I’ve been left alone with my thoughts. Again.
And what happens when I am left alone with my thoughts? But of course, I begin to think. Dream. Wonder, question, doubt. These are the moments when the wheels start turning. At last, I can embrace the hopes and aspirations derived by my own little head and, most blessedly, not my mother’s.
I sit perched in an overstuffed chair by the window, overlooking the vast expanse of the estate—from the looming, gilded gate to the acres and acres of barren trees beyond the barrier. It all belongs to me, down to the very last acorn—or, to my parents, rather. The only claim I have is the biggest one of all; I am the heiress.
I, Mirabelle Winthrop of Eunoia Manor, am the firstborn child to Maximilian and Georgiana Winthrop, duke and duchess of Northampton. Once I marry Beckett Elbridge of Newcastle (of the acclaimed Elbridge aristocracy), I will inherit everything within the four hundred acre radius of my family’s property.
That being said, this little utopia of mine will only legally belong to me when and only when I tie the knot with Mr. Elbridge. This idea I have resented from the moment I laid eyes on Beckett Elbridge himself. He is a dreadful man. He is a womanizing, deceitful, snake-eyed human being, and my skin crawls whenever I detect his presence.
I do not believe there is a thing Mr. Elbridge could say or do in order to gain my affections. We have known each other entirely too long for tricks and persuasions. We simply are what we are. Although, I am not entirely ignorant of Beckett’s handsome features (not as much as I wish to be); what with his alluring pale blue eyes, toasted skin, and chiseled jaw, any girl would have to be physically blind to think of him as anything other than gorgeous. But his repulsive personality outshines even his most fetching smile.
Twisting a piece of my glossy auburn hair around my fingers, I watch as a fresh coat of snow begins to build atop the already dense blanket. Winters in Northampton are routinely cold and unforgiving, similar to my mother when I make my own decisions (which is almost never).
I made my official statement in which I resolved to marry Beckett only three days ago—the eve of my nineteenth birthday. I suppose it was time to wave the white flag, no matter how atrocious I look in the color of surrender. The fight was dragged out for as long as I can remember, and I was growing exhausted of the frequent arguments and ceaseless prodding. Call it what you will—whether that be a guilt trip or merely just flat-out blackmail—but I have my reasons for what I have done.
At least, this is what I tell myself at this very moment, as I sit here, thinking. Dreaming. Wondering, questioning, and most alarming of all, doubting.
I came out of the womb kicking, screaming, and obeying orders. I have always done what Mother and Father ask of me, never complaining or pouting. But this, this thing they are asking me to do, to marry a man I despise and loathe; it might possibly be too high a price for me to pay.
I stare through the glass, but instead of following the pattern of snowflakes falling gingerly from the sky, I find myself meeting my own obscure reflection. My eyes—the equivalent of emeralds, I’ve been told—filled to the brim with unease. My lips—painted a rich shade of ruby today in order to compliment my eyes and hair—the corners turned down slightly as to resemble indifference. My brows—shaped neatly into slight, but thick, arches—drawn together in contemplation.
The woman staring back at me is restless, miserable, and determined. But determined to do what, exactly? Stop a wedding I have already given my consent to proceed with, and mere days ago, nonetheless? To risk humiliating not only my family, but also Beckett’s as well? Ruin my chance at inheriting the only place I have ever genuinely been able to call my home?
There is too much at stake. I haven’t the slightest clue what to do. My heart is pounding against my ribcage so as to burst from my chest. My breathing is hollow and shaky. My eyes have yet to leave the icy fountain in the courtyard, watching as miniscule snowflakes collect on the smooth surface. My thoughts are chasing a million different fantasies, and not a single one of them involve an arranged marriage.
Seconds, minutes, hours pass before I hear a knock at the library’s door. I turn in my seat as Mother closes the door, softly—so as not to unsettle me, I imagine. She catches my gaze with her solemn eyes. Mother is so calm, so serene, so tame nearly each time I see her—much like a dove. But I know better than to be fooled by her placid expression and soothing tone. She can be far crueler than even the most ravenous lion.
“Good afternoon, my darling Mira,” she coos, inching closer to the window, closer to my seat. “I thought I might find you up here.”
I dip my head in acknowledgement, my attention refocusing on the blinding white wonderland.
She shifts, her arm resting across the back of my chair. “I know I have told you many times since your birthday, but I am very pleased with your decision to marry Beckett. I understand how arduous this compromise has been for you, but I am most enlightened at this new verdict.”
Mother tenderly lifts my chin to meet her green eyes—green eyes hauntingly identical to my own. “You have made the right choice, my precious daughter.”
I nod lethargically, all the while reminding myself of how terribly mistaken she is. And while I pity my mother’s incessant ignorance, I pity my naïve, credulous spirit all the more.