CHAPTER THEME Mad World; Swing Cover
Form - DONE
NAME: Selena Wolf
FACECLAIM: Taylor LaShea
Intelligent, independent, creative, charming, enthusiastic, sensitive, stubborn, secretive, naive, impulsive
INTERESTS: Arthur | JJ | Matthew
STORY - DONE
ACT ONE - DONE
Subterfuge - DONE
“What do you have there?”
“Oh…” I muttered glancing up as my stomach flipped and the somewhat discolored stationary wrinkled between my fingers, “oh, nothing… just a correspondence from town.”
Arthur frowned, “oh?”
I waved my hand dismissively, gathering my composure rather quickly if I said so myself.
“Just prattling about the season and the lavish display at the Lashley’s event last evening.” He actually grimaced and moved to take a seat at the table beside me. “She didn't want to disturb us with a call.”
Casually, I folded the missive and tucked it securely under my napkin as he nodded absently. Out of sight, out of mind… one could hope. I’m sure it helped greatly uttering one of the few names I knew that would put his interest at bay.
A footman moved to provide food and drink while I took the moment to glance over his sunken eyes.
“Are you feel-”
“How are you -”
“I am okay, Arthur. As well as can be expected I suppose.” I answered with a gentle smile. He nodded, fork and knife hovering in opposing hands over his plate. “You did not sleep much last night.”
Or the past few nights in fact. The fact that I’d been awake to notice spoke volumes though.
I waited, perhaps expecting more. Instead he sat there, staring at his breakfast with every bit of his concentration. His fists curled tightly, each utensil wavering slightly before he seemed to force himself to cut into a piece of sausage.
“It was lovely having Agatha by for a visit yesterday. I think both of you really needed it.”
The tension in his shoulders started to wean and he smiled, albeit sadly.
“It was. Thank you for being so welcoming.”
“Oh, Arthur. I would never suggest turning any of your sisters away, even in the best of times… I certainly would never do that now… not with everything that has happened.”
“No, I know you wouldn’t. I just mean to say that I appreciate it… and you.”
My heart raced. He had been acting more and more unusual in the past week.
“You haven’t been out yet this morning?”
“No, Selena… where would I go?”
“I…” Shocked for words, I blinked at his earnest expression. “You… normally you are out to attend to business even before I wake. And… gone most of the day.”
It was true, but in the last week he’d hardly stepped foot away from our townhome in London. Something flashed in his eyes. Sadness? Regret? Whatever it was, it was quickly replaced by something else. Determination. He reached out and laid his hand over mine. My fingers tingled resting over the napkin below… and the lies buried just a bit further.
“I’d never leave you alone at a time like this.”
Admittedly, I wasn’t sure exactly what my reaction to this was. Both sentimental and alarming. Interlocking my fingers between his I shifted both purposefully to my lap.
“I do not wish to be the cause of trouble at work for you…”
“You have never been any trouble.” He muttered brusquely while clenching my fingers even tighter, as if to reassure me. Perhaps even a bit too vehemently. My duplicity somersaulted deep in my core. If he only knew the trouble I may… no… will eventually cause. “I’m right where I should be.”
“I… I just know how important the restaurant’s success is to you, how much time and effort you’ve invested so far…”
“I need to be here with you…” He insisted while shaking his head and inched his chair closer. “Anyone- or, eh, thing else will just have to accept that…”
“Are you doing okay, Arthur? Really and truly?”
A tiny sad smile cracked his lips. “Yes. Just a bit tired perhaps.”
I reached up to cup his face and brushed my thumb over the dark shadows under his eyes. They shut and he leaned into my palm.
“Perhaps you should try to get some rest. Tomorrow will surely be tough on all of us.”
His hand covered mine again, along his cheek.
“Perhaps you should join me…”
I could have melted right there in my chair. His eyes were locked with mine and I simply forgot to breathe for more than a few seconds. But reality quickly kicked in, warning signals going off in my head.
“I… I cannot, mi Querido, I, I promised father I would stop by for a visit.”
“Oh, right now?”
“I, well, I wanted to get down and back at a decent hour.”
He nodded thoughtfully, “well, I should go along with you then…”
“Oh…” It’s a wonder my voice didn’t crack when I gently pulled my hand away and cycled potential excuses in my mind. “No, it is okay, I won’t be gone too long really, the afternoon perhaps… and you really do look exhausted. You know he can never hold back his curiosity on things… no matter the circumstances.”
He rubbed his eyes as if on cue.
“Maybe, but I don’t think you should be alone right now.”
“I won’t be alone and you’d be completely bored while father and I visited.” I insisted a little too quickly and saw that he was already ready to contradict me so I rushed on, “I… I don’t know. Maybe you could visit with Vita while I…”
“No.” I faltered at the abrupt change but then he continued in a lighter tone. “No, you’re right. I should get some rest… and we’ll spend some time together once you return.”
I was far too relieved to question his change of heart.
Covering Tracks - DONE
“Mrs. Wolf…” Edmond Coates exclaimed as he took control of the swinging car door and assisted me from within, “I mean… Lady Wolf, my apologies,”
I froze for a moment as his words sunk in. Certainly, I knew it would happen one day, but certainly not so soon. Not in such an unsettling way. Thelonious was dead and Arthur was now Lord Wolf. Nothing would ever be the same.
“Mr. Coates,” I spoke softly, hoping I did not betray my musings. “I had not expected to speak with you for at least another week after our last discussion.”
“I know. My apologies but the American you hired has arrived and… well… he demands to meet you directly before he will sign the contract. I assured him that I would address any concerns but, well, he’s simply quite obstinate.”
Mr. Coates was clearly agitated. Exacerbated really. Which truly should not surprise me so much. He was incredibly efficient, productive, and generally practical, which is why he had been left in charge. But then he could also become too nitpicky and easily annoyed when things didn't go exactly to plan. Being from the other side of the pond I could imagine how abrasive the American may seem to the haughty Londoner.
“It is alright Mr. Coates, I will speak with Mr. Halliway and set everything to rights.” We’d entered the large warehouse by then, crews bustling about arranging lighting and props. “Is there anything else you need me to address before I leave but I mustn’t tarry too long…”
“Well, since you are here…”
I glanced at my watch with a sigh as I finally turned off the drive to Hazelmoor House. The day had gotten away from me and it was already past lunchtime before I finally pulled in front of Freesia.
I slipped from the Mercedes and strolled up the cobblestone path. I probably should have called from the West End to assure myself that he was here but had been too wrapped up in putting out unnecessary fires.
His car was definitely parked out front.
Knock, knock, knock
Frowning after nearly a full minute I moved off the path and peeked around the side of the building. No, the boat was docked as well. Father should be there. Taking the chance, I continued along the path towards the back and crossed the picturesque garden patio to the door.
The door was open, as I expected. There was never a time as a child that the rear door would be shut when we were in residence. Papa always loved the fresh air… something that stuck with him from his own childhood he would admit.
Without hesitation, I slipped inside and smiled when his deep, accented voice carried to me from a short distance away. The delicate soles of my shoes padded lightly across the ornate rug as I followed his voice. I will not lie though, the faceless one-sided conversation got the better of me. My pace slowed while I moved toward the open Library…
“Timing is simply not right, we should wait until the summer has ended,” The pause in conversation halted my steps as I continued listening “it would paint the wrong picture, and you know that- no wait-”
I heard the receiver click against the pedestal and my father’s heavy sigh before I bothered to announce myself.
