Once Upon a Wallflower(88)

By: Wendy Lyn Watson


Nicholas drew the horse up in the front drive. They left the sweating, heaving animal where he stood, and, hand in hand, clambered up the main steps.

The house was empty, all of the servants having been given the night off to attend the festivities, and Jeremy was likely behind them, bringing a coach from the livery in Upper Bidwell. The housekeeper, cook, and a few maids and grooms were expected back after midnight to prepare for the late supper Beatrix would serve her guests. But midnight was still nearly an hour away, and Mira’s ears rang with the eerie silence.

Both Nicholas and Mira slowed their pace when they entered the house, and they traded a questioning look. Almost simultaneously, they shrugged. Neither knew quite what to do next.

“I don’t suppose I can convince you to wait outside, can I?” Nicholas whispered.

Mira tilted her head in chastisement. “Absolutely not.” She offered him a thin smile. “Besides, what if Beatrix is out there?”

“Mmmm. Good point.”

Giving her hand a reassuring squeeze, Nicholas started up the stairs, steps cautious and quiet.

Nicholas had his foot on the top step when a sudden cry echoed through the silence. The sound galvanized them into action. He took off at a loping run, his limp almost disappearing in the spurt of energy. Mira trotted along behind him with her skirts lifted nearly to her knees.

By unspoken agreement, they headed toward Mira’s bedroom, the Aviary, in which Bella had hidden her bags. As they ran, they heard the thud of something falling to the ground, then heavy breathing, and another muffled cry. They raced past Mira’s silent room, following the sounds of struggle through the corridor and toward the walkway to Nicholas’s tower. As they neared the antechamber, they caught sight of a writhing tangle of limbs and satin.

Nicholas froze mid-stride, throwing out an arm to keep Mira back, and they both gasped at the scene before them.

Beatrix held a squirming Bella in front of her, a knife pressed to the delicate column of the younger woman’s throat. It might have been only an illusion, but even from several feet away and in the dim light of the hallway, Mira thought she could see the fluttering of Bella’s pulse beneath the blade. She bit her tongue to keep from calling out to her cousin, afraid she might startle Beatrix, force her hand.

Despite the threat to her life, Bella was putting up a fight. Her fingers dug into Beatrix’s arm, clasped around Bella’s waist, with enough force to make visible indentations, and she held her legs rigid, her dainty heels searching for purchase in the hallway carpet so that she could slow their progress.

“Beatrix.” Nicholas’s voice was gentle, reasonable, but it stopped Beatrix in her tracks as effectively as a shout. Her head flew up, eyes wide black holes in her face. Every muscle in her body seemed to contract, and the tip of the knife nicked Bella’s flesh. Bella let out a small squeak, but otherwise went still.

“Beatrix, where are you going?”

“Out.”

“Out where?”

“To the allure.”

“Why?”

“I should think that would be obvious, Ashfield,” Beatrix replied, a ghost of a smile touching her lips. “I am getting rid of this…this viper,” she skimmed the blade down Bella’s neck, following the line of sinew standing out there from the young girl’s strain.

“Like you got rid of Olivia Linworth?”

“Oh, yes. Just exactly like that.” A thick liquid sound welled up from the depths of Beatrix’s throat, something like a laugh but dark and desperate. “So much neater than using the knife, don’t you think? Though not quite as satisfying.”

“Knife?” Nicholas asked. “You killed Tegen and Bridget as well?”

“Of course. Those little tarts sleeping with my husband right under my nose…I was mortified. If I’d been strong enough I would have killed your father, but instead I had to end the affairs by getting rid of the girls.”

Mira could keep quiet no longer. “Please do not hurt her, Lady Beatrix,” she pleaded, her voice taut with fear. “Please.”

Beatrix’s brows drew together, and her lips flattened in a smirking smile. “Miss Fitzhenry. I think I should be doing us both a favor by disposing of this wretched creature. She has spent the better part of a week defaming you. ‘Mira is so plain. Mira is so dull. Mira is so unsophisticated.’” Beatrix laughed again. “I am surprised you have not done her in yourself.”

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