Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewtiched Sisters, Chapter One part 2

Road in dark forest

Here’s the second part of Chapter One! I really like how we get more of Darcy’s point of view in this version.

London

September 23, 1811

 

Fitzwilliam Darcy now just under thirty, with the same dark hair and piercing blue eyes of his youth, leafed through several letters of recommendations. He brushed an unruly and curly lock slightly to the side.

“Richard,” Darcy said in a deep but distinct voice, “I think Mrs. Annesley is the one.”

Richard, around the same age as Darcy and wearing Regimentals, took a sip of wine before replying. “I believe you’re right, which will come as no surprise to you.” He assumed an exaggeratedly pompous posture as his companion scowled. “Fitzwilliam Darcy is never wrong.”

“Very amusing,” Darcy scowled. These days, he felt like everything he did was wrong. “Has she spoken to you at all?”

“No. Father and I only get one-word answers. Mother gets little more. When we mention her returning here, she bursts into tears.”

Darcy glared as Richard drained his glass as though there was nothing unusual with what he just said.

“Well, if you’re sure her references all check out, then I’ll be off. The Major has complained about my absences recently. You’ll be ready for Georgiana at the end of the month?”

Darcy’s grip on the papers tightened. He had checked Mrs. Annesley’s references three times personally and employed half a dozen others to do so as well. He would not be caught unawares again. It was all entirely his fault, but Georgiana could not bear the devastation she almost caused by her planned, but thankfully interrupted, elopement. “Yes. I think redoing the upstairs drawing room will excite her. And by then I will be free of daily correspondence with my steward at Pemberley. I do not want any distractions when she returns.”

Richard stood and shook his head. “You’ll frighten her more if you hover. Don’t treat her like a child — ”

“That is precisely what she is!” Darcy said with a quietness that belied his intense feelings and the temperature in the room dropped. “I never should have allowed her to go to Ramsgate, or to entrust her care to a woman who was not a relation.” His sister, twelve years his junior, was all he had left of his family. His parents had believed he would protect her and instead his selfishness nearly led to her ruin.

“You will not always live with her,” Richard said. “Someday she will marry, and you will have to have faith that man will see to her wants and needs. You will have to trust Georgiana…and yourself,” he added softly.

Rather than replying to his cousin, Darcy turned his attention to other correspondence. His mentor wrote to him of a group of ladies in Hertfordshire that he expected to come into magical powers very soon. The General reminded him of his duty to his mother’s memory. He alone knew all of her prophecies — which ultimately got her killed — and he alone could determine if these sisters fit the prophecy of restoring balance to the forces of good and evil.

Darcy did not need the reminder. He could never forget his duty, even as he loathed the requirement. Did anyone understand the pressure he felt having to straddle two worlds? The mortal world required he present the face of a typical English gentleman: impeccable manners, landlord, with a healthy interest in sporting, ladies, politics, concern for over taxation, and his estate’s drainage ditches. To be entirely mortal would mean sacrificing his magical heritage. The magical world, however, desired he fully embrace his legacy. Yet, how could he want to live in a world which killed his loving mother? A world that now thought they had endless claims on him no matter that he had his own desires. Both worlds had one thing in common: they expected him to marry one of their own.

Memories washed over Darcy. His father and mother had a love story the likes of which few could understand. However, his mother had kept her powers a secret and the older Mr. Darcy did not take to the truth very well. Especially as he only became aware of his wife’s abilities when he began having premonitions himself. It was proof that they were true soul mates but put the Darcy family into even more trouble when the Caligo took over.

While Mr. Darcy had been called away on Council business, Caligo struck at Pemberley. Even now, that day haunted Darcy. If he had been braver, he would have protected his mother instead of hiding. He could have prevented her death, and that tormented him more than any concerns about weaknesses in the magical world. In the years that followed, Darcy’s father could hardly look at the boy who led to his wife’s demise.

“What a monstrous frown, Cousin,” Richard interrupted Darcy’s musings.

“News from the General.”

Although Darcy did not serve in the military or the magical community’s counterpart the agmen, he headed the Cabinet of Premonition. In particular, he had taken over his father’s tasks of investigating claims of an ancient prophecy regarding three sisters who would restore the balance of power between good and evil. His mother had the sight and became a renowned oracle. In her later years, most of her prophecies proclaimed the impending arrival of the Bewitched Sisters. Darcy did not realize it at the time, but most of the things his mother taught him, from nursery rhymes to fables, held some degree of memorizing her prophecies. The instruction served as insurance should she be killed and evil infiltrate the Council.

“He and the family will return to their estate in Hertfordshire around Michaelmas to investigate a claim to the prophecy.”

“Ah,” Richard said with raised eyebrows. “So it begins again. Are you ready for it?”

Darcy sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I only wish I did not have to leave Georgiana, but she must stay.” In the years since he had become Minister of Prophecy, he had investigated many claims between sisters.

“This is the first time you will be staying with the Tilneys, however,” Richard said. “Bingley’s sister—”

“I know she’s a devious, grasping woman, and a powerful witch. I will not fall prey to her wiles — magical or mortal.”

“I did not mean to insinuate you would,” Richard raised his hands to cease Darcy’s tirade. “I only worry about the added stress you must bear.”

“Thank you,” Darcy gave his cousin a soft but sincere smile.

He had few he could count on and few who understood him. Richard had reason to fear Darcy’s travels to Hertfordshire with the General. Tilney’s first wife had died five years ago, and he remarried last year. It was not a love match by any means. Mrs. Bingley was still lovely at forty and had a substantial fortune. Additionally, she had a noble magical legacy. Darcy, however, had reason to rejoice and mourn the match. His good friend Charles Bingley was now the General’s step-son, and that would naturally help advance his career and position in both worlds. On the other hand, Charles’ sister Caroline had set her cap at Darcy years ago and would not give him up.

“I had best be off,” Richard said and stood. “Give my regards to Charles and Henry.”

“Is that all you wish me to do?” Darcy asked with a raised brow.

“Oh, I’ll be around with a letter for Ellie. Why would I trust you to give her my sentiments? She might just as easily fall for my loving words from your rich mouth.”

Darcy laughed. “She is far too intelligent for that.”

“That she is,” Richard smiled and agreed. “She loves me, after all.” The gentlemen shared a laugh and Richard took his leave.

After his cousin had left, Darcy perused the General’s letter again. It was an unusual set of circumstances. Mr. Bennet had two daughters. The eldest was an empath, and the younger had the ability to create and control fire. His step-daughter had just come out and was rumored to have the sight. However, Darcy did not think as step-sisters they would have the required bond to manifest the strength of the Bewitched Sisters. Additionally, their powers were currently bound, and while they would soon be released, they would be utter novices at the craft. It seemed unlikely they would fulfill the prophecy, but Darcy’s duty required he examine them anyway. Too many mortals and witches both had perished in the last twenty years. Once peace was restored, Darcy could have the peaceful country existence he had always craved.

Beauty’s Mirror- Chapter Nine

beautys-mirror-2Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Bella sagged into her bed at the end of a long day. She had been home for a week and immediately cast into her old position of servant and housekeeper for her family. Her sisters seemed barely shocked that she arrived without notice, or without them writing to her, and instead seemed annoyed at her being away at all. That she came with no gifts for them, they found equally insulting.

Her father did not seem as ill in truth as she had seen in the mirror. Or perhaps she was merely finished with treating him as an infant for every minor ailment. Yesterday, he admitted the reason she had been requested as governess was because he had tried to take Rosie from the house.

Bella could understand how it must have seemed to her father, but she could not excuse his deceit in leading her to believe the arrangement was because of George’s debt. When she defended Leo and his relationship with Rosie, her father insisted she was wrong and sent her to the kitchen. As far as Bella could tell, the only person that seemed to appreciate her presence was Cook.

She rubbed her aching feet and then stretched her back. The truth was, she had eagerly launched herself into Leo’s troubles. It seemed she felt some innate need to rescue people. The difference was she felt appreciated at the Castle and Leo never took her assistance for granted.

“Enough about him. You knew him only a few days and in the end…” Bella trailed off. For, in the end, he proved exactly what she had seen in the beginning. Perhaps not exactly, but neither was he what she had believed him to be.

“George was right,” she mumbled before she fell asleep. She needed to find some way to live life on her terms.

The next morning, Bella awoke at her usual time and immediately began chores. By mid-morning, she had accomplished much of her to do list. The difference between planning a fine meal and ball for a duke and scrubbing in her father’s house was stark, however. Unexpectedly, she heard a vaguely familiar male voice calling out in the hall.

“I will see to it,” Bella told Cook.

Arriving upstairs, she stopped in her tracks. “Lord Morgan?” She rubbed her eyes in disbelief.

“Miss Beauley,” he executed a perfect bow, even as his eyes scanned her stained apron. “Forgive me. No one answered my knock.”

Bella hastily wiped her hands on the offending garment and then attempted to untie it. “Allow me,” he said and came behind her to undo the string. His presence unnerved her. Freed from the apron, she invited him to the drawing room.

“This is a fine home,” Morgan said, and Bella felt the weight of ridiculous small talk.

“May I ask why you are here, Lord Morgan?”

“You suddenly vanished, Miss Beauley. One minute we were enjoying each other’s company at Erroll’s ball and the next you left without a word.”

Bella blushed but raised her chin. “I would not say it was so sudden as that. I had previously left your side.”

Morgan nodded his head. “Yes, to dance with Erroll but you did not return to the ballroom. I worried.”

His tone sounded almost hurt and deeply concerned. “I apologize,” Bella said before recalling his plans with Leo. She would not be made to feel the villain here. “However, I believe you spoke with His Grace and did not seem concerned about my whereabouts then.”

Morgan’s eyebrows raised high. “You heard my conversation with Erroll?” Bella nodded her head but would not explain how. “And that offended you in some way?”

His incredulity was obvious to her. “That you both should consider I would marry a man I had just met, with knowing very little of his character or temper, yes. That I would marry him without so much as being asked, moreso. I suppose you believed I would marry you based on your rank and wealth alone. To me, that is the highest insult.”

Bella had stood and begun pacing during her speech. “To think that Mrs. Hammond’s friendship was nothing but an insincere ploy!”

Lord Morgan shot out of his chair at that charge and stood before her, ceasing her movement. “Alice’s friendship was genuine. Do not lay such a charge on her feet. Will you listen to me?” He reached for her hand.

