Unhonored

and

From Tracy Hickman and Laura Hickman comes Unhonored, the second book in the intriguing gothic fantasy Nightbirds series that began with Unwept. Available October 11th from Tor Books.

Ellis Harkington is trapped in limbo between life and death, struggling to escape the domination of an evil force masquerading as her friend, Merrick. Only Ellis has ever escaped him, and now that she has discovered the truth, he wants to make sure she can never escape again.

Merrick’s dark power has turned the seaside town of Gamin, Maine, into a place of nightmares. The town is transformed into a decaying succession of infinite rooms, bottomless stairwells, and boundless corridors filled with never-ending masquerades, balls, and banquets. Each pageant is about the life Ellis lived before her return—each revelation more terrifying than the last.

Ellis is desperate to find her missing cousin and leave, but there is no exit from the House of Dreams except, perhaps, through a séance to contact the living.

 

 

1
House of Dreams

Margaret Emma Kendrick stood shaking in the endless, dark space.

She sensed there was floor beneath her boot-shod feet and felt the rough cloth of the dress draped over her. There was nothing else that existed and while she dreaded the suffocating nature of the experience, she had also come to expect the same. It served her best, she knew, to hold perfectly still, to try not to move and to wait for the new world to appear.

She perceived more than saw the mirror gathering itself together before her and shuddered.

She did not want to look at the demon in the glass, another self on the far side of the reflection. She imagined it to be a terrible thing, a monstrous version of herself that was biding its time, waiting, somehow, to reach through the glass and tear her life from her throat. Worse still, she was unsure which of them was the real Margaret and which of them was merely the reflection.

This was the part that she hated the most: the dreaded aspect of coming into being. She wondered vaguely if this was what birth was like: emerging in horror from the darkness into a new existence. She had no experience to answer such a question, she mused, for she had never been born.

Yet she had done this before. She had been banished to the Umbra more times than she could count and returned to play again when a new Day was decreed. Each time, emerging from the nothingness into a parody of living had unsettled her. She enjoyed playing at life but she hated starting to live. She dreaded being recalled from the simplicity of nothingness. Coming into being terrified her every time.

Her eyes perceived shadows emerging from the nothing around her, giving shape to the oval mirror before her. An outline of a figure stared back at her from the glass. It was a vague and faceless outline. Margaret filled in its features with her imagination and still could not stop herself from shaking.

The woman staring back at her, quivering in the near darkness, was plain-faced and careworn. Her red hair was pulled back from her square face and braided at the back in what Margaret considered a careless manner. Her green eyes bulged slightly and seemed to stare back at her as though daring her to wish she were different from who she had become. At least she had kept her red hair. She found it difficult to look at her reflection as she trembled in the flickering light of a lantern that was becoming more real as it brightened next to her.

The drab dress. The effort to carry her shoulders back and her carriage erect against the weight of her station. She had hoped to be more this time—so much more— but the Book decreed the parts that each of them must play. Her position and false memories came to her then, rising up from somewhere beyond conscious thought and helping her know who she was to be in this life, this new Day.

She knew her part. She was a servant. A lady’s maid and that was not the worst of it.

She was a lady’s maid to her.

Margaret clenched her teeth at the thought. Her of all people.

“Margaret Emma Kendrick,” she murmured to her image reflected in the mirror. “It’s going to be a hard Day.”

Margaret reached down and picked up the lamp. As she held it higher, the extent of the room around her became evident. She did not know nor particularly care whether the walls had been there all along or whether they came into being when she looked for them. Such considerations, she grimly thought, were above her station. It was her servants’ quarters, barely more than a closet in many ways with just enough room for the mirror, her narrow bed and a chest of drawers. There was even a window, although the panes of glass were so black with darkness that they looked as though they had been painted with it.

She wondered, quite rightly, if there was anything beyond the glass as yet.

Margaret turned toward the door that had appeared opposite where the bed lay and, impulsively, reached for the handle. Suddenly she hesitated, her fingers poised to grasp the tarnished brass knob but stopping short of closing around it. Is there the house beyond? she thought in a sudden panic. Has it returned as it was before she left us or is there nothing but a void across this threshold?

She glanced downward toward the floor and the gap beneath the door. A dim, warm light was brightening there.

Margaret drew in a deep breath, held it, and then opened the door.

