Haunting Violet Page 53

CHAPTER 16

The silence was as heavy as a stone dropped right into the middle of the room.

But it was all too brief.

It shattered under the weight of several exclamations, startled gasps, and knowing snickers. Lord Jasper sat very still. I couldn’t read his expression. Xavier stood abruptly, neck flushed and mouth hanging open. His mother was fanning herself vigorously, making strangled sounds. Elizabeth had tears in her eyes. I couldn’t bear to look at Tabitha, but I knew Caroline looked both solemn and pleased with herself. Colin was cursing under his breath. Mother shivered delicately and lifted a trembling hand to her brow.

“Where am I?” she murmured, preparing to swoon. There were some who believed that a medium had no control over her actions when the spirits took her over. I knew for a fact that particular argument wouldn’t be enough to save us. Already glares were heating, noses were lifting up with apparent disgust. No one liked to be taken for a fool, especially not the peerage.

As Mother let herself go boneless, Colin marched across to catch her, lifting her up in his arms. It was all very dramatic. And still not nearly enough to save us. I finally collected myself enough to jump out of my chair, snatch Mother’s best dress from the floor, and hurry after them. We left a cacophony of voices behind. There was nothing people liked more than a scandal, especially one they’d witnessed themselves. Mother stirred, lifting her head.

“Damnation.”

We practically ran up the stairs and down the hallway. Colin didn’t set my mother down until we were at the door to our rooms. We poured into them so suddenly it was a wonder we all fit through the doorway.

“What are we to do?” I whispered.

“Whatever it takes,” Mother hissed, whirling to glare at me. I flinched. “Who let that stupid chit light the lamp anyway? Why didn’t you stop her?” She let out a howl of rage and tossed a nearby china pot across the room. It smashed into the wall, dripping cold tea down the silk paper to puddle on the carpet. She clenched her teeth. “It can be fixed,” she said suddenly. She was still half-undressed but she didn’t seem to have noticed. Or she didn’t care.

My teeth chattered together even though I wasn’t cold. Everything had changed tonight. There was no going back.

“Is Lord Thornwood my—”

She cut me off with a withering look. “Oh, Violet. Not now.”

“What do you want to do?” Colin asked. “Shall I fetch Lord Jasper?”

She looked disgusted. “Idiots, the pair of you. We have to leave.”

“First thing in the morning?”

“Right now. As soon as the guests have gone to their beds.”

“Won’t that condemn us further?” I bit my lip. “And how will I get a chance to speak to Lord Thornwood?” If he was my father, as he must be, wouldn’t he want to talk to me too? And I had a hundred questions for him already … did I have any siblings? Grandparents?

“Forget him.” She grabbed her dress from me. “I won’t stay here and have those uptight old windbags look down their noses at me. As if they’re better than me. We leave tonight. Get your things.”

We waited until the house was quiet, broken only by the soft hush of the wind at the windows and the ticking clock in the hall. It took some time before the conversations in the parlor died and even longer before we stopped hearing footsteps outside our door. Half the guests were finding reason to walk down this particular hallway, hoping for another tidbit of gossip. Someone knocked once tentatively but we held our breaths and didn’t answer.

Colin had snuck out and was waiting for us outside, at the end of the long drive, with the hired carriage. He’d had to walk all the way to the village to find one without alerting the Rosefield grooms. The horses nickered softly, tossing their heads. I glanced behind us when the front door swung shut, half-expecting candles to be lit at the windows, curious faces pressed to the glass, or at least Mr. Travis with his habitual late-night pacing. They stayed dark, unblinking. I shivered, wondering what Rowena would do now.

“Violet, do hurry up.”

Colin tossed our bags up onto the top. Mother was about to climb the step into the carriage when a figure shot out of the darkness and grabbed her hand fervently. Colin was about to shove it forcibly back when Mother fluttered her eyelashes and smiled demurely. I smothered a groan. Colin fell back to stand behind me, looking just as resigned.

“Lord Marshall,” Mother said softly.

“My dear,” he said, bringing her ungloved fingers to his lips in a way that made me grimace. He was handsome enough, I supposed, even with gray at his temples. But there was something about the way he moved that I didn’t like and didn’t trust. He was wealthy though, even wealthier than Lord Jasper, and that was all that mattered to my mother.

“I’m afraid we have been called back to town,” she said.

“I understand. They simply do not appreciate the delicacies of your … talents.”

“Exactly.” She tilted her head so that her neck was better displayed in the moonlight, pale and fragile as an orchid’s stem. “I shall miss our little talks.”

He bowed. “Remember me,” he murmured, pressing a card into her palm. “Should you desire a change in circumstance.”

“I am flattered.”

“Good night.”

“Good night, my lord.”

He turned and left, lighting a cigar as he went. He didn’t even glance at me. Mother tapped the card over her lips, consideringly. Then she disappeared into the carriage.

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