Star Cursed - Page 38/73

Brother Ishida slaps her across the face, sending Rory tumbling across the sofa. Her head almost lands in my lap. She’s not little, like Sachi. He must have hit her hard.

“How dare you speak to me like that!” he roars, spittle flying from his mouth. “I should have you arrested for your impertinence.”

Rory’s hand flies to her cheek. “You don’t have an ounce of fatherly feeling, do you?”

I stand. “Rory is a novitiate of the Sisterhood now. I’ll thank you not to lay your hands on her again.” A little thrill goes through me at being so audacious.

“I beg your pardon?” Brother Ishida looks flabbergasted. It’s not uncommon for men to take their fists to their wives and daughters. The Brotherhood preaches that women should submit to the authority of their fathers and then their husbands.

“You should beg Rory’s pardon,” I snap. She’s still lying there on her back, looking a trifle dazed. “Is there anything else you’d like to say to your father, Rory?”

She doesn’t need me to ask twice. She struggles to her feet, her black cloak askew, her red dress peeking out. Her scarlet slippers are ruined from charging through the slush and salt. Her dark hair is mussed, the red feather sodden and askew. But she’s beautiful, standing there, squaring off against the man who’s never acknowledged her as his.

“You disgust me,” she says clearly. Brother Ishida recoils, shock and fury warring on his face. “You play at being a paragon of morality, but what kind of man commits adultery? What kind of father abandons his children? You’re nothing but a lying hypocrite.”

“How dare you speak to me like that!” Brother Ishida shouts, lunging toward her. Rory dodges around the sofa.

The mind-magic comes easily this time. Power whirls through me, skipping out my fingertips. My focus is scalpel-sharp and unhindered by any sense of guilt whatsoever. I command him to forget this scene, and to let Finn Belastra stay in New London where he can better serve the Brotherhood’s aims.

The resulting exhaustion is nothing compared to the nausea of healing. I brush it aside, eyeing Brother Ishida carefully.

He crashes into one of the tea tables, knocking it over with a clatter, and then he stops. Confusion passes over his face as he turns to look at Rory and me. “Girls? What was I saying? I’m sorry, I had a bit of a dizzy spell.”

“Are you all right, sir?” I try to keep the triumph from my voice.

“Yes, yes.” He nods, leaning down to right the table.

“We were just leaving, after offering our condolences about Sachi. We are so sorry for your loss, and if our visit upset you,” I say, though the words taste like mud in my mouth. “We ought to be getting back to the Sisterhood for our supper.”

“Very well. Thank you for coming, girls. I’m sorry your faith in Sachiko was misplaced. So was mine. The Lord would have us cast her out, you know.”

I take Rory’s hand. “We know.”

In the hallway, Rory collapses against the gold wallpaper, both hands covering her face. “Thank you,” she whispers.

“I’m sorry it was necessary. You deserve a better father.”

“Jack was always good to me,” Rory says. “I’m glad I have his name and not that monster’s.”

“I hope Sachi never knows the things he said about her.”

“She won’t hear it from me.” Rory’s face crumples. “We have to help her, Cate. I can’t let her spend the rest of her life in Harwood. Her mother won’t ever go against him; I’m all the family she’s got now.”

“She has me, too,” I insist. “And the whole Sisterhood, if I’ve anything to say about it.”

There’s a little cut on Rory’s cheek from her father’s ring. I call up my magic again and touch her cheek, lightly, with my fingertips. “Hold still.”

Rory grabs my arm when I sway. “You’re marvelous, Cate Cahill, do you know that? I—I never thought you liked me much. Most people don’t. They only put up with me for Sachi’s sake.”

Oh. It’s true that I only befriended Rory because that was Sachi’s prerequisite—and her fierce “love me, love my sister” attitude kept me from criticizing Rory aloud. I have judged her silently, though—for her loud ways, her daring dresses, her drunken mother, her impulsiveness. She’s had a horrible time of it, but instead of putting myself in her shoes, I’ve condemned her for seeking comfort in a few nips of sherry, in the arms of that lug-headed Nils Winfield. And, worst of all, I never gave her credit for being sensitive enough to notice.

Shame coats me like ice.

“I do like you,” I insist, realizing that it’s true. “You’re brave enough to say what you think. You’re loyal, even when it’s not easy, like with Brenna. And you don’t give a fig what anyone thinks of you.”

Rory glows under my praise. “That last is a lie. But thank you. No one’s ever taken up for me like this before except my sister.”

I grin at her dizzily. “You can repay me. Do you know where Finn’s room is?”

“It’s right there.” Rory gestures to the door across from us. “Why?”

“Will you stand guard for me? Cough if someone else comes into the hall. I want to leave him a note.”

“Now, this sort of mischief I can handle,” Rory says, taking up position at the end of the hall. Fondness envelops me. Bless her for not asking questions or judging me for slipping into a man’s hotel room.

I put my hand over the gold doorknob, commanding it to unlock. He doesn’t have a grand sitting room, only a bedroom with a little desk in the corner. I hurry over to it. There are a few books stacked on top. A black cloak is draped over the back of the desk chair; a pair of boots is lined up neatly before the fireplace. Behind me, the four-poster bed is unmade, rumpled sheets twisting out from beneath the thick green duvet.

I think of Finn coming back to this room, shedding his heavy winter clothes, slipping into bed. Does he lie awake at night thinking of me, the way I do him?

I blush and turn back to the desk. I’m here for a purpose; I haven’t got time to moon around wondering how he looks in his sleep. There’s a fountain pen on the desk atop a stack of parchment paper. He’s begun a letter to his mother. I can’t help scanning the first few lines:

I’ve applied for a clerk’s position here in New London. I hope you will understand. I will miss you and Clara, of course, but my heart is in the city at present, and in addition, I think I might be able to do some good work here, work I think you would approve . . .

My heart is in the city—does he mean me? His heart? I can’t help a foolish smile at that. I grab the fountain pen and pull a blank sheet of paper from beneath the letter.

Meet me for a walk at four tomorrow in Richmond Square Gardens. I miss you.

I hesitate, biting at the tip of the pen, and then add:

Love, C.

Chapter 11

I’M IN MY ROOM THE FOLLOWING afternoon when Maura knocks on the open door.

“Sister dearest,” she trills from the doorway, glorious in a cream-colored brocade embroidered with shimmering blue leaves. She must have half a dozen new dresses. I look down at my own gray gown with red piping. I felt pretty five minutes ago, but now I’m the drab little dove compared to her bluebird. “Could I have a word? In private?” She smiles pointedly at Rilla, who’s lying on her stomach on her yellow quilt, reading a romance novel.