Upon a Midnight Dream (London Fairy Tales #1)(7)

Straightening her back, his mother turned cold eyes on him. “How easily you forget. For wasn’t she part of this whole debacle in the first place? Although, the rumor mill has been rampant that it isn’t necessarily another family member who’s struggling with life or death, but the girl herself.”

“Rose is dying?” Stefan asked. His chest began to hurt. It felt that his mother had finally been able to reach him, for it seemed all the air in the once large room was sucked out and he now sat suffocating. His breath came in short gasps as he tried to regain some semblance of control over his physical reaction to the news.

“Very much so,” his mother said. “And I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but from the sound of it, the girl doesn’t have much time left.”

“You swear it?” He had to ask it, for his mother was not above stretching the truth in order to get her way.

“Not that it matters, but yes. I swear it. Stefan, it was your father’s last wish. His only wish, for us to continue aligning the families.”

Suddenly exhausted, he allowed his body to fall back into the confines of the chair. “There has to be another explanation.”

“But there isn’t!” his mother snapped.

“She’s right, Stefan.” Fitz spoke up, his voice sounded weak with fever, it was strained, absolutely void of any luster. “You must do something.”

Stefan looked into his brother’s expressionless eyes, and his heart gave way again. How had things spiraled so far out of his control? And so fast?

“I’ll leave as soon as I can,” he said, looking down at the cold slate floor. It was, as he thought, a moment in time where he would always remember the look on everyone’s face. His mother, in mourning and thinking nobody noticed as she continued to drink more and more sherry until her features took on a rosy appearance. And Fitz, silent as the grave, because even he knew he hadn’t much time left.

The sunlight poured in through a crack in the drapes, tiny dust particles sprung to life all around Stefan’s face, and it seemed the universe was frozen in place. His family utterly broken, silent, and grieving in that tiny death trap of a room. And he, the savior of him all, had just agreed to marry a girl with one foot in the grave. It was madness.

But it was also love. True love for his father who had died before his time, and his mother who was slowly dying every day, and Fitz. He owed it to Fitz for life had been the cruelest to him over the past few months.

Stefan had thought he was over Elaina. That hopefully through the passage of time, her beauty would cease to affect him.

Instead, he found it was worse. So when Fitz began his downward spiral into his sickness, Elaina had sought comfort elsewhere. The thought alone made Stefan ill, for Elaina had gone to James, of all people, for that comfort.

“How long shall it take?” James asked, breaking his sulky silence from the corner of the room. He was ruined more than anyone, for he had publicly announced a matron of the ton as his mistress, making him not only the laughingstock of the family, but also bitter for the woman who had denied him. Which was why he took his solace where he could find it—Elaina’s bed.

“I’ll be as quick about it as I can,” Stefan said.

“Good,” James excused himself from the room, not quite sure on his feet, for he had consumed nearly as much whiskey as his mother had sherry.

“Stefan?” With tremulous hands, his mother held out a crumpled piece of parchment. “It must be done this year or else…” Her weak voice trailed off.

“Or else?” Stefan asked, not sure he wanted to know the end of her tragic tale.

“The curse will take us all, Stefan.”

Biting back another oath Stefan took the paper and stuffed it in his jacket pocket. “I’ll return as soon as I am able.”

“You cannot fail, my son.”

His mother’s last words haunted him as he quit the room. The only sounds in the depressed house were those of James’ and Elaina’s stolen laughter, Fitz and his coughing, and his mother weeping into her hands.

“I will not fail,” he vowed, and went in search of his horse.

Chapter Two

It is never too late to be what you might have been—George Eliot

That same cursed day…

The snow fell throughout the afternoon. Rosalind watched as the flakes danced through the darkening sky. The solitude in her hiding spot should feel lonely, but instead she relished the few silent moments to herself.

With her godmother running around the manor like a little mother hen, it was a shock she could even find a place to hide. Why, she had asked when she was little, did she need a godmother? Was having a full staff in the house not enough? Her father had merely patted her head and said she was extra special and in need of more than one guardian. Though her godmother scoffed at such an idea and swore up and down it was merely a precaution in case one of them died.

They believed Mary to be his insurance policy. But Rosalind knew better than that. Mary adored her, and she Mary. Since leaving her mother in London, her godmother was all she had. Her family had all but abandoned her since the night of her father’s death, in hopes that the curse would follow only Rosalind.

“What have you done?” he had said. Shivering, she pulled her arms closer to her chest and sunk deeper into the chair.

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