Chapter 8: A Brush of Deception
Carina blinked and hurriedly pressed the handkerchief over her nose and mouth like a mask as Percy’s warning sank in. The wine Helena had thrown in her face. The tablecloth she had used to wipe her eyes and cheeks.
“Excuse me,” Carina whispered as she turned and fled upstairs.
She checked the handkerchief as she rushed towards her bedroom. The tell tale brown splotches against the fabric confirmed what she already feared. Her painfully constructed mask was crumbling.
Carina’s hands trembled as she pulled out the key, clumsily unlocked the bedroom door, entered, and shut it firmly behind her.
“You’re back,” Ivy greeted hoarsely, now curled up beneath the blankets shivering. Her jade green eyes, rimmed red with tears, peered out at Carina.
“Yes.” Carina slid the lock bolt in place and groaned. “And I’ve forgotten your dinner—I’m sorry.”
“Your dress?” Ivy mumbled as she struggled to untangle herself.
“No, don’t get up!” Carina moved closer and gently pressed the back of her hand to Ivy’s sweating forehead. “You have a slight fever. Don’t worry about the dress. I believe some timely assistance has arrived in the form of Lord Percy.”
“Countess Constance’s son,” Carina reminded her.
“Your face is—” Ivy hesitated.
“Yes, apparently the makeup isn’t wine resistant,” Carina commented dryly.
Ivy laughed, winced, and curled up in her little cocoon. Carina tenderly brushed the maid’s damp blonde hair away from her burning cheeks.
“Mm, your hands—are cold,” Ivy mumbled.
Carina leaned down and blew a cool breath against Ivy’s forehead. The icy mist settled and sparkled against her skin and hair. Carina knew it wouldn’t last long, but when Ivy’s tired eyes fluttered open, and she offered a faint smile—that was enough to ease her anxiety.
‘Percy is bringing a doctor. She’ll be alright.’
Carina reluctantly pushed away from the bed to sit before the vanity mirror. The apple-shaped brown spot that ran from her left eye down her cheek was indeed noticeably smudging into more of a pear shape. A few of the smaller brown spots were also blurring from the wine.
Should she be relieved or worried that Lord Percy had noticed her dalmatian spots were running? Only Countess Constance and Ivy had ever seen Maura’s face bare of any makeup.
‘He didn’t give me away though—if anything, he warned me before the poisonous duo noticed.’
Carina opened a drawer and pulled out a modest jewelry box. She flipped the box over to expose the false bottom where her special paint and cosmetics waited.
Seven oddly shaped brown spots were removed from her face with the help of a cleansing avocado oil and water mixture. Afterward, Carina used a damp rag to wipe her skin spotless and then patted her face dry. Once finished, she removed a flexible waterproof mask made of leather that served as a stencil to ensure her dalmatian spots were restored in the exact same placement and size as before.
Once she was satisfied with the somewhat hasty reapplication, Carina removed the mask, touched up her artwork, and then tidied up and hid away her tools of deception.
“Just a little while longer,” Carina promised her reflection.
Maura’s reflection stared blankly back at her. The brown spots replaced with angry red patches of burned skin that covered the right side of her face and spread down her neck and chest.
Carina met the ghost’s haunted gaze as the memory washed over her like a cold burn.
“How dare you! I saw you flirting with him!” Sophya shrieked as she grabbed a fist full of Maura’s hair and yanked her from the garden swing.
“Stop! I wasn’t flirting with him!” Maura protested as she stumbled to her knees.
“Oh please, spare me the ‘I’m so innocent’ act, Maura!” Sophya snarled. “You smiled at him. You even put on makeup today. As if a half-blood like you could steal Asher away from me.”
“Let me go!” Maura snapped as she struggled to rise and attempted to pry Sophya’s grip from her hair. “I only smiled to be polite. It was Asher who approached me. Why are you so paranoid? You’re the one that’s engaged to him.”
“Yes,” Sophya hissed venomously. “I am his fiancé. So keep your nasty smiles and fawning hands away from my future husband.” She shoved Maura to the ground and spun away.
“I’m not after anything of yours,” Maura spat as she pushed her disheveled hair back from her face. “I want nothing to do with Asher or the problems in your relationship. If anyone was acting flirtatious, it was him. Perhaps that’s something you should consider before you’re stuck with a husband just like Lord Josiah.”
“Shut up, Maura!” Sophya screamed as she whirled around. “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”
Maura rose to her feet and sighed as she shook her head. “I won’t say anymore. It has nothing to do with me.” She picked up the book that had fallen from her lap. When she turned around, Sophya held a garden bucket in her hands. Maura froze as she eyed the murky black mixture of fertilizer and rainwater. “What are you—”
“Reminding you of your place, half-blood,” Sophya seethed as she flung the contents of the bucket at Maura. The acidic fertilizer slapped against Maura’s face and chest as she turned away, staggered backward, and fell on her hands and knees.
Maura gasped as she hastily wiped the toxic mixture from her right cheek. She sucked in a shaky breath as she stumbled to her feet and ran past Sophya to the house. The air whipped past her face as she choked back a sob. Tears fell down her cheeks to mingle with the harsh chemicals that burned her skin.
Carina closed her eyes as the memory’s grip faded, and with it, Maura’s ghost. The room settled in around her with an eerie silence, and she turned to find Ivy, shivering but sleeping in the bed. Carina tucked the jewelry box away in the drawer and rubbed her neck tiredly.
Sophya’s overly paranoid and jealous nature was something Carina had avoided by creating her own skin deformity. She had started her deception with only a few small spots when she was nine. Over time she gradually added more and enlarged them to make their appearance natural. The dalmatian spots, which resembled an exaggerated version of the melasma brown spots, were a tiring façade to maintain. But better a daily routine of ugly than the permanent scar Maura had been forced to endure.
‘Then again, perhaps a scar would be better if it kept Josiah from selling me off like cattle,’ Carina thought bitterly.
A knock at the bedroom door pulled Carina from her thoughts. She slid the bolt back and opened the door to find a humble-looking man standing outside the threshold, bag in hand.
“Good evening, dear lady, I am Physician Hayes. I believe you were expecting me,” he said with an air of brisk civility.
Carina leaned out into the hallway to find Lord Percy resting against the wall beside her door. His gray eyes danced over her face with a hint of amusement before he straightened and nodded his head in greeting.
“You can trust him. Physician Hayes has been with my family for years,” Percy stated simply.
“May I come in to examine you?” Hayes inquired patiently.
“Of course, but first—” Carina stepped back and gestured towards Ivy. “Could you please see to her injuries.”
“This—” Hayes’ expression turned doubtful as he looked to Percy.
“Whatever the lady wishes,” Percy said with a polite smile as he narrowed his gaze on the doctor.
“Very well, then should I examine and treat the maid first?” Hayes asked as he stepped over the threshold.
“If you wouldn’t mind, please, Physician Hayes,” Carina replied with a respectful tone.
He nodded, suddenly all business-like as he set his bag down on the floor beside the bed and gently shook Ivy awake.
Carina exhaled with relief and turned to find Percy in the doorway. His gray eyes were fixated upon her with barely disguised interest.
“Mother mentioned you had a knack for survival,” Percy commented in a low voice as he tapped the large brown spot on her cheek. “Until just a little while ago, I never understood her meaning.”
Carina eyed him warily and then offered a tight smile. “Thank you for your assistance, Lord Percy, but I believe we require a little privacy right now.” She stepped back and shut the door on his amused grin.