I did. I truly hated him in that moment. I hated every controlling, manipulative, toxic thing he had done to me. More than that, I hated that I loved him. Despite everything, I still loved the man.
I would never forgive myself for that fact.
Reaching for a crystal decanter, Richard poured himself a glass of brandy, turning toward me as he raised it to his lips. It was still early in the morning, but I had just tried to shoot him less than an hour earlier, so I guess he was entitled to a stiff drink.
Unable to hold back, I let out a primal scream and threw his phone at him.
Richard smoothly ducked out of the way. The iPhone crashed through an antique glass window, sending shards of glass showering down onto his shoulders then the thick, Persian carpet at his feet.
Pointing to the now shattered window, I raged. “The phone proves it. It was all lies. All of it!”
The man had me so turned around I didn’t know what was real anymore. If he had told me the sky was purple and unicorns exist, I probably would have believed him.
Somehow he had slowly and methodically taken over my whole life. Everything revolved around him. He had become my sun, the only source of light and energy in my world. Without him, I was certain I would wither and die. I knew this deep in my bones, just as surely as I knew that same light had burned away all that remained of my own identity… had burned away my very soul.
It was true what they say, anything could be poisonous… it just depended on the dose.
Richard was toxic for me, but there was no denying I willingly drank his poison.
But this time he went too far… him and his games. I was done.
Crossing my arms over my chest, I challenged, “Are you going to try and deny it?”
Richard reached into his glass and pulled out a jagged piece of glass. Keeping his cold sapphire eyes on me, he placed it between his lips and licked the amber liquid off its slick sharp surface before tossing it aside.
The man’s unassailable arrogance and confidence was maddening.
Was it any wonder I was now mad as a hatter?
Was it any wonder I just tried to kill him?
Careful to keep the desk and two heavy upholstered chairs between us, I frenetically paced the length of the room, forced to grab fistfuls of fabric and lift my skirts high as I did so. Having no other choice, I was wearing one of the Victorian gowns Richard had provided. With no petticoat, my heavy skirts dragged on the floor; that this dress was one of my own creations just rankled me more. I remember loving how the cobalt blue taffeta matched his eyes.
All of this. The dress. The estate. The servants. Me.
We were all just pawns on a board. Players in a game only he knew the rules.
To think he almost had me believing his lies! If it hadn’t been for his disdain for modern technology, I might never have come across his phone, abandoned and silent, in his desk drawer. Proof the modern world, which had haunted my dreams, existed.
It was then I also found the revolver.
I may never know if I missed on purpose or accidentally. Yet, I did know, the second before I pulled the trigger, I wanted him dead with every fiber of my being.
How I felt the moment after?
When the bullet left the chamber?
That I couldn’t say, and yes, I hated myself for it.
Gripping the back of the chair, my nails dug into the paisley tapestry as I bravely met his hard gaze. “Say something.”
One sharp eyebrow raised. The only hint of emotion on his chiseled, handsome face. His voice was deceptively casual as he asked, “Does this mean our little game is over?”
My mouth fell open in shock at his cavalier attitude.
Once more he brought the brandy glass close to his lips, then paused to muse, “I wonder who won?” Taking a sip, he then smirked. “Me, of course.”
Claws bared; I flew at him.
Richard threw his glass aside and latched on to my wrists before they could scratch long red marks down his perfect cheeks.
“It’s over! Over! We’re done!” I screeched as I struggled in his grasp. My cumbersome skirts tangled between my legs.
Spearing his fingers into my long, loose hair, he twisted, securing a handful in his tight fist. Wrenching my head back, he leaned over me to threaten. “It’s over when I say it’s over.”
Swallowing back a sickening rush of nausea as my stomach twisted in knots, I marshaled my courage and choked out through clenched teeth, “I’m leaving you, Richard, for good this time.”
Every limb in my body went cold at my own pronouncement. I had willingly killed the sun in my universe and now felt a creeping, clawing chill run over my body, as if all my warm blood, all the passion and desire he had brought to my life, had drained away.
His eyes harden as his large hand enclosed around my exposed throat. Like a rabbit caught in a snare, I stilled, my eyes wide with fright. The only sound in the room was the incessant ticking of the mantel clock and the sound of his harsh breathing. The minutes, or were they seconds, dragged on.
My eyes closed as his fingers squeezed. Welcoming death at his hands, my last macabre thought was how warm his fingers felt wrapped around my throat.
His lips crashed down on mine. Whimpering, I willingly opened my mouth for his assault. Taking possession, his tongue swept in. He tasted of blood and brandy. Releasing his grip on my throat and hair, his hands tore at my dress as he pressed me backwards. The edge of the desk dug into my hips before he lifted me high and placed me on its smooth mahogany surface. Wrenching my knees open, he stepped between them, his hands fisting the yards of skirt fabric in his frenzied effort to touch the skin of my inner thighs and higher.