Bella pulled her hand away and turned her head. What could he say?

“It was Erroll’s idea!” He said angrily.

“I know!” Heat rushed into Bella’s cheeks.

“So you know that he loves you? I know he is ugly, but why not go back to him?”

“What?” Bella’s eyes snapped to his. She could not breathe as she waited for him to repeat the words.

“Erroll asked I marry you in exchange for half his income. I thought then that you were his mistress.”

“No!” Bella said and began to storm off.

“Wait! I apologize!” He called after her.

Bella whirled around, tears threatened to spill out of her eyes. “If he loved me, why would he wish I marry you?”

Morgan shrugged his shoulders. “He said he was dying. I assume he wished to protect you. He asked for me to become Lady Rosalyn’s guardian as well and to allow neither of you to enter the Castle again. If you want to know more, you would have to ask him.”

The world titled and Bella stumbled to a chair. She worked hard for breath, it felt as though someone stood on her chest. “Breathe, lass,” Morgan said as he thrust a glass of wine into her hand.

Oh, Lord. Leo loved her. He didn’t want to tell her because of the curse. Couldn’t he see that even if their time together was short, she would have rather spent it with him? He loved her enough to give her up. That was more than anyone had loved her before.

“How is he?” Bella asked when her mind began to calm. Morgan would not meet her eyes and remained silent. “Tell me!”

“We found him after you left. He had destroyed the South Drawing Room and was shouting, incomprehensibly. He was holding this,” Erroll held up the mirror.

“Where did you get that?”

“He has spent all day with Lady Rosalyn since you left. Every night he would hide in his study with books and the mirror—but it was broken. Four nights ago, I found him staring at this—whole, with no cracks. Tears filled his eyes and he chanted your name over and over again.”

Tears welled in Bella’s eyes. Leo must have consulted the magical books to find some way of fixing the mirror. And then his first desire was to see her?

“After he finally fell asleep, I took the mirror and determined to find you. I needed to understand what happened.”

“You can never understand,” Bella said and shook her head.

“Try to explain,” Morgan pushed.

Bella took in a deep breath and began to tell all she had experienced in the days since arriving at Leo’s Castle. Not caring if Morgan believed her tale, she needed to know how Leo and Rosie were. “Did anything unusual happen after Leo left the room? Was Lady Rosalyn safe?”

“If you mean to ask if this ghost of the duchess returned to haunting the Castle, I would say it did not appear so.”

“What use is that?” Bella cried and then recalled the mirror. “Let me see the mirror!”

Morgan handed it over. Bella watched as the mirror showed her George with a sword and breathing hard. “No, I do not worry about George now. Show me Leo! Show me the Duke of Erroll!”

Again, George appeared but this time, Bella noted he was not wearing fencing gear. Then, she saw Leo tossing a matching sword down. “I will not fight you, Beauley,” he said calmly.

“You will pay for what you have done!” George screamed and charged at Leo.

“No!” Bella cried in horror. Then, immediately a new fear emerged. “Rosie! Mirror, show me, Lady Rosalyn!”

Lord Morgan, disturbed by Bella’s reactions, leaned over her shoulder. They saw Rosie in a carriage, crying and begging to return back to the Castle.

“Who has her? Oh my goodness! What shall I do?” Bella stood to her feet and raced to the door. Her ring! It had allowed her to travel in the blink of an eye once before.

“Wait!” Morgan called after her.

Bella cast an impatient glance at him with her hand on the door.

“The carriage was mine. I believe my sister has chosen to take Lady Rosalyn from the Castle. We had discussed it before I left. If your brother is there and acting like a madman, Alice will do anything to ensure Rosalyn’s safety.”

Bella nodded her head. Of course, they had no idea of the curse and even Rosie did not understand why she could not leave. But, oh! Leo! Even now he could be dead. She only hoped she could get there in enough time to say goodbye.

“Thank you, Lord Morgan,” Bella said. She knew she had seemed hateful and ungrateful before. “I truly appreciate your coming. I must go, immediately. You do understand?”

“Of course,” Morgan said, and Bella raced up to her chamber. Sliding the ring on her finger, she twisted it and immediately stood before Sundridge Castle. Heart pounding, she ran toward the front entrance.

******

Leo lay panting on the floor of the great hall, blood pouring from the wound received by Bella’s brother. “I did not dishonor your sister!”

“No more lies! You called my debt and forced her to come here. And then you couldn’t keep your filthy hands off her!” George Beauley swung wildly, and Leo had only just enough energy to slide out of the way.

“No! She worked as a governess. You have heard lies.”

“I do not believe you! You killed your first wife. I am happy Bella got away before you ended her life too.” Beauley’s blade swiped Leo’s arm.

Were all Beauley males so hot headed? Even still, his words pierced sharper than the blade. Leo’s heart ached for missing Bella, but he too was glad she had left before he had ruined her life. She had become too embroiled with his concerns. And suggesting she marry Morgan? A life without love—for Morgan surely did not love Bella, no matter his pretty words on finding her enchanting—would be worse than death for her.

“Such an ugly, beastly thing. A monster. I would be doing the world a service to kill you,” Beauley said as he hovered over Leo.

“Do it, but ask if you think your sister would want you as a murderer. I already forfeited the duel,” Leo said, his chest heaving.

Beauley swore and took a moment to consider Leo’s words. Leo braced for the mortal blow. At this rate, his life was ending anyway. Before Beauley had made contact with his skin, and even now it was not a grave wound, Leo felt the life draining from him. Mrs. Hammond had taken Rosie away when a madman stormed into the house. His hours were numbered. Perhaps he had only minutes.

Suddenly, the door slammed open. “George!” Bella screamed.

Beauley immediately spun around and Leo jerked his head up, the movement making him dizzy. Forcing himself to focus, his eyes locked with Bella’s.

“Bella?” George asked amidst the confusion.

“George, stop this!” Bella demanded and walked closer.

“I am defending your honor,” Beauley said like a child blaming poor conduct on another one starting it first.

“My honor is entirely intact. I do not know what you have heard, but His Grace has always behaved well toward me.”

“But you came back so suddenly. Meg wrote to me of it. Then I heard of the ball. Several of the guests thought you were his mistress.” Leo said with far more disapproval than a man of the world such as he should have.

“Do you think I would do such a thing?” Bella asked angrily. “Do you really believe I would do that—even for you and your debt?”

George shifted his weight between his feet. “I hadn’t thought about it that way.”

“Of course you didn’t. Do you think he forced me? If he managed to force himself on me, what are the chances of me then being able to escape? Or that he would have me act as hostess for his ball and mistress of his estate?”

“Oh…” George said and dropped the sword with a loud clatter.

Bella approached her brother, and they spoke in hushed tones. Or perhaps it was that Leo’s ability to hear was diminished by the sound of his heartbeat in his ears and a rushing sound.

Unexpectedly, they grew very close.

“Leo,” Bella’s sweet voice whispered.

He tried to respond, and no sound came out.

“What is happening?” Bella asked, her voice shaking.

“I do not know…” George replied. “I swear I didn’t wound him that badly.”

“No…look! He’s glowing!”

Leo felt his eyes begin to flutter open and something the size of a large dog threw itself on his chest and wept bitterly.

“There, there. All will be well,” he said uncertain as to why a dog wept on him.

“Papa!” At last, the creature croaked out, and Leo recognized the mop of curly hair was Rosie.

“How did she get here?” Bella asked.

“She opened the door and jumped from the carriage,” a disembodied voice broke in.

“Love you, Papa. Love you!” Rosie cried over and over again, and the tears dropped on his chest.

Leo rubbed her back. “I love you too, poppet. Be a good girl for Mrs. Hammond.”

“But I want to live with you and Miss Beauley!” Rosie cried.

“Miss Beauley has to go home, sweet,” he said gently. Was this his afterlife? Living with Rosie was no hell, but no Bella could not make it heaven.

“I am home,” Bella said and Leo tried again to focus his eyes. “Hush, rest now,” she said, and Leo obeyed.

Leo could hear nothing else. Instead, he had the sensation of being lifted into the air as bright lights assaulted his eyes. He was filled with warmness. Then, everything went black.

After what felt like an eternity, Leo awoke. His eyes opened with ease. He took in his surroundings. Bella and Rosie were curled up next to him on a bed. Bella’s eyes fluttered open.

“You’re awake,” she said with a smile.

“I’m alive?” he asked.

Bella slowly nodded, her smile growing.

“I’m alive,” Leo repeated in disbelief. “How?”

“Rosie,” Bella said. “She would not go with Mrs. Hammond. She would not leave you. You were freed by her love.”

Leo looked over at the child sleeping on his side. He would have never guessed all those years ago that loving Rosie would have broken the curse.

“And you are…staying?” he asked.

“Yes,” Bella said and smoothed a hand over her skirt. What was she nervous about?

“I admit I am a bit jealous of Rosie.”

“You are?” Perhaps he was not recovered enough for he was not following the conversation very easily. “Why?”

“She has your love,” Bella said.

A low rumble sounded in Leo’s chest.

“Why is my affection humorous?” Bella asked and sounded hurt.

“I’m not laughing at your confession, only how you confessed it. You’re jealous of a five-year-old!”

“I’ll remind you that you’ve not given me any reason to not be jealous,” she said raising an eyebrow and he laughed again.

Lifting one of her hands to his lips, Leo bestowed a tender kiss. “I love you Arabella Beauley. I am not worthy of your esteem but would be greatly honored by your hand in marriage.”

“I love you Leonard Sundridge, and I promise to never leave your side again.” Bella picked up his hand and kissed it. “So, you see I must marry you,” she added with a playful grin.

“Your brother is not around to run me through, is he?”

Bella shook her head. “No, everyone has left for home. And I am home. Where I belong.”

Leo smiled, marveling at how it felt to do so. “Why do you think Rosie is the one who broke the curse?”

“Because I had loved you for weeks, you silly man! Trying to make me marry Morgan!”

“I thought to do it because—”

“I know, I know,” Bella said and Leo smiled again. For the rest of his life, he would be grateful for this woman. “Rosie said it first, though.”

“Say it again,” Leo said and he hugged her close.

“I love you, Leo. Now, look in the mirror,” Bella said as she retrieved the enchanted mirror from the bedside table. She handed it to him and then returned to her position with her head leaning on his chest.

