“I’ve lost him. And I love him still.” Her voice broke at the realization.
Her mother shushed her, pulling her into an embrace. “I know, darling. I know you
do. But there is nothing for it now. You will have to return with us to Dunsleigh.”
Isolde thought of all she had lost, not just Merrick, but her future, their plans.
Their trip away to the Continent, Paris, Rome, and all the delightful places in between
that they were going to visit, crumbled in her chest like her heart. “He’s really going to
marry her, isn’t he?” Even saying such a thing sounded absurd, and yet it was the truth.
The truth as she would know it from tonight onward.
“Yes, he is.” Her mother’s face was a mask of concern and pain. “I’m so sorry,
darling. You did not deserve this.”
Isolde strove to calm down before her sobs woke her sisters and they started with
their meddling questions. Her body hiccupped for breath; her eyes, so swollen and sore,
hurt when she blinked.
“Come, you must sleep.” Her mother helped her stand, and Isolde didn’t fight her
decree. Tiredness would succeed over her mind and, for a sweet moment, she’d forget
what had transpired this night. It was enough to make her lie down and try.
She settled under the blankets. The maid knocked on the door and her mother
ushered her into the room, taking possession of the glass of whisky and a cold compress.
Isolde downed the drink in one gulp, grateful for the burning amber liquid and the
cooling cloth against her eyes.
The tears started afresh when the comforting embrace of her mother wrapped
around her, pulling her close and holding her as if to never let her go. Not since she was a
child had her mother acted in such a way, and some of the despair left her, knowing she
had the support of her family.
She would need them in the months to come.
She took a shuddering breath. How could a night once filled with so much
excitement and anticipation twist into such despair and horror? Rolling onto her side, the
ring Merrick had given her pressed into her cheek.
She held out her hand and looked at the cluster of five round diamonds, each of
them encased in a bed of silver and sitting on a band of gold that was etched into a
leaflike pattern. The ring had been Merrick’s grandmother’s, and it had been the most
beautiful gift Isolde had ever received.
But no longer. Now it represented a fractured circle of trust, pulled apart and
She yanked it off, unable to throw it no matter how much she longed to. She
reached over and placed it on the cabinet beside her bed, looking at it as it twinkled
prettily under the candlelight. The ring and its beauty were as fickle as its owner.