Chapter 5: A Manor of Malice
“Miss,” Ivy murmured as the small desk clock chimed. “They will be serving supper soon.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Carina replied as she set down her sketchbook and rubbed her neck wearily. It was difficult to sit upright in a chair for hours on end when she couldn’t lean against the back of it. Even more distracting was the sensation of the skin along her back being stretched apart every time she moved.
‘Perhaps Judith wrapped the gauze too tightly?’ Carina mused as she stood and checked the back of her dress for bleeding. Seeing none, she wrinkled her nose at the dalmatian girl in the mirror and turned towards the door. “I’ll grab a tray for you from the kitchen on my way back.”
“You really shouldn’t, Miss,” Ivy protested. “I’m not that hungry anyway.”
“Your stomach said quite the opposite not that long ago,” Carina teased as she stopped by the bed to kiss the back of Ivy’s head. “Don’t worry. I’ll be careful. And remember, don’t unlock the door for anyone but me.”
The hallway of the manor’s second floor was quiet. Carina hoped that meant the rest of her family was already downstairs. She locked the door and slipped her key into the hidden pocket tucked beneath the beltline at her waist. Mindful of the weak floorboards that creaked, Carina made her way towards the stairs.
The memory of Ivy’s flayed skin distracted her as Carina nervously tugged on a lock of her ash brown hair. She knew Ivy needed a doctor. Carina’s attempt at emergency care was little more help than a Band-Aid in this situation.
‘But how to convince Lord Josiah to send for a physician?’
Perhaps if Carina slipped out after dinner, she might send Gus to fetch one. But the arrival of a doctor would attract notice one way or another, and then she would be in even more trouble.
Helena would clearly disapprove if she caught wind of Maura summoning a doctor to tend to a mere servant. The other Turnbells would likely be more curious as to how Maura could even afford a physician.
As far as the Turnbells knew, Maura was penniless because she had invested her inheritance early on and lost it all. There was no way she could let any of them know the actual truth; that she was wealthier than all of them combined. Josiah would undoubtedly try to seize control of all her assets, and Blessed Saints knew what her siblings might do to punish her for deceiving them.
After all, Maura only wore plain second-hand clothing and kept her hair unadorned. Even Sophya assumed that Maura could not even afford the most basic cosmetics; otherwise, she would “cover that horrid face of hers.”
Carina smiled. ‘How easily fooled they all were.’ She twisted the hair between her fingers as the distant sound of a piano playing drifted up the stairs. ‘Two more weeks, then I’ll be free of—’
Hands grabbed her suddenly around her neck and waist. Carina recognized their cruel, callous grip as she tried to wrestle herself free. Lincoln dragged her back and slammed her into a wall. He kept her there with his thick arm pressed against her throat, his hot breath masked by cologne and alcohol.
“I have a score to settle with you, half-blood,” he hissed into her ear.
Unable to protest, Carina clawed at the arm, which restricted her breathing, and kicked at his legs.
Lincoln moved back to avoid her pointy shoes and snickered. It was then she saw the bruise on his cheek that stretched up around his left eye. How she regretted not blinding him instead.
“Do you see it now?” he gestured at the thin cut on his cheek that had already scabbed over. “How are you going to make up for this, half-blood?”
“Your—fault,” Carina choked out.
His arm pressed deeper into her throat. Dots blurred in the corner of her eyes as Carina flailed helplessly. Her lungs begged for air as his rancid breath washed over her face. Carina’s heart flickered erratically as her restraints on the cold magic within trembled.
Lincoln’s shadowed gaze narrowed in on her face with a quizzical expression.
“Do you know,” he muttered suddenly, “If I could wash all that filth from your face, you wouldn’t be half bad to look at.”
‘Bloody Hell, he’s drunk!’
As Lincoln leaned in closer, Carina pressed her heel against the wall and lunged her knee skywards.
His gasp of pain exploded against her cheek as his arm slid off her throat, and he doubled over.
Carina squirmed free and clutched her chest as she raced for the steps. She was halfway to the bottom floor when she remembered Ivy and stopped. With a slow, steady breath, Carina turned and watched as Lincoln crawled on his belly and knees to the top of the stairs. His face a discolored red except for the bruise she’d given him.
Her lips curled into a sneer of disgust as Carina let out a faint mocking snicker.
The pain in Lincoln’s eyes sharpened into rage as he clambered to his feet, using the railing for support.
‘That’s right, keep your eyes on me, you scum-sucking maggot!’
Satisfied she had secured his attention, Carina turned and continued down the steps. At least for a little while longer, Ivy could continue to rest undisturbed.
Upon reaching the bottom floor, Carina raced through the foyer and followed the sound of music coming from the library. Sophya would often play for Helena right before supper. Her skills as a musician were amateur at best as the mother and daughter’s true purpose was to gossip and discuss Sophya’s progress with the Baron Winslet’s son, Young Lord Asher.
“His mother is still refusing to acknowledge the proposal as official,” Sophya whined as Carina slipped into the room quietly behind them. “She says its too soon to announce an engagement before the royal couple has been coronated.”
“Nonsense, its only tradition to hold off on marriages until the royal couple has finished their honeymoon. I’ll speak with Lady Florence tomorrow and get this settled,” Lady Helena replied as she gently tidied Sophya’s vivacious red hair. “Besides, it was her son who proposed to you. As long as Young Asher remains firm on the subject, there’s nothing she can do.”
“But Mama—how long will it take for Prince Nicholas and that woman to be crowned King and Queen?”
“Crown Prince Nicholas!” Helena corrected. “And as to when, who can say, their Highnesses have only been married for two weeks. The royal honeymoon could last a month or two, at least.”
The keys of the piano banged together in discord.
“But mother!” Sophya cried as she spun around on the piano bench.
The library door banged open, and Lincoln limped in with a murderous glint in his eyes.
“Big Brother?” Sophya’s distressed expression shifted to one of delight. “Mama, you didn’t tell me Lincoln was home!”
“I was hoping he’d have the sense to return to school before his father got back,” Helena replied as her daughter swept forward to embrace her brother fondly.
Lincoln grimaced in pain but hugged her back gently.
“How are you, sweet sister?”
“As well as could be, but—what happened to your face Lincoln?”
Her sharp green eyes, which mirrored his own, followed his gaze to the corner of the room where Carina sat with a book in hand, ignoring them all.
“When did she—” Sophya’s voice tightened in anger. “What are you doing here?”
Carina held up the book in her hand. “Simply enjoying some light reading before dinner?” she replied.
Lincoln tightened his fists as he limped towards the nearest vacant chair. Sophya watched his movements with concern; her gaze quickly became venomous as she turned back to Carina. “You should announce yourself when entering a room!” she snapped.
“Why?” Carina replied. “This is my home, isn’t it?”
Sophya laughed in amusement and shook her head. “Well, it won’t be for long—”
“Sophya,” Lady Helena hissed.
“What?” Sophya demanded as she unfurled her fan and blinked innocently. “You shouldn’t put off telling Maura the good news.”
“Good news?” Carina repeated as she set down her book.
Lincoln sniggered as he leaned back in his chair to watch as Sophya advanced towards Carina.
“Why yes, delightful news,” Sophya murmured. “It seems Mother has finally found a suitable suitor for you.”