For the first time, when Leo looked in the mirror, he saw his outward image reflected back. The love of Bella and Rosie had done that and freed him not just from Celia’s curse, but it allowed him to see the good in him. He would never feel unlovable again.

“There we are,” he said. “Two beauties and their tamed beast.”

“You were never a beast to me,” Bella said before kissing his cheek, “but you made me a beauty.”

“You have always been, but I will gladly tell you hourly if it will give you peace,” he said before claiming her lips.

“I knew it would be a happy ending,” Rosie said sleepily from his other side.

Leo laughed to himself. A happy ending indeed!

The End

Beauty’s Mirror- Chapter Eight

beautys-mirror-2Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Bella looked in the mirror in her dressing room and smoothed the gown. It had been a rush order for the dressmaker in the local village, but it was the most ornate gown she had ever worn. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach.

This night was to be a dinner and small ball with neighbors. Leo had asked her to act as hostess, and she had spent many hours, when not hunting for magical artifacts or reading the books for clues on how to end the curse, planning the evening with Mrs. Potter. Even more so, she would be blind to not notice Lord Morgan’s interest in her. It flattered her, and she could hardly conceive that she had gained the notice of a peer and future duke. The mirror in front of her was not Leo’s enchanted one, but when Bella looked in the mirror, she now saw a lady who had faced dangers and peril and came out stronger. She saw a woman who had the love of several friends instead of the mere necessity of her family. No, her physical features had not changed in the least, but Bella finally felt comfortable in her own skin.

“Oh, Miss Beauley,” Jenny sighed as she put the final touches on Bella’s hair.

“My brother will not be able to keep his eyes off you,” Mrs. Hammond had joined her and offered assistance.

Bella blushed. “Lord Morgan is very kind and civil.”

“Civil? I have never seen a man more smitten!” Mrs. Hammond gave the maid a conspiratorial look, “I think he may have selected his future duchess.”

“Me?” Bella jaw’s dropped to the ground. “Impossible!”

“He would be a fool to not see your worth.”

“Alice,” Bella said as Mrs. Hammond had asked her to call her last night after dinner. “I am nervous enough this evening.”

Alice nodded her head and allowed the subject to drop. “You are lovely, everything perfectly in place. You certainly look like you could be the real mistress of this estate. Surely that gives you some confidence?”

Bella smiled. It was nice to have an older woman to discuss matters with again. Alice was nearly old enough to be her mother but was more like an older sister. “It does.”

“And you could never claim to be ignorant. You will do splendidly!”

Toying with a necklace from Leo’s vault, Bella blew out a deep breath. She had managed her father’s household and her siblings. She had survived confrontations with a vengeful ghost and a trap intended to kill her. A dinner party and dancing she could navigate with her eyes closed. “I should check on matters again. You are certain you do not need my help, Alice?

“Jenny will be perfect. I will see you soon.”

The lady left, with the maid following after her. Just before leaving the room, the door connecting to Rosie’s nursery squeaked open. “You’re so pretty!” Rosie said in awe.

“Thank you,” Bella stooped down to speak with her on eye level.

Rosie shifted her weight from foot to foot. “Papa asked me to give this to you,” she held out a small box.

Bella took it and looked at it in wonder. Leo had already given her so much. His selflessness seemed unending.

“Lady Rosalyn?” Maria called from the nursery.

“Go now, love. Mrs. Potter has promised to send you up some of the sweets. Tomorrow I will tell you all about the ball.”

Rosie scampered off, and Bella opened the box from Leo. A note rested atop.

“A diamond does not compare to the sparkle of your eye. The finest jewels in the kingdom do not compare to the beauty of your soul. An enchanted ring for an enchanted beauty. Turn this ring and it will take you to your heart’s desire.”

Arabella held the note close to her heart for a moment. How did others see a beast? Leo was the kindest, gentlest man she had ever known. Looking in the box again, her eyes beheld the most beautiful ring she had ever seen. The diamond was a pale pink color and set as a rose. Bella slid it on over her gloves. It perfectly complimented her gown, complexion, and other jewelry.

Smiling radiantly, Bella left her chamber and descended the stairs. Guests would be arriving any moment, and she finally felt ready for the task. With the ring on her right hand, she felt as though she wore a special shield.

Unfortunately, she never had a moment alone with Leo to thank him for the gift. Lord Morgan monopolized most of her time. Leo had seemed to avoid her since Morgan’s arrival. At the moment he was circled by several female guests, each prettier and richer than the next. The dinner had gone perfectly, and now the ball had commenced. She had danced with Lord Morgan twice and several other gentlemen but craved a dance with Leo. As if he knew the nature of her thoughts, he turned, and his eyes met hers. Wordlessly, he left his companions and approached her.

“Miss Beauley, may I have the honor of this dance?”

“You may,” she smiled at him.

His brown eyes seemed guarded. All of his emotions were expressed in his eyes. She slipped her hand into his, and he led her to the dance floor. They spoke little during the set. They had always had an unspoken communion and tonight was no different.

And yet everything was different.

She had gentlemen paying her attention and had met so many people her head swirled to attempt to remember all the names. She had more stimulating conversation and laughed more than she had in many a week let alone a solitary evening. She felt she was on the verge of something great and wonderful. She even had a suspicion of what it was. Before she was ready for that, she desired to view her family in the mirror. A reminder of where she came from and who she once was would not be amiss. And she needed to know all was well without her.

“Leo, I wondered if I might use the mirror,” she asked as the dance ended.

The question caught him off guard, and he tensed. “All that I have is yours,” he smiled, and Bella imagined she felt the faintest of pressure added to her hand.

“I wanted to see how my family was doing,” she gave a shy smile.

“Of course. It would ease your nerves.” She nodded her head, and he pulled the mirror from his pocket. “Do not tarry too long,” he said as he put it in her hand.

Quickly agreeing, Bella departed to another room for privacy.

“Mirror, show me, my family.”

Bella watched in horror as she saw George ranting, drunk, at an assembled crowd. Next, she saw her home. Her father lay in bed, coughing. Meg and Kate talked in hushed tones wondering about a doctor and paying for it.

Fear seized her heart. Her family needed her! How could she choose between her family and Leo and Rosie?

“Mirror, show me,” she commanded, and the image changed to Leo in his study with Lord Morgan.

“Where is Miss Beauley, Erroll?”

“She will be along momentarily,” he took a sip of port.

“I know I fought this at first, but I am quite enchanted. She will make a splendid duchess.” Bella furrowed her brow. What did Morgan mean? He continued speaking. “You have selected a fine bride. Even Alice adores her.”

Leo said nothing but merely raised his glass in a mock toast.

Her hand flew to her mouth, and she thought she would be ill. Leo suggested Lord Morgan marry her? More than that! It seemed to be an entirely arranged matter, as though she had no choice or opinion. How could she have been so stupid and blind?

“A monster,” she muttered as she fled the room and tears streamed down her face. Leonard Sundridge, third Duke of Erroll was too arrogant, self-centered and selfish. And if she stayed a moment longer she might find herself betrothed to a man she knew little of but that she could never love him.

Tearing off her gown, she quietly changed into one of her old dresses and stuffed the remainder in a valise. Her elaborate hair she could not change. She would be unable to say goodbye to Rosie. Using the mirror, she saw the child sleeping peacefully. At least she had been able to bring the angel some peace.

Creeping down the stairs, Bella returned to Leo’s study to leave the mirror. One last time, she watched him in the mirror.

Leo stood before the fire of the parlor he spoke to Morgan in. His eyes looked pained and haunted. “Bella,” he said.

The mirror fell from her hands, startling Bella. It felt as though his eyes had been piercing hers, as though he could see her. Forgetting about Leo’s note, she worried the ring with indecision. Should she keep it as a reminder of the happy times she had here? Deciding to leave it behind, Bella began to slip the ring off her finger when suddenly the world began to spin and bright lights assaulted her eyes. Covering them, she cowered until the movement was over. When she opened her eyes, she stood before her family home.

*****

Leo looked around the ballroom and could not find Bella. Her crimson gown would stand out against the sea of white dresses. Her red tresses made her distinct amongst the brunettes and blondes assembled. More than that, his heart could recognize her without seeing her, and he knew without a doubt she was not in the ballroom. Leo saw Morgan looking around for her as well. The time drew near when their betrothal was to be announced.

For his own sake, Leo desired to get it over with. Earlier, Morgan drew him aside to thank him, and Leo had the distinct desire to punch him in the face. However, that would only serve himself. Bella needed a husband, and Leo would never dare the presumption she could love him. The things he could offer: a title, wealth, luxuries, meant nothing to her.

Leaving the ballroom, Leo looked in a nearby parlor. Pausing at the fireplace, he leaned his arm on the mantle as though to draw strength from the mighty flames. Resting his head against his arm, he stared at the fire as it danced. It reminded him of dancing with Bella and how gracefully she moved. At least he would not have to live long without her. Anguish ripped through him at the thought. “Bella,” he rasped out.

Taking a deep breath, he continued his search. After several minutes, he found the mirror, discarded on the floor and the glass cracked. But there was no trace of Bella. An unholy terror surged in his breast. Had Celia somehow harmed her? Had she been taken?

Leo raced to the South Drawing Room Bella had made into a prison for Celia. “Show yourself!” He demanded as he walked to the center of the room, tip toeing around the debris of his dead wife’s tantrum the week before. He had told the servants to leave the mess be.

He heard Celia’s unearthly cackle before she appeared before him. “I win,” she said as she circled around him.

“What have you done with her?”

“I have done nothing. It was all you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You showed her the selfish beast you really are. I suppose she did not like Lord Morgan.”

“Celia…” Leo said in an angry tone, although there was nothing he could do. Any threats he made would be empty, and she knew it.

“You and your silly mirror. Child’s play! You had a magical tool but had no idea how to work it! I heard her explain to Rosie how you thought it worked.”

“Did you possess it? You showed her something that made her leave?” Although Leo had been reluctant to explore the magical texts, he did use them to understand more about the items he had retrieved from Celia’s room. He had discovered the ring was enchanted and that the mirror could be used for goodness or darkness—just as Bella had hypothesized.

“I showed her the truth! Her family lies in tatters because of you. You were going to treat her no differently than a piece of horse flesh—given to any bidder.”

“That’s not true,” Leo roared and suddenly heard murmurs behind him.

“What’s the problem here?” Morgan asked and shuffled into the room.