“Well now, who was that?”
I smiled, stepping fully into the room as he rose from behind a dark mahogany desk.
“Mi Vida… what are you doing here?”
He was by my side in a few strides, sharing an embrace.
“I thought I would stop by and check to see how you are holding up all alone here in the country.”
“You needn’t worry about me, mija. I’ve gotten a chance to get out, revisit the city a bit… you know I can never sit idly in the house for too long.”
“Without even stopping by to say hello!”
“I did consider it, once or twice, but figured you both might need some time before entertaining guests.”
“You are family… not a guest.”
He chuckled, I shook my head with a hopeless grin while he motioned to the sidebar. I nodded.
“A small one, I shouldn’t stay too long.”
“Awe, but you just got here…”
“I know. I planned to be here much sooner… eh, earlier.”
He walked over handing me a glass of some circling amber liquid.
“Is everything okay?”
I took a sip of the fiery drink while considering my words. “Yes, I am doing okay… Arthur could be better I think but all things considering I think he’s managing. He was supposed to be trying to get some rest while I’ve been gone.”
I glanced again at my watch and nibbled on the inside of my cheek.
“I’m sure it is not easy for him. And these Scotland Yard people. It’s shameful how inadequate they’ve been thus far.”
“I’m sure they are doing their best, Papa. I simply cannot imagine who would have wanted to harm Thelonious … still, after a whole week, it is still unfathomable. I’ve known most of the people that were in attendance at the party.”
My hand shook so I set the drink aside. It was still upsetting. Less so than a week ago but not by much. It was more anger than devastation at this point though.
“In Columbia, my associates in the government would have had this resolved by now. These English are too spineless. Everyone is simply coming and going as they please with no restriction, going about their lives as if a good man was not murdered days ago.”
“Did you know Thelonious very well, Papa?”
He took a sip of his drink while also shaking his head.
“Well enough, in my opinion. I liked him better than most. He seemed decent and enterprising. He was sharp. In the few times that we’ve talked, I always felt comfortable around him. He was stubborn, but so am I… and he wasn’t afraid to do the things that needed to be done to protect or serve his family’s needs. What man cannot respect that?”
“Not being a man, I could not say. But I felt the same about him, I believe. It just… after this happened, I have to wonder if maybe the bits of him I didn't know were far less seemingly.”
“I can only judge a man by the actions I see him take, mija. Thelonious was smart and decisive. We even discussed some possible business with the land he holds in South America near ours.”
“You did? What sort of business?”
“Nothing concrete, mija. We just touched on it… figured we’d have plenty of time later to actually discuss it further if need be…”
I frowned a little but covered it with another sip while he drummed his fingers against his glass idly. He was thinking, perhaps about that conversation or the investigation in general. Who actually knew, father’s mind could wander to two different topics and never lose sight of any. But I had no clue he’d even had words with Thelonious during the party… certainly not when he’d been holed up in his library recovering from the unpleasantness in the ballroom. I didn’t really know how long JJ had been at the party before I saw him so perhaps the discussion happened before the announcement. It really was of no consequence, right? I watched my father over the rim of my glass before I cleared my throat.
“So then…” He glanced over blankly, “who was it then?”
I gasped at his horrified expression.
“No… no of course not. Why would you know who the murderer is?” He laughed gratefully. “You… you don't, right?”
“Certainly not, mija. If I did, do you think this whole mess would be dragging out this long?” He shook his head and drained the rest of his drink. “What on earth did you mean then?
I had to actually think back to my original question. “Who were you speaking to when I arrived?”
“Selena!” He chuckled again, more earnestly but still… cupping the empty glass he grabbed and drained mine as well. “What a naughty rabbit. You know you should not be sneaking about listening in on people’s conversations.”
When he rose, I followed, my gaze narrowing upon him.
“I was hardly sneaking. I knocked at least three times.”
“Before just waltzing in through the door on your own.” His chiding words were accented with a heavy dose of teasing and tolerance. “Naughty girl, I know I taught you better than that.”
I hesitated. I knew he wasn’t truly upset but he was being evasive. Any other time, with every person in my life I had simply accepted that this was the nature of life. To keep things private and unburdensome. First with my father, then again with my husband. I’d tolerated the isolation and done whatever was expected of me. Until things started changing, just within the last year. And now… now that I’d really shoved my feet into it, well… eventually there would come a time when I could no longer simply just be the expected.
I’d planned to confront Arthur, less than a week ago, to demand some answers when he had made it clear he’d rather not give any. Not once but twice, in fact. Of course, with the death and all the drama, I’d retreated my stance a bit. But I wouldn’t be able to do so indefinitely. Not with him. And also not with my father.
They would both find out eventually. But it was about time they each knew that I was no longer willing to just sit still and look pretty.
“That’s not really an answer, Papa.”
The double-take felt validating. He stood silently for a moment, just watching me.
“You’re right, mi vida. It’s not… but, I cannot really give you an answer. Not yet at least.” He walked over and cupped his large hands over each of my arms. “I planned… I do plan to tell you, with certainty. I just, I just need you to give me some time. When things can be properly explained I promise you will be the first to know.”
I continued frowning but he swatted me lightly on the tip of the nose.
“Please, mi vida. Just be a bit patient with me. For now.”
“For now then.” I conceded earning another smile and a kiss on my cheek.
But I would make him remember those words should he choose to forget.
I'd spend another hour or so visiting, indulging in lighter topics of conversation as we snacked on fancy cheese and salted crackers before I made the drive back home.
Finding Arthur both anxious and concerned over my absence was only one of the many unexpected situations of my day but, in truth, it was perhaps the most shocking of them all.
The Toll Bell Rings - DONE
“Mr. Coates,” I hissed, cupping my hand close to the receiver. “I cannot deal with this today. You will simply have to figure it out.”
I waited, listening. Rolling my eyes heavenward.
“You will inform Mr. Halliway that he is welcome to purchase any other extravagances he requires with the proceeds of his check. He has been more than accommodated for - no, absolutely not - I…”
“Oh, Selena, what on eart - oh, you’re on a call…”
My vice grip on the handle turned my knuckles white as I faced then winced at Arthur, exaggerating an intolerable smile as his voice faded away and I rose mine significantly.
“Really, Evangeline… it is absolutely shocking… but I must go now - the funeral… of course, I’m sure you’re trusted to know what’s best… right, bye.”
Slowly, I hung the phone while Arthur seemed intent on sifting through some papers on his desk.
“My apologies, I ducked in when the call came… I hadn’t wished to disturb you with idle gossip today.”
“No need to apologize.” He looked up, smiled lightly, and shuffled a few papers between his hands. “Nothing too unseemly, I hope?”
“No, no… a tiny tiff being blown out of proportion no doubt… you know how the noble ladies can be… quite silly and catty about the smallest things.” How easily lies slipped from my lips these days. “It will most likely all blow over in a day or so.”
He set the papers down and looked at me.
“I didn’t really have anything to do here…”
I glanced down at the desk, stacks of papers that appeared to wait for his attention.
“You’ve completed it all already?”
He shuffled a couple of pages again and shook his head until he tapped the desk.
