Forbidden to the Duke(10)

By: Liz Tyner

‘I think you are the one not agreeing with me.’

‘So it has never happened before?’

‘Not recently.’

‘An oversight?’ Wide eyes.

‘I can hardly believe you and the countess are sisters.’

‘If you think we are brothers, then I do not know what to say.’

‘You are—’ He gave up. If she could use that same spirit to release his mother’s mind from the memories snaring her, it would be worth the risk. He had no other options.

Chapter Three

Bellona took the carriage to the duke’s house, frowning each time the vehicle jostled her. Darting through the woods would have been so much easier, but when the gamekeeper’s eyes had rested on her the last time, a drop of spittle had escaped his lips when he’d smiled at her. The past had flooded back. She’d thought to put the memories behind her, but they’d returned like a wave, currents underneath tugging at her, trying to pull her to death.

Even now, looking out of the window, she could imagine a face peering at her from behind each tree. The eyes reflecting dark, evil thoughts, or no thoughts at all. Knowledge returned of looking into the pupils and seeing nothing human in a face she’d once seen innocently. Nothing behind those eyes which reasoned or thought, but only the same blankness from the face of an animal intent on devouring its prey.

She’d heard the tales of people being fed to lions. Telling the lion to think about the rightness of not clamping its teeth around her neck would do no good. Reminding the beast that she was merely wishing to live out her life wouldn’t change anything. The lion might appear calm, but it would be thinking of only how to get a straighter lunge.

Bellona had known Stephanos before he killed—watched him dance and laugh and work as he’d grown older. Nothing had indicated how one day he would look at her with the harshness of death seeping from him like muck bubbling over the side of a pot left on the fire too long and too hot to pull away with bare hands.

The truth roiled inside her. She’d not escaped to a land where she could let her guard down. Men kept their power within themselves, behind their smiles and their laughter. Like a volcano, the fury could burst forth and take every being in its path.

The day her father had raged at her over a painting she’d accidentally knocked over, she’d known he would have preferred her to be the one broken in the dirt. If he could have traded her to have the painting back on the easel, he would have. He would have rejoiced if she could have been bruised and broken and his painting fresh and new.

Nothing had changed. She’d only lied to herself, hoping she’d be able to forget the past and sleep peacefully again, safe, in this new land.

Even the maid sitting across from her didn’t give her the feeling of security she’d hoped. Moving her foot inside her boot, she felt the dagger sheath, reassuring herself.

She braced her feet as the carriage rolled to a stop. A lock of hair tickled Bellona’s cheek as she opened the door and stepped out. Pushing the strand aside, she looked at the darkened eyes of the Harling House windows. Sunlight reflected off the glass and a bird flitted by, but the house looked no more alive than a crypt.

The entrance door opened before her foot cleared the top step.

The expanse of space between her and the stairway could have swallowed her former home. She could not blame the duchess for not wanting to leave her chamber. This part of the house, with all its shine and perfection, didn’t look as if it allowed anyone to stop for a moment, but to only pass through.

The butler led her to a library which had more personality than she’d seen so far in the house. The pillow on the sofa had been propped perfectly, but one corner had lost its fluff. The scent of coals from the fireplace lingered in the air. The figurines on the mantel had been made at different times by different artists.

One alabaster shape had a translucency she could almost see through. One girl wore clothing Bellona had never seen before. A bird was half in flight. She noted a cracked wing on one angel. The hairline fracture had browned. This hadn’t happened recently and been unnoticed. Someone had wanted to keep the memento even with the imperfection.

Then she studied the spines of the books lining the shelves. Some of the titles she could read, but the English letters her oldest sister, Melina, had taught her years ago were hard to remember. She asked the maid and the woman knew less about the words than Bellona did.

The open-window curtains let much light into the room and the view overlooked where her carriage had stopped. A book lay askew on the desk and another one beside it, plus an uncorked ink bottle. The chair was pulled out and sat slightly sideways. Someone had been sitting there recently, able to see her arrive, and had left a few papers scattered about.