Taking a deep breath, I set the pitcher back down. I spied Teddy sitting halfway down the table, watching me as an attractive young woman spoke in his ear.
After placing the glass on the table next to Sophia, I backed away.
“You seem to have trained her well.” Cal smiled.
“She doesn’t listen worth a damn, and takes direction even worse, but when put in a situation befitting her station, she reverts to true form.” Sin sipped his coffee. I had the brief mental image of taking his cup and dousing him with the steaming liquid.
The kitchen door swung open, and servers poured out with salad plates, waking me from my fantasy. Once the servers placed the dishes, they disappeared back into the kitchen.
“Stella, where is Sophia’s salad?” Sin’s voice was hollow, cold.
“I-I—” I rushed into the kitchen. “Laura? Sophia’s salad?”
“There.” She pointed to a plate on the island.
I snagged it and hurried back into the dining room, placing it in front of her. Before I could back away, she grabbed my hair and yanked, the burn at my scalp forcing a yelp from my lungs.
“Make me wait again and I’ll have you whipped.” She pulled me closer so only I could hear. “I’m nowhere close to repaying you for what you did at the trial.” She let me go, and I backed away until I bumped into the wall.
Sin made no move, though his eyes narrowed as he stared at Sophia.
They began to eat, the conversation picking back up. I glanced down the table and gave Teddy a reassuring nod. His face was pinched, but he picked at his salad and tried to continue the conversation with the pretty girls at each elbow. Looking farther, I recognized some faces from the trials, and one in particular caught my eye—the blond man from the tent outside the fort. His gaze was glued to Sophia again. Who was he? I continued along the row. My eyes stopped when they met Dylan’s. He sat next to Red, both of them staring me down. Loathing slithered through my stomach, and I forced myself to look away.
Cal stood, and the table went silent. “I’m afraid I’ve invited you here under false pretenses.” He gave a grin.
Some of the guests shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
“Don’t worry, the actual reason is to celebrate the engagement of two people who are very dear to my heart. I confess I was a bit surprised at how quickly love bloomed between these two, but if you’ve seen them together, you just know it’s right. No point in stalling. I couldn’t be more pleased to announce that Stella and Sinclair will be wed next spring.”
A smattering of polite applause sounded and then died out.
He raised his glass along with everyone else at the table. “To my beloved Sophia and my soon to be son-in-law Sinclair.”
“Sophia and Sinclair.” They echoed in unison before drinking to the couple of the hour.
I hid my hurt as best I could, standing still and keeping my eyes up like the men along the sides of the room. I wouldn’t let them see me suffer.
After the salad course, the servers brought out a shrimp appetizer. I retrieved Sophia’s from the kitchen and set it before her.
“There’s something on this plate.” She pointed to a stray grain of rice along the lip of the plate.
“I didn’t ask what it was. Take it back.” She picked it up and shoved it against my stomach, some of the broth staining my oversized shirt.
I bit my cheek and took the dish back to the kitchen. Laura whipped up another one and made sure to wipe the rim of the plate before sending it out. “Chin up. You’re doing fine.”
“Thanks.” I took it and set it in front of Sophia again. She found no fault with the food, but turned her sights on me. “You look disgusting. Go change. Now.” She waved me away with a flick of her wrist.
Pushing back through to the kitchen, I found a rack with white shirts for the staff. I chose one in my size and darted into the powder room off the main hall. As I stripped off the stained shirt, the door opened.
“I’m in here.” I tried to push against it, but the intruder shoved harder. I shrank back when Dylan appeared and closed the door behind him, clicking the lock like I should have done.
I held my hands out in front of me as my bare back hit the wall. “Don’t.”
He slapped my hands away, a cruel smirk on his face, and grabbed me by the throat. “You do well as a servant.”
“Stop. I have to go.” My voice came out as a hushed croak. Fear controlled my thoughts, and all I wanted was to run.
He worked his fingers between my bra and my skin and yanked, the material stinging across my back as it pulled away. Palming a breast, he squeezed my throat and lifted until my feet dangled from the floor.