“No. I mean to say, I have nothing I want to do here. I… I saw you when I was passing by and stopped to see you.”
“You…” Foolishly I struggled to comprehend something so simple. His attentiveness in the last week has been incredibly unnerving. Flattering… but so strange. “Has something happened? Is there an update regarding your-”
“No, nothing like that.” He came around the desk and stood close. Too close. He was already dressed in a stately dark suit, his hair slicked back neatly. My husband was handsome and oozed charm. It was hard not to respond to him, especially with him towering over me and smelling so good. “You’ve been quite busy this week.”
“No more than usual,” I responded breathlessly before clearing my throat. “You are usually busier yourself, but with everything that has happened it’s probably good that you are taking some time off.”
He snorted and flicked one of the papers. “There’s tons for me to do right here.”
I clasped hands with him. “It is okay to take some time for yourself. To mourn and regroup. No one expects you to be made of iron. You are allowed to grieve.”
He pulled up and kissed the back of my hand tenderly, then just held it while his thumb circled the hammering pulse at my wrist.
“I just need to make sure you are okay. And my sisters. Right now, that’s all that matters.”
“We will all be alright. You too. This mess will get resolved and then things will go back to norma- Arthur…”
I flexed and rubbed my hand after tugging it from his sudden grip.
“I’m sorry, Selena… I didn’t mean-”
“I know, it’s okay…but, we really should get going. Everyone will be expecting us.”
I waited for a second, watching him carefully, a lump of concern welling up in my throat. If we had more time I’d sit and force him to talk to me. I wanted to reach inside and pull the weight he carried away. In the end, I sighed softly and turned to leave, ignoring the way he continued to dart his gaze across my face. Maybe he sought some understanding of his own.
“Selena, wait…” I’d barely taken a few steps before his hand gripped my elbow and the room spun, his lips searing against mine in the next heartbeat.
My wide eyes stared into the blur of his face before the kiss registered, then everything else followed. His fingers dug into my biceps, pulling me closer until our bodies were brushing each other. So close that I was unsure if the pounding heart was mine or drumming violently within him. The kiss deepened, weakened me, and made me melt. Tentatively my fingers gripped under his arms, squeezed. A low moan hissed between us, two maybe but the caress of his tongue against mine waged on.
His hands moved, stroked, pulled, gripped and mine returned the favor. But when the hem of my dark skirt started to rise, the cool morning breeze dancing across my stockinged calves, sanity started to set in. Breathlessly, I pulled my head back but his lips moved, starting to trail down my slender throat and making me shiver violently.
“Arthur… wait… please…” He grunted, his head buried near my cleavage as his fingers dug into bare flesh. I whimpered but reached for him, stalling the scorching path he made up my inner thigh. “We mustn’t…”
“Selena…” he breathed, all ragged and harsh. It nearly did me in. Temptation battled with sensibility. His hands sought to distract me again but it was clear I’d have to be the voice of reason.
“Arthur… stop, we cannot be late.”
A growl of regret passed between us but he shifted, wrapping his arms around me tightly and tucking my head under his chin. My eyes squeezed shut as I returned the embrace, confirming the racing of his heart under my ear.
Seconds, minutes passed as everything quieted down followed by a quick kiss settled atop my head.
“Let’s get this day over with then, shall we…”
Another squeeze stretched out before we each released our hold and moved towards the open library door.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Let’s get away, just go.”
Flabbergasted, I darted my gaze from his fervent expression to the looming entrance of Winterbrook just outside our vehicle. The drive had been a quiet one, his hand gripping mine as he stared from the window thoughtfully. But this… almost as soon as we pulled into the drive he’d launched into this most absurd discussion.
“You must be joking, Arthur. We’ve the funeral to attend…”
He peered past me to his childhood home and then back again.
“After then… right after. Let’s just go… like we used to.”
“What about work… yours… and… I can’t just leave.”
“Why?” Dumbstruck, I could only stare at him as if he had truly lost his mind. There was no way for me to explain without exposure. “Why can’t we…?”
“Arthur, this is insane. We cannot just pack up and leave. You’re just upset about today. It is understandable. We all are.”
“We don’t pack. We just go… we can get whatever we need wherever we end up.”
I shook my head and tugged my black gloves up each arm but he grabbed one followed by him gently cupping my chin. My heart pounded as everything spiraled inside of me. There was simply no way I could leave… just drop everything to run off with him to only God knew where? He had not thought this through at all. He had his work to get back to, the restaurant, and whatever else being a Lord meant. He’d shrugged his duties almost entirely since his father’s death, spending almost every moment hovering between me and his siblings. And now he just wanted to get away?
“Just think about it, mi pollito… please.”
Unable to outright refuse his plea at that moment, I nodded and squeezed his hand once more.
“I’ll think about it…” I added cautiously. “But we really must get inside now.”
And think about it, I did. Nonstop, in fact. While holding Arthur’s hand through the burial, dabbing at my tear-soaked eyes, and throughout the rest of the afternoon standing by his side at the repass. Even if he could shove aside his responsibilities, it simply was not possible for me to just drop everything. Especially after being forced to distance myself so much in the past week. There were deadlines that needed to be met, many of which required my physical presence. I had my part to play after all.
Even the unexpected presence of Detective Bancroft could not distract me fully from the weight of Arthur’s request. It was certainly odd, but my mind was most definitely elsewhere.
What on earth could he be thinking? And his constant attendance left little time to clear my muddled brain without being reminded of the intensity of his words and even the passionate kiss shared just a few hours ago.
“Are you alright, my dear? How are you holding up?”
I blinked, focusing on his mouth before finally returning his gaze.
“Yes, of course.” Subdued conversations surrounded us. “I am fine. We, we should mingle…” He nodded and hooked his arm in the groove of mine. I looked around, perhaps a bit desperate when I brushed against his side. “There is Vita, we haven’t yet spoken with her…”
I’m sure it was just my imagination that he stiffened beside me, when I turned he looked utterly composed and considerate. My stomach was a coil of knots.
“Actually, I just noticed Gigi across the room…”
“Oh, yes… you go.”
“What? We’ll go together.”
“I… I need some punch.”
“Selena, are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Arthur. I just would like a drink, that is all.”
“Certainly,” and he took a step forward, still clasping my arm.
“What are you doing?”
“Going for punch… are you sure you’re alright?”
“You needn’t go with me, go to your sister, I will join you shortly…”
“It is no problem, a small detour.”
“Arthur, please. You needn’t hover!” I finally hissed and drew my hand back shakily. “Please, just… just give me a moment.”
I strolled away, unaware of the shocked look at my back.
I curled my fingers around the patio railing, lifting my face to the warm summer sky and inhaling a deep, unpolluted breath. Yet still, Arthur’s scent lingered, taunting me, weakening me. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying again, my nostrils flared wide before releasing slowly.
“Are you alright?”
“Why must I keep having to answer tha… Detective!?”
“Sorry, it does seem the appropriate thing to ask in times like this.” He stepped forward from a darkened corner of the terrace, snapping a packet against his palm.
I trembled slightly as I stepped aside and back, clutching a thin shawl around my arms.
“I’m sorry, I did not see you here.”
“I figured.” He flipped open the box and tilted it in my direction. Cautiously, I peered around before slipping a cigarette between two fingers.
