Once Upon a Wallflower(84)By: Wendy Lyn Watson
Mira stared at Nicholas in amazement. Nicholas was going to help her. He was going to see justice done.
A shrill scream of delight from within the stone circle shook Mira out of her daze. “Are you certain? Are you certain you are willing to do this?”
Nicholas held her gaze unwaveringly, nodded solemnly. “It is over.”
A bubble of laughter welled in Mira’s throat. “After all of this…this worry, it comes to something so simple? You take me aside and calmly tell me that you are ready to accuse your father?” Mira shook her head in wonder. “I have been torn to pieces inside over this mystery, worrying that I would never know for certain, worrying that I might miss something vital, worrying that my logic would fail me and my heart lead me astray, worrying that I might be so confused that I had actually fallen in love with a murderer! And now you announce, tepid as tea, that it is over?”
As her mind caught up with her mouth, Mira grew still. She stared at Nicholas with wide, worried eyes, wondering if he had caught her slip.
The sudden silver fire in his eyes told her he had.
“What did you say?” His voice resonated with a low, vital energy.
“You heard me, Mira-mine. Did you just say that you love me?”
Mira looked down at her hands as her insides turned to water. She had said it—and meant it—and he had heard her. There was no point denying her feelings. But what if he took a disgust of her, thought her weak and clinging? What if he found it amusing that he should have such power over her?
Marshaling all her courage, she raised her eyes to meet his. “Yes, Nicholas. I did say that.”
A breathless silence ensued, both Nicholas and Mira standing unnaturally still in a magic circle of their own. The laughing and singing and music of the festival seemed far away, and only the pixie-light of the bonfire offered any evidence that they were not utterly alone.
“Then why are you leaving?” Nicholas whispered.
Mira frowned. “Leaving? I am not leaving.”
He shook his head stubbornly. “I heard George give you the money to leave. I heard you take it.”
“He gave me the money, and the choice. I could hardly refuse his generosity. And I admit that I gave his offer some thought. But I decided against it. I decided to stay.”
“But I stopped at your room this evening, thinking to tell you about my father then, and I saw that your bags were packed. There were trunks and valises piled nearly to the ceiling in your room.”
Now Mira shook her head. “My bags were not packed, sir. The bags must have been Bella’s.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Mira bit her lip, reluctant to break Bella’s confidence. She needed to explain the baggage in her room to Nicholas, however, and she did not think he would try to interfere with the elopement. After all, he had once offered to give up his own bride, to be jilted and played for a fool, in order to allow Jeremy to elope with the girl of his heart.
“Bella and Jeremy are planning to elope tonight,” she explained with an apologetic shrug. “Bella asked me if she could hide her baggage away in my bedroom. I told her I did not think it was necessary, and that I did not want to be involved. But she insisted. And I just could not bring myself to deny her,” she added with a small smile of apology. “I confess that with everything that has happened in the last few days, I had almost forgotten about that aspect of her plan. And I was not certain whether the elopement would actually happen, or whether one of them would come to their senses. But apparently she went ahead and had her bags moved to my room after I left. No wonder she was late coming downstairs this evening.”
“Bella. Bella is the one who is leaving?” Nicholas sounded dazed, as if he could not quite grasp what Mira was trying to tell him.
“Yes, Bella and Jeremy. Not me.”
Nicholas closed his eyes briefly, his entire body sagging with relief. But then he opened his eyes, and a sly smile crept across his face. “Well, that is an interesting turn of events. Beatrix will not be pleased in the least.”
“No, she will not be happy. She seems to dislike poor Bella immensely. And Aunt Kitty will not be happy either.”