“I’m finished!” Maggie exclaimed, placing the comb on the dresser and stepping aside to observe her work. “I must say that considering the texture of your hair, I did a magnificent job!” Although Maggie seemed to pat herself on the back, she had a frustrated frown on her face.
Annabelle grinned, before turning her attention back to the mirror before her. Maggie was right; she did a superb job considering Annabelle’s highly untamable hair.
It was a typical morning in the Finley estate; Annabelle would get dressed, Maggie would help with her hair and end up complaining about the texture, and they would serve breakfast. Usually, Annabelle would join Elijah on the breakfast table and they would chat about unimportant things. With Elijah’s absence, however, Annabelle had resorted to eating breakfast in her bedchamber.
“Will you be joining Lord Finley for breakfast?” Maggie finally said after a long pause.
Annabelle paused. Would she? She hadn’t been in the dining area since Elijah died, and she didn’t know if she could sit through breakfast with his son, who most likely hated her for stealing his inheritance.
“I think it is best that I do not go.”
Maggie groaned loudly. “Why not?”
“Lord Finley most likely does not want to see me and have you seen the woman he came with?” Annabelle sighed. “She hates me!”
“I did, and the last time I saw her, she was on her way out of the estate with her luggage.”
“What?!” She tore her eyes off of her reflection in the mirror and turned fully to face Maggie, her eyes bulging. “Lord Finley has left England?”
Maggie shook her head, looking disappointed. “It is unfortunate, but no. Lord Finley has remained, but the witch seems to have disappeared.”
“Did Lord Finley give a reason for her departure?”
Maggie shrugged. “I really do not care. Now,” she took hold of Annabelle’s hand, forcing her to her feet, “you should go to the breakfast table.” Annabelle tried resisting, but Maggie was already pushing her out of the bedroom door.
Anxiety coursed through her veins as she made her way to the dining room, praying desperately that Henry would be absent. How was she going to face him? How was she going to sit for an entire breakfast with him on the same table, knowing full well that he blamed her for Elijah’s decision?
Her prayers went unanswered as she entered the room to find Henry seated at the table, his gaze shifting briefly to her and forcing her to a halt by the entryway. A frown settled on his face the second their eyes locked, and turning sharply from her, his frown seemed to deepen.
Annabelle stood frozen on the spot, the memory of the evening before bombarding her mind until embarrassment weakened her; Henry had been in her room last evening. She didn’t blame him, for she imagined that her loud cries from the nightmare she had been suffering, must have drawn him to her room.
The memory explained the look of annoyance on his face—that, and Elijah’s unbelievable decision.
She sighed, stepping forward and settling on a chair.
“Good morning, Lord Finley.” She breathed, unsurprised by his decision to ignore her. “I would like to begin by saying how sorry I am for—”
“My father’s decision?” Henry spat, turning eyes of steel her way. “You need not apologize, Annabelle. Now that my father is dead, you are—by his will—his heiress. I fully understand his decision and I have accepted it,” he finished, turning his attention back to the table.
“I am as surprised as you are, by Lord Elijah Finley’s will. I neither desired it, nor requested it.” When Henry didn’t respond, Annabelle continued, “they have informed me of the exit of your lady friend and I would like for you to know that it is not my desire that you leave your father’s home.”
“Then you would keep me here?”
“You would keep me here as what, Annabelle, your servant?” His sarcasm wasn’t lost on her.
She ran her tongue over her bottom lip. “It is but a request, Lord Henry. I do not wish for your exit either. Yet, it is to be done at your discretion.”
She turned from him then, thankful for the timely intervention of the servants who began entering the dining room with the food. She watched as the servants spread breakfast on the table before them and waited until the servants exited the room, before pouring herself a cup of tea.
Raising the steaming liquid to her lips, she took a long sip of it in a failed attempt at calming anxiety with it.
“Do you have nightmares every night, Annabelle?”
She turned to find Henry observing her. “I was told by my lord I have kept him awake for many nights with my nightmares. I apologize for doing the same to you, Lord Henry.”
A small frown settled on Henry’s face, but he didn’t speak. Instead, he gave a small nod and turned his attention back to the meal before him.
“Perhaps I could take you to Lord Finley’s monument? I built one here in the estate for my lord, a short distance from the house.”