“Bella,” Leo said helplessly. The pain he now felt was worse than when the fiery beam that killed Celia fell on him. It was worse than the pain of neither parent loving him.

“What’s wrong with Miss Beauley?” Mrs. Hammond asked.

“She’s left,” Leo said as he turned and saw a group of curious onlookers and realized he stood in the middle of a room full of broken rubble, holding a broken mirror in one hand and had been shouting at no one.

“Erroll,” Morgan said in a warning tone.

“Lady Fitzwalter, might I show you the library next?” Mrs. Hammond directed the group onward.

“Such a pity,” one person muttered.

“A shame. From such good stock,” said another.

“Killed his wife, I always said,” was the harsh whisper of yet another person.

“Unseemly. You simply can’t find good help these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if the governess had his child in her belly. The way she acted mistress of the house!” An accusatory voice said in nothing like a whisper at all.

“Now, see here!” Leo said and strode after the offender, but Morgan pulled on his arm.

“Let it be. Idle gossip.” Morgan shook his head. “She really ran off?” Leo’s stony silence was confirmation enough. “Any idea where she would go?”

“To her home, I would guess.”

“Where?”

“Near Dumfries. Mrs. Potter has the name. You will go to her?”

“It is the honorable thing to do.”

Leo scrutinized Morgan’s face. “Do you love her?”

“Do you?” Morgan asked in a half warning, half accusatory tone.

Leo made no answer and stalked off. He was done with the ball and heirs. As he left, he heard Celia’s mocking laugh echo down the hall. She had won in one way, but not another. They were still imprisoned together, and the curse was never further from being broken than now, but Rosie did not need to suffer for it.

Creeping into the nursery, he pulled a chair next to her bed as she slept. “I’m sorry I wasn’t the father you needed, Rosie. I’m sorry I wasn’t the man she needed.”

He fell asleep in the early hours of the morning, holding the mirror in his hand.

“Papa,” Rosie’s quiet voice awoke him.

“Yes, Poppet?” Leo asked as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

“Why are you here?”

“I..I needed to tell you something.” He got up and stretched. Sleeping in a chair was definitely one of the worse ideas he ever had. “Miss Beauley left last night to visit her family. They needed her more than we do.”

Immediately, Rosie’s face fell. Her lower lip trembled, and tears filled her eyes. “But she will come back to visit?”

“Maybe,” he said noncomittingly.

“Can we see her in the mirror?” Hope filled Rosie’s eyes.

Leo held it up. “It seems it broke, but I will read and see if I can mend it. In the meantime, let us have a bit of fun today.”

Rosie gave him a slight smile. He was uncertain what constituted as fun for a five-year-old, having no memories of enjoying childhood himself, but when one’s governess quit without replacement, surely a day in pursuit of recreation was called for.

There was now one month until Rosie’s birthday and Leo hoped they could spend the time in peace and the mutual missing of Arabella Beauley from their lives. Besides time spent with Rosie, fixing the mirror would be his chief concern. He needed to see Bella one last time.

Beauty’s Mirror- Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven

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.

“Yes.”

“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.”

How interesting!

“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.”

“Indeed?”

“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.

Beauty’s Mirror- Chapter 6

beautys-mirror-2Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

The next morning, Leo came down late to breakfast. Nor did he smile at Bella. He greeted her with civility, but that was all.

“Leo, when had you wanted to investigate the cave? Lady Rosalyn seems to only handle lessons until noon.”

“After noon, then,” he said and focused on his meal.

Bella hurried to finish her meal and then left. What had changed in him? But then, he was rude when they first met as well. It could very well be that yesterday was out of the ordinary for him.

It could also be that he was tired of her after spending much of yesterday and last night with her. When she awoke in her bed, she knew he must have assisted in her getting there. Bella blushed scarlet at the thought of Leo holding her in his strong arms.

Bella moved lessons with Rosie to the Kitchen. She thought perhaps with all the other distractions, at least Rosie would not fixate so much on the outdoors. Additionally, Bella could use small treats to motivate the child.

“Impressive, Lady Rosalyn! You know your letters very well!” Bella cheered her young charge on.

The child beamed with the praise. “Now, it is time to learn to write them. This is A,” Bella said as she wrote out the letter. Then she made an outline of the letter. “It’s your turn! Can you trace over the dots?”

Rosie grinned with triumph when she completed the task. Bella continued the lesson for a few more letters before changing to numbers. They then ate lunch.

“Go on and rest now, dear,” Bella told Rosie afterwards.

“Can you tell me a story?”

Bella glanced at the clock. Surely, Leo would understand if they met a few minutes late.

“Yes, but let us go to your room.”

“No! Here!” Rosie then crawled into Bella’s lap so she could not get up.

Bella furrowed her brow and exchanged glances with Jenny and Maria.

“Tell me a story about a princess,” Rosie said.

“Lady Rosalyn, we must always use our manners.”

“Can you please tell me a story about a princess?”

“Yes, of course. Anything else?”

Rosie nodded her head and dropped her voice. “She is an orphan.”

Bella gulped and looked at the maids again. “Very well.”

“And the ending must be happy,” she said and wiggled into a more comfortable position.

Bella smiled sadly at the young girl. What would be her happy ending? Suppressing her concern, she told a story of a princess locked in a castle. A dragon had captured her and received ransom several times. Finally, a prince charged the castle and defeated the dragon.

When Bella looked down, Rosie had fallen asleep.

“How did you think of such things?” Jenny asked her.

“Growing up, I read everything I could. Before that, my mother made up stories for me.”

“It’s sad the miss don’t have a mother,” Maria said.

Jenny shook her head. “Got too much of a mother if you ask me.”

“That ain’t a mother,” Maria replied but did not say more. Bella understood what she meant, however.

“Too high born to make a difference, I reckon. No offense to you, Miss Beauley.”

“You are likely correct, Jenny,” Bella said. “My mother was not a peer but unusual in her rank for overseeing so much of her children.”

“Were you very close to her?” Jenny asked and leaned in close.

“I was,” Bella answered softly. “Not a day goes by that I do not miss her.”

“And the rest of your family?” Maria copied Jenny’s movements. “I’m sure they are missing you.”

Bella smiled. “I do not know. My sisters might not wish me back yet; I was quite the task master for them. I do miss them, and my father and brother,” she said.

Speaking of them pained her. She knew, though, that the pain would lessen in time. Additionally, Leo would probably let her check on them often.

The clock chimed the half hour. “Here, I’ll take her up to bed,” Jenny said. “I’ll have a footman carry her up all those stairs. You enjoy your afternoon.”

Bella smiled her thanks and contained a twinge of sadness as her arms were emptied of Rosie. The poor girl was so desperate for love and happiness. And now that Bella had known the love of a child, how could she let her go? All in all, she was pleased with Rosie’s progress for the day. She would be happier still if she could find a way to withdraw Celia’s hold on her.

Rosie rushed to the front hall. Leo stood pacing. “Miss Beauley,” he said coldly while extending her outerwear.

“I am sorry, Your Grace. Lady Rosalyn wanted to hear a story before her nap and then fell asleep.”

“Hmph,” was all he said, but he did offer his arm.

She declined. If he could not keep a civil tongue, he did not need to imitate other civil behaviors. She loathed a fickle attitude. They walked the path in silence until they reached the lake.

“We’re close now.”

Bella lead Leo up the incline to the cave entrance, and then he lit the lamp. “Wait here.”

“I’m going with you,” she said and stepped behind him.

He let out something like a growl and Bella rolled her eyes. She had seen too gentle of a side of him now to be intimidated by his foul mood. She did not like it but neither did she take take it too seriously.

They walked forward, side by side. As the cave grew darker, Bella stumbled over a rock, and Leo caught her around the waist. He still did not speak, but he held her hand in his. Bella looked away to hide her blush, although it was likely too dark to see. After several more feet, Leo halted and held out the lantern.

“There,” he said and pointed. “Does it seem darker over there?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“I think there might be a recess.”

“I followed the water, so I would not have noticed it yesterday.”

“Come,” Leo said and tugged on her hand.

Crossing the stream, they walked on until they reached a crooked stone wall. Leo ran his hands along it while Bella held the lamp. Finally, he found an engraving. Bringing the light in close revealed the Sundridge seal and below it, a small grip to pull.

“Stand back,” he ordered.

“I still worry…” Bella pleaded.

“I said back!”

The sharpness in his tone caused her to jump backwards. He cast a look over his shoulder to see that she obeyed, and his shoulders slumped.

“Forgive me,” he said lowly. “I’m a beast, as I’ve said before. You deserve better. I just…I don’t know if I can protect you from what’s inside.”

Bella took a tentative step forward. He lashed out due to fear. Quite understandable, really. “I am not asking you to protect me, but to let me be a companion.”

Leo shook his head. “It is my curse, and she was my wife. I will not allow her to harm you.”

“But she seems to have no interest in me.”

Leo hung his head and took a deep breath. Then he released the grip and walked to Bella’s side. “Together?” he asked.

She still would have rather gone alone than risk him, but she appreciated the compromise. “Together,” she said.

In unison, they returned to the grip and Leo pulled on it. A thud reverberated through the ground and then a part of the wall gave way revealing a lair. It was full of herbs, bottles of potions, and books Bella assumed contained spells. She pulled one off a shelf. “In the seventh year of the reign of James I and VI…”

“My ancestors were not Catholics. They were witches!”

“Perhaps…” Bella said, and Leo shuddered. He looked pale and barely breathed. “Are you well, Leo?”

“My father acted as though the family legacy was without spot or blemish! He beat me for every action and yet…this,” he waved his hand around the room, “is what my family is made of!”

“You may still be proud of your family,” Bella cried. “If there is bad, then there must be good. Perhaps it was not the magic that corrupted Celia but rather that she corrupted the powers.”

“Perhaps…”

“What’s this?” She pointed to another crest.

“I see no grips.” Leo pressed on it, and the bookcase swung open. “It was not the library we saw! Should we follow?”

“Together,” Bella agreed.

The passageway grew narrow and seemed to continue forever. At last, it widened to another room with stairs. Following them, they reached a dead end. They looked for another symbol or crest.

“Here!” Bella said when she found it. Pressing on it opened to a large sitting room covered in sheets to protect the furniture from dust.

“Celia’s drawing room,” Leo said through gritted teeth.

“We should go the other way,” Bella said. “I want to retrieve the books anyway.”

