Chapter 98: The Wings of Fate
There is a scent in the air when it rains. A promise that the cleansing downpour will erase the misguided efforts of mortals and correct the course of fate. ‘Or at least, that is how Ivy would describe it.’ Carina watched the steady drizzle silently from her seat in the balcony, which overlooked the courtyard of Rose Palace. The rain had gathered in pools along the checkered floor before her. A battlefield upon which Carina now struggled to find her place.
She could no longer deny that her past and future here in Lafeara were vastly different from Maura’s. With Josiah and Helena now gone—what did she have to fear outside the palace? If it weren’t for her oath to Eleanora and her promise to Maura, Carina could easily slip away with the pretext of family matters and begin a new life somewhere else.
“Would you abandon everything so easily?” The ghost at her shoulder asked.
Carina drank in a cold breath and exhaled. The frozen mist glided before her only to be smothered beneath the warm summer shower.
“No,” she answered. “A promise is a promise.”
Cold arms slid around her shoulders as Maura embraced her silently. “I only have you,” the ghost whispered and left.
The rain grew lighter as Carina traced the gold wolf emblem on the death notice. It was time for a new plan. Now that her original arrangements to wreck the Turnbell family were no longer necessary, she could focus on the first of many battles before her.
‘The Ambassador’s visit.’
A flutter of wings proceeded the black crow that dove down through the open sky ceiling and settled beside her on the balcony.
Carina watched the creature warily as it’s black eyes peered curiously at the death notice. “You wouldn’t happen to be the little devil that stole my bell, would you?” she asked distrustfully.
The bird ruffled its wings in response and sprinkled her with rain. Then it examined her with an uncanny dark gaze before it opened its sharp beak and screeched.
Carina cringed as she left her seat and glared at the bird. “Honestly, what is your problem?” She sighed and rubbed her forehead. “Why do I keep talking to you—it’s not like you can understand me with your stupid little bird brain.”
“They’re actually smarter than you think, Lady Maura.”
The crow cackled as Carina started and turned towards the balcony staircase behind her. Percy gave her a wry smile as he took the last step and approached with another bouquet of lavender roses.
“Lord Percy?” Carina tucked the death notice behind her back as she offered him a smile. “You are here to visit your cousin?”
Percy shook his head with a gentle smile as he held out the flowers. “No, I came here to congratulate you.”
Carina frowned as she examined the roses. “Congratulate me?”
Percy raised a brow. “On becoming a Baroness?”
“Oh!” Carina exhaled, shook her head, and stepped forward to accept the flowers. “Yes, thank you—I had forgotten.”
Percy chuckled. “Your province would be in poor hands if their Baroness were to forget about them so easily. I believe it was the town of Averly my cousin gave to you?”
“Yes,” Carina replied distractedly as she fiddled with the stems of the roses. “I suppose I should figure out my responsibilities—the sooner, the better.”
“Then I hope you will rely on me, Lady Maura, even if only a little. I am an Earl with many provinces and estates to manage after all, so I have a bit of experience to offer.”
Carina eyed him suspiciously, but rather than smug, he looked—hopeful? “Yes, why not?” She mumbled after a moment. “Thank you. I shall be counting on you then, Lord Percy.”
Percy flashed her a smile of gratitude that made Carina inexplicably uneasy. She focused on the flowers before her. “These are lovely, but you should really stop gifting me flowers. Your fiancé might misunderstand if—”
Percy stepped closer and leaned in. Carina froze as she took in the ghostly white and black shadows of his winter-gray eyes, mere inches from hers.
“Is that why you’ve been so cold to me lately?” Percy asked softly. “Because you think I’m engaged?”
Carina stepped back awkwardly as her mind went blank. “I—” The rain had curled his dark mahogany brown hair and covered his skin, long nose, and curled lips in a light sheen. “No—that is—” she blinked and dropped her gaze. “Your engagement has nothing to do with me, Lord Percy,” she gushed out uncomfortably.
“I’m not engaged.”
Carina glanced up at him, surprised, and then quickly averted her gaze as a sudden heat flooded her cheeks. “But you will be—to Lady Evelynn—”
“That is but a one-sided misunderstanding and hope on her part,” Percy answered patiently. “Lady Evelynn is clinging to the delusion that my Hawthorn name and wealth will save her father from poverty and herself from ruin.” He straightened and played with the signet ring on his right hand. “I have rejected their proposal numerous times, but the Countess has mistakenly encouraged them because she finds Lady Evelynn’s background—suitable.”
‘Because even an impoverished viscount is still a highly ranked noble. I suppose that makes sense.’
Carina adjusted the bouquet in her arms as she tried to think up an adequate response. Percy bent down suddenly and lifted the death notice from her distracted grip.