There was a poorly lit hallway beyond, undecorated and lined with plain doors on either side. The hall was lit with feeble gas jets flickering at intervals from where they hung in fixtures from the ceiling. At the near end of the corridor, Margaret could make out a tight staircase leading down into the house. As she turned to look down the hallway in the other direction, she could see that the light from the gas jets ended just twenty feet from where she stood with her own lamp still in her hand. Beyond there the walls became vague and shadowed, falling away into impenetrable nothingness. As she watched, the gas jet in the next fixture sprang to life with a soft chuffing sound, pushing back the darkness and revealing more of the corridor. Moment by deliberate moment, the ceiling fixtures puffed into life and with each increased illumination brought more of the corridor into existence.

“Echo House,” Margaret muttered to herself. “A new name for so old a place. So you are awakening at last. How long have you slept in our memory?”

Margaret turned back toward the stairs and peered down over the railing. The staircase ran downward and then ended in a solid wall with an ornate pane of Tiff any glass. It was completely without reason for the downward staircase to end in a wall yet, Margaret reflected, that was the nature of the house.

This place was familiar to her. She had been here before. She had played a different part then and far more suited to her liking but the house… Oh, yes, the house she knew all too well.

Margaret sighed. She was not yet used to the way she looked or the new role that she had to play. She was happy, if such a term could be used about her, to have any part at all in this new life. Merrick had been very clear to her about that. This was her part in the Day and she would accept her position or have no life at all.

She closed her eyes. She had been a princess once, the focus of suitors’ and courtiers’ attentions and by her command those who had offended her had been banished. She had been a lady-in-waiting of a great empire, too, and at her word gladiators had received their final blow. When the harbor town had become the Game, she had clawed her way up the society of Gamin and had often been a serious contender to beat them all, take control of the Day, and make her own Book.

But she had always been a princess, never been the queen; a lady-in-waiting but never empress. She had always stood in the shadow of someone else, never to glory in the light of the Day.

That was always that other woman’s role.

Now a new Day had dawned. Merrick had decreed it and she and the others had been pulled from the blissful nothingness into another Game, another pretense.

For Margaret, another chance.

She heard a growing sound roiling up from the far end of the hall. The echo of laughter, the thudding tread of feet and the muffled sound of indistinct words. Margaret held her lamp high as she moved down the hall. She passed the closed doors on either side—most likely more servants’ quarters although, she mused, Merrick had never been particularly careful about the sensibility of his own architecture. The gas jets flared to life before her, revealing, or creating, more hallway in front of her as she walked. Still, she clung to the lamp for she knew that every door before her could still open onto darkness.

Margaret soon came to where the hallway ended in a pair of white double doors gleaming in the light of her lamp. She reached out with her free hand, pulled the door open and stepped through.

She emerged into an enormous, closed arcade. The limits of its arched ceiling remained dark and indistinct twenty feet overhead as though they had not yet formed from the shadows. The light from Margaret’s lamp did not reach as far as the end of the colonnade but the sounds of the approaching troop could be distinctly heard from that direction.

In a few moments, they came into view: a laughing, chattering parade of characters who had been summoned from the Umbra to take their roles and play their parts in this new Day that was just dawning here in the Tween. Huntsman, horseman, groundskeepers, maids, cooks, gentlemen in morning coats and ladies dressed to receive and be received… All of them came laughing and staggering out of the shadows and into existence. The great parade continued as the arcade became more real and the gas fixtures set into each column roared to life. As light filled the space, the characters in the parade suddenly gasped their approval and delight, scurrying and clambering suddenly in all directions as they scattered to populate the house.

Within moments, Margaret was standing alone on the fitted, polished tiles of the arcade floor. She held perfectly still, for she knew if the house was this solid around her then the lady of the house was drawing near.

That was when she heard it.

The shuddering breath.

The gasping for air.

“And so the new Day begins,” Margaret muttered to herself. She turned toward a credenza next to the doors that she had just passed through. She set down her lamp and trimmed it down until the flame was low. She kept her hand around the back of the glass at the top and extinguished the lamp with a single puffing blow. She left the lamp there for she knew that she would have no need of it again and stepped quickly over the tiles toward the far end of the arcade. There, a staircase had appeared rising up to a second-level promenade. A plush carpet with the pattern of red roses against a black background was held firmly to the stairs with brass carpet runners. Margaret lifted the front of her skirt with both hands as she hurried up the stairs toward the sound. At the top of the stairs was a set of ornately carved oak doors richly stained and polished but Margaret did not bother with those for the sound was coming from a narrow hallway that exited from the promenade to her right.