Leo mutely nodded his head and remained silent the way back to the lair. Gathering up the books in a satchel she had brought, she followed Leo back to the cave. “Something worries you?”

“I had thought Celia would defend her secrets better.”

After passing through the exit to the lair, Leo pulled on the grip’s handles again. Another loud thud shut the door, and they resumed their exit. After a few steps, their feet touched the water.

“Leo, I do not recall the water being this close to the secret entrance before.”

“We should run,” he said. Grabbing her hand, they sprinted through water that grew ever higher. Previously the water had been only ankle deep but now came to Bella’s knees and continued to rise. She held the bag above her head. The awkwardness slowed her progression.

“What are you doing?” Leo shouted over the sound of pouring water.

“I am keeping the books dry!”

“Hang the books!”

“No, they may have the answer on how to end the curse.”

“There is no ending the curse, Bella. Here, give them to me. You run as fast as you can!”

Reluctantly, she gave the bag to Leo and slogged through the water. Reaching the exit, it came to her chest, and she swam to shore. The once quiet stream had become a rushing river. It seemed impossible to save the books. Even worse, Leo ought to have been right behind her. At the rate the water rose, it would very well be above his head by now and yet Bella did not see him. Just when she resolved to leap into the water and find him, she saw a flash of color.

Leo swam with one arm and held the books on his head with the other.

“What are you doing?” She shouted to him.

“Saving your blasted books!”

Bella could not be certain, but she imagined he smiled. “Hang the books!”

Still, he pressed on and made his way to shore. “Madam,” he said when he got near enough. Bella took the satchel and plopped it on the ground. Leo climbed to the land, breathing hard.

“I can’t believe you did that!” Bella said.

Leo smiled slightly. “All was well until I slipped on a rock. I think it was a fool’s errand, but I decided you must be right. Whether I like it or not, whether good or bad, this is part of my family’s legacy and worth saving. It should not be locked away in secret but instead put on display with the other family books. I know you could not bear to see a book destroyed.”

“How do you know me so well?” Bella marveled.

Leo shrugged his shoulders. Then he looked into her eyes and his deep, intent gaze held her captive. She shivered.

“You’re cold,” he said.

Taking off his coat, which did little in the way of warming as it was soaking wet, he draped it over her. She shrunk beneath the massive piece of fabric. Even more astonishing was the way his linen shirt clung to his skin. If it weren’t for his waist coat, she could have clearly made out the muscles of his torso the way she saw his well-defined arms.

“Come,” he said and nudged her along with a hand at the small of her back while he carried the dry satchel in the other.

*****

Leo looked at Bella as she played the pianoforte after their dinner. They were both tired from the events of the day. He wondered if he did not have more gray hair. Seeing Bella in danger, again, and because of him, again, would have taken years off his life if he wasn’t already doomed to die.

As he had expected, the reply from his heir arrived by express this afternoon. The gentleman was a few years older than Leo and had just inherited a barony. He was still unwed, Leo had no doubt because the man was not ignorant of his status as a potential duke. If Leo acknowledged him as his heir, then Lord Morgan would be more desirable on the marriage mart. Morgan requested to bring his widowed sister. Leo suspected a plan to match make but believed Bella could use female companionship, so he agreed. The brother and sister would be arriving the following day as they only lived thirty miles away.

Leo applauded as Bella finished the piece. “Very beautiful. You will make a superb hostess when the guests come.”

Bella flushed and leafed through more music. Leo began to understand it was her way of hiding nervousness. “When shall they arrive?”

“Lord Morgan replied to my letter by express. He and his sister will reach the Castle by dinner time tomorrow.”

“So soon?” Leo thought Bella whispered, and he entirely agreed with the sentiment.

“Surely it is best for Rosie to meet him as soon as possible. Today’s lesson seemed to go better.”

Leo had watched through the mirror periodically in the day. The scene at lunch particularly touched him. He had seldom seen Rosie so…child-like and vulnerable. As an infant, he was too prejudiced against her and healing from wounds of the fire to pay her any attention. By the time she could walk and talk, she acted out every time they met. Seeing her curled up on Bella’s lap affected him all the more. Bella and Rosie deserved to be happy…and that meant a life without him.

“Thank you,” Bella said. “It did. I think keeping her stimulated and occupied helped.” She looked down at her hands, a sign of hesitation. “I began looking through one of the magic books.”

“I am unsurprised,” Leo said before sipping coffee.

Bella smiled. “There are enchantments of protection we could try.”

Fear seized Leo’s heart. Celia had found magic, and it was terrible. “How can you be certain anything in that chamber was good?”

Flexing her fingers over the pianoforte, Bella chewed her lip. “Not all of the books were for adults.”

“There were primers for children?” Leo could scarcely conceive the idea.

“Why not? If the children knew their parents were magical practitioners, they might as well learn the rules early.”

Leo snorted and folded his arms on his chest.

“The primers clearly indicated magic should be used for good, to protect the innocent not for revenge, not for cruelty or punishment. Celia corrupted the magic she learned.”

“You will not teach Rosie,” Leo said harshly.

Bella drew back. “I had not thought about it! I only wished to explain that the information in the books was intended for good.”

“Books can have intent?”

“Of course! Some tell of far away places or lives to make one forget about their current situation. Some tell of glorious battles meant to inspire patriotism. Some tell lessons of morality, and so on.”

Leo nodded his head. Explained that way, it made sense to him. “These enchantments?”

“They only work in small areas. Perhaps we could designate one room and attempt it there. Rosie might have lessons there and be free of Celia. And…”

Bella glanced at her fingers again. “If you have an idea, I will listen.”

“What if Celia’s curse is similar? What if it only works in small areas, like the nursery and her chambers. You have never had anything happen in the general rooms of the house?”

“No…” Leo considered. For years he had been too angry at his circumstances to consider the logic of such exclusions.

“It’s possible Rosie may even be able to be in the same room as you without a reaction,” she suggested.

Uncertain what to say to that possibility, Leo remained silent.

“You could cease watching in the mirror and really see her. I know how much you care for her.”

Did he? For most of his life, he had sealed away emotions. Bella knocked them down nearly instantly but Rosie had a much more complicated history and relationship with him. He had thought he acted out of moral correctness than any genuine feeling. The image of Rosie seated on Bella’s lap and hugging her entered Leo’s mind.

“That would be nice. Very nice,” Leo said and most astonishing of all, he truly meant it.

Beauty’s Mirror- Chapter 3

beautys-mirror-2

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

“I hope you can tell me more about the child,” Arabella said to the Duke’s housekeeper as she was led to the nursery. She preferred conversation to pull her thoughts of the Duke. He had been massive and hulking. A large scar ran across his cheek. She wouldn’t call him handsome, but neither would she describe him as a monster as her brother and father did.

“Lady Rosalyn is very loved by all the staff,” the older lady said far too carefully in Bella’s estimation.

“And by the master?” She had not seen much sign of affection from the gruff peer earlier.

“By all who know her, of course.”

Bella nodded her head. The conversation grew more awkward the more Bella pressed and she chose to remain silent. To say Sundridge Castle was opulent would be like saying Michelangelo dabbled in art. In fact, even the housekeeper’s gown seemed finer than what Bella ordinarily wore.

At the top of the stairs, Bella was directed down a long passage. “The nursery rooms are down here to enjoy the sun in the morning. State rooms face the West. The South end is unused and under repair.”

Tamping down on the curiosity which longed to know how long it had been under repair and why, Bella again meekly nodded her head.

“The North gallery is the Master’s. We’ll let you meet Lady Rosie and after you’re settled in come see me in my sitting room.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Bella was happy for the invitation. There was much about her employment she did not know or understand. She believed the housekeeper was both wise and sensible.

Just before entering the nursery, Mrs. Potter stayed Bella’s arm. “Lady Rosalyn is a special child. She can be…eccentric. How experienced with children are you?”

“I have three younger siblings. I have seen my share of tantrums.”

“No child is like Lady Rosalyn.”

Bella nearly rolled her eyes. Well, daughter to a duke was entitled such privileges, she supposed. Upon entry, the housekeeper spoke to the two maids in the room for a moment before introducing her. One of them brought Lady Rosalyn to her.

“Lady Rosalyn, this is Miss Beauley. She will be your governess.”

Bella bent down and greeted the child who stared vacantly at her in return. A tingle crept up her spine, and she felt as though she was being watched by something unseen besides the six pairs of anxious eyes trained on this all important interaction.

“She may stay,” was all the child said. Then she turned around and went back to her game. The maids smiled nervously at Bella and hurried after their charge.

“Over here is the night nursery,” Mrs. Potter said while walking toward a door. After being lead through the room, another door was pointed out. “That is your chamber. Bed, a sitting room and dressing room.”

“Oh, that is unnecessary,” Bella said.

“Will you spend all of your time with the child?”

Bella blinked. She had not considered it a possibility that she would not, unaccustomed as she was to leisure. She grew more uncomfortable when she learned the two nursery maids shared a much simpler room.

“Tomorrow we can go over the school room and upstairs library.”

“Upstairs? There is more than one?”

“Oh, yes. One per each floor. Though the downstairs one is the largest and duplicate titles appear in each room. Now, your things should be put away, and water has been brought in. If you need assistance, Jenny may help you. Rest if you must, but do not forget to speak with me tonight.”

Bella agreed and thanked her then looked around her new chamber. The bed was more ornate than at her home, the writing desk finer. She attempted to catalog every item to include in letters to her sisters. And she could reassure her father that she would be well taken care of.

After removing the grime of travel, allowing herself a brief nap, and dining in her room, Bella went to the kitchen level to meet with Mrs. Potter.

“Thank you for this meeting,” she told the housekeeper. “I admit to being uncertain what to expect still.”

Mrs. Potter nodded her head. “You will have a half day off twice a week. As the servants have half of Sunday off, it cannot be that day.”

Bella furrowed her brow but nodded her head. Apparently, Lady Rosalyn was not to be left alone with the Duke even for a few hours on a Sunday.

“Lady Rosalyn will eat in the nursery at four. You may eat then or again with the master at six.”

“Eat with the master?” Bella never would have presumed it!

Mrs. Potter shrugged her shoulders. “Did you never have a governess?”

“No. My mother taught us. I was to go to a seminary for one year, but then she fell with child, and I stayed at home. After she had passed, I taught my sisters.”

