Henry jerked upright, pain slicing through his skull as the darkness faded around him and his blurry vision fought to adjust to the dimly lit room.
What was that noise?
His eyes scanned the room in search of what had pulled him out of his alcohol induced slumber, for somewhere in his frantic mind, he had heard something.
Still, as his eyes swept the room, he found nothing. Perhaps he had imagined the sound? Perhaps his drunken mind was playing tricks on him?
Cursing himself for engaging in so much wine the evening before, he settled back into bed and closed his eyes, his throbbing head making it impossible to fall asleep once more.
Throwing his pillow to the ground in a fit of rage and frustration, he pushed himself to a sitting position, pain reverberating through his skull in protest of his swift movement.
He winced, rubbing his forehead in a failed attempt at easing his headache.
Giving up on finding rest that evening, he made to climb out of bed and go in search of something to drink to ease his headache, when he heard it again—a faint cry in the distance.
Staggering to his feet, he frowned; what in the world was that?
He listened closely again, uncertain about what it was he had heard. Silence met his action, forcing him to stand still for several seconds.
Confused, he made for the door, halting in his tracks the second he heard the sound again. This time, he was certain of what it was he had heard.
He reached the door and pulled it open, the lights in the hallway assaulting his vision.
Biting down on his lower lip to keep from groaning in pain, he stepped out into the hall and stood still in his tracks, uncertain of what to do next. He wasn’t even certain of his decision to leave Paris in the first place, only to journey to London to be shamed by his father’s ridiculous will. Then, he had woken up in the middle of the evening by a strange sound coming from a place he wasn’t even certain about.
Perhaps he must ignore the sound? It was no business of his what went on in a house that didn’t belong to him. Didn’t his father’s will make it very clear to him he could never possess the house, even if his slave was benevolent enough to hand everything back to him?
He laughed, amazed by his ridiculous father. Perhaps this was Elijah’s way of punishing him for walking away all of those years and never looking back? If it was, then the joke was on Elijah because Henry regretted nothing! He would leave this house and his father’s godforsaken wealth behind as soon as he could! Elijah could burn in hell for all he cared!
Furious, he made to return to his room when he heard the sound again—much louder this time.
Looking straight ahead, his frown deepened as curiosity urged him forward. Perhaps someone was in danger? Perhaps Jeanne was in danger?!
Prompted by his fear for her safety, he hastened his pace, following the sound until he was pausing before a closed door.
Making a fist, he made to pound on the door, but it creaked open instead, giving him access to an unfamiliar room.
Surprised to find the lights on, he stepped in cautiously, unsure of what other abnormally he would find.
His eyes swept the room as he made his way further into it, the chilly night air washing over his form from where the purple curtains stood parted.
Something moved on the large queen sized bed, drawing his attention. White curtains draped over the bed, making it nearly impossible to make out the figure that laid within them.
He pushed the curtains aside slowly, a deep frown immediately claiming his face as he stood glued to his position by the bed, staring down at its singular occupant.
Annabelle laid wide eyed before him, her face almost as white as the nightdress that clung to her body, held bound by her sweat. Green veins traveled the length of her arms as they clung tightly to a pillow, pressed to her chest.
“Annabelle,” he whispered, unsure of what to make of her present state. He had no right to barge in on her like this, but he truly didn’t believe she presented him with much of a choice.
Silence met his words as her grip tightened on the pillow.
Exasperated, he hissed, “Annabelle!”
Perhaps it was her mansion, and she had every right to yell through the night. Still, courtesy demanded that she endured his presence until he was on a ship back to Paris! He didn’t care for her or her antics, and he would not stand to be ignored!
“Annabelle! Perhaps you are unaware of what time it is? It’s the middle of the bloody night, for heaven’s sake, the least you could do is keep your voice down!” he half yelled.
Again, she ignored him, choosing to lie there and stare at nothing in particular.
He released a tired breath; it would seem that his father’s mistress would turn out to be as unreasonable as his father.
“Very well, go right ahead and ignore me then!” Throwing his arms in the air in surrender, he made to leave the room.
The voice behind him stopped him dead in his tracks.
“What?!” Furious, he spun around, poised for a fight.
But she didn’t fight him. She instead laid there, rambling words he couldn’t understand, her hands flailing in the air as she did.
Henry wasn’t certain what it was, but for the first time that evening, he realized Annabelle was asleep with her eyes wide open. And as he watched her tears slowly slip down her cheeks, he realized she was having a nightmare.
He watched. Standing just beside her bed, he watched her... suffer.
Conflicted, he was uncertain of how to react to what was before him. Perhaps Annabelle deserved to have nightmares and to suffer in this manner? It was a small price to pay for not only stealing his father’s affection, but for stealing his inheritance.
Yet, there was a part of him—a tiny part—that felt pity. Annabelle had been a slave. Perhaps she had suffered unspeakable things during her time of slavery? Perhaps those things haunted her every night?
Reaching forward, he placed a hand on her cold forearm. “Annabelle.”
Her eyelids pulled shut and immediately snapped open again. She turned to him. “Lord Henry?” Her confused eyes beheld him.
Relief flooded him in that second—it was the relief in knowing he had somehow ended her suffering. And perhaps she didn’t deserve to suffer? Perhaps she deserved a good evening?
He shook his head, failing to shake the thought away; he had no business feeling sorry for Annabelle. The only reason he had woken her up was so he could himself get a good night’s rest. He cared nothing for her.
“Goodnight!” he said sharply, turning from her and stalking back to his bedchamber.
Still, Henry could not fall asleep all evening, for a stubborn part of him—the part that insisted on feeling sorry for Annabelle—insisted on staying up all night just in case Annabelle needed him yet again.
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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...