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Chapter Two

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Annabelle stared at her large pile of dresses, her eyelids growing in size at the very sight of them. Certainly, she had no idea they were this many! With more ball gowns than any person of color was expected to have, she had managed to acquire enough dresses to most likely constitute an entire dress shop.

A smile creased the corners of her lips; Elijah had ensured that every one of her dress was made especially for her. And while she never got invited to any ball, she had spent the bulk of her adult life accompanying Elijah to balls.

Even now, as she sat on the edge of her bed, trying to fold her dresses, she could almost picture the look of horror —the sagging lips, bulging eyes, and clutched chests— on the faces of men and women of the aristocracy, as they watched an older man walk into the ball room with a negro clinging to his arm. At first, Annabelle had been conscious of their glares. She had learned earlier in life not to cry for the simple reason that nobody cared about the tears of a slave, but she had come close enough to tears the first night she went to a ball with Elijah. When the ball was over and they had climbed into the carriage, Elijah turned to her, his green eyes filling with compassion.

Leaning forward, he cupped her face in his aged hands. "You, Annabelle, are the most elegant Lady I have ever gotten the privilege of meeting." He smiled. "It would be an injustice to keep you locked up behind closed doors, denying the world the opportunity to meet such a lady of grace."

Annabelle had found herself smiling for the first time that evening. Elijah was right; she was a lady. She had earned her right to be called a lady, and her right to attend balls thrown in honor of lords and ladies, and she wasn't going to let her skin color stand in the way.

It was her first ball that would lead to many others. Elijah always stuck close to her side, filling her with confidence and courage, and soon enough, the rumors began to travel. It began from the highest class of the British elites and moved —ever so swiftly— to the lowest; Lord Elijah Finley was taking his black slave to bed. What was worse was the fact that he had turned that slave into his mistress, proudly displaying her to all of England.

While the rumors continued to thrive, people's hatred for Annabelle grew stronger. But their hatred toward her never seemed to bother her, as much as their hatred toward Elijah as well.

"Do you have to go?!"

Maggie's tearful voice was enough to pull Annabelle back to the present. She nodded her head. She had spent the entire morning saying goodbye to Elijah Finley's servants. It had been a morning of tears and hugs, and she didn't think she had it in her to try to console Maggie, for she herself needed consoling.

"I shall miss you dearly, Lady Annabelle."

Annabelle smiled. The servants hated to see her go, but they understood her decision to leave. Being the only black woman in a household of white servants, Annabelle was the only one who had the past of a slave. They understood her struggles with her past, and they knew not to ask her to remain.

She pulled out a brown cotton dress, and placed it in Maggie's lap. "You should keep that."

Maggie gawked. "Are you certain?! This is so expensive!"

She laughed. "It is!" It was ironic how expensive her dresses were. "I would most likely not need any of these dresses. Surely you can imagine how incredibly silly I would look, cat walking the streets of London wearing a ball gown! Or perhaps going for supplies dressed in an expensive gown?!"

Maggie laughed, her brown eyes lighting up with humor. Placing the back of her hand against her forehead, she tilted her head backward, and closed her eyes. "My, I fainted when I saw that black woman wearing a dress I am certain was designed for the duchess herself!" Maggie mocked, her voice bearing a striking resemblance to a snobbish high class woman. "I would pin her to be a harlot but what man in his right senses would take a woman with such ugly skin to bed?!" Maggie shuddered.

Throwing her head back, Annabelle found it impossible to control her laughter. Maggie's impersonation was right on target.

Annabelle was so busy laughing that she almost missed the light knock that sounded on the door. Rising to her feet, she offered Maggie a wink, before making her way to the door and pulling it open.

"Hope," her smile died on her lips at the sight of the maid who appeared worried. "Is something wrong?"

"I am not certain, Lady Annabelle, but Lord Christian is in the parlor downstairs, and he insists your presence is required."

"Would that be Lord Finley's lawyer?" Annabelle's confusion rose to a higher degree.

"Yes," Hope nodded solemnly. "He insists you be present for the reading of the will. Lord Henry Finley is throwing an angry fit downstairs, and I'm afraid you might have done something wrong!"

"Annabelle couldn't possibly do any more harm than that intrusive stranger —who insists on being Lord Finley's son— has done in the few hours he has been present in the estate!" Maggie huffed, taking a stance behind Annabelle.

Annabelle all of a sudden felt light headed. "Alright, Hope, stay here and help Maggie with my luggage, will you?" Hope nodded, and Annabelle smiled in response, before making her way past Hope and down the hall.

Yet again, as she approached Henry's presence, she felt her heartbeat rise. She didn't think she would have to stand before him ever again and especially during the reading of Elijah's will.

Why had she been requested to attend? Annabelle didn't want to consider the consequence of the meaning of this request as she entered the guest's parlor.

"Lady Annabelle." Lord Christian rose to his feet at her presence but Henry remained seated, refusing to acknowledge her presence as anything more than a servant. The blond woman was seated beside him.

"Lord Christian," she curtsied. "You have requested my presence?"

The lawyer nodded, motioning for her to take a seat on the sofa that sat facing Henry. Nervous, she settled on it, and focused her gaze on her hands.

"Lord Finley, before his passing, summoned me and requested that a will be drawn." Lord Christian began.

Annabelle heard the sound of an envelope being torn open. Christian began to read from Elijah's will. Annabelle tried to pay attention but her heart was stubbornly pounding in an extremely loud manner in her chest.

"...Annabelle is left with my entire estate..."

Annabelle's breath ceased in that moment.

"My vessels..."

Her eyelids pulled shut.

"My lands..."

She opened her lips to facilitate her breathing.

"…as well as my entire life's fortune."

She heard a loud crashing sound, causing her eyelids to snap open as she lifted her gaze to the source. Henry reached for yet another decanter and smashed it on the wooden floor, with a wagon load of curse words spewing out of his lips.

Annabelle sat, her entire body trembling in fear and unbelief. Her heart was pounding so fast in her chest, she was almost certain it would kill her.

" dispose..." Lord Christian continued but was quickly interrupted by Henry.

"That is enough!" Henry roared.

The lawyer barely glanced up. "...of, however she pleases. If Annabelle should decide to share this fortune with my son Henry, then her decision stands. However, the Finley estate in London must remain in Annabelle's possession, as title to it cannot be passed to my son Henry. I trust Annabelle in life, and in death, I will continue to trust in Annabelle's will." Lord Christian finished.

In that second, a loud silence filled the entire room, as all eyes came to rest on Annabelle.

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