Twenty-four (2)

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Three o'clock chimed on the grandfather clock in Weatherly's entrance hall.

At last most people had left or were in bed, and the manor was quiet. The fireworks had been cancelled because of the rain, the police had come and gone, and the doctor's case had been closed, thanks to his death. Everyone seemed to believe the version of the story Izzy had fed them, about Vita's dog tearing Finley's throat out when he had attacked them.

With a heavy sigh, Izzy walked into her bedroom, ready to collapse on her covers without even taking her dress off. The evening had not gone according to plan by any means, but she was alive, and so were her friends, and in the grand scheme of things, that was what mattered.

She let the door close behind her and looked up. Her mother sat on her bed, her face pinched with a concerned expression.

"Go away," Izzy snapped.

She walked behind the folding screen, waiting for Lady Rhodes to take the hint and leave. She unbuttoned her ruined dress, but no sound indicated movements on the other side of the room.

"I want to go to bed," Izzy said. "I'm not interested in what you have to say."

"Darling," her mother's voice was soft, and irritatingly condescending. "I just want what's best for you."

Izzy snorted, and let her dress fall on the floor. "And what's that, in your opinion? Lying to all your friends for months and divorcing Father?"

"You used to be such a sweet girl." Lady Rhodes let out a sigh. "That Victoria Hartpole girl has had a terrible influence on you."

Anger flared in Izzy's throat. "Don't you dare talk about her that way."

Her reply silenced her mother for a moment. She pulled her nightgown over her head and took off her shoes and stockings, before making her way to her dressing table to brush her tangled hair.

"Will you at least promise me you'll consider marrying Henry Stratford?" Lady Rhodes said at last.

Izzy let out a laugh. "Henry Stratford? Are you serious?"

In her mirror, her mother's reflection shook her head with consternation. "Your father arranged it all. He's a perfectly acceptable suitor. And he's family, so once you're engaged, he won't go back on his word, even when he finds out about your father's situation."

Izzy gaped, lost for words. They had it all worked out. Except for the part where she had to give her consent. She put down her brush with a thud, and stood up to face her mother.

"Well, forget it," she said, astonished by her own audacity. "I'm not marrying him. I'm marrying Robert Lang. And I don't care if Father and you disagree."

Her mother stood up as well. "You can't marry him without your father's consent!"

But her voice was high and uncertain, giving Izzy the confidence she needed.

"If he doesn't, I'll tell the press about his financial situation. I'll do it tomorrow. He won't have time to steal from more of his friends or flee the country. He'll be in jail by the end of the week."

She sounded so self-assured, it was like being possessed. But then her mother's mouth hung open with horror, and she knew she'd won. She walked to her door and opened it.

"Good night, Mother. I'll see you at breakfast."

Lady Rhodes left the room, her back stiff and her face pale, and Izzy's heart suddenly beat harder. She decided it was with joy, and not panic, at what she'd just done.

She couldn't wait to tell Robert in the morning.


From the library's window, Vita watched the guests' elegant motorcars file out of the estate. On Dr Mead's orders, she'd had breakfast in bed, therefore avoiding the tedious task of bidding farewell to all these people and having to explain why her leg was bandaged.

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