The Lyon's Laird - Hildie McQueen

Chapter One

Evangeline Prescott had become used to the confines of her beautiful home, a gilded cage one could say.

She’d transformed her bedroom into a haven. Books stacked on surfaces, vases with flowers she personally picked from the garden and her lazy, orange cat, Lucille, made for a perfect sanctuary. If only she could remain there forever, curled up on the window seat rereading her favorite books while occasionally peering out the window to the street below.

A carriage rumbled by. The manner in which the horses pranced seemed to indicate they enjoyed the perfect weather on that particular spring day.

For a moment, she imagined riding in the carriage, contemplating where she’d choose to go. With a frown and a shake of her head, Evangeline realized there wasn’t anywhere she’d prefer to be than at home.

While others of her social status would consider her life a sad situation, she couldn’t imagine why. After all, her life was complete. She had a close friend. Her father and mother doted upon her. And if not for the certain imperfection and an unfortunate incident, her life would be perfect.

Just then, a black carriage with a familiar emblem came to a stop at the front gates of her home. The driver peered up to the house before climbing down to assist his passengers out.

“Oh, no,” Evangeline grumbled, which made her cat, Lucille, lift its head, its luminescent green eyes scanning the room. The cat, used to her outbursts, lowered its head back to the cushion and closed its eyes.

Outside, a younger woman exited the carriage, dressed in a blue morning gown. She daintily took two steps to the side so that her mother, who wore a much too bright shade of yellow for someone her age, could join her.

A family footman promptly opened the gate to allow the women in and Evangeline leaned back as they disappeared. Since she’d already made an appearance at breakfast and had announced she planned to enjoy the beautiful day in the garden later, it would be impossible to feign illness.

It was but a few moments before the knock on the door meant she could not hide any longer.

“Yes?” Evangeline called out, remaining hopeful that perhaps the maid would bring a message to remain upstairs.

A maid named Fran pushed the door open and walked in. “Miss Evangeline, your mother requests that you come down. Your aunt, Lady Monroe, and her daughter, Prudence, are here.”

“Very well.” Evangeline closed her book and placed it on the bench beside where she was sitting. “Tell her I’ll be down momentarily.”

One stair at a time, Evangeline ensured her footing, doing her best to ignore the gazes that followed her progress. Despite her mother continuing the conversation, Lady Monroe and her daughter did not tear their gazes away from Evangeline. Even when she finally took the final step and made her way to the settee, the older woman continued to stare.

“My goodness,” her aunt said after Evangeline greeted her. “I certainly thought the last treatment would provide some kind of improvement to your leg. But you are still as encumbered. Your limp is quite pronounced.”

“Perhaps she will remain that way,” Prudence added, her wide eyes meeting Evangeline’s with feigned innocence.

How her mother and this woman could be sisters perplexed Evangeline.

The sisters were complete opposites. Her mother was blonde, beautiful and kind, while her aunt had dark brown hair and a permanent crease between her brows as she was permanently displeased about everything.

“She is doing much better.” Evangeline’s mother attempted to smile, but it was evident to Evangeline that she was not pleased with Lady Monroe’s rude comment. “We have decided to allow Evangeline a respite from any more treatments.”

“I suppose one can only do so much,” her aunt replied.

Evangeline gave her aunt a bland look. “I am so very grateful you care so much about my treatments, Auntie.”

Put in her place, her aunt turned to the doorway. “Is tea being brought all the way from China?”

“The spring social season is upon us. Isn’t it exciting?” Prudence said with overly exaggerated glee. “We came to deliver an invitation in person. They are so very lovely,” Prudence gushed. “You will be a dear and help me with the flower arrangements again this year, won’t you?”

For the last several years, the Monroes hosted the first ball of the season. And every time, they would invite Evangeline to be part of the planning. Which was a nice gesture on their part, while at the same time a stark reminder of how excluded