“How sad,” Mrs. Potter said with a sincere look. “But perhaps good practice for now. As I was saying, you may claim all the normal rights as governess. Do not let it hinder you that there is no mistress of the house. I only wish there might be more females in your station to converse with.”

“Jenny and Maria seem like very fine girls.”

“That they are but you are to teach Lady Rosalyn how to be a duke’s daughter. You can hardly be a bosom friend to the under maid.”

“Oh,” Bella had not thought of it that way.

“Pay has been arranged with your father but you have additional pin money and any expenses you require for teaching to personal items such as gowns or postage will be paid for.” This time, Mrs. Potter held up her hand before Bella could argue. “There is no time to discuss it. It is what is due as a governess in a duke’s home. Now, about Lady Rosalyn.”

“Yes?”

Mrs. Potter played with the spoon to her tea. “How much do you know about His Grace?”

“I know nothing. I have unwillingly heard some rumors.”

“Unwillingly?”

“I do not intentionally listen to gossip, but one cannot avoid every lady on the street.”

“No, indeed,” Mrs. Potter said with a smile. Then it faded, and she gave Bella an assessing look.

“Lady Erroll died in a fire four years ago while her daughter was not yet two years old. His Grace is not long for this world, and he desires a governess to help ease Lady Rosalyn’s way into Society. The tragedy of her mother’s death has affected her deeply.”

“Is there nothing that can be done? His Grace appeared perfectly healthy when we met!”

Mrs. Potter sadly shook her head. “More will be decided in the coming months about what is best for Lady Rosalyn. It may mean transferring your employment to another, or terminating it in favor of a different situation for her.”

“Of course…” Bella chewed her lip, uncertain if she should ask the question that weighed on her.

“I know of the situation with your brother. Rest assured that should the child be removed from your care, you will still be fully compensated. The contract with your father states you must fulfill service until Lady Rosalyn’s sixth birthday.”

“Thank you,” Bella said. The lady’s ability to anticipate her concerns unnerved her.

“Now, I must give you some rules for Lady Rosalyn.” Mrs. Potter fiddled with the hem of her sleeve. “She must never leave the castle.”

“Of course, I cannot conceive of a reason I would have to leave the premises without the Duke.”

“No. She is not to leave even to visit the garden.”

“No fresh air?” Bella’s throat tightened at the thought.

“It has been ordered by her physician. Like any five-year-old with restrictions, she does not understand her limitations and dislikes them.”

“You mean it is unsafe for her to leave and yet she has attempted it?”

Mrs. Potter nodded her head and looked Bella square in the eye. “It is your duty to keep her in the Castle, occupied and safe. One day, she will be allowed to leave, and she must understand how the outside world works, the social demands.”

“I shall try,” Bella promised.

“You must do more than try. You must do this.”

“Of course! I would never want harm to come to her.”

The housekeeper scribbled a note on a scrap of paper on her desk and then met Bella’s eyes again. “Alert me immediately to any strange or disconcerting behavior.”

“What do you mean?”

“I trust you will know should it happen.” Mrs. Potter stood prompting Bella to do likewise. “Now, you have had a long several days. Rest well and your duties shall begin tomorrow promptly at nine in the morning. Should Lady Rosalyn awake before then, Jenny and Maria will see to her.”

Bella thanked the housekeeper again and made her way back to her chamber. Along the way she allowed herself to reverently trail her fingers over certain sculptures, artifacts, and furniture. Each item told a story of a long, proud legacy. The Beauley estate had many items several generations old, but none so fine or as significant as in Sundridge Castle. She smiled to herself imagining her half day off spent reading in the well-stocked libraries and observing the works in the sculpture and portrait galleries.

Returning to her room, she made quick work of getting ready for bed. Just before climbing between the sheets, she heard a clatter from the night nursery. Rushing in, she found Lady Rosalyn climbed a bookcase in front of a window and knocked items off.

“Lady Rosalyn, it is not safe up there, please come down,” Bella called firmly just as Jenny and Maria walked in.

The child looked back at Arabella with an innocent expression. “But Mother told me to open the window.”

Bella shivered as though the window was already opened and cool air blowing in. In a gentle tone, she said, “You may be a duke’s daughter, but even they are not allowed to lie. It is dishonest to blame your actions on someone else. Do you know what dishonest means?”

Bella watched as the child grew more defiant. “But I’m not lying! Mother told me!”

“Lady Rosalyn,” Bella said gently but firmly, “your mother died several years ago. So did my mother and I miss her too, but I do not create stories about her living. It is unkind to joke about death.”

“Miss Jenny, Miss Maria, tell her! Tell her my Mother is always with me and speaks to me,” Rosie stomped her foot, causing the bookshelf to shake. She immediately stilled and paled.

“Please come down, we can talk about it more from the floor,” Bella prompted.

“I’m scared…” Rosie whispered.

“Here, jump to me,” Bella said and hurried to bookshelf. Rosie leapt to her sanctuary. As she did, the bookcase toppled over with a loud thud. Heart racing, Bella held her young charge.

“Are you hurt?” Rosie shook her head but clung to Bella’s neck. “Here, love, let’s sit.” Bella walked the few feet to Rosie’s bed as the child began to tremble. “Jenny, I think Lady Rosalyn could use a glass of water to help her sleep.”

Bella hoped one of the maids would understand she was asking to give the child a draught. “There, there. Now, you’ll know better than to climb up there again, won’t you?”

Rosie nodded her head again. Then the door flung open, banging against the wall. Bella jumped, and Rosie squeezed her tighter. Jerking her head toward the door, Bella saw the Duke hulking in the doorway.

“Is she well? What happened?”

*****

Leo’s heart pounded as he gripped the door frame. Three pale and terrified female faces watched him, and Rosie buried her head into Miss Beauley’s neck.

“What happened?” He growled out. This was a disaster. If the governess could not keep Rosie safe, then they were both doomed. “Tell me!”

The ladies jumped again but this time not at his voice. The window lock rattled and then burst open. A loud whip of wind sounded outside, gushing into the room and billowing the curtains. Then came the familiar high pitched shriek.

“Celia!” He cried out, and Rosie began to sob loudly.

Another gust of wind tore through the room and swirled around him before leaving through the window again rattling the shutters until they loosened on their hinges. One fell off, shattering on the ground below.

“Celia, that is enough,” he said firmly.

“Go away!” Rosie cried from Miss Beauley’s shoulder, causing Leo to note the governess’ calm demeanor. She calmly unwrapped Rosie and tip toed around the books strewn on the floor. Taking a deep breath, she reached for the window pain.

“That is enough.”

She pulled the window in, although Leo could see that she struggled with effort. In the end, she succeeded causing Jenny and Maria to gasp. Then she smoothed her hands over her robe and turned to face Leo, meeting his eyes directly.

“Would you care to explain to me what is going on?”

Leo took one step forward, but Rosie shouted. “Follow me,” he said then left. He waited in the hall for a few moments and could hear Miss Beauley settling Rosie back in bed. Jenny and Maria worked to clean up the mess and then promised to read to the child to calm her nerves. When Rosie sounded sufficiently calmed, Miss Beauley entered the hall and silently followed Leo as he lead her to his private sitting room. Miss Beauley hesitated before entering.

“I assure you, your reputation is safe with me.” He had little interest in ladies since Celia’s death. None of them could love him, and he had long accepted that he was incapable of loving anyone. As he had no future to concern himself with, marriage for any other aspiration was pointless.

“As you are the only witness, and it is unlikely even a servant will enter your sitting room unannounced, I am certain that is the case,” Miss Beauley said. Her words surprised him. She had just witnessed a supernatural scene and yet her tongue could cut. Or was this an expression of anxiety after what she witnessed?

“Have a seat,” he said and then poured two glasses of wine. “For your nerves.”

Miss Beauley took it without argument. For a few moments, they sat in silence, sipping their wine. Leo believed it might have been the first time in her entire life that she had not minded the silent nothingness. Even still, he guessed her mind was quick and deeply at work. Every two minutes or so she would nervously rub her hands on her skirt and then reach for her glass again. At last, the wine was gone.

Uncertain of her thoughts, or what Mrs. Potter had told the governess, Leo waged forward bluntly. “What do you make of what happened?”

“What do I make of it?” she cried. “I have far more questions than you likely have answers. Therefore, it will be easiest if you simply tell me all you know.”

Leo smirked. No, he would not reveal all to her. His affairs were a private matter, and she did not need to understand most of them. “May I call you by your Christian name? I fear our conversation will be such that formalities should be dropped.”

Her mouth dropped open before she snapped it shut. “Certainly, Your Grace. You may call me Arabella or Bella.”

Leo raised an eyebrow. “You may drop the formal title, Bella.” Her name on his mouth felt like a magical incantation. He smiled. Bella meant beautiful in Italian, and it suited her. Other ladies might have more classical features but what little he knew of Bella’s character already combined with her fresh complexion and simple, artless prettiness made her one of the most beautiful ladies he had seen in a long while.

“Very well…Erroll,” she said.

Leo immediately cringed. He recalled the hateful tone Celia would say it in. “Actually, call me Leo.”

Bella furrowed her brow and chewed her lip, then finally nodded her head in agreement.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Leo summarized the details of his brief and tumultuous marriage. She seemed to accept the scandalous truth well enough. Of course, that was the easy part of the tale.

“Tell me, Bella, have you ever seen or experienced things you could not explain?”

“Nothing except for the incident that just happened, sir.”

“But you’ve heard stories of ghosts and magic?” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees.

“Of course! Every child knows those stories.”

“They are not stories and certainly not within the Castle. Celia learned powers, dark powers. Her final act was to put a curse on me.”

The confused look on Bella’s face was proof enough of her dubious thoughts.

“I’m dying,” he said bluntly and for the first time ever out loud. Suddenly, he felt a war of emotion battle within him.

 

Sisters Bewitched- Chapter Four

sisters orange bar 5Chapter Four

The next night, the family attended dinner at Sir William Lucas’s home.

“Mr. Bingley seems quite taken with Jane,” Charlotte Lucas said to Elizabeth.

“I think he is!”

“Does she return his affection?”

“You are our dearest friend in the world, surely you see she does!”

“Yes, but he does not know her as we do. She should make her feelings plainer.”

Elizabeth scoffed. “You know you would never do that. You would never allow the whole world to see your thoughts and hopes; to gossip about them and intrude on your privacy and all before you even know a man’s character.”

