Chapter 24: A Blindfold of Pride
Sophya heard the disgust in Acheron’s voice and hid a malicious smile behind her handkerchief.
‘Yes, that’s right, the one you refer to as a lady has little better status than a servant.’
“Lord Percy, you are so generous,” she murmured with her eyes downcast. “To even be worried about my unfortunate sister at such a time.”
Helena stared at her daughter with an expression of stunned disbelief.
Although Maura’s origins were no secret in this household for Sophya to admit her mother’s disgrace so openly—and in front of a member of the House of Lords no less—was sure to create a public scandal.
‘It serves you right, Mother. Did you honestly think we were grateful you came back carrying that filthy child? I wish Father had divorced you. Better to tolerate a new step-mother than to live with a half-blood.’
Sophya pulled away from Helena’s rigid grip and sniffed tearfully into her handkerchief as she approached Acheron. “Forgive me, my Lord. We have not been introduced.” She dipped into a curtesy and lifted her gaze with a magnetic smile. “I am Lady Sophya.”
Usually, a parent or married relative was required to make introductions for an unmarried noblewoman. Still, Sophya wasn’t about to let the opportunity to meet a member of the House of Lord’s slip past, especially when Acheron appeared to have come here on Maura’s behalf.
‘Whatever cleverness that half-blood used to bewitch the countess and her son; I must not let her succeed.’
Lord Acheron took a moment to compose himself. Then he stepped forward with a polite smile as he took Sophya’s hand and kissed the back of it lightly. “Lord Acheron at your service. My condolences and deepest sympathies on the passing of your brother.”
Sophya returned a quivering smile. “Thank you, Lord Acheron, did you know my brother?”
“Lord Acheron is a member of the House of Lords,” Percy said with a skeptical tone. “He moves in higher circles than that of a schoolboy.”
“No need to be so harsh, Percy,” Acheron remarked with a disapproving smile. “But he is right, my dear, I am rarely far from the capital these days.”
“Oh my!” Sophya covered her surprised gasp. “And what brings such an important nobleman to our humble home?”
“Palace business,” Acheron replied as he pulled the official document from his jacket. “Which is why I must insist on seeing your half-sister, Lady Maura, immediately.”
“Oh, I see.” Sophya’s smile faded as she turned her sharp gaze from the official seal towards the butler. “Do inform Maura that she is required downstairs to greet an important guest.”
The servant bowed and circled the foyer towards the stairs.
Sophya observed Percy’s distracted gaze that followed the servant as she stepped closer to Acheron. “We shall try not to delay your business a moment longer, Lord Acheron. But, as her concerned older sister, might I ask why Maura is of interest to you?”
“Your sister was put forward and accepted as a candidate for the position of lady-in-waiting to her Highness, Crown Princess Eleanora, our future queen,” Acheron replied.
“What?” Sophya gasped, “Maura serving at the palace?” She turned towards her mother just as Helena whimpered and wilted to the floor in a faint.
After a moment of stunned silence, Percy and Acheron quickly moved to the unconscious woman’s side.
“Mother!” Sophya shrieked. Her panic and frustration turned to annoyance as the noblemen fanned the unconscious woman. “My Lords, forgive me for asking such a thing.” She masked her irritation with a pleading smile. “My mother has been greatly distressed. Could you please help me carry her to the library where she might recover more comfortably?”
“Certainly,” Acheron replied with a commanding glare at Percy.
“Allow me,” Percy muttered through clenched teeth. He lifted Helena into his arms and stood. “Which way is the library?”
“Please follow me, my Lords,” Sophya replied and led them down the hall, away from the foyer and her sister.
“Tell them I shall be down shortly,” Carina said after the butler relayed his message.
“Yes, Miss,” the servant replied as he bobbed his head.
Carina shut the door and turned to Ivy.
“Miss!” Ivy whispered. “Is Lord Percy here to deliver us?”
“No, not Lord Percy.” Carina shook her head thoughtfully. “Lord Acheron is to be our savior. As the newest member of the House of Lords, he was a suitable choice to deliver the official decree. Though he has a somewhat sordid reputation.” She stepped in front of the mirror and pinched her pale cheeks. “Wait here with the bags. I’ll send for you the moment—”
A loud bang came from the house below them.
“Helena!” Lord Josiah’s voice boomed. “Where the bloody hell is everyone?”
Ivy paled as Carina cracked the bedroom door open.