Wordlessly, I leaned forward for a light and inhaled deeply, letting my eyes shut once more to savor the heady spice. I took another couple of puffs before I finally looked back at him.
“What are you doing here?”
He arched his brow as his eyes wandered over me. “Seeking a bit of fresh air, same as you I imagine.”
Smoke billowed around us disproving his words.
“Here. Winterbrook. The funeral.”
A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
“You’re not at all what you seem, are you Mrs. Wolf… but it’s Lady now though, isn’t it?”
“If you think that matters at all to m…”
“I don’t, actually,” I fell silent at his interruption. “...think that. But some may have thought of it…”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just that some may be more comforted than others by the change in things.”
“You can’t honestly think anyone would care so deeply about such things.”
“On the contrary, I believe many people can be consumed by it.”
I shook my head, stunned. “To commit murder?”
“You can’t really be that naive.” His words rattled me. “It’s been done for far less. Greed, jealousy, envy… are often the usual motives in these situations.”
“I cannot believe anyone I know could be so treacherous.”
He tilted his head, watching me as he took a long drag on his cigarette.
“I believe you believe so…” I found myself mesmerized watching him crush the butt against a small silver dish while my mind raced. “But how well do you truly know the people in your life?”
Well enough, I wanted to claim. But the words stuck in my throat as too many secrets and clandestine conversations tickled the back of my mind.
“Why are you here?” I asked in a hushed tone now, my pulse racing. “You’ve evaded the question.”
“Have I?” He grinned again as if he was pleased, “Indeed. I have some news to share… figured to get it done when I knew everyone would be gathered together.”
“You’ve caught the culprit?”
“Not yet.” He assured me. “Shall I escort you inside? Now’s as good a time as any I suppose…”
I froze when he held out his arm, staring at it.
“No.” I quickly recovered, stretching out to smash my red-tipped cigarette beside his. “I’m sure I should be getting back to my husband… alone.”
He tipped his head and thankfully stayed behind as I rushed back into the hall full of grievers. Or suspects if I took Detective Bancroft's words to heart.
“Let’s do it.” I rushed out the moment I rejoined Arthur standing alone by the buffet table.
“Let’s go. Wherever you like. Away from all of this. Just for a little while.”
His worried expression slowly changed.
“Yes, right now if you like.”
But we wouldn’t make it out fast enough. Within moments Detective Bancroft called us all together to make his announcement. Somehow, I’d known… and I’d wanted to escape the telling. But he was certain the murderer was among us. There’d not been any strangers spotted… and no one unusual seen leaving the night of. There was mention of some unsolved mysteries beyond the death and he instructed us all that appointments would be set within a few days time for yet another round of interviews.
A cyclone spun inside me; fear, anxiety, and misery all warring against the truths being laid out before us. Detective Bancroft advised us all not to leave the town and I found myself clutching Arthur’s hand. Then he walked out, leaving us all stewing with his revelations.
“Can we go now, please?”
Arthur looked just as shaken as I felt but he gathered himself together and nodded before leading me away.
Relax, Relate, Release - DONE
That night I slept terribly and was shocked to see Arthur completing some packing when I finally awoke the next morning. I yawned and leaned on one elbow.
“Where are you going?”
“We are going away.”
That had me going bolt upright. I clutched the bed sheet against my cotton nightgown.
“Arthur, we can’t leave now. You heard the detective yesterday…”
He shook his head and cinched a strap around a piece of luggage before he strolled over and sat beside me.
“No. I informed Scotland Yard that I would be getting you away from here…” My mouth fell open. “For just a few days, at least I can do that.”
“It’s not a problem?”
He stood, tugging the covers away and insistently helping me from the bed.
“I did not wait around to have a discussion about it.”
“You agreed you wanted to get away… is that still true?” I was at a loss for words, which he must have accepted as agreement because he ushered me towards the wardrobe. “I’m having Cook prepare a basket… you can break your fast on the drive.”
The hotel was barely an hour away from London, on the Sussex coast, and boasted luxury rooms steps from a beautiful sandy shore. In truth, it was not my first time there and Arthur must have guessed at my fond memories when he held my hand as we pulled into the drive. He was not fully himself just yet, but there was an obvious loss of tension in his step upon our arrival.
Quite soon, the cares… and stress, of life began to slip away as we settled into our room. French doors opened to a terrace overlooking a coastal garden full of fragrant, bright bulbs and foliage.
I stood there, in those first few minutes, simply letting the warm sea air tease strands of hair across my cheeks before I felt Arthur step up behind me. His arms slipped around to pull me back by the waist.
“It’s beautiful, exactly how I remember.”
“I’m glad you remember.”
Wiggling, I twisted in his embrace. “How could you think I would forget?”
A smile touched his lips as he gazed down.
“What shall we do first?”
I pretended to ponder the question for several seconds. “Swimming I think.”
He grinned broader.
“What are you thinking?”
The brandy in his glass swirled as he shifted on the chaise to look at me.
“You were smiling.” I offered, stepping further into the room, the pale pink of my robe barely reaching my knees.
“Oh… I was just thinking of my childhood.”
“Ummhmm… a forgotten memory… I’d been trying to coerce Atlas into tasting one of father’s vintage wines… I was probably all of 11 and he was quite bored of my antics if I recall correctly.”
“Why does that not surprise me?”
He chuckled and held out his hand. Like a moth to flame, I moved, letting him pull me down onto his lap before he handed me my own glass of the dark liquor. He’d become more and more relaxed since we arrived with only the barest hint of the gloom he exhibited while at home. He’d even laughed out loud during dinner that night, our second of the trip.
“I do not even recall the name of it. I remember it was quite awful to my young tastebuds…”
“You opened it? Thelonious must have been furious.”
He laughed. “It wouldn’t have mattered. Turns out mother overheard us and popped the bottle herself for us to try. Atlas pretended so hard to like the awful stuff, we both did. I’m pretty sure it must have soured or something.”
I choked on a sip then giggled more, “Why on earth would you do that?”
“To please mother of course.”
I tucked a lock of hair behind his ear. “You never speak of them. Your mother and brother.”
He responded with a sad smile. “I suppose not.”
“What was he like?”
Minutes ticked by while he traced a circle against my thigh over his. I figured he would rather not and I wasn’t going to push. But then he spoke, soft and solemnly full of tenderness for the brother he remembered through juvenile eyes.
“He disappeared when I was 13… so long ago now. I was just about to start at Eton that year. I was so excited to get away from home. Not because I wanted to attend lessons, I just wanted to go. Do. Something, anything else. Atlas was the bookish one. Smart. So, so smart.” He chuckled. “It drove me crazy how everything had to have its place with him. I used to tease him about it. Hard to imagine I’m sure… but I was the wild one.”
“Oh yes, however would anyone ever have guessed that.”
He chuckled and we both sipped from our glasses. The burn felt nice.
“He was probably the closest with mother, out of all of us. And quieter than the rest of us too. I could be racing around, getting into some trouble or another, and get startled by him just being somewhere all alone reading some book. But we loved each other. None of us ever considered that once upon a time we weren’t family. As far as Atlas and I… and the girls… our parents… it didn’t matter. We were the Wolfs. We were happy.”
