon’s hooves. She was careless of the danger. There was little enough excitement in her life, and happiness was a condition she no longer recognized. Her gut clenched as it had on waking that morning and a familiar foreboding took its place. Nothing good would come of this day.

Katrine had experienced such a warning on three past occasions. The first was the day Papa died, changing all of their lives. The second time her sister’s ship had sunk, almost taking Esta with it. The third was two days later when she had all joy of life seared from her in the Crystal Cave. She fingered the opal ear ring that was all they had recovered from the treasure hunt. In disarming a magical trap, Kat had come close to death and the silver flecks in her blue irises were a legacy of the near-disaster. Most days she wished she had died in that chamber. Death would be preferable to living each day in deep melancholy, waiting for a moment of happiness that might give her some respite.

Charging around a blind corner, Katrine failed to see the man on the side of the road until she was almost upon him. He flung himself aside as she dragged on the reins. Demon wouldn’t thank her tomorrow when his mouth was sore.

The man fixed her with a stormy gray gaze from the ditch he had landed in. Oh, he is magnificent! She tore her eyes away from his and allowed herself a leisurely exploration—from long dark hair tied in a ribbon at his nape to his olive complexion to the taut muscles of his bare chest and abdomen. Something dark and primitive passed between them, and then she remembered she shouldn’t be staring.

“I’m sorry, but why are you stopped on a blind corner?” she asked, patting Demon’s neck to soothe him.


James Tomel stared at the wild woman who had almost trampled him. She was stunning—ebony tresses swirling in the fresh breeze, long muscular legs in black breeches, and piercing blue eyes that were fixed upon him. He couldn’t look away, as if a cord of senseless magic ensnared him. And then he shook his head. What had she said?

“Blind corner?” he snapped.

The woman dropped her eyes. Perhaps he had imagined the silver flecks prominent in her irises.

“It’s nothing of the sort!” James said. “If you had not been galloping as though all the hounds of hell were after you there would have been plenty of time to avoid me.” He pushed up from the ditch and brushed himself off, then grabbed his shirt from the cart.

The woman climbed down from the horse, a scowl on her face as if it were his fault.

“What were you doing, anyway?” She combed long violet nails through her hair. “Is there something wrong with your cart?” Her eyes, which so unnerved James, swept over the conveyance he used to dash between Wildecoast and Costa. It was a small cart pulled by a pony. It suited well when he needed to make a business trip and doubled as a racer at the Costa trap races which were held four times a year.

“Not that it’s any concern of yours, madam, but I felt a wheel wobble and investigated.” He shrugged into his shirt while the temptress crawled beneath the trap. James hurried to secure his pony so there was no movement while the woman was under the vehicle. She felt her way along the axle, inspecting the joins. “Are you an expert in such matters?”

“I’m from a farm,” she said. “I know my way around an axle.”

She paused, and the hairs stood up on James’s neck, a worm of unease wriggling in his belly. He shook it off as the woman emerged from under the cart and stood.

“I can’t see anything that would cause a wobble, sir, but I advise you to get the wheelwright to see to it when you reach town.”

“Of course,” he said, sarcastically “I would never have thought of that.”

The sound of an approaching vehicle caught his attention. A fancy older coach appeared, the pair of chestnut horses pulling it breathing hard. “Seems everyone is forcing the pace today.” He turned to the woman, surprised to see her chewing her lower lip. Distracting

The coach stopped. The driver jumped down and strode up to them. “Lady Katrine!” he said. “You know how it worries me when you pull ahead like that!”

James stared, first at the red-faced coach driver and then at the raven-haired woman who stood, hands on hips, her expression a mix of defiance and regret.

Lady Katrine?” Was this wild creature really a member of the aristocracy? He had met no one like her before. And I would have remembered.

She turned to him and the force of her smile punched his gut. “Lady Katrine Aranati,” she said, shoving her right hand at him. “My friends call me Kat.”

James took her smaller hand in his, not surprised to find calluses brushing his palm. A chill ran up his arm at her touch. “James Tomel, Master Jeweler, at your service, lady.” He bowed, mesmerized by the force of her presence.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Master Tomel.” Her eyes dropped to where he had failed to button his shirt and he released her hand to tidy himself up.

The driver cleared his throat. “Miss, I think we should be on our way, if you please. We’ll lose light soon.”

Lady Katrine nodded. “Yes, Mason, let’s go.”

Heat rippled through James as she again looked over his body.

“It was nice to make your acquaintance, sir.” She stalked to her mount and vaulted into the saddle. “I’m sorry for earlier.”

