Once Upon a Wallflower(89)

By: Wendy Lyn Watson

Mira shot a quick glance at Bella’s face. Her cousin’s eyes were wide and imploring, her face a tight mask of fear. “She’s my family, my lady, and I love her.”

Her mind spinning, Mira cast about desperately for some argument that would dissuade Beatrix from her course. “Besides,” Mira stammered, “I realize that Bella is what society has made her to be.” Mira tried to capture Beatrix’s gaze with her own, willing the older woman to remember her humanity. “You understand that, don’t you?” she queried, forcing a note of sympathy into her voice. “How difficult it is to have no choices in this world? We’re all three of us victims of our lack of choices—you, me, and Bella. We share that.”

Beatrix rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Miss Fitzhenry, I have nothing in common with either you or this one.” The knife again pricked Bella’s delicate skin. “You are both grasping, looking for money and a title, just like that harridan Kitty Fitzhenry. I was never like that.”

Beatrix’s mad composure slipped for a moment, and her face contorted with raw pain. “I followed my heart,” she shrieked. “I…” She paused, and her voice fell to a strangled whisper. “I would have given up anything and everything to marry the man I loved, even though he was penniless. But then he died. He left me all alone. I may not have loved Blackwell, but I did not marry him out of greed.”

She started moving down the hallway, dragging a whimpering Bella with her.

“I have lost my youth, my life, in this wretched place, and Jeremy is all I have to show for it. He is my life now, and I will not allow this greedy bit of muslin to destroy him.”

Nicholas edged down the hall after Beatrix, not closing the distance between them but not allowing her any lead either. He kept his arm thrown wide to hold Mira back.

“Beatrix,” he said, tone measured and calm, “I know what you have sacrificed. And I know how much you love Jeremy. But Jeremy thinks he is in love with Bella. Don’t you think he will be angry if you harm her?”

Beatrix shook her head vehemently as she approached the door to the walkway atop the curtain wall. “He will not know. He does not know about Olivia Linworth. This will be the same. It will look like an accident, like she fell.”

“Except that this time there are witnesses, my lady.”

“Only you. And Jeremy hates you.” Beatrix smiled again, but this time the expression was sad, as though she almost felt sorry for Nicholas.

“Nicholas is not the only witness, Lady Beatrix,” Mira said softly, almost choking on her fear. “I am here as well.”

For an instant, Beatrix looked panicked, but then her face fell back into its expression of eerie serenity. She inclined her head in acknowledgment. “Yes. Miss Fitzhenry. You will vouch for Nicholas. Of course you will. I see you found Olivia’s locket,” Beatrix removed the knife from Bella’s throat long enough to gesture toward Mira’s own neck, “yet you did not run away. You must be completely smitten with Ashfield.” Beatrix kicked open the door leading to the allure and a cool breath of salt-laden air, heavy with moisture, swept into the hallway. The wind was picking up, and the waves crashing below the cliff filled the air with sea spray.

“So when Mira Fitzhenry—who is so obviously madly in love with her betrothed, and who has every reason to detest her cousin—protests Ashfield’s innocence, who will believe you?”

“I will.”

Chapter Twenty

Nicholas had never been so pleased to see his brother.

The young man moved around Mira to stand at Nicholas’s side, hand outstretched in supplication to his mother.

“Mother, please let Bella go.”

Jeremy’s voice sounded hoarse, strangled, and his hand was trembling.

“Jeremy.” The lines of Beatrix’s face softened, and a wistful smile played at the corners of her mouth.

“Mother, please.”

Beatrix sighed in disappointment. “Just like Blackwell. Head turned by every pretty little bit of fluff.” She took a step backward, out the doorway, and the breeze lifted strands of Bella’s fine hair into Beatrix’s eyes. “You always emulated him, tried so hard to please him. Not like you,” she turned to glare at Nicholas, “you who seemed determined to provoke Blackwell at every turn.”