He set the empty glasses aside before leaning back, drawing me beside him. I wanted to say something… but interrupting felt wrong and I didn’t want him to stop. I am not sure if I was being selfish, starving for a glimpse of this world I hadn’t known… for this part of him that he had never shared before, but I wanted him to continue.
“Everything was so much simpler when he was alive. And everything changed when he disappeared. Then our mother died too. I think it broke us all.” he shook his head while I was holding my breath. I had never asked about his mother but I couldn’t imagine what he must have thought about her death. He was so young… clueless, at least based on what I found out and what was asked of me just last year. That knowledge could simply stay buried along with Thelonious? But should it? Maybe the rest of them deserved to know… now that the burden of that secret died along with the family patriarch.
“I won’t speak ill of the dead.” he continued, “Father was different. Changed perhaps the most but the losses hit us all hard and we all coped in our own way…”
I waited, head resting on his chest while his fingers continued to stroke me, my arm now. But he quieted down and I knew he was thinking of his father now.
“It must have been nice growing up with so much family though… you still had your sisters and I can see how much you all still love each...” I paused. “You weren’t all alone.”
“My mother died when I was much younger than you were. Younger even than Aurora was when Victoria…” I nibbled on my lower lip, considering then failing to utter the rest. “I cannot even picture her face. And Papa… he just, he was busy with… well, anything else.”
“But it’s obvious JJ loves you very much.”
“Yes, I do believe it to be true. I think a daughter was just out of his comfort zone. I do have vague memories though, I imagine hearing their laughter sometimes, he and mom. I know they were happy and I remember things just being different after she was gone. It seems as if we have that in common between our families.”
Another bit of silence stretched between us, laying there together while the cool summer night breeze teased the curtains on the open doors. Then he took my chin, lifting back until our eyes locked before his mouth descended onto mine.
“No more talk of our family tonight.”
He grinned before leaning forward and beginning the rest of the night with a deeper kiss.
“I’d rather just stay here…” he muttered, reaching out and trying to drag me back to bed.
I laughed, darting away just in the nick of time so that his hand slapped against the crumpled linen. I refused to look back, knowing that if I saw the broad expanse of bare chest I’d most likely rush back into his arms and forget all about what had to be done.
The three days had been a haven… a much needed retreat to unwind and heal. Arthur’s mood had dramatically improved but since we’d awakened that morning he was starting to brood a bit more. He’d said it several times already. He wasn’t ready to return. Or face whatever still waited for us back in London.
But we couldn’t stay forever. Our responsibilities would not just disappear if we did.
It took some coercing, some begging… some promises but eventually he accepted and submitted to what had to be done. He took every opportunity to stop along the way. A souvenir shop here, an antique cottage there. He even pulled the car into a botanical garden halfway to our destination and we spent probably a couple of hours exploring the walk and pond within. But then there were no more stops to make and the drive took a solemn turn as the minutes to home grew shorter. By the time we reached our townhouse, Arthur’s dark mood was creeping back in.
ACT TWO - DONE
Under Pressure - DONE
“Good day… my second Lady Wolf of the day…”
The charming smile the Detective offered had the hairs on the back of my neck rising.
“Hello again, Detective,” I murmured softly and gave a very brief glance around his office. It was actually more stylish than I would have given him credit for. With a slightly cluttered organization if his quick shuffle through the stack of folders was any indication. By the time he had what he was looking for, I’d crossed my ankles and hands primly.
“Looks like you’ve gotten some sun.”
I squirmed and tugged on a lock of hair by my ear before forcing my hands back to my lap.
“It looks good on you. But you’re South American… you were born to bask in the sun.”
“Are you trying to imply something, Detective?”
“Heavens no. Only that you look incredibly lovely with that sunkissed look.”
I blushed again and curled my fingers together tighter. Detective Bancroft was attempting to unnerve me no doubt with his condescending flattery. I was already more than aware that London society looked down upon my less-than aristocratic heritage without his having to drill the message home each time we met. He leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers near his chest. Watching. I nibbled on the inside of my lip while he did so.
“Have there been any updates regarding Lord Wolf? The cause of death?”
“Nothing substantial about the identification of the perpetrator. As to the cause…” He tapped his fingers together then shifted, the chair under him creaking with the sudden movement as he flipped a folder open. I was not fooled into believing he’d needed to refresh his memory. “asphyxiation.”
I frowned. “What? But… strangled?” He was watching me again, peering at me through half-hooded lashes. Horns were blaring in my head… drums… trumpets. “But… there was so much blood.”
“There you go again… impressing me.”
He was back to his earlier position, a sort of calculated nonchalance. I doubted his words, and I’m sure it showed.
“Do not patronize me, Detective Bancroft.”
“I certainly am not…” He waited, perhaps to see if I would say more but I held my tongue firmly… vigorously. Until I could not.
“I am certainly no medical doctor or scientist but I am fairly sure there shouldn’t be a large pool of blood from being suffocated. Unless I am missing something…?”
Another few seconds later he leaned forward and pretended to confide in me. Well, he did in fact give me more information, but I was certain it was some sort of game he was playing.
“Well, to be honest… there was blunt force trauma to the head as well.”
I suppose I shouldn’t claim to have been surprised. I’d been sure there was some wound… something bloodier. But I still was not prepared for the admission. I am not sure what he saw then, the shock… perhaps my anguish. I still could not imagine anyone wishing Thelonious dead. Or who among the people I knew would resort to murder over some disagreement with the elderly Wolf. There’d been so much blood but it wasn’t even the actual cause of death.
“Someone hit him? And then strangled him to be sure they finished the jo...?”
He stood but I was staring blankly ahead and giving little regard to his movements until a small measure of dark liquid was waved under my nose. I reared back slightly blinking up at him. I could not read his expression.
“It’ll help with the nerves.”
Unthinkingly, I accepted the drink but just held it between both palms, again resting against my lap. Then I just stared back at him… uncertain but just feeling deflated.
“You seem genuinely distraught…”
“Who wouldn’t be? Of course, I’m distraught. I’m sad… angry… frustrated. Why would that seem so shocking to you?”
He waited a moment, content apparently to observe for exceedingly long seconds.
“I don’t know. You could be putting on the best performance of your life.”
My heart raced, violently as my eyes widened. He couldn’t possibly mean… but the way he watched… it couldn’t be a coincidence.
He moved again, flipping back into his folder and tapping a finger inside.
“I’m rather surprised the men in your family are so forward-thinking… they seem quite the… opposite, considering their own activities.”
My fingers curled against glass, reminding me of its presence. Without thinking, I took a gulp and winced at the burn.
“I have no idea what you mean.”
Shivers raced down my spine as I grappled with what to tell him. Buying time, I finished the last bit of whiskey. The confounding Detective just waited, infinitely more patient than I was feeling.
“My family is unaware of my time spent away from them.” Stubbornly, I held out the glass, insistent that he take it back. But before I set it in his outstretched hand, I added in a certain tone, “I’d like it to stay that way… for now.”
“As you wish… for now. Unless something comes of it.” It was a definite warning.
“What I am doing has absolutely nothing to do with Thelonious… or his dea- murder.”
“Let’s hope you are correct, Lady Wolf.”
I frowned but he had lifted his pen and that dratted notepad, obviously intent on moving on.
“It might be a long shot, but are you aware of any of the previous Lord Wolf’s business activities.”
