Chapter 26: A Theater of Cruelty
“Lord Josiah!” Percy stepped over the broken seal as he caught hold of Maura’s other arm. “I strongly recommend that you release her.”
Acheron sighed as he stared at the destroyed royal emblem. ‘As fun as it would be to see Percy pummel this muttonhead’s face into the floor—I had better stop this.’
“You should listen to the earl,” Acheron advised. “Tearing up the document and breaking the royal seal does not relinquish you from a royal decree. I must bring Lady Maura back to the palace—by order of their Majesties.”
“This is what you and the Countess had planned all along, isn’t it, you half-blood bitch?” Josiah snapped as he turned his wild gaze on Maura. “No wonder she didn’t want you to get married. She plans to make use of you herself. Ha!” He grabbed the struggling girl’s waist then smacked Percy’s hand free with his cane.
“Let her go, Lord Josiah!” Percy’s voice was quiet, but Acheron could already see the deadly storm swarming behind those cold gray eyes.
“Even if you’re not my daughter by blood, you are by marriage,” Josiah snarled against Maura’s ear as he backed away from the earl. “And I’ll be damned if I see you raised even an inch above your filthy station.”
“You think I’m filthy because of my birth?” Maura replied as her lips twisted into a bitter sneer. “You oppressed my mother because she betrayed you once. Yet you blissfully forget the countless times you betrayed her before? How many bastards and mistresses have you abandoned over the years? How many maids have you sent away carrying your seed? If you want to know what filth looks like, then look at your own bloody hands. Better yet, take a closer look at the spawn you’re so proud of.”
“You—” Josiah’s eyes bulged from his reddening face as he pressed his cane against her neck. “How dare you!”
‘Shit! So much for reasoning with him now.’
“You think you can make a fool of me so easily, half-blood? I’ll see to it you never show your face outside this house again!”
Acheron lunged forward instinctively but not fast enough. He watched in horror as Josiah swung Maura around onto her knees before the hearth, then shoved the girl’s face towards the flames.
Percy wrapped his arm around Josiah’s throat, almost snapping the lord’s neck as he yanked the brute back. Acheron grabbed Maura’s shoulders and pulled her free from Josiah’s grasp. The four of them tumbled and sprawled onto the floor.
Acheron rolled upright and quickly turned Maura over onto her back.
Percy shoved past him as he brushed Maura’s singed hair away from her remarkably undamaged face. “Are you all right?” the earl demanded; his voice strained with panic.
“Yes, I’m—I’m quite alright,” she whispered breathlessly as she raised a trembling hand to her pale cheek.
Acheron sat back, too shaken to enjoy the obvious concern on Percy’s face as the earl continued to check Maura for burns.
“Please, I’m alright, Lord Percy.” She pushed Percy’s hands away firmly only to have the earl catch her arm and pull down her sleeve. Dark bruises wrapped around her delicate wrists, and Percy’s jaw tightened as his gaze snapped towards Josiah.
‘Bloody Hell, here we go.’ Acheron scrambled to his feet just in time to restrain Percy, who lunged towards the startled Josiah. “Easy, easy. Remember your promise to the countess. What do you think killing him will do to your chances of joining the House of Lords?”
With terrifying swiftness, Percy composed himself and broke free of Acheron’s hold. Then he turned and assisted Maura to her feet while Acheron paused to catch a breath and confirm his heart was still in his chest.
‘So, this is what he meant by precaution.’
Not that it was at all uncommon for half-bloods to be mistreated—or often enough sold away as slaves before the world even knew of their existence—but what Acheron had witnessed in the short time he’d entered this manor was a whole other level of cruelty.
‘Even in the presence of a member of the House of Lords, Josiah still publicly attempted to burn her face to stop her from entering the palace!’
Acheron fixed his gaze on Josiah, who stood rubbing his throat where Percy had grabbed him. “Lord Josiah, three times since I have entered this manor, you have committed crimes punishable by death.”
“No!” Sophya gasped.
“Please, my Lord!” Helena cried as she rose from her seat.
Acheron silenced them with a sharp wave of his hand. “Because of the unusual circumstances, hardships, and loss you and your family are going through—I will spare your life.”
As much as Acheron would like to throw Josiah in jail, sentencing him for these crimes would implicate the rest of his family.
Josiah exhaled sharply, though whether in relief or anger, it was difficult to tell.
Acheron glanced towards Percy; one look was all he needed to know this would not be enough. “Lord Josiah, kneel.”
“W-what?” Josiah stammered.
“To forgive you entirely would be to transgress against the oaths I took as an official of Lafeara and servant of their Majesties. Kneel, or I will break your legs.”
Josiah clamped his lips together and slowly lowered his knees to the floor. Behind him, Helena and Sophya clutched each other as they watched Josiah and Acheron fearfully.
‘Bloody Hell.’ Acheron ran a hand through his cinnamon curls as he puzzled how best to punish the baron in a manner that would squash the earl’s anger. He glanced over his shoulder at Percy, who still held a protective arm around Maura, and found his answer.
She raised her gaze towards him, her expression still somewhat dazed.
“As a candidate chosen by the Countess of Hawthorn, what do you think Lord Josiah’s punishment should be?”
Maura blinked slowly, caught off guard, then glanced up at Percy questioningly. The earl gave her the faintest nod of encouragement, and Acheron exhaled slowly in relief.
‘Appease the lady, appease the earl, and nobody gets killed later. Win, win.’
Or so he thought until Maura’s cold gaze settled upon the man who had pushed her into the fire.
“That hand—” she said coldly as she gestured to Josiah’s right hand upon the carpet, “—he struck me with it often. And today, he tried to burn me.”
“Say no more,” Percy replied as he released her and bent to retrieve Josiah’s cane from the floor.
Before either Acheron or Josiah could register his intent, Percy swung the cane over his shoulder with vicious speed and brought it crashing down on Josiah’s hand. The sound of bone and wood shattering filled the room as Sophya fainted and Helena stumbled back onto the couch and before vomiting down her dress.
Josiah gaped down at his mangled hand. His strangled scream flooded against the library walls as Percy tossed the broken cane aside. Behind him, Maura pushed back the strands of her singed, untidy hair and smiled.