Margaret slipped quietly into the narrow passage. It appeared to be intended for servants to move through the house, for the finish work here was far less grand than in the arcade that she had just left. The sticks of the wainscoting were painted but had a rough finish and the floor was bare wood. The hall itself jogged in mazelike angles as though it had been fitted as an afterthought around and between more important rooms. There were more doors here, each one closed, which she passed at the regular intervals and gave them no further thought, for the sounds of the labored breathing were getting more pronounced.

It was around the next corner that she found her.

Margaret’s sudden appearance startled the other woman, causing her to cry out as she stumbled backward into the corner of the alcove closet.

She wore the dark green jacket and the matching skirt of a traveling suit, both of which were soaked completely through. The left sleeve of the jacket and the blouse underneath were torn and stained even darker with blood. The long skirt, too, was heavily stained on the left side. Her hair was completely undone, hanging in thick, wet strands that clung to her about her face and shoulders. She was shaking visibly and, as Margaret watched, slid down the corner of the alcove until she crouched on the floor.

“So there you are, Lady Ellis,” Margaret said in a voice filled both with annoyance and relief.

“M-m-margaret? Is that you?” Ellis stammered between ragged breaths.

“And who else would I be?” Margaret replied, holding her hands together in front of her in her sternest, most disapproving manner. “You’ve given all the house hold quite a fright. Everyone has been looking for you. Wherever have you been?”

“I’ve been… running. I’ve been running for ever so long,” Ellis replied warily.

“Running, my lady?” Margaret sniff ed. “Running to where?”

“Out.” Ellis said the word as though it were both obvious and puzzling. “I have to get out, Margaret, you know that.”

“Well, there’ll be plenty of time for that later,” Margaret said in slightly dismissive tones. “And I’ll certainly not be letting you go about in a state like that especially with the hall decorated and the guests arriving! You have to dress…”

“Dress?” Ellis glared up at Margaret. “Don’t you understand? I have to get out of here!”

“Out of here? To where?” Margaret asked with impatience. “Truly, mistress, you have been away far too long!”

“I haven’t been anywhere, Margaret,” Ellis said as evenly as she could manage. “Though it hasn’t been for lack of trying.”

Margaret rolled her eyes and sighed. From her perspective, the house seemed to have just appeared moments ago but here Ellis looked as though she had run the legs out from under herself for quite a while. Time could be funny in the house, she thought. Maybe the house had not so much appeared around Margaret as she had appeared in it. No matter. She extended her right hand down toward the crouching, bedraggled figure shivering in the corner before her. “Come with me, my lady. We’ll get you out of those wet things and into something decent and fit for company. Perhaps when you are warm and rested, you’ll be able to think more clearly.”

Ellis hesitated for a moment, and then reached up and took Margaret’s hand.

Margaret led Ellis back down the twisting hall, smiling to herself.

They had all played this Game before.

This time, Margaret knew she could win.

 

2
Mistress of the House

Ellis shivered as Margaret opened the door before her. The room had an overstated opulence to it, as though a European designer had been given far too much money and far too little direction in its decor. There was an ornate fireplace fitted into the opposite wall between two tall windows. The windows were dark and Ellis could hear the rain pelting the panes before it ran in wavering sheets down the glass. A bright, cheery fire flickered in the hearth, perfectly framed by the mint-green scrollwork of the fireplace’s surround. An alabaster mantel sat above the fire, with another green and gold trimmed miniature alcove above the mantel framing a clock encased in a glass dome. It reminded her of the unnerving display she had seen at Summersend, filled with dead—or nearly dead—moths. Whenever someone of her acquaintance had vanished, another moth had appeared pinned in the jar.

Ellis shivered, trying to shake the memory off .

Reaching higher still above that was a framed mirror whose arched peak nearly reached the ceiling twelve feet above the floor. Jade and marble wainscoting surrounded the room with clean, white walls. To her right she could see an enormous poster bed with a headboard and foot-board of carefully polished mahogany. The coverlet appeared to be as soft and inviting as the oversized pillows that nearly obscured the headboard entirely. Ellis was not sleepy but as she stood shivering in the doorway looking at the bed, she realized that she longed for rest.

She turned to peer to her left. There was a large, ornate dressing table set against the wall, cream colored and also trimmed in gold. Set in the corner beyond near one of the windows were a pair of matching chairs and a circular claw-foot table. Each was made of the same material as the bed, its surfaces gleaming with the same finish.

