Excerpt: From Lies
Rafe was half-tempted to slam the poetry book he currently held into his head until he was unconscious. Maybe it was a bit extreme. As he listened to his sister botch her line, for the sixth time, he thought that, no, he wasn’t being too extreme. Why his mother had decided that his sister needed to recite some old, dry, dead poetry in preparation for the royal ball that was still half a year away was beyond him. He needed an escape—preferably one that took him far away from his domineering mother and the incessant giggling of his sister. Whose hiccups had started again. By Venda, he needed saving.
“Lady Rochelle?” The voice was soft, tentative, but still musical. Rafe’s spirits lifted because surely someone must be hearing his prayers.
“What is it?” his mother snapped, her teeth bared at Greta, who stood meek and drawn into herself, her gaze firmly fixed on the marbled floor.
“The cook sent me to collect the food allowance so I might go shopping.”
His mother snorted, her dark eyes hostile in her pinched face that Rafe wished didn’t resemble his own in any way. But he shared her smallish nose, the high arch of her cheekbones, the slight slant at the outside corner of her eyes. Luckily the rest of his features he’d inherited from his father, or were uniquely his.
“Foolish girl.” His mother sneered, her voice turning to liquid poison. Rafe saw Raquel shiver out of the corner of his eye; it was a good thing their mother hadn’t seen the motion. “The ball is fast approaching and you come in here to demand money for food? Have you set up an appointment with the tailor? Made sure the shoemaker still has my children’s measurements? You stupid child.”
Rafe moved before his mother could do anything hasty, such as strike Greta. “I have a list of important people to see in preparation for the upcoming ball, mother. I shall go with the…” he sneered, the nasty words forming on his tongue making him hate himself, even though he discarded most of them, “… imbecile to make sure appointments are set up and that anything those who will prepare our outfits need shall be had.”
“Of course you will.” His mother’s disdain turned on him, the threat of physical harm passed. “I shall write up a list so you can’t forget anything. At least the girl is good for her memory. You can’t even give me that.”
The words shouldn’t have stung, not after all the times he’d heard them or the variations they’d taken, but a small part of him, the boy he’d once been before her marriage to the Duke of Cinderston, still hoped for her approval. “Of course, mother.” He turned his gaze to Greta, wishing he could reach out and comfort her as he saw the fear staining her face. “I shall go get changed. Be ready by then, or you shall regret it.”
As he walked from the room, he knew, without looking, that his mother would have a nasty smile on her face, her mind conjuring up whatever images it could of what he’d do to Greta if she were late. He’d have to take his time getting changed, acting the frivolous, indecisive young lord everyone thought him to be to make sure Greta had a chance to meet him at the stables. It would be difficult, since he already knew what he would wear, but he’d managed more under worse circumstances.
He took his time sorting through his clothes until the butler was forced to come get him, an exasperated look on his dour face. The poor man had been part of the duke’s staff since before Greta had been born, and she was a few years older than Rafe. Such a long time… Close to eighteen years, since Rafe was five, the butler had been dealing with what anyone would call intruders into his master’s home. From the day Lord Cinderston had died, Rafe, his mother, and his sister had never fit.
Rafe chuckled to himself as he pulled his jacket on, fixing the lapels so they lay just so. It should have been strange to think of himself as an intruder, especially after so many years, but the hostility only grew when he was around the staff. Just half a year, a week before the ball, and he’d be able to free everyone from the curse that was his mother. By then it would be eighteen years since she’d married, and Rafe would be twenty-three, the man of the house, and his mother would hold no sway.
As much as Rafe disliked the laws that stated a man would be in charge of his family in all things, in that moment so soon coming, he would relish the power it would grant him. A squeak of the stairs had him paying attention to his surroundings, not for the first time thinking he’d make sure to build the house back up, restore it to the beauty it had once held.