“As you hinted before… and as far as I know, few women were… are privy to the business side of things. Lord Wolf did what he did and I believe he did not really accept any opposition from anyone, especially his family.”
“Seems pretty cold-hearted.”
“I think he loved his family very much. Tried to protect them from things if he had the power to do so. But he did run a tight ship. To be successful you’d have to make some difficult decisions along the way.”
“Like sacrificing the people you love for the things you wish to acquire.”
“Life is not so nearly black and white, Detective Bancroft. What’s good for someone isn’t always what’s desired. And what’s desired isn’t always what’s bad.”
“Are we still speaking about Thelonious Wolf?”
He looked as if he might say one thing but then switched… concealing whatever facts were hidden in that dossier before him. But I could simply be imagining things as my mind went haywire trying to decipher innuendo in all he said.
“Did you know of any enemies he may have had… any old rivalries that may want to settle a score?”
“Of course not Detective. I cannot imagine that anyone conducting business would be so illogical to commit such a heinous crime.”
“I believe logic gets thrown out the window once something you’ve worked so hard to achieve or someone you love gets attacked or threatened.”
“And you think Thelonious did that to someone?”
“Well you, yourself, stated that he was ruthless in getting what he wanted.”
“I never used such a word.”
“My apologies. More along the lines of being determined to have his way and refusing to accept any opposition to his plans… making the tough decisions for the good of the… his… business… right?”
“You make it seem more villainy than I intended.”
“Maybe you prefer to only look at the surface of what’s right in front of you.”
“What is that supposed to mean? You think I do not have any sense because I am just a silly rich woman?”
Again, I got the feeling he knew a whole lot more than he was saying. Something that I feared would turn our world upside down. My pulse raced and my defenses went up leaving me glaring at the detective.
“That is not at all what I am saying, Lady Wolf. Not at all.” There was a distinct pause as he flipped a couple of pages back and forth. Intentionally or not, his words and the brief lull allowed me the moments to regain my composure. “Um… did you notice anything usual with Lord Wolf, or any of the guests the day in question?”
Breathe, one two three… why was I even letting his questions get to me… ‘because there is a murder involved’... but I didn’t do anything… ‘but someone you know and maybe care about may have’
I blinked, looking into Bancroft’s eyes, and swallowed a lump. I hated that he’d come in and challenge everything I knew to be true in my world. Someone was a murderer. Someone I knew.
“I… I do not remember.”
“Your husband argued with his father… you were there then, yes?”
I shook my head. “Yes, but it was a tiny riff. Arthur was just upset about the engagement news… And Lord Wolf was perfectly alive at the end of it!”
“He was worried?”
“I… no… I don’t think… he just thought that Thelonious was doing it for business and not for Aurora’s happiness. He was concerned about his sister.”
And yet Thelonious’ words drifted back to me… how Arthur had been given his chance… and that he should focus more on his wife…
“There was another argument… earlier…” I rushed to point out, my hand shaking in an effort to get him to focus on what I now said instead of where the conversation had just come, “I… I didn’t see who with… only heard them arguing in his library about… I do not know… it was all bits and pieces. Around midday or so. Something about loyalty and trust…”
My heart clenched realizing that I could possibly have stumbled upon someone that may possibly now be a murderer.
“You did not recognize the voice?”
“I did… but I, I simply cannot remember who. I am sure I’ve heard the voice before.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “Is there anything else you can remember?”
Things flashed through my memory… none of which I wished to share with Detective Bancroft. I shook my head.
“Very well.” He rose, waiting for me to do the same. “Would you mind sending your husband in when you go out?”
Again I nodded, gripping my purse snugly.
Arthur stormed out of the office, both in manner and emotion. His eyes were furious. Quickly I rushed from my seat to his side.
“Arthur, are you okay?”
“Let’s just go…” He locked his arm into mine and took a step forward.
“Lady Wolf… Selena Wolf… I’m sorry, I have one more question if you don’t mind.”
Both Arthur and I froze, turning to stare at the detective standing in the doorway of his office looking effortlessly casual. I felt my husband's hand flex against my arm before he released it.
“Is it really necessary, detective?”
“I promise,” He said with a pleasant smile, “it’ll be brief…”
“I won’t be long,” I assured Arthur, earning a clipped nod but his gaze was focused on Bancroft.
“What did you say to him?”
My voice was terse, chiding the moment the door closed behind me.
“Nothing about your secret, I assure you.”
I stood motionless, not eased by his admission. Something had obviously rattled him but Bancroft was unfolding his hand and the sparkle of deep green caught my eye.
“Are you familiar with this earring, Lady Wolf?”
It was not modest in any way considering its simple structure. The exquisite emerald set in silver glinted as he tilted his palm in my direction.
“No. I’ve never seen it before.”
I glanced up at him, quickly catching the thoughtful expression again. He curled his fist around the object and peeked at me before dropping it back in his pocket and nodding.
“Okay. Thank you again for your time, Lady Wolf.”
He took a step towards the door.
“Wait… hold on!” I demanded grabbing his arm just as he gripped the knob, “Where did you find it? What does it have to do with Thelonious’ death?”
Within seconds, I snatched my hand away, embarrassment flushing my cheeks. He, thankfully, made no mention of it.
“Everyone will find out soon enough, I imagine.”
“You can do better than that, Detective.”
“I’m afraid I cannot, at the moment.” That same charming grin flashed, leaving me feeling off guard. The door swung open to Arthur waiting impatiently in the lobby. “It was a great pleasure speaking with you again, Lady Wolf.”
It took little time for us to gather in the car, Arthur’s silence almost felt tangible and I could even sense him trying to oust the negative energy, but he was obviously struggling.
“What was that about?”
“He… he forgot to ask me about the earring.”
“Earring? What earring?”
“The silver and emerald one… he didn’t ask you?”
“No.” he scoffed, “what about it?”
“He wouldn’t say.”
“What do you mean he wouldn’t say?”
“He just asked if I was familiar with it…”
“Whose is it?”
“He wouldn’t say,” I repeated, striving for calm.
“Did you ask?”
“Of course, I asked. He wouldn’t say who it belonged to or if… rather how it was connected to your father’s murder.”
He was silent but his fists twisted around the steering wheel as he navigated the road.
“You didn’t recognize it?”
I sighed softly and nibbled inside my cheek as I glanced at the passing trees. “No… I do not believe I’ve seen it before today.”
Seconds ticked by before his hand reached out, clutching mine.
“I’m sorry. Let’s… let’s just get home and try to forget about today…”
For me, that would be easier said than done.
One More Thing - DONE
Casually I strolled along the cobblestone walk with hidden intent. I’d almost backed out of my agreement but my curiosity could not be contained. A marker highlighted the correct path and I turned left and was greeted by a rippling array of blooming roses.
I’d passed a number of pedestrians before arriving at this portion of Regent’s Park, a plant nursery of sorts cleverly tucked on the west side that wasn’t accessible to the general public. Detective Bancroft stood facing a lavishly landscaped lakeshore at the edge of the secret garden.
It was peaceful here, quiet and serene. The smells and sounds were enough to lull and pacify a tumultuous child. I could easily seek a respite after a difficult day in such an oasis.
