Twice as Wicked

By: Elizabeth Bright

For Mom, who inspired my love of reading in general and Jane Austen in particular.





Prologue


1816, Northumberland, England

In their small village just outside of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Adelaide had always been known as the prettier of the Bursnell twins, while Alice was regarded as the smarter—or razor-tongued, as the more uncharitable of her set were wont to say. Which was ridiculous, Alice often thought indignantly but never said out loud, because both sisters were smart.

They were also identical. Same short, slender frame. Same eyes so dark they might as well be black, and same inky hair that framed a startlingly pale face. But—when Alice was honest with herself, which she nearly always was—Adelaide’s sweet nature added an extra twinkle to her eyes and a pleasing curve to her lips that threw the balance in her favor.

Everyone loved Adelaide. Alice, most of all.

So, when Adelaide told Alice that she was in a “spot of trouble,” Alice had wrapped her arms around her sister, held her tight, and murmured, “Oh, Adelaide. It will all be fine.”

And Alice had believed it. As the daughter of Lord Bursnell, Viscount Westsea, the sweet and lovely Adelaide had a sizable fortune. Most men would thank the stars of heaven for the good fortune of being trapped into marriage with such a charming lady. Surely, the man responsible for the “trouble” would stand up for her.

But no man had appeared to claim the lady, and no amount of threats or entreaties could make the lady name the man.

“You will bring ruin and shame on the family,” Lady Westsea had argued. “Think of poor Alice. Who will marry her now? She’s twenty!”

That had elicited a low growl from Alice. Adelaide was also twenty, after all, but no one ever feared that she would remain unmarried. Which was why the whole matter was so disconcerting. One expected Alice to get into mischief of one sort or another. But Adelaide? It was utterly unthinkable.

“You will never be allowed in society again,” Westsea had bellowed.

Adelaide had merely pressed her lips tightly, shaken her head, and clung to the locket around her neck. The locket was identical to the one Alice wore—a two-inch oval of solid silver, engraved with the letter A and adorned with a single diamond, their birthstone. Each contained a picture of the other sister. This was their idea of a joke, of course. When they explained why it was so funny to wear a picture of someone who looked exactly like oneself but was most certainly not oneself, all they got was bemused looks.

When Adelaide began increasing, Westsea shipped his daughter to Our Lady of Good Tidings in France, with instructions to give the baby to an orphanage and for Adelaide to join the nunnery. The Bursnell family were members of the Church of England, but when one was ruined, it hardly mattered if one was Catholic.

Neither Adelaide nor the babe had survived the birth.

Lord and Lady Westsea had hidden the breakables—Alice, as the more tempestuous twin, never shied away from a scene—and informed Alice of Adelaide’s demise as gently as they could.

Indeed, Alice would have obliged them in creating a scene, as she had a year earlier when her late fiancé had not returned from Waterloo, if only she could summon the requisite amount of passion. But she’d felt…nothing.

She’d wordlessly gotten to her feet, climbed the stairs to her bedroom, and shut the door.

When the door opened one month later, Alice was changed. Into what, she hardly knew, but she was certainly no longer herself. An irrevocable line had been drawn, separating the before from the after.

Before, she was a pair. She had always been a pair, for even longer than she had truly been a person at all. Before, she was a Bursnell Twin. She was Alice, of Alice-and-Adelaide. She had never been Just Alice.

After, she was Just Alice.

Just Alice was an empty shell.

It was Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Who was she, if not a reaction to Adelaide? She was nothing.

While Alice of Alice-and-Adelaide was high-spirited and energetic and could often be found dragging her sister into one scrape or another, Just Alice spent her time sitting quietly, her eyes tracing words that her mind never bothered to comprehend. Sometimes she remembered to turn the page, other times the book remained suspended, unmoving, for hours on end.

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