“It seems you’ve just received unpleasant news,” Percy observed as he studied the black envelope and raised an inquisitive brow. “Your family?”
“Lord Josiah and Lady Helena,” Carina replied with a quick smile. “It seems I must include orphan in my list of unsavory titles.” She moved past him to the balcony, where she focused on the small pool at the center of the tiled chessboard.
The crow ruffled its wings. Its dark gaze danced from Percy to the bouquet of roses in her arm. It hopped persistently closer and pecked at the lavender petals. Carina waved it away angrily.
“You will possess suitable titles worthy of you soon enough,” Percy whispered behind her.
“Is this annoying bird a pet of yours?” Carina asked as she eyed her dancing opponent. “I met a similar menace in the Hawthorne Manor bathhouse.”
“He is impertinent,” Percy replied as he moved beside her and held out his hand. The crow hopped onto it instantly and bowed as Percy stroked its head. “Perhaps he is simply jealous of you.”
“Jealous?” Carina scoffed as she attempted to fix the battered blossom. “I didn’t know crows like roses.
“Speaking of roses,” Percy murmured. “There will be a funeral for your parents.”
Carina frowned as she turned to face him. “Yes. What of it?”
“You should go,” Percy replied as he turned his gaze to her.
“They didn’t even invite me to Lincoln’s funeral—why would I bother attending theirs?” Carina countered in disbelief.
The Earl’s face darkened for a moment before he turned to face the courtyard. “Because it will be a good opportunity for you to connect with your grandfather.”
‘Maura’s grandfather?’ “The Viscount? Why?”
Percy tapped his left shoulder. The crow squawked softly and obediently crawled up his arm to perch there. “You already have a title; the only thing holding you back is your status as a half-blood,” Percy explained as he turned and leaned against the balcony with a knowing smile. “And the only way to remove that status is to gain your family’s last name. Viscount Gilwren can give you that name.”
“At a cost,” Carina said sharply. As Sir Bryson had explained, taking a family name meant tying herself and her wealth to that family. As a woman, that meant giving up her freedom once more. ‘Not a chance.’
“Viscount Gilwren has no interest in your wealth or position here in the palace,” Percy continued confidently. “He has more than enough wealth and has made his mark as the leader of the Royal Merchant’s Guild. If anything, you would benefit by becoming his sole heir.”
Carina shook her head quickly. “But Sophya is a legitimate heir.”
“Not after he cut off Lady Helena. Both of you and Sophya are unrecognized heirs, and both of you have Gilwren blood.”
Carina glanced down at the small space between them and edged away as she considered his words. “I have no interest in fighting with Sophya over the fortune and affections of an estranged grandparent.”
‘I have my own fortune that I am now free to use.’
“So, you would let Sophya have it all uncontested?” Percy shook his head. “You don’t have to fight with her, Maura, just let the Viscount meet you. Let him make this decision with at least an impression of you both.” He paused and sighed when she did not respond. “Sophya is already engaged to Lord Asher and set to become the next Baroness of Winslet. Do you honestly think she can manage one estate on her own, let alone two?”
Carina shrugged. ‘Sophya was engaged to Lord Asher in Maura’s past life too. As long as she doesn’t bother me, I won’t bother her.’ She shifted uncomfortably beneath Percy’s curious gaze and cleared her throat. “Does the Countess wish for me to befriend the Viscount?”
“Mother?” His voice went taut as a flicker of annoyance crossed his face. “The Countess is—indisposed at the moment. Nothing serious, but Physician Hayes has advised her to travel to the country and take in some fresh air and rest.”
“Oh, I did not realize,” Carina murmured, somewhat surprised the Countess had not written to inform her. “Did she take Ivy with her?”
“No.” Percy shook his head and ran a hand through his damp hair. “Ivy will remain at the estate to look after Gus, who is doing much better by the way. Last night he was able to sit up and enjoy a bowl of soup all on his own.”
Carina exhaled sharply with relief as she leaned against the balcony. “That is good to hear.” ‘I should make some ointment to help reduce the scaring for him. Knowing Ivy, she will probably give him the bottle I gave her.’
“Tell Ivy I will send her a package very soon and that—” she broke off as Percy reached out and pushed back the stray curls of her ash-brown hair. His fingers grazed her ear and trailed down her neck while his focused gaze sent a shiver of fear and warmth through her.
Carina pushed off the balcony with an awkward step on her bandaged ankle. “T-thank you—for the flowers, Lord Percy. I should return to the Crown Princess.” She turned and fled towards the stairs.
Percy caught her arm swiftly and held her back. “Please, wait a moment, Lady Maura.”