It had been a couple of days since the interview in his London office. Since that blow up with Arthur and the return of his even darker mood. He was trying, I had to admit that. But he was still lingering around the house… still spending the majority of his time being the doting, affectionate husband when he wasn’t brooding about everything else. And the nagging questions about his and Thelonious’ relationship and that argument still lingered. If Detective Bancroft had never had to come into our lives… if Thelonious still lived, I would never have cause to wonder if my husband was a murderer. Or why my father was suddenly in town keeping secrets. Or worrying about old secrets involving Victoria. Or wondering about Thelonious’ past and who he may or may not have crossed to the point of death.
And Detective Bancroft was sitting in the middle of this whirlwind of chaos… stirring the pot and poking the bears.
He must have heard my approach. Before I could announce myself he spun, his charming smile caught in a beam of sunlight filtering through the wisping branches of the willow above his head.
“Lady Wolf, thank you for meeting me.”
“I did not think I had much of a choice in the matter.”
“You could have said no.” He spread an arm, directing me towards a nearby bench.
“And arouse further suspicion on my family?”
He waited until we were both settled. But the bench was tiny and it was impossible to keep our thighs from brushing against the other. I wrapped my fingers over my purse handle in the middle of my lap and sat as rigid as a board looking straight ahead at sun streaks glistening atop the water. A bird swooped down, splattering water, and took off again, something wiggling between its bill. I felt like squirming. I should have stayed away, whatever he wished to discuss was not likely to be worth this impulsive decision.
“This is much less than a professional interview… hence why we are meeting in the park and not my office.”
“What is it you are hoping I will reveal to you, Detective Bancroft?”
“Please, call me Matthew.” shocked, I finally looked at him.
I probably should have stuck with my guns. He was far too close. I could see flecks of gold in his brown eyes and the smile wrinkles at the corner of his mouth hidden behind the thick whiskers trailing down his chin. He was a handsome man. I am not sure why I decided to notice at precisely that moment.
“I’m certain that would not be appropriate.”
“It’s not 1833 Selena… I think most modern women, like yourself, are less inclined to be beholden to bygone patriarchal rules on the behavior of delicate ladies…” I remained quiet and his voice lowered slightly. “It’s just names.”
“You’re a man, it does not surprise me that you’d be less inclined towards propriety and etiquette.”
He laughed and tipped his hat back. For a better look? The creases stretching to his temples were as eye-catching as the rest. I was not exactly pleased that I’d noticed that either.
“Do you think so of all men or am I special in your regard?”
Several comebacks came to mind, none of which deserved to be spoken in the light of day.
“Did you call me here to discuss the case or to cater to your ego, Detective?”
His grin seemed to be glued to his face.
“You definitely are not all that you would have the world believe.”
“I am not at all sure what you mean.”
“I mean, that most seem to picture you as sweet and caring, and nothing more.”
I shrugged, turning away. “I am both sweet and caring.”
“But a great deal more…”
I cleared my throat, uneasy with the deepening of his tone.
“So we’ve come to discuss my respectability and reputation then? Have I become a high-ranking suspect in your investigation then? I would assure you that you’re barking up the wrong tree and if you…”
“Whoa now…” He held out a hand against my outburst, “contrary to that, I’m actually quite awed by your daring. Impressed even. But you’ve done that a couple of times since we’ve met.”
I frowned. “I am not good at games, and your superfluous flattery seems highly suspicious. What are you looking to gain?”
“Genuine flattery… and all I wished to gain was to discuss your project. I am sincerely interested in what you’ve already accomplished… and what else you hope to do.”
A part of me started to feel bad. The man did not seem to be harboring ill-will and yet I doubted and attacked him at all ends. I knew my animosity was not of his doing but because of my own newly acquired skepticism and wariness. Before he arrived to do his job, I hadn’t considered doubting the sincerity of those around me. But since then… I’ve started considering how naive I may have been. Perhaps my entire life.
“Very well… what is it you would like to know… Matthew?”
He grinned, “You could start on why… or better yet, how you’ve managed to keep it a secret for so very long. I’ve seen the review from your previous endeavor… I’m sorry I missed it.”
I blushed. “It was a small production. None of my family or peers were likely to hear of it. And… well, I’ve hidden it because I had to. Because… I didn’t want to face their disapproval.”
He nodded, understanding. My stomach rolled as we spoke, laughter spilling out naturally and for the first time, I spent the afternoon speaking with someone outside my professional spectrum candidly about my biggest dream.
Fancy Meeting You Here - DONE
Rising, I settled a paperweight over the updated and neatly organized score sheets before reaching for my jacket off the chairback.
“Mr. Coates…” My voice carried, but the gentleman poked his head through my office door in a matter of seconds. “Oh, good… well I am off. But can you please let Mr. Halliway know that he will not be needed tomorrow? I’ll be traveling to Winterbrook so I’ll likely be gone and unavailable most of the day.”
He nodded, but hesitated, hovering at the entrance with great intent.
“Is something wrong?”
I frowned trying to work back through the day. I managed to free up some time by convincing Arthur that I needed to visit some of the society ladies. I’d had a very productive day instead, here on Langham Place. But Coates seemed to look as if I had deluded myself.
“I know it is not my place to say, Ma’am… but… if I may speak freely?” The hairs stood on the back of my neck but I nodded just the same. “Perhaps, perhaps it is time to tell your family what is happening here… it is getting harder to keep to your budget because of all the delays.”
“Are we over budget then?”
“No… I mean, no not yet. If we keep having to scrap plans and rework them we are definitely going to go well above. We budgeted some contingencies but we’re only at the very beginning and already we’ve had more days lost than used.” His voice hitched slightly when he continued. “Or perhaps you’d like to consider Isabella being replaced with another?”
“No.” Was my quick reply. I even shook my head to reinforce my standing. “Isabella is set. I will deal with any budgeting issues if they arise but for now, as long as we are still on track… I see no point in altering course.”
“As you wish, Lady Wolf.”
“What are you-” an awkward laugh spilled from both after similar words. He leaned in for a hug.
“Is Arthur with you?”
“No…” At his concerned look I rushed on, “I… um, I am just, I was just speaking with a representative about um renting this venue for a society auction I am due to host.”
I knew my lie wasn’t convincing but hoped he wouldn’t notice.
“In West End?”
“We, eh, needed a rather large location. But I know what you mean. The area… it, eh, might not be ideal.”
I clutched the car key in one fist as he stood beside me glancing at the building beyond. From the outside, it looked like most of the warehouses on the block but bigger with a row of shuttered windows at the top that allowed for extra natural lighting.
“Is the owner inside?”
“I… um… no, I don’t think so.” Of course, I knew since I was standing right there beside him. “I spoke with a manager, I believe.”
“Oh?” He strolled around the car seeming to give the building exterior a casual inspection. I frowned, quickly following in his tracks and trying to draw his attention away.
“What are you doing here Papa?”
He spun to face me finally. “Ahh… have been touring some buildings today. The last one was just across the road a way when I saw you.”
“Touring buildings? For what?”
It was only then that I noticed he carried a folder in his hand and he started tapping it as he glanced back towards my location. My pulse started racing.
“Looking to invest in a piece of real estate, considering a couple of buildings but if the right one doesn’t come up I’d consider tearing down and rebuilding if the location works.”
“Ummhmm.” He took a step forward. “Maybe the manager you met with could give me the owner’s information.”
