Bella, Mrs. Potter, and Maria gathered in the South Drawing Room. They sprinkled a mixture of salt and rose water around the windows and pianoforte but nowhere else.
“Do you really think it will work, ma’am?” Maria asked Mrs. Potter.
“It is worth a try, isn’t it?”
Maria frowned. “Unless it stirs her up something awful.”
“There, that’s the last of it for this room,” Bella said. “Now the book said to say the blessing three times while we join hands.”
The ladies formed a circle and repeated the strange words written on the yellowing page of a spell book. If they expected whooshing winds and loud banging from a discontent ghost, they were disappointed.
“How do we know if it worked?” Maria asked.
“I will retrieve Lady Rosalyn. We should go about business as usual but stay close.”
Bella went upstairs and found Rosie playing nicely with Jenny. “Lady Rosalyn, shall we try another music lesson?”
“Yes!” the girl raced to the door.
“Manners! Ladies do not run and gallop like horses.”
Rosie laughed but obliged. Arriving in the drawing room, Bella watched her charge closely. “Join me on the piano bench.”
Bella hesitated just before she reached the threshold of the salt. “Come along,” Bella said and patted the space beside her. “When we finish Cook has the strawberry biscuits you like.”
Rosie smiled and rushed forward, eagerly climbing up on the pianoforte bench. “Put your finger here,” Bella pointed to middle C on the keyboard.
Rosie obeyed and applied herself diligently for several minutes before her eyes wandered to the large windows. “Focus, Lady Rosalyn. A few more minutes and then we may take a break for the biscuits.”
“Miss Beauley,” Rosie whined, “I’m tired.” Rosie leapt down from the piano bench. “Can I look outside?”
Bella frowned. “You must make a choice. You can misbehave and be sent to the nursery, or come back and finish your lessons. If you show me you can listen then we can open the windows and enjoy the breeze while we eat our biscuits.”
“Mother wants me to come to the window,” Rosie chewed her bottom lip.
“What do you want to do?”
“Won’t I be a bad girl if I do not listen to my mother?”
Bella took Rosie’s hand and gave an affectionate pat. “I think you’re a good girl no matter what but there are consequences for bad choices.”
“What kinds of consequences?”
“No biscuits, for one. You will also not earn my trust.”
Rosie looked back and forth between the window and the bench several times before taking a step toward the bench. Then she stopped and Bella could see the child was trembling.
“Lady Rosalyn, is something wrong?”
“She is very angry,” Rosie whispered.
“Are you scared?”
Rosie nodded her head. “Come here,” Bella held out her hands. “She cannot hurt us here. We put a protective enchantment around the pianoforte.” As she said the words, Bella prayed they were true.
Rosie reached for Bella and climbed onto the bench. The temperature in the room dropped by several degrees.
“She is angry the windows will not open for her,” Rosie said.
Bella smiled triumphantly. It was working! “I had noticed she likes to play with them.”
A pillow from a sofa suddenly floated from its resting place. Then it soared through the air toward a window. Bella held her breath. Would it reach the window, or would the enchantment protect it?
The pillow fell to the ground before reaching the window, as though it met an invisible wall. Next, a vase followed its path. The loud clatter on it crashing on the ground caused Rosie to jump. Bella put her arms around her and pulled her close. “You are safe. She cannot hurt you.”
Tears rolled down Rosie’s cheeks. “Do you promise?”
“Yes, little one. His Grace and I and everyone in the Castle cares for you. We wish you to be free of your mother.”
“But doesn’t she love me?”
The confusion and hurt in Rosie’s face broke Bella’s heart. She wiped her student’s tears away as things continued to crash around the room. “Your mother was not well. Has no one told you?”
Bella suddenly realized that no one had told Rosie that mothers do not generally haunt their children. Rosie shook her head as confirmation. “My mother died a few years ago. I miss her very much.”
“Why do you miss her?”
“Because I cannot see her or speak with her anymore.”
“Like the princesses in the story?” Rosie’s eyes went round.
“Are you a princess?” Rosie regarded Bella with wonder.
Furniture scraped across the room and Bella wondered how long Celia would throw her fit. Did ghosts fatigue? At the same time, she knew that the other servants were spreading the mixture about the house. When they were finished, Celia would be locked in this room. “Heavens no!”
“You’re as pretty as princess!” Rosie said and squeezed her tightly.
“I do not think so, but thank you. Normally, when a person dies their soul leaves this world.” Rosie looked at her in confusion. “Have you seen a bouquet of flowers wilt?”
Rosie nodded and Bella continued. “Everyone must die, Rosie. Some may die young and some die old, but like the flowers they do not suddenly bloom again. They cannot persist living. Only an unfinished soul will stay on the earth.”
“Why did Mother not vanish?”
“She greatly disliked His Grace and wanted to hurt him. She does not mind using you to do so.” After Bella’s speech there was a flurry of crashes about the room. Bella could see Rosie felt conflicted by the information, but also afraid of her mother’s actions.
“Doesn’t she love me?” Rosie whispered.