Giving in to the power of his embrace, my fingers dug into his hair as I pulled him closer, wanting to feel the rough scrape of his stubbled jaw against my lips, needing to feel the hard press of him between my thighs. Craving his touch like an addict who needs a fix of the very poison they knew was slowly killing them.
My mouth opened on a plaintive keen as he ruthlessly pushed two fingers into my already aroused body.
“You’re mine, my little bird. There is no escape,” he roughly whispered against the curve of my ear before sinking his teeth into the soft lobe.
Unwanted reality crashed down on me. Damn me to hell for my sins, it was true I desperately longed to return to a time where I believed his lies, where I was a willing participant in his games. Where I allowed him to dominate my actions and very thoughts, but I couldn’t. It was as if he had placed me, his prized possession, in a glass display case high on a pedestal, and the awful truth had shattered the case into a million pieces. There was no going back.
Once more, I struggled in his embrace. This time he shocked me by letting go and taking a few steps back. Running a hand over his tousled hair, he picked up his glass and spilled another two fingers of brandy into it before draining the contents. Swiping the back of his hand over his mouth, as if to erase the taste of our final kiss, his hands clenched into fists as he turned on his heel and approached me.
Crying out, I raised my arms protectively, as I turned my head to the side.
Richard stormed past me.
Confused, I gathered my skirts into my hands and scrambled off the top of the desk. Keeping my eyes on him, I slowly backed away toward the door. Frantically scanning the room, I snatched up an ornate, old-looking letter opener which was displayed on a nearby bookshelf.
Richard’s mouth curved up in one corner. “A gun didn’t stop me, my love. Do you really think a dull letter opener would prevent me from fucking you right here, right now, if I wanted to?”
I knew what I must look like in that moment. My tangled curls a wild mess around my shoulders and down my back.
My dress half hanging off my body and dragging on the floor as I clutched a tarnished make-shift knife to my breast.
My gaze, wide with fright, shifting from left to right as I tried to anticipate his next pounce.
I looked as crazy as I felt… as crazy as he had made me.
Richard reached for the brass, candlestick phone on his desk. Lifting the trumpet shaped receiver to his ear, he pressed down on the switch hook a few times before speaking into the mouth receiver. I knew that phone connected to the Butler’s pantry in the servant’s quarters.
Keeping his dark sapphire eyes trained on me, he said, “Good morning, Hutley. Please have the driver bring round the car. Ms. Larkin wishes to be taken to her home in London,” instructed Richard calmly, as if he were ordering extra toast with his breakfast tray.
Just like that? He was going to let me go? It didn’t seem possible, not after the lengths he went to entrap me.
Neither of us said a word, just stared into the void between us.
Then, we heard the crunch of gravel as the car pulled up to the entrance, which was just outside to the right of the study.
Glancing over my shoulder, I backed up to the door, reaching behind me for the knob as I tried to keep my wary gaze trained on Richard, somehow feeling this was a test, a trap that was going to snap closed on me the moment I crossed over the threshold.
Placing his hands in his pockets, as if trying to appear nonchalant and unthreatening, Richard slowly followed me out of the study and into the large entrance hall.
Keeping my eyes trained on Richard and one arm stretched behind me, I stumbled my way to the front double doors.
Two footman appeared out of nowhere to swing the heavy wooden doors open. Neither expressed the slightest shock at seeing their master stalk a half-dressed woman brandishing a letter opener like a weapon out of the house, although after what they had witnessed and been paid to ignore these last few months, it was small wonder.
The driver held the back passenger side door open. Refusing to drop the letter opener, I climbed awkwardly into the spacious backseat. The car door slammed shut. Then the driver hustled around to the right side and climbed in. The engine roared to life as the car pulled out of the drive.
Twisting around, I looked through the back window to see puffs of dust and little bits of gravel kicked up by the tires scatter over Richard’s polished knee-high riding boots.
The aristocratic Duke of Winterbourne stood unnaturally still as the car took me further and further away from him.
I was finally free.
Waiting till I could no longer see her pale, gamine face through the back window of the car, I crossed over to the bushes just below the study windows and retrieved my phone. Dusting off the bits of dirt and shattered glass, thankful the screen had not cracked, I brought up the contact I sought and pressed send.
Without preamble, I spoke the moment the phone was answered. “She’s heading your way. I don’t have to remind you what is at stake if you don’t obey me.” Without waiting for a reply, knowing my point was made, I hung up.