“Happiness in marriage is nothing but chance. If she knew him her entire life, she would have no greater chance of felicity than she does now. People change too much and grow unalike through the years. At any rate, it is best to not know the faults of the person you will spend your life with. Then you can approach the beginning of your marriage with nothing but excitement and hope rather than trepidation and regret.”

Elizabeth was amazed at her friend’s opinion, but could not reply before Colonel Forster, of the regiment, approached them.

“A fine evening, ladies,” he said with utmost civility.

“It is! A wonderful means of enjoyment,” Elizabeth said. She felt a chill run through her, causing her to glance around and notice Mr. Darcy nearby.

“I had thought young ladies preferred dancing to anything else,” said the Colonel. “Or so my dear soon to be wife says.”

“Then you shall have to host a ball for her once your regiment is settled! Happiness in marriage is easiest secured through the happiness of the wife!” The Colonel was an amiable gentleman and laughed at Elizabeth’s tease.

“Matilda will be happy to hear there are other ladies here that long for balls. I am afraid she has far too romantic of an opinion of my career, but then she knows nothing of the real dangers.” He gave Elizabeth a pointed look, and her smile faltered some. She had not considered before that the militia was posted in Meryton at the exact time General Tilney returned to Netherfield.

Jane turned the conversation to how the Colonel found Meryton and his favorite parts of winter. Elizabeth grew quiet, allowing her mind to wander.

“You are considering something, Eliza,” Charlotte said in her ear.

“Did you see how Mr. Darcy was listening to our conversation?”

“He seemed most attentive.”

“Well, he must mean to intimidate me with his stern looks, but I will not allow it.”

“Eliza,” Charlotte cautioned.

“Oh, do not fear he will end up singed. I am still more comfortable with my tart mouth than with my magical powers. He already despises me, I may as well be impertinent. Ouch!” Elizabeth rubbed her ribs where Charlotte had elbowed her. “Why did you? Oh.”

Mr. Darcy had approached. Charlotte seemed to suggest with her eyes that Elizabeth get to work on her plans, and so she did. “I daresay the Militia will host a ball before too long. I think I was uncommonly persuasive and eloquent in my teasing.”

“Indeed, you were most passionate; but it is a subject which makes most ladies articulate.”

Elizabeth met his eyes, feeling fire crackle in her. “You do not believe we are intelligible on other topics? We are only enthusiastic about dancing and other fripperies?”

Charlotte grabbed Elizabeth’s hand. “I see Mama motioning to me. It will now be your turn to be teased, Eliza. It is time to open the pianoforte, and you know you are Papa’s favorite performer.”

Elizabeth sighed. “You are such a strange friend! If my vanity had taken a musical turn, you would have been invaluable. As it is, I had much rather not play before those in the habit of hearing the very best.” She felt herself begin to color as she hated to be the subject of pity or scorn.

“Nonsense, you are one of the best Meryton has to offer,” Charlotte soothed.

Realizing it was useless to argue and perhaps worse to seem so insecure before Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth allowed herself to be led to the instrument after a flippant comment directed at Mr. Darcy. She knew herself to be agitated but underestimated how much. Her fingers tingled and hovered somewhere between ice cold and burning, causing her to stumble over a few notes. Nor was her voice as robust as she would have liked, but the audience seemed to not notice and politely asked her for more songs. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Jane whispering to Charlotte. Charlotte’s younger sister, Maria, was soon brought forward, and Elizabeth retreated to the safety of her sisters.

“Kate, you look confused,” she said as she reached Catherine’s side.

“I do not see Mr. Tilney here,” she replied.

“Mr. Bingley has said that he went to London on an errand and is expected to return with their brother in a few days. Frederick is now a captain in Colonel Forster’s regiment.”

Catherine seemed to feel the loss of her favorite acutely, and Elizabeth contained her urge to roll her eyes. She barely knew Henry Tilney, and he would return in a matter of days. Why did her sister look so struck by the news?

Jane tapped her foot, a sure sign that she interpreted Elizabeth’s feelings.

Maria Lucas began a lively tune. “Look, Kate,” Elizabeth said. “They are rolling up the rug and here come a few officers. Will you not dance with one of them? That will improve your spirits.”

She mutely nodded and acquiesced when asked to dance. Mr. Bingley solicited Jane for her hand as well. Having been on display quite enough for her tastes for one evening, Elizabeth was happy to not have been asked to dance. Seeing Charlotte across the room, she made her way to her friend.

Passing by Sir William Lucas, he stopped her with an audacious request, to dance with Mr. Darcy! Entirely coerced by Sir William, Mr. Darcy asked her to dance, but she had already promised herself to never dance with him. Why should she give consequence to such an arrogant man? Unsurprisingly, Mr. Darcy did not press for her hand, and as Sir William could not persuade her to accept the gentleman, she was at last free of them both.

In her dance with Mr. Bingley, Jane smiled. The ease of their previous encounters was returned. When she did not exert herself to extend her powers, she felt she could understand Mr. Bingley. Or perhaps she only felt what she hoped he felt? Magical powers certainly did not make courtships any easier. Worse still, she was rather certain he could understand her thoughts, something she had never suffered through with other potential suitors. On the other hand, Mr. Bingley was the epitome of amiability, surely if he knew of her attachment he would find some way to discourage her if he did not return the sentiments. Content with her own thoughts, she did not take the time to further ponder Catherine’s strange feelings earlier in the evening. She was unusually quiet in the carriage on the way home, but Jane believed it simply due to the disappointment of missing Mr. Tilney.

 

*****

 

Catherine said goodnight to her sisters and sat at her desk. She looked over her journal entry from last night. She had recorded her premonition of the evening at Lucas Lodge, but it was entirely incorrect. She had foreseen Mr. Tilney in attendance and dancing with her. Eleanor Tilney seldom left her side. Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy had been absent, leaving Jane noticeably concerned. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst were forced to mingle with their society instead of standing with Mr. Darcy in a corner in their usual derogatory way. Instead, Mr. Tilney was missing, and his sister barely met an eye the entire evening. Jane did not look as though she enjoyed Mr. Bingley’s company more than anyone else’s and Mr. Darcy spent a remarkable amount of time near Elizabeth, something Miss Bingley noticed. She then kept him in her clutches most of the evening.

Realizing she was no more gifted in her powers than anything else, discouraged her greatly. She began to wish she never had the ability of foresight returned to her. Mr. Bennet had not shared the text of the prophecy with the sisters, and she could not imagine how such a gift would prove invaluable to end evil in the world. As it was, her abilities were unreliable. Everyone thought she and her sisters were the ones of the prophecy, but Catherine seriously doubted it. Or at least not she, perhaps one of her younger sisters may develop the gift still—or maybe it did need to be blood relations after all, and her mother might bear another child. At any rate, what if they would be targeted by an enemy, now that they were no longer in hiding, because of this belief? It hinged in part on others believing in her ability, but it was quite untrue. To continue in this way would place her sisters in danger.

Resolving to speak to her step-father about it in the morning, she chose to attempt sleep. No sleep came, however. In the midst of tossing and turning as a night wallowing in insecurities brings, a terrible nightmare arose.

A man cloaked in black aimed a pistol at her while her mother and her step-father lay unconscious on the floor. Ropes bound Elizabeth’s hands, and her wrists bled from where she attempted to free herself without avail. Jane stood immobilized by the fear and panic in the room. Other beings, Catherine was uncertain if they were even human, lurked in the shadows. She saw the sun catch the lock plates of their matching pistols. The guns were trained on her family.

“You could have prevented this, Miss Morland,” the gunman said to her. That he knew her previous surname struck her forcefully. “If you were a true Bewitching Sister, you would have foreseen this attack.”

“Then you have nothing to fear from us,” Elizabeth said.

“There is no doubt you and Miss Bennet are the sisters of the prophecy. The weakness came from trusting Miss Morland,” the cloaked intruder said. “She was too eager to please and be accepted to tell the truth. With you two dead whoever is the true third Bewitching Sister will be powerless.” He squeezed the trigger, and the others followed suit. The shots rang out with deafening noise.

“No!” she screamed and woke up as she rose from the bed. Sweat dripped from her brow, and her heart pounded.

“Beg your pardon, Miss Kate,” said the housemaid as she scooped up a broken water pitcher. “The thunder scared me, and I jumped.”

Catherine took a moment to calm herself and realized it had all been a terrible dream. The sounds of gunfire she heard must have been from first the thunder and then the crashing of pottery on the floorboards. She mumbled a soothing word to the servant, who quickly left. The rest of the house still seemed asleep and so she went to the drawing-room they had been using as a study for their powers. Finding the family spell book, she leafed through it.

“A Forgetting Spell! Perfect!” she muttered to herself. She would forget how to use her power and then her family would be safe. “Caution: While this spell is reversible, the consequences of it are not. Be certain of your desire to forget your regrets before using.” Determining that there would be no harm in her forgetting her talents, or lack thereof, she scanned the list of ingredients for the potion. Taking inventory of the still room revealed a lack of ground hyacinth. The housekeeper informed her bulbs had recently been planted so they would bloom in the summer. Otherwise, she knew not how to find more at this time of year. Stealing into the garden, Catherine found the correctly labeled area and dug up a bulb with her bare hands as she did not wish to alert the staff to her actions. Returning to the still room, she dutifully ground it up for her potion. It smelled and tasted vile, but she eagerly swallowed her concoction before going to breakfast with her family.

Shortly after they finished, a letter from Caroline Bingley arrived, inviting Jane to Netherfield for the day. Catherine’s right eye began to tear, and she wiped it away with her handkerchief. In a matter of minutes, Jane was sent off to Netherfield Abbey in the coach. It soon began to rain heavily, and no one was surprised when the coach did not return at the appointed time. The road was far too muddy to make it easily traversable.

 

*****

 

In the morning, a note arrived from Jane. She had fallen ill once at Netherfield. At one point, she had been obliged to get out of the coach, which was slipping in the mud when but a quarter of a mile from Netherfield. Her sore throat and coughing she imputed to that. Elizabeth immediately resolved to attend her dearest sister.

“I will go with you as far as Meryton,” Catherine said. “I must call on Mrs. Allen.”

The sisters walked together as far as they could. Elizabeth felt Catherine quieter than usual, but her own thoughts were preoccupied with Jane.