“Wait! I’ll ride with you. We’re heading in the same direction and, with my trap in need of repair, it would be stupid of me to travel alone.”


Katrine smiled. James had no way of knowing she had used forbidden magic to mend the crack in his axle. She watched him tuck his shirt into his breeches, climb aboard his vehicle, and gather the reins. Man, he is fine! How did a craftsman stay so fit when he must spend day after day at his sedentary occupation? Her fingers itched to test out those stomach muscles to see if they were as hard as they appeared. Then she would loosen the ribbon that restrained his dark hair and run her hands through it. Kat realized both men were frowning at her while she sat unmoving on Demon.

She cleared her throat. “Yes, Master Tomel, of course you must travel with us.” She clucked to her horse and set off with her coach by her side.

For the first half hour, Kat tried to focus on the countryside, ignoring the man trailing her coach in his small conveyance. She planned the task she had been sent to complete - that of moving Samael Delacost’s parents to the Aranati estate. Eventually, however, James drew his vehicle alongside her.

“Excuse me, lady, but your name sounds familiar. I’ve been trying to remember where I’ve heard it.”

Kat tried to keep her expression bland. The whole of Wildecoast was still buzzing with the news of her sister, Esta, and her scandalous marriage to the pirate Delacost. Esta was expecting his child, due to deliver in four months. Kat tried to be joyful for Esta’s sake, however, a baby would only make things worse when Sam returned to his thieving ways. True, he was trying to mend his life—the King had handed him over to Admiral Nikolas Cosara, who was Sam’s half-brother, and responsible for keeping the pirate on the right side of the law. Yes, their family name was dirt right at this moment and it was Esta’s fault. She didn’t wish to burden James with the sordid details.

“We are an old farming family,” she said. “Our estate lies south of Wildecoast.”

James frowned as if this shed no light upon his mystery.

Of course it didn’t! She turned to Mason. “How much longer until we reach Costa?”

Mason looked around at the landmarks. “About an hour, Lady Katrine. We’ll be just in time to drop you at the Delacosts’ and I can bed down the horses at the nearest inn.”

Katrine flinched. He had to mention the Delacosts!

James didn’t appear to have heard. He was still riding, lost in his own thoughts, a frown on his handsome face.

I wonder if he likes to dance. She imagined being held in his arms and instinct told her he would be her master in the dance and in life. Where did that thought come from? I don’t even like dancing! Kat needed no man to order her life and keep her safe. A man would only clip her wings as Sam Delacost had done to Esta. She didn’t seem to mind now, but she would when she was saddled with children while he roamed the oceans, free as the wind.

Kat picked up the pace a little and Mason went along with her. He must be keen to get to the inn. Perhaps he knew a serving girl there? She ground her teeth as James clucked to his pony and brought his rig up alongside again.

“Aranati, you said, my lady?”

Kat glanced across at him and noted his gray eyes had turned flinty. Oh no! He has made the connection! “That’s right, we farm crops, pigs, lambs, and cows. We’ve even bred horses from time to time. In fact, perhaps I will try my hand at that again. I’m looking for a project!” She was rambling, she realized, and James scowled at her.

“I beg your pardon, my lady,” he said, “but there is no need for you to be so long-winded. I know exactly why your name is familiar now. Your sister destroyed my friend, Reid Vetta!”


A thousand big-winged moths battered at Kat’s stomach as his words drove at her—not just the scandal then, but real damage to a loved friend. Kat knew Reid had been devastated when, two weeks before their wedding, her sister ran off after Samael Delacost. However, her feelings on the matter were irrelevant; this was family and she must defend it.

“Yes, my sister is Esta Aranati and she was betrothed to Reid Vetta.” Kat held her head high as she confessed.

“Do you have any concept of the damage your family has done to Reid?” Fury blazed from James’s eyes and he drew himself up, appearing much larger than before. He stopped, forcing Kat to do the same. She swung her horse to face him.

“It must have been terrible,” she said, “but in time he will come to terms with his loss and be glad he never married a woman who didn’t love him.” To Kat’s ears her words sounded unsympathetic, so how must they sound to James? Damn Esta! Why isn’t she here to defend herself instead of leaving me to explain her actions?

“Oh, lady! It’s so easy to say those words. This is a man who lost his first wife last year.” James jumped down from his trap and paced as if the anger inside him needed a physical release. “Hasn’t he suffered enough? He had convinced himself to try again, only to have your sister steal his heart then dump him two weeks later. And he injected funds into your estate which he will never see again.” He stopped before her, the torrent of words dying, his fists opening and closing, shoulders hunched.

