Annabelle stumbled into her bedchamber, her hand pressed to her chest as she struggled to still her pounding heart. Tears burned her eyes, but she didn't dare cry or give in to the crippling pain in her chest.
A part of her wanted to scream—to open her mouth and let out her frustration. How could Elijah do this?! Why would Elijah do this?! Why would he die, leaving her everything and choosing to not just fuel the rumors of their affair together, but to disinherit his son?!
She searched her heart for answers, something—anything—to justify Elijah’s decision to further ruin her life by willing everything to her. Society would never forgive her, and so would Henry!
Certainly, Elijah did this to punish Henry! Annabelle never understood their relationship or the reason for the feud that existed between them. If he didn't do this to punish Henry, then perhaps he did it because he loved Annabelle in other ways. She shook her head, thinking Elijah could have taken advantage of her if he wanted, but he never did.
Frustrated, she groaned, flinging herself to the bed. Surely Henry would despise her for something she knew nothing about! No, she shook her head; she needed to sign everything back to Henry! He deserved it. She would pay the lawyer a visit tomorrow and prepare the documents. She would also insist on ridding herself of the Finley estate, for she wanted nothing to do with it especially—
“Annabelle!” Maggie’s squealing voice reached her, halting her thoughts. “Good lord, Annabelle, I heard what happened!” Annabelle turned to the side to find Maggie jumping in excitement.
She groaned, throwing a pillow over her head.
“Oh, my lord was a smart man! He knew how horrendous his son is, and he wasn’t about to hand anything to—”
“And you’re not happy?” Maggie’s tone fell in disappointment. “Lord Finley gifts you his life’s fortune and makes you the lady of several manors scattered across England, but this somehow displeases you?!” The pillow lifted from Annabelle’s face and she found Maggie staring down at her with a raised brow.
“I want nothing to do with Lord Finley’s fortune.”
Maggie rolled her eyes. “I know. Yet, he has willed it to you. Oh, I can only imagine the look on the faces of those snobbish lords and ladies when they find that a recent addition has been added to their circle!” She gestured with her hands.
“I shall be willing it back to Lord Henry.”
“What?!” Maggie’s lips fell open, her eyelids bulging. “You shall do no such thing!”
“Maggie, it’s rightfully his. I have done nothing to earn, deserve, or even want this. Lord Finley has been kind to me, and I refuse to continue to take advantage of him.”
“Annabelle.” Maggie took hold of both her hands and pulled her to a sitting position. Settling beside her, she leaned forward. “Lord Finley might have been old, but he wasn’t a fool. He was aware of Lord Henry’s existence, yet he chose to leave everything in your possession. Perhaps there is a reason?”
“Perhaps, but I cannot think of any!” Neither could she see any logic in Elijah’s actions.
Maggie smiled in response, as if oblivious of the implications of Elijah’s decision. For surely she knew it would do nothing but fuel the rumors of an affair between Annabelle and Elijah! Surely she was aware of how far Elijah’s decision would go in aiding to ruin Annabelle’s life!
“Then you shall wait until you find a reason,” Maggie said.
“Maggie...” she sighed.
Maggie shot her chin forward in an obvious show of defiance. “You will not disrespect a dead man’s last wishes by choosing to trivialize it!”
“Loved you, Annabelle. Not in the way the perverted world thinks, but in the way a father would. And, better than that, he trusted you,” she argued, silencing her. “Wait for a few more weeks before you decide.”
Heaving a shaky breath, Annabelle took in Maggie’s words. Perhaps Maggie was right, and Elijah had a good enough reason for willing everything to Annabelle? She knew he trusted her while he was alive, even going as far as entrusting his business into her care.
If he trusted her, then perhaps she was required to trust his decision?
“I shall wait,” she breathed, “for a few more weeks to find a reason.”
Henry stared at the clear liquid in his glass, his vision blurred by the several bottles of liquor he had spent the last hour downing in a useless attempt at ridding himself of his sorrows. But it turned out that his sorrows, like the ocean itself, could not be drowned. They were, however, quite capable of drowning him. His entire body trembled from the effect of the scotch and the effect of the millions of emotions that raced through his veins with alarming speed.
Barely able to maintain his footing, his grip on the glass weakened, a loud crashing sound tearing through the silence of the room as the glass connected with the wooden floor.
He cursed, jumping back slightly to avoid being cut by the broken shards.
“Henry,” someone’s hand settled on his shoulder, “I think you have had enough,” she said, before taking his hand in hers and leading him to a settee.
He settled on the settee, too tired to argue.
“Drinking won’t solve anything,” she said, cupping his face as she crouched before him. “Drinking won’t take this problem away.”