Elizabeth made it most of the way to Netherfield when an overwhelming concern for Catherine came over her.

“Lizzy!” she heard Catherine’s voice call but could not see her.

“Kate! Where are you?”

“Lizzy, please!” Catherine faintly called again and then whimpered in pain.

Growing frantic with worry, Elizabeth felt the fire building in her. Her instincts screamed danger was near. “Where are you?” she called again and again but heard nothing but silence.

Retracing her steps, she turned back. She felt drawn to the old bridge by the miller about half a mile away and off the main road to Meryton. It made no sense, as when they parted in Meryton Catherine turned the other direction to go to Mrs. Allen’s house. Still, Elizabeth began to run.

As she grew closer, she saw a man towering over Catherine’s crumpled form. The man muttered an incantation over her, and it seemed to Elizabeth that Catherine’s body began to glow, and the man grew larger. What was this? Dark magic?

“Stop!” Elizabeth shouted as she grew closer and the man turned to face her.

“You shall not stop us,” he said in a low voice that contained eerie echoes.

“I…I shall!” Elizabeth said and stepped closer. She grabbed a rock from the ground and aimed to throw it at him but with a jerk of his head the rock flew from her hand and landed out of reach.

“What do you want? Please, do not hurt her!” She fell on the ground to find something else to act as a weapon, but the man growled and rushed toward her. Thrusting out her hands in defense, fire flew from her hands, stunning him.

“Kate!” Elizabeth screamed and ran to her sister’s side. Just before reaching Catherine, Elizabeth stumbled to the ground. Blood streamed down her head. Her enemy had used his powers to hit her with the very rock she attempted to use after him.

“You are powerless, witch!”

“Never!” She screamed and attempted to throw her hands up but could not. It felt as though they were tied down.

Her tormentor laughed cruelly. “They say love for one another makes you extraordinary. They say that it makes you the most powerful witches of all time, but you see it makes you weak! Her powers are gone but she worked as a brilliant trap for you,” he said.

“What will you do with us?” Elizabeth asked. She hoped to keep him speaking until help arrived. Surely help would come. She recognized now, love brought her to Catherine’s side and surely Jane or their parents would appear any moment as well.

“What every witch deserves,” he gestured to a makeshift pyre she had not seen before. “You will burn.”

Elizabeth gasped in fear when he knelt and began the fire.

“There will be no resurrecting of the Bewitching Sisters. Each of you must die.”

“You have tried that before,” she taunted as he tied her hands with rope and yanked her off the ground.

“That is why we will see you burn in person this time.”

“We? Do you have friends? Can such an ugly man have friends?”

“He comes!” The man growled out, and a chill ran up Elizabeth’s spine although she had no knowledge of who he spoke of. She looked around and saw no signs of help, only Catherine’s still lifeless form on the ground.

“You know everything about us, then?”

“We have had spies watching you for a long time.”

“So you know that you can never prevail!” she shouted as he led her to the stake. As he went around her back to tie her down, she saw Catherine begin to rouse.

“Lizzy?” the younger girl called out and slowly sat up. “Lizzy!” she cried, and Elizabeth saw with horror as a large rock sped through the air, directed at Catherine’s head.

“No!” Elizabeth screamed and was immediately engulfed in flames. The man screamed in pain behind her. Feeling her hands now free as he leaped from the fire and writhed in pain, she ran to Catherine’s side, conscious that she did not have a single burn upon her.

Catherine had darted out of the way of the rock, it struck her leg instead of her head. Two black clouds flashed before them, revealing a man and woman dressed in black, but their faces shadowed by hoods. The sisters clutched each other.

“Don’t let go!” Catherine cried as she buried her head in Elizabeth’s neck.

Squeezing her sister tightly, Elizabeth said, “Never!”

“I worried you would not come,” Catherine whispered.

“Always, silly goose. Love will always bind us!”

“Always!” Catherine agreed as the female demon fired a gun.

A bright white cloud surrounded the sisters, and they heard the woman scream in pain as the bullet redirected and pierced her.

“But you are only two!” the man in black exclaimed before flying away in another black cloud.

“Miss Elizabeth! Miss Catherine!” they heard the anxious voice of Mr. Bingley shouting as the protective white cloud surrounding them dissipated.

“Mr. Bingley!” they cried in surprised unison.

“Are you well?”

Elizabeth and Catherine looked each other over. “Nothing but some scratches and bruises, I think,” said Catherine.

“Kate, did I burn you? What has happened to your eyes and hands?” She had slight burns on them.

“I do not think you hurt me, but I have no idea what happened to them.” She had no memory of abuse. The demon cast a spell and subdued her.

“Well, we otherwise seem unscathed. How did you come to be here?” Elizabeth asked while attempting to find hair pins.

“It was Ja—Miss Bennet. She grew extremely agitated and worried about you. We endeavored to calm her, but when Darcy learned she wrote you, Miss Elizabeth, he insisted you would be on your way to Netherfield and ought to have arrived by then. I was to search the woods while he went on ahead to Longbourn.”

“How is Jane?” Catherine asked.

“My sisters and mother were attending her and awaiting the apothecary when I left,” he said.

They heard a carriage approached on the main road and soon Mr. and Mrs. Bennet arrived with Mr. Darcy and General Tilney.

“Kate! Lizzy!” the parents ran to their daughters and embraced them.

Allowing the family a private moment, the men of the Netherfield group moved on to the burned demon.

“Who sent you?” Bingley ran to him and yelled as the demon gasped for air.

He did not speak, and General Tilney approached his step-son. “Calm yourself. You and Darcy make yourself useful to the Bennets. This one is not long for the world.”

Bingley agreed, and he and Darcy returned to the others.

“I want to see Jane,” Elizabeth said.

“Surely we ought to return home and clean up first,” Mrs. Bennet said, and the sisters reluctantly agreed.

“Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, do either of you recognize the demon that attacked my daughters?” Mr. Bennet asked.

“No, I have never seen him,” Darcy said, and Bingley agreed.

“Papa,” Elizabeth said, “he certainly seemed to be working for someone else. The demon said another was coming. Two soon arrived, a male and female. The woman shot at us, and it rebounded. The man yelled something about there only being two of us and then disappeared.”

Mr. Bennet nodded his head. “Yes, he likely did not understand how you defeated his soldiers when the prophecy has always said it would be three, and Jane was not present.”

“I do not understand it either,” she said.

“You do not know?” Darcy asked in confusion, then turned to her parents and said in annoyance, “You did not tell them!”

“What did you not tell us?” Catherine asked.

“I did not wish to distress them,” Mr. Bennet said to Darcy and then turned to his daughters. “The love that binds you is so resilient that you can call on the power of a missing sister so long as she lives. Neither distance nor health severs or lessens it.”

“I…I don’t understand. Why would that distress us,” Catherine said.

The group grew silent, and Elizabeth frowned. “They did not want us to be concerned that such a thing could happen. It is like a fail-safe within the prophecy. But the enemy does not know?”

“They must suspect it now,” her father said. “It was a secret clause.”

“Then how does he know?” Elizabeth cried and glared at Darcy.

“Darcy’s family has been an influential part of the council for many centuries,” Mr. Bennet said. “He is entrusted with secrets even I do not know. His presence at Netherfield at this time is no coincidence.”

Elizabeth held back a huff.

“Come, let us return home and rest,” Mrs. Bennet said.

“Please, take the carriage,” Mr. Bingley said. “We will return on foot.”

“Please tell Jane how much we love her,” Catherine said, and Elizabeth added her sentiments as well.

The party had just broken up when a shot rang out, and they jerked their heads to where General Tilney stood with his gun still in hand. The dead demon slumped against the tree. “He teleported it from the demoness. I had turned my back for a moment and heard the gun cock.”

“It was quick thinking on your part to grab it before he fired,” Mr. Darcy said.

“I believe his injuries made his mind slower. Charles, next time you happen upon a scene do make sure there are no loose weapons about,” the general said with evident irritation. Mr. Bingley blushed slightly but before he could say something in his defense they heard more voices.

“Over here!” the general called. Mr. Hurst and Colonel Forester ambled to them followed by several officers. “They’ll see to the bodies,” he began to walk toward the path to Netherfield. Looking back at the others he said, “Well, come on then.”

To Longbourn, therefore, went the Bennet family while the others went on to Netherfield. Forced to rest by their mother and exhausted by the events of the day, Catherine and Elizabeth slept until the next morning. They awoke the next day to sunshine and determined to see their sister. Again a note arrived just after breakfast for the third day in a row, this time reporting terrible news. Jane had fallen dreadfully ill overnight and would not rouse this morning. The doctor summoned her family to her side, and words were inadequate to explain the despair of their Netherfield friends.

“Kate, you still look so unwell. You ought to stay here,” Mrs. Bennet said while looking at her daughter’s reddened eyes.

“No! I was terrified that I was not truly a Bewitching Sister. I was resolved to give up my powers somehow. She saved me by sending her love when she could not send herself. You will not keep me from her side now.”

“Let her come,” Mr. Bennet said, and the family hurried to the carriage.

“You should have confided in me, Kate!” Elizabeth said once they were seated. “How could Jane and I be Bewitching Sisters and you not?”

“My premonitions fail,” she whispered to her hands.

“When have they failed?”

“The night at Lucas Lodge. I had seen an entirely different set of circumstances.”

“We are still learning to use our powers. I did not know before I was tied to a stake that I could control fire so completely with my mind. You have a gift, dear one, and it will be of use at the right time.”

“I do not even understand how our powers work if what is most important is our love for one another,” Catherine said.

Mr. Bennet had been listening quietly to their conversation. “Do you not? To truly love a person you must care deeply about their feelings.”

“Empathy,” Elizabeth supplied.

“Exactly,” said Mrs. Bennet. “You must also be willing to fight.”

“Lizzy’s fire. But what do premonitions mean for love?” Catherine asked.

“True love never ends. It always has a future,” Mr. Bennet said, and Mrs. Bennet squeezed his hand.

“Do you think Jane will recover?” Elizabeth asked, twisting her handkerchief in her hands.

“I know it,” Mr. Bennet replied. “The Bewitching Sisters have important work left to do.”

Arriving at Netherfield, Catherine and Elizabeth walked to the door hand in hand. They did not know what the future held, or how to defeat their enemies, but they knew they would face their battles together as sisters.

Continued in The Secrets of Netherfield Abbey!