Kat dismounted, and Demon danced away from the angry man. James was a head taller than her and broad across the shoulders. Furious, he was more than a match for her. But she couldn’t allow him to dominate.

“Esta tried to repay Reid, but he has said he doesn’t want reimbursement.”

“He wants to be done with the whole sorry mess.” James turned and strode to the side of the road and back. “Your sister has ruined his chances of a family. Do you think he will ask another to become his wife after this debacle? He has thrown himself into his work, creating more amazing pieces than ever before, but who will enjoy the fruits of his labor?”

“Reid will work himself into an early grave,” Kat breathed, imagining the master goldsmith alone and exhausted, afraid to sleep for fear of dreams of her sister.

“I won’t allow him to do that,” James said. “I’ll lure him out of his workshop and persuade him there are better women than your sister in this world.”

Kat’s eyes snapped to his. “That’s enough! You will not cast aspersions on Esta! She fell in love and followed her heart. I regret that Reid was hurt, however the alternative would have been much worse.”

“Love! Reid loved your sister. She would have been happy as his wife. He would have given her everything.”

“Esta might have been content for a while,” Kat said. So much had been happening back then, she reflected. Esta had lost her ship and almost her life, the estate finances were exhausted, and Katrine had faced a crisis of her own—still faced it. She didn’t blame Esta for not knowing which way to turn. “But, in time, she would have resented her marriage of convenience and then Reid would have paid dearly.”

“You don’t know that,” James said, hands on hips.

“There is no happiness in a loveless marriage.”

He threw up his hands. “Why am I arguing with you? You will always defend her. Let’s just say I’m getting an interesting insight into the morals that exist in your clan.”

Kat put all her strength and frustration into the slap, leaving a bright red hand print on his cheek.

“How dare you?” she spat. “You know nothing, nothing of me or my family. If I never see you again it will be too soon.” She shoved him out of the way and mounted Demon. Digging her heels in, Kat went from standing to a gallop in seconds, leaving her coach behind again.

Chapter 2

James’s cheek still throbbed with the sting of Lady Katrine’s hand as he passed the outer wall of the small town of Costa—his home. He had left the road and taken a longer route soon after the altercation with Katrine, having no desire to exchange any more words nor receive more clouts from her. She packed a wallop, but, now he had cooled down, James regretted his angry words. It was unfair of him to tar the feisty young woman with the same brush as her sister. If he ever saw her again, he would apologize. However, he would not apologize for defending his friend.

He sighed. It would be good to get home and enjoy the luxury of familiar surrounds and food. He hated being on the road, not knowing what was around the next corner or whom. He grimaced as he recalled Katrine and the effect she had on him. She was the opposite of everything he normally found attractive in a woman. She didn’t even wear skirts! However, there was something about her wild ways and striking eyes that would make it difficult to forget her. And now he knew she was related to the woman who had hurt Reid, there was even less chance he could stop thinking about her.

James pulled up at his mansion. His manager came around from the stables to take the pony and rig away.

“I trust you had a good trip, Master Tomel?”

“Not bad, Micc,” James said, “but I’m glad to be home.”

“Mistress Lary has supper prepared. We hoped you might return today.”

“Any news?”

Micc stopped and turned back. “Damned dark elves are causing trouble again to the west. Not many but enough to be a nuisance. I’ve increased patrols of your properties and the town watch has beefed up its numbers—not sure where they got the coin for it. They’ve no money for anything else in Costa.” He stalked away, grumbling to himself, and disappeared around the corner of the mansion.

James hefted his bag and sword and entered the house to be greeted by Mistress Lary, his house keeper. She was a woman in her middle years and married to one of the town guards; hence, she returned to her own home in the evenings. James was glad to have the place to himself at night especially with the hours he kept when working on a project.

Pushing all thoughts of women from his mind, James entered his room to find his maid, Eva, her belly round with child, in the process of lugging in hot water for his bath.

“I’ve told you, Eva,” James said, taking the pail from her and pouring it into the tub, “this work is too heavy for you. Get someone to help.”

“It’s lighter and safer than my job at the inn.” She smiled and took the empty pail from him, then turned and left.

James stripped off his dusty clothes, mulling over the changes needed once Eva had her child. She could no longer live in the tack room which had been hastily cleared out to provide a home for her. Once the baby came, Eva would need a room in the house. James sighed as he imaged the changes a newborn would bring.

Naked, he stepped into the tub which was only half full of hot water. Before he had a moment to himself, Dant, the strapping young stable hand and general help, carried in two more pails of hot water and added them to the tub.

“I see Eva managed to find someone to help with the bath,” James said. “I would consider it a favor if you could assist with any of her heavier chores, Dant.”