“My dearest, I do not know if she can love anyone. Some people are deficient in loving others. It means there is something wrong with them not the others in their life. You are perfectly loveable.”
“No one loves me!” Rosie wailed.
Bella rubbed her back through her sobs. “I love you and everyone in the Castle loves you.”
“His Grace does not,” Rosie sniffled.
“Did you know he has a magic mirror?” Rosie shook her head. “And it only shows what a person most loves. He sees you in it.”
“He does?” The look of fragile hope in Rosie’s eyes, made bluer from the tears, made Bella’s heart weep.
“He does. Would you like to see it?” Rosie slowly nodded her head. “You are not afraid of him?”
“He is big and scary like a monster. He has fangs. There are big ugly marks all over his face.”
If Rosie had said such things to Bella mere days ago, she would have scolded the child for meanness. Now, Bella assumed Rosie saw the curse on him. And yet, it sounded like Leo saw the same image when he looked in the enchanted mirror. Leo and Rosie described Bella as beautiful, and she had seen herself as such in the mirror. What had Leo said? It reflected one’s true self? She refused to believe that of Leo. When she looked in the mirror, she saw him a man fit to be Adonis.
“When I am afraid, I like to learn more about it,” Bella said. “What if you learn more about His Grace?”
“You will be with me?”
“Yes, of course,” Bella said.
Rosie nodded her head but still trembled. “She won’t like it.”
“She will simply have no choice. Hold on to me,” Bella said and slipped a necklace over the child. Inside the locket was the enchanted mixture*.
Confidently, Bella stood and Rosie jumped into her arms. “We are leaving Celia. Enjoy the prison you have made for yourself. You will never hurt Rosie again.”
Bella forced herself to walk calmly through the room and remain unflinching even when objects flew around her. They could not touch her or Rosie. As she came to the door, a figure appeared before her. The woman was dressed in black. Her face looked like fruit rotting from the inside and Bella was sure it reflected the woman’s heart.
Boldly, Bella meet the ghost’s eyes and raised her chin. Then reaching forward, turned the door handle and walked out of the room, allowing the door the slam behind her. Heart pounding and trembling, she stepped forward and into Leo’s waiting arms.
“You were magnificent!”
Leo sighed with relief when Bella collapsed into his arms. He almost missed how Rosie pulled away from him in fright. It caused him to loosen his hold earlier than he would have liked. He had watched through the mirror the entire scene, heard every word, saw every broken glass. It took all his restraint to not storm into the room to defend his ladies.
Collecting herself, Bella stood straighter and put Rosie on her feet. “Your Grace, Lady Rosalyn would enjoy a visit with you, if you would suggest a room?”
“Certainly,” he said after a civil bow to the child. “I suggest the library.”
They walked in silence and he did not miss Rosie’s reticence. She tightly gripped Bella’s hand. When they reached the library, he asked the ladies to be seated. “I brought out some of my favorite books when I was a child. I didn’t know what you liked,” he told Rosie. “I will read anything you choose.”
Obviously tempted, she released Bella’s hand to look through the covers. Selecting one with a princess in a tower, she nearly tossed the book at him and rushed back to Bella’s side. He supposed it was an improvement from being kicked at. Overall, not a bad reaction for a man who looked as beastly as he.
Bella smiled encouragingly at him, and he was lost. Leo read and as he did so, he saw Bella soften. She nearly transformed and looked at him in interest instead of disgust. “What is it poppet?” He asked when he was finished.
“What did you do to your teeth?”
Leo briefly covered his mouth. For years now, what he saw in the mirror affected his sensibilities even if he knew others still saw him as a man. “What do you mean?”
“Your fangs are gone. And your scars aren’t big and angry anymore.”
“We all change,” Bella said sweetly.
“You look nicer since meeting Miss Beauley,” Rosie said matter-of-factly.
“I am very grateful to have met Miss Beauley. Now, do you think I shall become too beautiful?” he teased and felt his heart lift when she giggled.
“Your Grace is very silly,” Bella said but beamed.
“Have you changed, Rosie? You no longer scream when you see me.”
“Do I look different too?”
Bella cleared her throat. “Lady Rosalyn spoke of asking to see your magic mirror.”
“May I see your mirror…” Rosie trailed off and Leo awkwardly realized this was his first real conversation with the child who clearly had no idea how to address him. He really had been quite cruel and insensitive to her feelings. Bella looked at him anxiously.
“What kind of Papa would I be if I refused such a kind request?”
Bella smiled so widely, Leo felt like the sun had suddenly came burst into the room. Rosie looked relieved.
“You must sit here,” he said and patted the seat next to him.
He felt a twinge of guilt. With any luck, Celia would be banished forever from influencing Rosie again but in other ways nothing had changed. Leo still accepted his imminent demise. It was hardly fair to finally claim parentage just to die weeks later. By the same token, she deserved at least one loving parent at some time in her life. He could not forget, however, his plans involving Morgan.