One of the chairs had an ornate silk dress carefully draped over it. It was white with a diamond pattern quilted into the bodice. Large, black pom-poms adorned the front in a single line branching around along the edges of a peplum skirt at the waist. An unbelievably wide Elizabethan ruff formed the collar. On the table beyond sat a white cloche hat crowned with yet another black pom-pom and beside it a white-sequined mask. Gazing at the elegant costume, Ellis was suddenly conscious of how miserable she felt in the thick, soaked traveling suit she wore.

Ellis stepped cautiously into the room, her eyes fixed on the dress in the corner.

“Well, it’s about time you showed your face!”

Ellis started visibly at the unexpected voice coming from the corner just inside the door. She turned, taking several steps backward into the room, her hands reflexively rising in front of her.

“Ellis, you hardly need a costume, you’re such a fright already,” the young woman said with a giggle. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Ellis drew in a long, shuddering breath. When she had last seen Alicia VanderMeer, she had been undeniably dead, a shriveled and shrunken corpse. Now she stood before her dressed as an Egyptian queen of the ancient world. A pattern of near-Eastern wall paintings adorned the wide hem of her long dress and the tops of her sleeves. A glittering gorgerine—a necklace of layered disks— hung around her neck while, from a circlet of gold around Alicia’s head, a rearing cobra stared back at her. She was the picture of ancient royalty yet somehow Ellis could not get the image of her as the mummy she had last seen her as out of her mind. It was unnerving to see this restored woman standing before her suddenly and incredibly alive.

“Alicia?” Ellis said, blinking. “Are you all right?”

“And how else would you have me be?” Alicia replied with a mischievous grin.

Ellis threw her arms around Alicia. “I am so sorry for what happened to you!”

“Ellis, stop it!” Alicia laughed as she pushed Ellis away. “You’ll ruin the dress.”

“You… you were dead… both of you,” Ellis stammered, blinking as though to comprehend what her eyes could not believe.

Margaret’s eyes narrowed. “Is madam playing one of her tricks again? It is in poor taste for her ladyship to be jesting in such a manner.”

“No, Margaret… Alicia… please,” Ellis said quickly, her words coming in a rush. “I’ve got to find Jenny!”

“But of course you do. We all do,” Alicia replied. “That’s the whole point, isn’t it? We’re all looking for Jenny!”

“What?” Ellis shook her head. “No! I’ve got to find her and get out of here!”

“Be calm, your ladyship,” Margaret said, her eyes narrowing critically. She turned toward Alicia with a critical frown. “It’s that old trouble flaring up again. Perhaps you should go and fetch the doctor…”

“NO!” Ellis shouted, her voice demanding and firm.

Both Margaret and Alicia glared back at her.

“I mean,” Ellis said carefully, “I am in no need of the doctor. I am perfectly well. I just need a little time to myself before… before…”

“The reception, madam,” Margaret prompted.

“There is a reception?” What game are these two playing at? she thought.

“Yes, madam; before the masquerade.”

“Yes, of course,” Ellis said carefully. Her eyes remained fixed on Margaret. “Thank you, Margaret. You’ve been a great help.”

Margaret hesitated, giving a glance sideways at Alicia that was not returned.

“I am sure you have other duties to attend to,” Ellis said in measured words. “Alicia will attend to me. That will be all, Margaret.”

“Your ladyship,” Margaret protested, “it is my duty to see that you are properly dressed and prepared for this evening’s—”

“I have a private matter to discuss with Miss VanderMeer,” Ellis said, her voice strong and brooking no argument. “That will be all, Margaret.”

“I’ll… I’ll return in half an hour, your ladyship.” The woman frowned but curtsied slightly before she left the room, closing the door behind her.

Ellis took in a deep breath, her eyes shifting to Alicia.

“Miss Kendrick, it seems, had taken the liberty of choosing the costume for madam this evening,” Alicia said through a pleasant, if insincere, smile. She crossed the room toward the party dress draped over the chair. She swept it up in a single motion, holding it up for Ellis’s inspection as though she had taken up Margaret’s role as her lady’s maid. “I believe it will draw out the color in madam’s eyes.”

Ellis drew in a breath as she gazed at Alicia.

“Ellis,” Alicia asked in a cautious voice, “what is it?”