“Right you are, Master.” Dant grinned. “You did a good deed bringing Eva here.”

“I couldn’t leave her there.” James lathered his arms as he remembered the day he walked into his local and saw one of the serving girls was pregnant. He had taken Eva with him and found a new inn to patronize. It still shocked him to learn the innkeeper had been running a brothel on the side and that his girls worked on their backs as well as their feet. Eva was only eighteen summers old! “Only I didn’t realize she had no parents.”

“Got more than you bargained for that day, Master,” Dant said, his lazy grin lighting his odd colored eyes—one blue and the other green.

James smiled. “It has all worked out for the best, but I need you to watch out for her, make sure she looks after herself and the babe. I’ll make enquiries about a midwife next week.”

“Right you are, Master.” Dant bobbed his head as he left James to his bath.

He was lucky in so many ways. His staff were loyal even if he had the knack of bringing home strays. All of them had a tale of woe to tell which led them to him. Perhaps it was why they were so loyal—he had given them work or shelter when they fell on hard times. James had known privilege as a youngster and he was driven to pay forward his good fortune to the people who worked for him. In return, all he wanted was a quiet life of order and peace.

James mused on his desire for order in his life. His parents had mapped out his existence from the moment he was born. They had been sure he would willingly inherit the family farm and raise sheep and beef cattle. James wanted nothing of the sort. Every trip to the King’s seat at Wildecoast exposed him to the jewelry worn by members of the court. He had longed to make pieces the aristocracy could pass down to their heirs. Perhaps it was a strange life for a farmer boy but he was happy working with his gold, silver and gemstones. And Mother and Father had six other sons to work the farm.

The chaotic life on the farm was another reason for James’s love of order. Seven sons born within ten years meant his six younger siblings had tried to best him at everything from riding to fighting to wrestling steers. Whenever he obtained anything of value, it was more than likely to disappear, only to end up in a younger brother’s possession. Nothing was his and everything was shared including his bedroom until he left at age seventeen. It was then his life really started—when he was apprenticed to a master jeweler.

Master Anza had been a breath of fresh air. He welcomed James into his home and business, giving him a room of his own and tools to work with. In many ways, James was the son Anza never had. His four-year apprenticeship was completed in two, but James had stayed on, perfecting his craft and stunning his teacher with the brilliance of his designs. He could have remained with the older man, but, at the end of four years, he was eager to branch out on his own.

James had a hankering to move south and he chose the small seaside town of Costa. The commissions earned by making pieces for several of the Wildecoast ladies enabled him to purchase a small mansion in Costa, and his wealth and fame grew. He had even designed an unusual chain mail choker for Queen Adriana and, since then, had been too busy to accept all the requests made by eager nobility. Perhaps it was time to enlist the help of an apprentice? Each time James had this thought, he shuddered at the idea of someone disturbing the tranquility of his workplace.

And speaking of tranquility, it was luxury to be in his own room, relaxing in his bath. The difficulties of the trip home faded as James lay back in the perfectly warm water and smiled.


Katrine had been greeted with warmth by Samael’s parents, which was a balm to her jangled nerves. She couldn’t shake the shame and anger James’s words caused. Harah and Claus drew her in and she was soon ensconced by the fire with a blanket and a mug of tea. They rarely looked her in the eyes but had many questions of her trip, her sister and their son.

“We cannot wait to be grandparents,” Harah said, mopping a tear from the corner of her eye. “Esta is a fine young woman and just the one to tame our Samael. We had despaired and worried we would lose him. Now I think all will be well.” The older woman beamed as though truly content.

Oh, to be so happy! It was on the tip of Katrine’s tongue to remind Harah that Sam still went to sea on dangerous missions, but she thought better of it. Let her have her happiness.

“He certainly is transformed, Mistress Harah.” Katrine was at a loss to think of anything else to say. She must keep her objections to the union private. She was here to help them move and anything else was none of her business.

Claus topped up Katrine’s mug and offered her another biscuit. “Tell us of the estate and where we shall live, Lady Katrine,” he said. “I find myself looking forward to being busy again.”

Katrine smiled. “There is much to do, Master Delacost. You only need to tell Esta what projects you wish to take on. She is excited to be welcoming you soon, and sorry not to be able to travel here herself.”

Harah waved her hands at Katrine. “There is nothing to be sorry for. She is with child. We would be angry if she put herself and the babe at risk. We will see her soon enough.”

“You are kind,” Katrine said. “I admit I was fearful she would insist on coming. She is usually so bossy.” Katrine fell silent, wondering if Esta was feeling as well as she said she was.