“I must decline your offer. I have more pressing issues to attend to here in London, before my voyage back to Paris.”
“What could be more pressing than paying your last respect to your father?” His response surprised her, for nothing seemed of more relevance to her than a son paying his last respect to his father.
Henry’s face broke into a smile. “More pressing than paying any respect to a man whose death means—”
Infuriated by his intended words, Annabelle sprang to her feet and slammed her fist hard against the tabletop, nearly causing the tea pot to topple over and empty its content on Henry. And for a second, she wished it had! Perhaps the scalding liquid would help to wipe the smug look on his face, for he sat before her, seemingly unbothered by the death of his own father! And did she dare interpret the look on his face to mean his joy over Elijah’s death?!
How dare he?! How dare he sit before her, seemingly overjoyed by the death of his father, yet infuriated by his father’s decision to disinherit him?!
Perhaps Elijah knew what he was doing when he deprived his son of his fortune? It appeared to Annabelle that Henry did not deserve it! A son who hated his father but longed only for his fortune, did not deserve that fortune!
In that second, as Annabelle stared at Henry, she knew she didn’t need to wait to find the reason for Elijah’s decision, for that reason sat before her, smiling smugly at her.
Henry Finley was undeserving of not only Elijah’s legacy, but he was undeserving of Elijah.
For the first time since Elijah’s death, Annabelle lost control of her emotions and her tears stumbled down in alarming speed, intending to drown her.
She was uncertain what made her lose control of her emotions—perhaps it was the look on Henry’s face as he sat at the breakfast table? Perhaps it was the time she had spent locked up in her bedchamber that afternoon, after storming out of the dining room for fear of hurling a plate at Henry in her rage? Perhaps it was the realization that the garden she had worked hand in hand with Elijah for several years, to keep alive, had finally died? She had been so busy with other things; she had neglected to ensure that the garden was being kept alive.
It was all her fault—the death of the garden, and Elijah’s.
Wrapping her arms around herself, her tears streamed uncontrollably down her face as guilt settled on her shoulders, forcing her to her knees in the muddy garden. Surely she could have saved Elijah’s life! Surely there was something more she could have done!
But she hadn’t! She had done nothing but watch helplessly as the only man she ever cared about slipped away.
Elijah had been a good man, she thought—a man deserving of life, unlike his heartless son!
Her fingers curled into a fist at the thought of Henry, the overwhelming urge to want to make him pay for his insensitive and cruelty, undeniable.
Staggering to her feet, she turned from the garden and marched back into the building. She continued to walk through the halls until she found Henry seated cross-legged in the parlor with a book in his hands.
For a short time, she stood by the doorway, watching him. Something in her wanted to throw the book into the fireplace and watch it burn. She wanted to yell in frustration at a man opportune to not only be born free, but to be born to a loving father.
“You shall give your father the respect he deserves.” She trembled from head to toe.
Henry raised his eyes to her, surprise clouding his features.
“Tomorrow, you shall come with me, and you shall pay your final respect.”
His brow lifted slightly as amusement filled his eyes. Furious, she turned from him.
“Then you shall keep me here as your servant?” Henry called after her retreating back.
Pausing by the door, she turned around. He remained seated before her with a smirk on his face.
“I am not your servant, Annabelle, you cannot command my obedience.”
“Perhaps you are not,” she gritted her teeth, “yet, I demand you respect your father.”
“And I refuse it!” he barked, causing an icy shiver to race down her spine.
Once she had recovered from the momentary shock, she covered the distance that stood between them until she was standing before him. “You shall respect Lord Finley, or you shall vacate his home right now.”
He held her gaze. “My father might have been stupid enough to turn his slave into his mistress—”
A loud sound interrupted his words. His hand shot up to his reddening cheek and his eyelids widened.
Blinded by fury, Annabelle tried to slap him yet again, but he was quick. Springing to his feet, he took her hand captive in mid-air.
“... but I’m not stupid enough to fall into the same trap. You will not command my obedience or my respect, Annabelle!” Anger flashed in his eyes as his hold around her wrist tightened, threatening to snap it in two. He held her gaze. “You will not order me out of a house that rightfully belongs to me, and to prove this point to you, slave, I am going nowhere until I see that you return to wherever it is my father purchased you from—until you go back to being a slave.”
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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...