For a while, he sat staring into her blue eyes. Jeanne was his betrothed, the woman he was going to marry, and but for the death of his father, they would have been married weeks ago. It had only been a few weeks to their wedding when Henry had gotten the letter informing him of his father’s illness and the need for him to journey to London. Reluctant and unwilling to give up his marriage to travel all the way to London, Henry had practically been forced on the voyage by Jeanne. According to her, the marriage could wait, but his father’s health couldn’t.
And Jeanne had been right because the second they arrived in London, the servants informed them of Elijah’s passing weeks before their arrival. Apparently, a second letter was sent carrying the unfortunate news, but they had missed it.
Jeanne had been the real reason Henry came back! He cared nothing for his father or his wealth! He had done well enough for himself in Paris, and his shipping business was thriving. He had a home, a growing fortune, and a woman he loved. He didn’t care if Elijah left his wealth to his mistress—he swore under his breath.
His father was a man without shame! Even in death, Elijah dragged the family’s name through the mud by leaving an entire fortune in the hands of his mistress! And not just any mistress, but a slave!
Henry had heard the rumors. He had heard the rumors a few years back when he moved to Paris. He heard it from friends and acquaintances; rumors of his father bedding the slave. And if he had been in any doubt about his father’s affair with the slave, his father’s will had been more than enough to clear his doubt.
“Pack your luggage,” he slurred, finding it difficult to speak as a result of the liquor, “we’re leaving.”
Jeanne sighed, shaking her head. “We’re not.”
“Are you deaf, Jeanne, or were you not paying attention during the reading of the will, when my father left everything to his harlot?!” he half yelled, rising to his feet.
Turning to the window, he hoped the cool air would ease his nerves as he ran a trembling hand through his sweaty hair, while simultaneously resisting the urge to break the furniture.
“Perhaps the will was forged?” Jeanne said, and he let out a mirthless laugh. “Henry...”
“It wasn’t forged,” he shook his head, “that was Elijah’s will.” He laughed once more, almost finding humor in the entire scenario. “Lord Elijah Finley!” He threw his hands in the air as he gave in to his laughter. “There should be a play in the theaters in honor of my father.” He turned to Jeanne with a broad smile on his face. “Lord Elijah Finley,” he said dramatically, swaying from one shaky foot to the other, “a fool in life and a fool in death.”
He cursed, lifting a lamp that sat on the table and smashing it on the floor. “I journeyed all the way from Paris for this! You know, for a small second, when I heard of his death, it devastated me. Genuinely, I was devastated. I didn’t care that he had done nothing but lie to me my whole life, I didn’t care that he had practically ruined the reputation of our family... For a second, I was devastated.” He sighed. “Get ready, Jeanne, we’re leaving.”
“This is your birthright, Henry, not hers! If anybody should leave, it’s her!” Jeanne said, folding her arms. “Perhaps your father was convinced by the black witch to will everything to her! Perhaps time spent in his bed was enough to convince him to disinherit his son and turn everything he ever worked for over to his slave?” Jeanne frowned. “Contest the will in court.”
Henry shook his head, tiring of the topic.
“Henry,” she said, covering the distance between them. She placed a hand on his chest. “I know you wanted nothing to do with your father, but you deserve his wealth, and if you’re thinking of just walking away, I won’t allow it! It will take too many years and generations before you can ever afford a home like this or a fleet of vessels like your father’s! This is not the kind of wealth a slave deserves!” A frown settled on her face. “Do you know what I think?” She raised a brow, and he just stared at her, confused. “Don’t contest the will in court. The chances of you winning are slim, especially because Elijah had two witnesses present and his lawyer helped him with the will. You must remind the slave of who she is—a slave—and of who you are—her master. So, I shall return to Paris tomorrow and you shall remain.”
“What?!” He shook his head, wincing as pain sliced through his skull.
“The slave won your father’s entire fortune by deceit. She convinced an old, vulnerable man that she was in love with him. It is only proper that you win your father’s fortune back, using the said method; deceit,” she said, turning from him. He watched with an intensifying headache as Jeanne began paced the room. “Make her believe that you are in love with her. Now, I understand this might take a while to accomplish, but we have already put our wedding plans on hold. I shall return to Paris. You shall remain and earn her trust, lure her to share your bed—if you can bear to,” she turned to him, frowning in disgust, “promise her your heart and finally, promise her marriage. When you are certain she believes you, convince her to sign everything over to you.”
Henry heard Jeanne’s words loud and clear, but he wasn’t sure he completely understood them. And when he finally understood them, he thought she had taken leave of her senses.
“This is madness!”
Jeanne turned to him with a broad smile on her lovely face. “Everybody has a weakness, Henry. For a woman, her weakness is her heart. If you capture it and you can keep it prisoner long enough, she will be more than willing to hand everything she owns to you,” her eyes twinkled with excitement, “even her soul.”
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Annabelle's WillHistorical Fiction
Born a slave, made an heiress, Annabelle must battle a society unwilling to accept her and a love that threatens to ruin her in order to keep her freedom. ***** Born a slave, Anna...