“Alicia,” Ellis said carefully. “Who are you?”

“You are in a mood tonight,” the woman replied, her brows knitting slightly and her eyes narrowing as she spoke. “You know better than anyone who I am.”

“No, Alicia, I mean who are you supposed to be?” Ellis glanced around the room. “What’s your part in this charade they call life here?”

“I am your best friend.” Alicia’s lips parted slightly and she spoke through clenched teeth. “I travelled with you when you were so ill abroad. I am your companion and confidant. I am here for you, Ellis. It was your husband who brought me here to stay with you during your recovery.”

“I don’t have a husband,” Ellis said.

“You don’t remember a husband,” Alicia said through a crooked grin. “Practically the same thing. Rather daring of you, I must say, to have a husband. It’s never been done in our circles and no one is really sure what to make of the idea. But you are Lady Ellis after all. Who are any of them to question your behavior—especially me?”

“You hate it, don’t you,” Ellis said. “You hate serving me.”

“We all have our part to play, Ellis.” Alicia looked away and sighed, her hands running longingly down the smooth silk of the white dress in her hands.

“Alicia,” Ellis said softly. “What part am I supposed to play?”

Her friend looked up sharply. “You are Lady Ellis, mistress of Echo House… as you have always been.”

“Alicia, no!” Ellis took a step toward the woman, her eyes pleading. “I’m Ellis… just Ellis. You helped me try to escape Gamin. We tried to flee on the train—you, me and Ely—but the train brought us back into the town. The demon found you—killed you—and now it’s the train all over again in a house that never ends. I don’t want to play this terrible game anymore and I think you don’t want to, either.”

“This game?” Alicia burst out the words as a laugh. She carefully replaced the dress over the back of the chair. “This game is all there is. It’s all there ever will be.”

“That’s not true,” Ellis replied.

Alicia gestured to the small stool in front of the makeup table. “Will you please sit down?”

“Alicia, why are you…”

“Please.” Alicia cocked her head slightly to the right, her voice adamant as she again made the gesture with emphasis. “Sit down.”

Ellis stood looking at the immovable Alicia for an interminable time before drawing in a long breath and sitting on the stool facing the mirror. Alicia swept up a towel from off of the chair next to her and moved behind Ellis almost at once. Ellis thought it odd that the woman should be obsessed with getting her hair dry when her clothing was still so obviously soaked through.

“Look, this party is being thrown by your husband as a celebration of your return to the house,” Alicia said quietly as she worked the towel about Ellis’s hair. “However, having been abroad for so long a time, perhaps her ladyship has become… unaccustomed to the rules of polite society.”

“And, I trust”—Ellis spoke the words as lightly as she could manage—“you have been instructed to guide me in these matters?”

“It should be my privilege to do so, your ladyship,” Alicia continued, tossing the towel back toward the chair. She took up a long-toothed comb from the table and started the work of untangling Ellis’s hair. She moved the comb carefully through Ellis’s tangled locks, taking the time to gently unravel the snags. “Now that you are home, we would not want you to embarrass yourself or the house with inappropriate behavior.”

“Indeed?” Ellis said, her voice quiet. “And what if I don’t want to behave appropriately?”

The comb stopped in Alicia’s hands. Her voice was quavering as she spoke in almost a whisper. “No, Ellis, please! They’ll find out… he’ll find out.”

Ellis, frustrated, looked about her. There were knobs to drawers on either side of the table. She snatched at one of them, pulling on it sharply.

The table scraped against the hardwood floor with a terrible squeal.

“It’s fake,” Ellis said to Alicia under her breath. “Not even the drawers are real… they’re just painted on.”

“I’ll ring for the handyman,” Alicia said with a slightly distracted tone. “He’ll have those fixed in no time.”

“That’s not the point!” Ellis snapped. “There’s a cheery fire in the fireplace in this room but it’s not giving off any heat! It’s as though we are living in a doll’s house.”

“You didn’t give him enough time,” Alicia said in a rush of whispered words. “This is a very old Book and he wasn’t prepared to change the Day. He’s never had to build anything this quickly before. It will take him time to get the details right.”

“Who? For who to get the details right?” Ellis demanded.

“The lord of the m-manor,” Alicia stuttered slightly as she replied. “Your husband, of course.”

“And just who is this ‘husband’ I’m supposed to have?” Ellis asked, both knowing and dreading the answer.

“Lord Merrick,” Alicia whined, drawing back as though Ellis might strike her.