Gently, Leo pulled the mirror from his pocket and learned close to Rosie, curious to see what she would see. “Look, Papa! Your face is almost all better!” she cried.
To Leo’s amazement, he saw it as well. He ran a hand over his jaw, stretched up past his cheeks and along one temple. His skin looked—and felt—flawless. “What else do you see?”
“I’m happy!” she cried gaily. “I see my teeth when I smile!”
Again, Leo was ashamed to admit he did not know Rosie’s usual smile, but assumed she, like him, usually had a different reflection in a mirror before.
The clock struck three and Bella stood. “Rosie, it is time for us to return to the nursery for our biscuits. His Grace is expecting visitors this afternoon and if you are good for Miss Jenny and Miss Maria, perhaps you can see them before bed.”
Rosie happily agreed. Just before jumping down from the sofa, she gave Leo a kiss on the cheek. If Leo had not thought it before, he was certain now. His heart had been made of ice, but a large chunk just thawed off.
Like the ladies, he went upstairs to change. An hour later, he awaited his guests in the downstairs drawing room. Bella arrived moments later looking refreshed and as pretty as ever. If he was not destined to die on Rosie’s sixth birthday, his impending plans for Bella would surely kill him anyway. They chatted and focused on small talk. Neither mentioned Celia by unspoken agreement, they would not mention her while guests were in the Castle.
An hour later, his heir, Lord Morgan, and his sister arrived. Morgan was in his mid-thirties, tall and athletic with just a touch of grey around the temples. He seemed everything gentlemanly and proper. As a young man, Leo had watched that sort of personality from a distance with loathing. Flattery and wit did not come easily to Leo. He had never mastered the art of putting others at ease, he often felt so uncomfortable himself. Today, he told himself Bella deserved nothing less.
Morgan’s sister, Mrs. Alice Hammond, was the older of the two siblings. She paid no special attention to Leo and with the age difference, he grew ashamed of his earlier prejudice. Mrs. Hammond was restrained but friendly.
“You must be tired after your journey,” Leo said after the usual topics of small talk were exhausted. “Dinner will be served at six. If you would like to refresh yourselves before then, please allow Miss Beauley to show you to your rooms.”
His guests agreed and as they were leaving, he called out with a seemingly impromptu request that Morgan join him for drinks in his study before dinner in three quarters of an hour. The gentleman agreed and Bella performed her role as mistress perfectly.
At the appointed time, Morgan returned and Leo waged into his plans. After asking questions to learn the man was financially solvent and upstanding, if relatively boring, he admitted the truth.
“I confess I was happy to hear that your father had already passed and you are the heir.”
“You must be thinking of marriage soon.”
Morgan took a sip of his port. “Few ladies seem interested in an aging baron.”
“The right sort of lady would not mind,” Leo said while thinking of Bella’s kind heart. “I will cut to the chase. I have an illness and am assured I shall not live many weeks hence.”
His guest’s face paled. “Is it certain?”
“As certain as we can be. You will be the Fourth Duke of Erroll by the end of the year.”
“I am sorry to hear it,” Morgan said and he seemed genuine in his feelings. Leo cursed him for being so perfect.
“You must know that only the title goes to you. I have made arrangements, however, for a large piece my personal estate to go a you on a few conditions.”
“That is unnecessary…”
Leo interrupted. “Hear my conditions before you accept or refuse.” He waited for Morgan’s agreement. When it was gained, he continued. “I will choose your bride and you will be guardian to Lady Rosalyn. Half my fortune and the estates will go to you but you must never allow Lady Rosalyn to return to the Castle.”
Morgan’s eyes grew round with wonder and then he crossed his legs and assumed a business-like mien. “It is an excellent offer but I would be a fool to accept unless I knew the value of what you’re talking about.”
“Your share is valued at three million pounds and the annual income would be ten thousand pounds. My solicitor has already sent documents to yours. You should receive confirmation of the legitimacy of my claim in a few days.”
“And the bride?” Morgan appeared disinterested but Leo knew the man would not turn down such a sum.
“Miss Arabella Beauley.”
Morgan suddenly sat up erect. “The governess? I can hardly make a servant my duchess!”
Leo leaned forward. “For three million pounds you can. She is the daughter of a Scottish baron. Beautiful, collected, calm—”
“A favorite of yours, then? I will not suffer to raise another man’s child. Marry her yourself or pay her off.”
Annoyed at the assumption, Leo feigned indifference and shrugged. “Are you certain you wish to risk that? I could legitimize a male heir.”
Morgan furrowed his brow. Clearly he had not considered that before. There would be time later to set the record straight. For now, Leo just needed the man’s agreement.
“Very well,” Morgan said.
“And you shall court her properly.”
“Of course,” Morgan said.
“We are hosting a small ball next week. It is the first time the Castle has hosted one in half a decade. We will introduce you as betrothed. You will wed in three weeks, before my passing.”
“Is that all?” Morgan stood and sneered, revealing his true personality after all.
“I have nothing else to say to you. You are dismissed.”
After the man left, Leo wondered why it felt like he had just made a bargain with the devil.