Harah grinned at her. “Their babe will be a handful. I can’t wait to see him or her.”

Katrine remembered the earlier question. “Our estate is a day’s travel south of Wildecoast. We grow or make almost everything we need, and, until Sam came along, things were tough. His money has meant we can pay our staff and plant new crops. We’ve been able to repair the fences around the cattle pastures.” She paused to look at Claus. “There are so many buildings in need of repair, you have years of work ahead of you.”

He positively glowed in response to the news. Katrine smiled back at him. He and Harah would be good company for her mother who was often lonely. She hoped they all got along.

“Mother has insisted you stay in the main house until we can have accommodation built for you. Perhaps you would like to help with that as your first task?”

Harah frowned. “Will we not be in the way? Two extra old folk around the house?”

“It’s a large house, with plenty of room. Mother is preparing her best guest room as we speak. It’s getting a whitewash and we’ve commissioned my Aunt Paurella, the Queen’s dressmaker, to replace the drapes and bed covers. You’ll be quite comfortable.”

Harah clasped her hands over her bosom. “I can hardly believe this is happening. For so many years we wondered if Samael would go away to sea and not return. We worried ourselves sick. And now he will give us a home, a family, and a grandchild.”

Claus clasped his wife’s hands. “You can believe, my dear. Our faith in that little babe thirty odd years ago has been rewarded. We took him in when Vitavia couldn’t look after him and now he has given us all this.”

Tears sprang to Kat’s eyes as she listened to the pair. They deserved this chance at a new life after decades of struggle. She couldn’t help wondering if she deserved hers too. Kat cleared her throat and stood, placing the mug carefully on the hearth.

“I’ll settle into my room and then I must begin the task I was sent here for.”

Claus stood too. “Rest for the night, my dear. It is late, and you are tired.”

“Yes,” Harah said. “Unpack and then please join us for the evening meal. It is almost ready.”

Kat nodded and hurried from the room, uncomfortable in their presence. She felt like an outsider in their home and their lives, but it would be better when she got to know them. She closed the door of her room and rested against it, eyes closed. How could she haul herself out of this abyss she had fallen into?

Chapter 3

The next morning dawned fine and bright and Kat was up early, imbued with enthusiasm after a good night’s sleep. For once the nightmares that had dogged her since the Crystal Cave stayed away. Perhaps it was sheer exhaustion that caused the break in her usual nightly routine.

She made her bed, even though she never would at home. Mother had always taught Kat and her sister to be good guests and tidying after oneself was part of that. Kat joined Harah in the kitchen and her hostess promptly placed a warm bowl of oats in front of her. Porridge! Kat barely managed not to grimace.

“Thank you, Mistress Delacost,” she said, ladling honey and milk over the mixture as well as a decent measure of dried fruit.

“I always say a good breakfast sets you up for the day.” Harah bustled back to the fire where she was preparing a loaf for the oven. “And please call me Harah. We are to be family!”

“Thank you, Harah. Mother says the same.” Katrine smiled, though a good breakfast on the farm consisted of bacon and eggs with sausages and mushrooms and fresh bread. She spooned the porridge into her mouth, determined to finish it. “Where would you have me start with the packing?”

Harah turned from placing the bread in the oven. “I will begin with the kitchen, but I need more trunks I can pack into.” She pulled out a gold coin, examined it and the offered it to Kat. “Would you take this coin and purchase three large trunks from the marketplace?”

Kat took the offered coin. “It will buy much more than three trunks, Harah.”

“Acquire anything else you think might be necessary, my dear. I need a new broom and perhaps a pail for water.” She sounded distracted. “Now, where did I put the pan?”

Kat smiled. “I can see you’re busy, so I’ll be going. I may be most of the morning as I need to stop by the inn and collect the coach.” Harah waved at her, and Kat left the kitchen. She returned to her room to retrieve her coat and left with a wave to Claus who was whitewashing the outside of the cottage.

She decided to walk to the inn and, as she did so, she wondered if she would need to find Mason or if she could simply walk into the stables and hitch the team to her coach. Dressed as she was, in breeches and tunic, she doubted it. Someone would take her for a thief and she would find herself in trouble. Kat ground her teeth at the need to rely on Mason, but it was the sensible thing to do. Did this mean Kat was becoming responsible, growing up? At twenty-four, she supposed it was high time.

She stepped into the common room of The King’s Crown and cast her eye around for her driver. There were few patrons at this early hour of the morning, and those present were eating their breakfast. She spotted Mason chatting to a serving girl over by the hearth and joined him. The girl bobbed a curtsy and walked away.


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