Ellis hissed her words through clenched teeth. “He set this up so that I am the lady of the house and he is the lord? How very convenient for him!”

“He’s just trying to please you,” Alicia burbled. “He’s just trying to please us all.”

“Please you?” Ellis was astonished at the statement. “Alicia, you more than anyone else know what is at stake. You’ve seen the madness of this place. You wanted to leave it as much as I. If you could only just—ouch!”

Alicia had tugged sharply on a tangle in Ellis’s hair.

“Sorry,” Alicia said. “That was my fault.”

“Stop pretending, Alicia.” Ellis pushed on in earnest, turning to face the woman. “We can do this. Together, with your help, we can find our way to the Gate.”

“No, Ellis,” Alicia implored. “Don’t speak of it!”

“You were there,” Ellis continued. “I don’t remember much but I do remember you were there when I left. You saw what happened. We found the Gate together once and we can find it again. We can leave this place…”

“No!”

“Why not?” Ellis demanded.

Now it was Alicia’s turn to shiver in the room. “Don’t you know what happened to me after I tried to help you in Gamin? I was cast out. Out into the… into the Bad Place. The Nothing Place. Those were the rules, Ellis, and you made me believe I could break the rules. But I can’t. I can’t go back there again and you can’t go back either.”

“Why?” Ellis asked. “Why can I not go back?”

“I don’t know,” Alicia said simply. “It’s a rule.”

“Rules!” Ellis turned in exasperation away from Alicia.

“Merrick’s rules! Rules he makes up that benefit only him and punish the rest of us. It’s hopeless!”

Alicia stepped hesitantly back toward Ellis as she spoke. She leaned close to her ear as she whispered, her hands resting gently on Ellis’s shoulders. “No, not hopeless, Ellis. There are rules that were written before Merrick; rules that cannot be changed or ignored. There must always be a Gate. Whoever’s Day we are playing, somehow I know that they must obey that rule. Maybe Merrick likes to hide the Gate and maybe he’s gotten quite clever at it but he cannot destroy it and he cannot keep us from it.”

Ellis reached up and laid her hand on Alicia’s.

Alicia considered for a moment. “The soldiers know about the Gate and so does Dr. Carmichael. Maybe that friend of yours…”

“Jonas?” Ellis said, her voice flat as she spoke the name.

“Yes.” Alicia stepped again behind Ellis and, hesitantly at first, began again to untangle her hair.

“I don’t know who Jonas is,” Ellis replied. “At least, not yet. I know who he says he is, but I don’t trust him any more than I trust Merrick.”

“It’s your funeral, Ellis.”

Ellis considered for a moment. She still did not remember who she was or from where she had come. She was not even sure whether she was alive or dead. All she had were the words of others telling her who she was and those from people she no longer trusted.

You can’t win the game until you know the rules…

Ellis closed her eyes. It was a memory from long ago. It sounded in her mind like a woman’s voice but there was no name or face or place associated with it.

You have to learn the rules before you can break them…

Another voice in her memory and this time a man’s voice. A voice that made her smile. She tried desperately to hang on to the memory but it was gone as a wave retreating from the shore. Nothing more.

“Alicia, just when is this masquerade?” Ellis asked.

“Within the hour, I believe,” she replied.

“Indeed.” Ellis nodded. Ellis eyed the costume dress still draped over the chair. “You say I’ve been mistress of this house before?”

“I don’t believe there were any others before you,” Alicia said more cheerfully.

“Was I a good mistress?”

The strokes of the comb through Ellis’s hair hesitated for a moment before continuing.

Ellis considered for a moment and then rephrased her question. “Perhaps what I meant to ask was, ‘Was I good at playing the part of the mistress?’ ”

“You were always the best in your Day,” Alicia replied.

You have to learn the rules before you can break them.

“Thank you, Alicia,” Ellis sighed. “Let me rest for a few minutes and then come back with Margaret to help me dress.”

“Of course, dearest friend,” Alicia replied.

Ellis turned toward the window. She could not see through the sheets of rain pelting the glass to anything that may be in the darkness beyond. “I guess the weather will prevent us from going outside.”

“Outside?” Alicia giggled. “What a fanciful notion! May I be of any further service, Ellis?”

“Not now,” Ellis said with a smile playing at the edges of her lips. “But perhaps later.”

Excerpted from Unhonored © Tracy Hickman and Laura Hickman, 2017

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