A Phantom Courtship is put on hold because Jenni James and I got to talking and we decided our Paranormal Regency should be Fairy Tales! I’m so excited!! And super nervous! My first completed non-JAFF is a fairy tale! I feel like that’s all kinds of pressure!! So, what I’m posting here is the rough draft. I’m sure some things will change in the editing process. Despite my nerves, I’m really pretty proud of this. I’m not sure if there are any other Regency Paranormal Fairy Tales! As I said on Facebook, you’ve never read Cinderella (Jenni’s story) and Beauty and the Beast like this before!!
“You’re a monster, Erroll! You never loved me!”
“Celia, come down from there. Be reasonable,” Leonard Sundridge, third duke of Erroll called up to his deranged wife. Her behavior had become increasingly erratic since the birth of her child mere months ago. She now stood on the railing of the master staircase of his ancestral home. If she slipped, her death would be immediate.
“Tell me I’m wrong!”
“You’re wrong,” Leo said as calmly as he could.
She immediately smiled, but he was lying, of course. Love had nothing to do with their marriage. She married him to become a duchess, and he married her because of her political connections. Now, however, he would lie on his father’s grave to end the scene unfolding. The problem, however, was that this scene unfolded nearly daily. Celia’s demands ever increasing and unattainable.
“Then you’ll let me go to Desmond’s dinner?”
“Anything you want. Just come down,” Leo pleaded.
She obliged. As her bare feet touched the plush carpet she suddenly looked every inch the regal duchess he married two years ago. Holding her head high, she walked off to ready herself for her lover’s dinner.
After the first incident, Leo had stood rooted in place, panting for breath and trembling with fear, anger, and embarrassment as servants swirled around him to clean up the mess of broken vases her tantrum had caused. This time, he turned and walked steadily to his study. After arriving, he pulled the servant bell, and his housekeeper appeared a moment later.
“Tell your husband to do it tonight, Mrs. Potter.”
“As you wish,” she said and dropped a curtsy.
“I will depend on your discretion,” Leo said before she left.
Sitting in his favorite chair before the fire, he stared at it, too numb to allow any thought. In a short time, Leo’s valet Potter arrived. The well-trained servant’s feet were whisper quiet on the Aubusson rug. His figure cast shadows around the dark, wood-covered walls.
“Are you certain this is the best way?”.
“I will not become a laughing piece,” Leo said through gritted teeth. Family honor had been beaten into him, and he would not be the weak link. “Send her away to the place you found and make quick work of it. You contacted Desmond?”
“Yes. He agreed that Her Grace seemed unstable, and he would weather the storm of an alleged elopement.”
“Then do it tonight.” Leo expected Potter to obediently turn, but the man hesitated.
“But the child?”
“Did Desmond confirm when their affair began?”
The blush that crept over Potter’s face was confirmation enough. The beautiful baby that now laid in the nursery was impossible to be his. It was proof of Celia’s deceit long before her mental unbalance. Now, he had an admission from one of the several possible fathers and could sue for divorce if he desired. But again, he did not wish to look too much a fool.
“The child shall stay. There is nothing to be done for, but Celia will never see her. As far as Rosalyn will know, her mother died.”
Potter said nothing, but his disapproval dripped off his frame.
“You’re dismissed,” Leo said.
Some would call him cruel for sending away his mad, adulterous wife but he would do far more to ensure the pride of the Sundridge legacy. To steel his conscience, he poured himself a drink and welcomed the dull burn down his throat. A moment later he fell to the ground and did not awaken until he felt flames leap all around him and heard a maniacal laugh.
“I knew you lied, Erroll,” Celia cackled. “I knew you didn’t love me. Couldn’t love me. That is why I aimed to hurt you with my unfaithfulness.”
Groggily, Leo pushed up on his arms and could make out his wife standing in the door frame with a bundle in her arms.
“Wanted to make my Rosie think I was dead? Keep me from my child?”
“Celia, help me,” he pleaded. He had no command of his legs.
