From A Scandalous Wager (Copyrighted material)
Q: what is the name of Lisbeth's murdered husband? Check back with the The Romance Reviews to put your answer. The Romance Reviews
May 5, 1816
From the diary of Lisbeth Carslake, Countess of Blackhurst.
I refuse to give in to the curse of the Black Raven.
I will change my destiny, my future.
I will re-enter society.
I will find my husband’s killer.
I will prove my innocence.
I will reclaim my life.
‘This is my solemn vow,’ Lisbeth bit out between clenched teeth, snapping the nib of her delicate quill. She slapped her diary shut, disregarding the inky mess it would leave and for a moment rested her head on its cool leather cover. Every day her anger grew but she could not let it rule her. She would not let it rule her.
She breathed in and out slowly until her composure returned. Only then could she unfurl her fingers one at a time. She had lived long enough under the shadow of the Black Raven, it was time to put her plan into action and use her reputation to her advantage. It was time to fight back.
Lisbeth knew her plan to re-enter society would take all her strength and determination, all her courage and conviction. Every smidgen of self-worth she had left which told her she deserved more than this life as a social pariah.
The clock on the mantle chimed the quarter hour. She glanced up and frowned. No longer shackled to her abusive husband, she still found herself a slave to the relentless tick of time, of which he had made her so dependent. She felt in her pocket, pulled out a shiny silver pocket watch and flicked it open. Ascertaining the two timepieces were in accord, she closed the lid, pausing to finger the Blackhurst crest that adorned the cover. She closed her fingers around her husband’s watch until her knuckles were white.
‘I will never forgive you for what you have done to me, Nathaniel.’
Lisbeth let out a loud sigh. Hating someone who had been dead for two years was useless. She needed to put her energy to better use. As she placed the watch beside the diary on the desk, her schedule caught her attention. It was only ink on a page, a list of things to do in a logical time limit, to fill her days from dawn ’til dusk. It showed all her daily activities in a precise and orderly fashion — even the length of time it should take to complete. She always completed her tasks in the allotted time.
Oh, how she both loved and loathed it. She longed to pick it up, scrunch it in her fist and hurl it into the fire, but she dared not. It gave her purpose and direction when there was little in her life but misery and uncertainty. Now it protected her from the melancholy that threatened her every day since her husband had met his demise.
A murder for which she had been blamed. She closed her eyes as the injustice of her situation flowed through her, like a rapid of bitter, vile poison.
A soft knock startled her. She opened her eyes.
‘My lady?’ Rollands, her butler, stuck his head of grey hair through the doorway. ‘Sorry to disturb,’ he said as he entered the room. His tall lanky frame always moved at an unhurried, even pace.
She smiled and felt a little of the tension leave her shoulders. Rollands was always a comfort to her. ‘What is it, Rollands?’
‘It is Lord Bellamy.’
‘He’s refusing to leave, I suppose? How typical,’ she said. Lord Bellamy had first pounded on her door and demanded entrance to win the Black Raven Wager over two hours ago.
Her butler came forward until he stood in front of her desk, hands clasped in front of him like an apologetic child. ‘I’m sorry, my lady, but he says he will camp out on your steps until he is let in. I know you are heartily sick of his sort trying to win that wager. Would you like me to call the Watch on him now?’
She was momentarily distracted by a noise coming from outside, but then turned back to Rollands. ‘It is freezing outside. He picked a bleak night to carry out his attempt to win that ridiculous bet… Whatever is he doing down there?’ she asked.
‘Whistling,’ he replied in a tone that showed he cared little that Lord Bellamy may catch his death of cold.
Was that the sound she had heard outside? Lisbeth raised a brow. ‘Whistling? Well, at least he isn’t singing. Remember that one?’
‘With horrifying clarity, my lady.’
Lisbeth looked down at her diary, remembering the words she had only just written within its pages, then up at Rollands and asked, ‘Do you think Lord Bellamy will do? For my plan, I mean.’
Rollands considered her question for a moment then rubbed his chin with his thumb and forefinger. ‘He is an Earl. He is well connected. He does have the look of a hell cub and he seems…determined.’ Rollands took a step closer to the desk. ‘Are you sure you want to go through with this?’
I must reclaim my life, she said to herself. ‘No,’ she answered. Her heart beating faster at the task she had set herself. ‘But I have to. I can’t keep living like this. Using someone like him is the only way back into society. And getting back into society is the only way I will be able to find Nathaniel’s killer and prove my innocence once and for all.’
Rollands nodded. ‘I understand. The staff is ready to help, my lady. You need only tell us what you want us to do.’
She glanced at her pocket watch on the desk, her focus blurry. She would not get emotional in front of Rollands, even though he was her only confidante. Instead, she gathered a breath, and her courage. ‘I will do this, and Lord Bellamy is going to help me. He just doesn’t know it yet.’
Rollands bowed. ‘Very good, my lady. I’ll fetch him up, then?’
Her butler’s weathered features softened. ‘Is there anything else you require?’
She gave him a weak smile. ‘No, that will be all, thank you.’
Rollands bowed and left the room.
She rose from her chair to search out the warm comfort of the fire. The flames leapt and danced in the grate but the warmth never quite penetrated her outstretched hands. The coals seemed to glow with such life, but she knew it was all an illusion. The embers were nothing but the last warm breath of death.
I am like this fire, she thought. I look alive but inside I feel dead.
She took a deep, painful breath. Still, tears burned behind her eyelids. Is this what she had become? A wisp of smoke, a hazy vapour, a ghost of someone who used to be? She longed to be someone again. To feel wanted. Loved. To prove to them all how wrong they were about her.