“It appears Josiah has finally heard the news,” Carina observed quietly. “So much for an easy exit.” She drew in a deep breath and steeled herself for the battle ahead. “Stay here, Ivy,” she repeated as she stepped out the door, her key in hand. “And don’t come out until I send for you.”
“Mistress!” Ivy cried as she followed.
“That is an order.” Carina shut the door and turned the key in the lock.
“Miss!” Ivy’s distressed voice reached her through the keyhole. “Maura, you must be careful!”
“I’ll be fine,” Carina said as she touched the door frame gently. “He won’t do anything in front of Lord Percy and Lord Acheron.”
A crash echoed through the hallway. Carina turned and walked towards the storm that raged below. At the top of the stairs, she could see the butler kneeling on the lower steps clutching his head. She descended cautiously, but the chaos seemed to have moved further inside the manor.
“Miss,” the butler groaned as he glanced towards her. A streak of blood ran between the fingers pressed to his forehead.
“Get the servants out of the manor quickly,” Carina ordered as she walked past him. “If they want to live, tell them to stay inside the servant’s quarters until dinner time.”
“Miss?” The butler’s eyes spread in alarm. “The Master will only kill us if we—”
“He will not be your Master for much longer,” Carina interjected with a malicious smile.
The servant stared at her, his eyes suddenly registered the difference in her appearance, and he straightened. “I understand, Mistress.” He bowed his head and added, “The Earl and Lord Acheron are in the library.” Then he hastened towards the back of the house, where the rest of the servants were no doubt cowering in fear.
Carina watched him leave and pressed a hand against her chest, where her frozen heart continued to beat calmly.
‘It’s not your fault that you never once stood up for me.’ She turned and headed towards the library, where Josiah’s voice could be heard screaming. ‘And I can’t continue to hide while others suffer because of my actions. So, consider this my apology for all the torment you have endured.’
It was with difficulty that Percy had restrained himself as Sophya subtly lay the groundwork for Maura’s undoing. Acheron, as clever as he might be, was easily swayed by a pretty face, and Sophya had done her best to charm him.
The arrival of Lord Josiah, however, quickly dashed that charm as the enraged father lamented the loss and death of his son by smashing and destroying his own property as the servants scattered for cover. His public grief soon turned to outrage as Sophya explained Percy and Acheron’s reason for being here.
“I demand you explain this absurdity!” Josiah roared. “What right does a half-blood have to enter the palace at all? Let alone become a lady-in-waiting to the future Queen! I am shocked and appalled on behalf of their majesties. No—I cannot allow that child to smear the reputation of the royal court and this family!”
“Lord Josiah,” Percy replied through gritted teeth. “I understand you are under a great deal of grief and shock. But Lady Maura was handpicked and groomed by my mother, the Countess.”
“Lady? You dare to address that half-blood as if she were of equal rank to my daughter, Sophya?” Josiah sputtered. “If the palace wants a true-blood noble lady to serve the Crown Princess, then Sophya is clearly the better choice!”
“Oh?” Acheron replied with a weary sigh as he sank into a chair. “Has she received any training for such a post?”
“Acheron!” Percy hissed.
“No, my Lord.” Sophya curtsied humbly. “But I am often praised by my instructors as a quick learner.”
“Hmm.” Acheron appraised her and shook his head. “Unfortunately, without the proper training, education, and the backing of a notable noble family, someone of your—background would likely never be considered.”
Sophya’s cheeks flushed scarlet with defeat. “Of course,” she murmured as she straightened. “But—and forgive me, Lord Percy, for saying so—I was under the impression that ladies who wished to serve at court must be—unblemished?”
‘Vicious little cunt.’ Percy folded his arms tightly behind his back as he sucked in a slow breath.
Acheron’s eyebrows rose sharply as he took in Sophya’s meaning. “Is there something wrong with Lady Maura?”
“Perhaps the heaven’s saw fit to mark her with the sins of her birth,” Lord Josiah spat with a disgusted look at Helena, who lay conscious but silent upon the couch, her complexion still very pale. “I can barely stand the sight of the brat. It was difficult enough to find someone willing to marry her.”
“What?” Percy spun towards Josiah. “Marriage?”
“Even if the Countess doesn’t approve, it’s a suitable match for someone of her status,” Josiah replied, undisturbed by the wrathful gaze the earl directed towards him. “But to have such ugliness at the side of her Highness, the Crown Princess! I would sooner offer up my own neck.”
“How thoughtful of you to do so, Lord Josiah,” replied a soft voice from the doorway.
The gaze of the entire room swept towards Maura as Sophya let out a startled shriek, and Percy smiled.