“The joke was on me. You are incapable of love! There’s no human heart in you! A beast you are! Just like your father!”
Rage built in Leo’s chest as he heard familiar accusations. His mother had said those words to him in the cradle more than she had ever sung to him.
“Then you will kill me?” he asked hollowly. Leo nearly welcomed it.
“Kill you? That would be too easy! I’ve cursed you!”
Ignoring his wife’s words, Leo looked for an exit. He had been hesitant to feel fatherly toward the child now crooked in Celia’s arms, but the smoke in the room was getting thicker and surely even harder for Rosalyn to breathe through. Feeling crept back into his legs.
“You neglected me, Erroll. Neglected me and I learned. I have powers you would not believe. Knowing your ending will drive you mad.”
She was right. He paid no heed to her lunatic words. He focused all his energy on garnering the strength to move.
“You are cursed to be unloved! If you have not found true love by my Rosie’s sixth birthday–three times as long as our marriage–you will die. And you shall be called a fool, looked on with pity and despised,” she rambled on.
Holding onto the anger the image of him becoming such provoked, he stood to his feet. With a loud roar, he charged toward his wife just as the ceiling came crashing down on them.
Arabella Beauley shaded her eyes as she approached her home after a summer stroll. The setting sun was blinding from this angle but at last, she mounted the hill, and the tall structure of her family’s house provided shade. Her father came from a prosperous merchant family. Generations ago, one of them bought a Scottish barony and built the house. A century ago the family lost precedence when the Act of Union with England occurred. Scottish baronies now held little pride of place, but her family clung to the title distinguishing them from their common neighbors.
A servant paced the entrance. Her eyes scanned, undoubtedly, for Bella.
“Sarah, what is it?”
“Oh, miss! Come quick! It’s the mistress!” Bella rushed past the maid, who called after her. “In her chambers, miss!”
Taking the stairs at an unladylike speed, Bella reached her mother’s room in a matter of seconds. Heart pounding, she opened the door without knocking.
Then, she stopped in her tracks. Her father hugged her two younger sisters in the corner, and her brother stared at the fire. Why was everyone so quiet and still? Why was everyone doing anything?
“Here, child,” the housekeeper took her by the arm and led her to her mother’s bed. Her face was pale and breathing shallow. Scrutinizing her mother’s form, Bella noticed her mother’s stomach no longer appeared rounded with child.
“The baby?” she asked as tears welled in her eyes.
“Too early,” the housekeeper said. “He never had a chance.”
“Mama?” Bella whispered as she took her mother’s ice cold hand in hers. She did not expect her mother to say a thing. It was all too clear she had only minutes to live.
“Bella?” Lady Beauley’s eyes fluttered.
“I’m here,” her voice came out as a whisper.
“I know, Mama. Rest,” Bella urged. Would she wake from this nightmare?
“Anything.” Tears rolled down Bella’s cheeks.
“Look after the children…”
“No, no. Don’t talk like that. Rest and then you’ll recover. Dr. Adams will visit–”
“Help your father…”
“No more talking. We’ll bring you some laudanum.”
Bella stood to walk to the nearby table. Weeks ago the doctor had prescribed the tonic to assist sleep.
“No!” Lady Beauley whispered with all the strength she could. Bella returned her gaze to her mother. “Promise,” the dying lady said.
Bella’s lips trembled as her mother’s breathing became more erratic.
“Yes. Yes, Mama. I promise,” she said and collapsed to her knees, resting her head on the bed while sobs racked her body. She gripped her mother’s hands tightly but the invalid lacked the strength to return it.
“She’s gone,” the housekeeper announced.
Bella raised her head and saw the eyes of her family shiny and blinking in disbelief.
“What shall we do, Bella?” her ten-year-old sister Catherine asked.
As the others, even her father, looked at her with the same expectant helplessness, Bella squashed the desire to sob until she could no longer make noise.
“We will live,” she said as a cold chill ran down her spine.