“You can’t really be thinking West End Papa… I doubt this is the right sort of location, you just told me that.”
He laughed, “I’m pretty sure you were the one that said that. I think this could be at least worth the look.”
He continued another step. “I… they have drainage issues!”
“It’s, eh… why I decided it wasn’t a good place for our auction. Really poor, um, drainage. The basement he said has flooded twice in the last month. He apologized profusely of course for wasting my time.”
“A shame.” He muttered, but I noticed he continued to look a bit longer and I wasn’t exactly sure my lie put him off the scent completely.
“Well… since you’re in town, perhaps you’ll join me for tea… or supper with Arthur and me.”
Finally, he turned away but I clutched my bag tightly at the sudden frown etched across his forehead.
“Tea then… I’ll follow in my car…”
Something was off but I nodded. Anything to get him away from this part of the city.
“What’s this I hear about you traveling out of town earlier this week?”
I looked up, a lump of sugar still sitting in the spoon I held after his abrupt change in discussion. I supposed we couldn’t sit and discuss the usually warm London summer all through service. It took me a moment though to complete the motion of stirring my tea and trying to figure out what this tone of voice meant.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You and Arthur left the city, after the funeral?”
“Yes. We decided to get away for a few days. It’s been a tragic couple of weeks.”
He shook his head as he stirred a cup of coffee. It did not surprise me at all that he’d refused to even try the tea at the small cafe we ended up visiting.
“Mija… his father has not even been gone for a full month yet and I’m sure you do remember there is a murder investigation going on?”
“Papa, yes, of course, I remember. How could I forget that? It’s part of the reason we got away. This has been a tough time for Arthur. He needed to have at least a little time away from all this trauma. You cannot imagine what he must be going through…”
“I can imagine, Mija… I just feel that now isn’t the right time to go gallivanting around the country.”
“Oh Papa, it wasn’t like that at all. He is really suffering from his father’s passing… he can barely discuss Thelonious at all. He hardly leaves the house. He’s trying to put on a brave face, for me… and his sisters. But I know he is hurting.”
“Be that as it may, it’s just disrespectful to go vacationing at a time like this. The optics alone would make others suspicious.”
“We weren’t vacationing.” I insisted, despite the fact that a few days later my tanning was still fully flushed across my skin.
“Very well, Mija. Just… take more care. I know you mean well, you’re a good girl.”
I busied myself sipping tea as the weight of all my lies piled up like a house of cards.
ACT THREE - DONE
“We don’t have to stay all day… will stay for the reading then leave if you like…?”
I stifled a yawn and looked at him. He was almost as relaxed as he had been when we traveled to Sussex, and I was happy about it. The mood swings were fewer and farther between.
“You wouldn’t like to spend some time with your sisters afterward?”
I am not too sure what he thought about in the next few moments but his response was slow in coming.
“We can stick around if you like… We could invite them to visit our home in London instead too… we don’t have to do the visiting exclusively at Winterbrook.”
Perhaps having lost so many at the estate had just taken the last ebbs of love of the place from him. I tried to consider how I would feel, losing my brother, mother, and now father… two at least known by traumatic circumstances. If he knew the other… would he then hate the place fully?
“It was nice in Sussex…”
I blinked back at him.
“Yes, we had a lovely time. It was nice to get away.”
“I think so too. Have been thinking about it a lot actually.”
“Yes… our trip. Sussex. Or Cornwall is nice… You know I’ve only seen your home in Columbia once…”
“We should go visit sometime.” I began fiddling with my bracelet, twisting the diamond band repeatedly around my wrist. “After all of this mess is cleared up…”
Another stretch of silence ensued.
“You don’t miss it?”
“Columbia?” He nodded, his eyes focused on the road ahead. “I… well yes, sure I do. I’d love to show you more of it when the time is right.”
“We’ve lived in London now for three years… but really, it’s just always felt like living in father’s shadow… under his thumb. It hasn’t really felt like ours.”
I chuckled softly, “What are you talking about Arthur? I decorated our home myself…”
He reached over and clutched my hand briefly.
“I should have helped you more with the renovations… been around more.”
I shook my head, still laughing. “Oh no… trust me you helped enough!”
He joined my laughter. “Ha!! Are you claiming I have bad taste?”
“Hardly… you married me after all.”
He sobered making me peek over and see the sudden thoughtfulness on his face. Chills stole down my spine.
“I did. One of my better decisions.”
“Oh, Arthur. I was just being silly.”
“I’m not.” his smile was back and the sudden seriousness quickly abated.
I laughed, perhaps a little more nervously than before. He was just being odd… but that could have a lot to do with the Winterbrook lands coming up ahead.
“Our home is lovely, from both of our ideas and choices.”
“I just was thinking… maybe it’s just time for us to really just go do us. You and me. Starting a life that is truly ours. Don’t you dream of something more than just the Wolf legacy?”
I swallowed back words, ones that would expose more than I dared. I’d never dreamt of the Wolf legacy. Not the estate or the name or … well maybe the name. Being Arthur’s wife had always been something I cherished… it was all I had become after being JJ’s daughter. But lately… I was becoming Selena. And that dream… that future, well, it started in London. My future started here… where it led, well that was anyone’s guess. I always imagined Arthur to be part of that future. But the plans I cultivated and put in motion, well... they required that I remain in London to establish that journey.
He squeezed my hand again, pulling the car to a stop before Winterbrook.
“We’ll talk about it more later. After we get all this over with.” He waved his hand dismissively towards the mansion. “Things could be different for us, mi pollito. We can find our place, start a life… our family.”
Unconsciously, my palm flattened against my abdomen as butterflies fluttered wildly. He looked happy. Excited even. He leaned over and kissed my cheek, not even realizing the lump of anxiety that filled my throat and choked off any response I may have given.
We were led to the small library by Noemi, as far away from Thelonious’ library as could be possible I supposed. I was too distracted and worried to notice much. I offered empty greetings and mindless embraces to whoever appeared before me. I didn’t even consider the slight tinge of mustiness that permeated the room as if it had only recently been opened and aired. Once we finally found our seats, I remember wringing my hands together under the table as things or people were organized around me. Arthur seemed ready to get everything over with. I watched him check his watch perhaps two or three times and swivel in his chair whenever someone entered the library.
My mind was definitely elsewhere.
Even when Godfrey finally stood before the group gathered, I stared blankly at his mouth. Muffled words broke through the haze of thoughts racing in my mind. Rebekah got a house… the house, London I think, and some buildings… Noemi was settled upon no matter what. Arthur, the heir… Winterbrook and businesses. The girls were to be protected and cared for no matter what… their cousin got some mine or something. It all seemed pretty normal and expected. No one seemed shocked or alarmed.
Except for Godfrey. The confusion at the end there dragged me from my own worries, however momentarily. I blinked as others in the room began to look a bit agitated. Suspicion and confusion lurked now as Godfrey insisted that he had just read an older… outdated last testament.
To add to all the unpleasantness that had ruled our lives in the past weeks, apparently, Lord Wolf had changed his will. But no one knew where it was, or what it had been altered to.
My world was just completely and utterly mad.
WILL READING LOOK
R1-DONE | R2-DONE
Last edited by BambiFoxx (23/04/2022 at 05:48)