The Snow Child
In the stark winter of her seventeenth year, Isabella had put to rest her fanciful dreams of knights in glimmering armor and princes turned from toads to entertain a much darker notion of happily-ever-after.
As the youngest of five daughters born to the Marquis of Whitney, Isabella was the thorn in her father’s side. He had successfully married off three of his daughters, her sister, Jacqueline, most recently engaged to a young Duke. A marriage proposal for, Jacqueline, had come quickly as expected. She possessed an angelic beauty and men forsook their wives, even their God, for one of her well-turned smiles. Isabella had not been so fairly blessed. Where her sister was the sleeping beauty, with hair spun of gold and skin kissed by the sun, Isabella was the snow child. Her skin as white as a lily, lips red as blood, hair as black as midnight. Horribly unfashionable, ghastly in her strange beauty, no man should want such a creature for his bride.
The dim light from the oil lamp flickered over the pages of her book yet Isabella had lost interest in its story. Her thoughts wandered to her sisters, to the marriage proposals liberating them from their family home. Would she ever know such freedom? Would she ever be released from the bonds of a child to know the pleasures of a woman?
Isabella shifted uncomfortably in her chair, an ache from an earlier lashing flamed across her reddened backside. She did not know what she had done to warrant his wrath. Despite his lofty title and lavish riches, her father was a bitter old drunk who enjoyed seeing the blossom of bruises on his daughter’s skin. With only one daughter left of five, Isabella had endured the full sting of his fury.
She heard the clock in the foyer chime two. She closed the book and rested it in her lap. Her hands lay motionless atop the leather cover. She did not feel the supple hide beneath her fingers or the ridge of veins marring the binding. Her hands were ice, fingertips numb as though frozen. She knew the book lay beneath her unfeeling hands but the sensation was lost. All the simple pleasures of life, the sunshine and the poetry, were bland. Cast in a dozen shades of gray, lackluster and detached. She recalled her father’s words just before the lashing. Lord Merrick inquired of your status. You shall make yourself available to him at the mask.
Even now, she could not recall her reply. Yet, her query had so enraged him he had turned her over his knee and spanked her as though she were still a child in pigtailed braids. She had taken her licks as she took everything in life, with a hard line on her lips and a silent scream in her throat. Even as he had pulled her skirts over her head and bared her pale buttocks, his hand smacking painfully against naked flesh, Isabella remained rigid.
When his breath came in great ragged breaths and his arm grew heavy with its own weight, he laid his hand to rest on her throbbing flesh. She had dared not to move, waited for him to discard her like a broken plaything and take his leave silently from the room.
Soon it would all be a distant memory. If Lord Merrick wanted her, then Lord Merrick should have her. Isabella would have married the devil himself for the chance to escape her gilded cage.
Beyond the parted curtains covering her windows she could see the moon peeking out between darkened clouds. The winds whipped the branches of the old oaks near the manor, sending long shadows of gnarled fingers across the foot of her bed. The branches clawed at the glass while the winds howled in the distance. She went to the window and lifted her gaze to the heavens. “Pray to the night, to the stars above. In darkness he keeps, the secrets of sleep and the unspoken want in my heart.”
She huffed a laugh at her own childishness and pulled the curtains over the window, shutting out the stars. She slipped under the covers, drawing them to her chin and drifted to sleep.
From beyond the dark veil of her dream, she murmured his name unknowingly, as she had done so many nights before. “Lucien.”