Authors: Caylen McQueen
MISS LACEY'S LOVE LETTERS
By Caylen McQueen
Anguish crippled his entire body, from the depths of his heart to the marrow of his bones. He had no idea how much time had passed. It might have been a moment, or it might have been an eon. Either way, the passage of time no longer mattered to him. Noah Worthington had lost his reason for being, and the devastating reality of his situation had drained his strength.
As he stared at the ceiling, unshed tears sparkled in his rust-colored eyes. His cheeks were wet and taut from tears that had already fallen. For a man who hadn't cried since boyhood, he had certainly outdone himself in the last few days. He wondered how long he had been laying in bed, motionless, lacking the willpower to move.
An unwelcome smile tipped his lips when he glanced in the direction of his desk. The parchment and quill were calling to him, beckoning him out of bed. He had to write to her one last time. It was the least she deserved. Even if she would never read it, his peace of mind demanded it. If nothing else, her grieving sister might appreciate the sentiment.
With all the strength he could muster in his broken body, Noah dragged himself away from the security of his blankets and sauntered to his desk. When he caught a glimpse of himself in the looking glass, he barely recognized his reflection. He must have aged a decade since he heard the news of his fiance's death.
. Why did she have to leave him? What was he supposed to do without her?
Collapsing in his chair, he buried his face in his hands and erupted with a tremendous groan. Exhaustion ravaged his body, but sleep eluded him. How many sleepless nights could he withstand
before his body collapsed? If sleep was possible, he would have welcomed it. It would have been a welcome relief from the living nightmare of his life.
Noah's hand trembled as he dipped his quill. The last time he held it between his fingers, Abigail was very much alive. He had written to her so many times with that very quill, he had deemed it lucky.
It hardly seemed lucky anymore.
My dearest Abby,
As soon as he wrote her name, Noah's hand stopped. His quill hovered over the parchment as he considered his foolishness. Why should he continue to write a letter that would never be read? Writing to his dead fiance was a waste of time. A pitiful waste of time.
And yet, it begged to be written.
The last time I saw you, I was gazing into your warm brown eyes, those eyes I absolutely adored. Your lovely eyes were always so full of life, as were you. When I think that you will never open your eyes again, my heart is torn apart.
I thought we would be together forever: Abigail Lacey and Noah Worthington, the luckiest man on earth. When I heard that you had left this world, I wanted to follow you. If there is any chance I might meet you in the next life, why should I stay here? I know what you would say if you were here. You would not want me to hurt myself, or cause myself pain. However, I cannot think of anything that could possibly compare to the pain of losing you.
When you were alive, I missed you when we were apart. Now I shall miss you forever. I cannot imagine a life without you, but I have no choice, for I will be without you for the rest of my days. See what a tragedy my life has become? If you could look inside my heart, you would see it has turned black and sick with death. My hopes and dreams were pinned on you, and now I am
hopeless. My entire world was wrapped up in you, one woman, and now I have nothing. Why did you have to leave me? We were supposed to be together for the rest of our lives, planning our perfect future. Now our children will never have names.
Without you, I will never laugh or smile. You were my joy, and now I have none. Your laughter was the sweetest sound I had ever heard, and no music could ever compare. I hope you know how much you meant to me, Abigail Lacey. You were my heart, my soul, the very air I breathed. You were wonderful and charming and positively perfect, and I had never seen anything more stunning than your beauty. I even loved your flaws, as few as they were. I loved the way your nose wrinkled when you were lost in thought, and I loved the worry line that occasionally creased your brow. You were always my angel; now you will be heaven's brightest. You were my dream come true, and if I am lucky, I might dream of you when I sleep. Any dream that has you in my arms again is one from which I would never care to wake.
You taught me the meaning of true love; you made me realise I have never loved anyone but you. Now that I know what true love is like, I could never love another. My heart is forever yours, and it is with you wherever you are. I will treasure the memories we made together, as precious as they are. For as long as I live, those memories shall be my only mistress.
Twenty years later
Valeria Woll was forced to stand on the tips of her toes to reach the top of the drapes. When the dust scattered, it seemed to target her face. The dust's sting brought tears to her eyes and a tickle to her throat. When her body was wracked by a fit of sneezes, her aunt had the audacity to laugh.
"And what, pray tell, is amusing about this situation?" Valeria's clogged nose had rendered her voice a bit froggy, which resulted in more chuckles from her aunt.
"I'm just glad I'm not the one who has to clean." Lydia Langley pursed her lips as she turned her attention back to her embroidery.
"You are more than welcome to assist me in my endeavor, Aunt Lydia."
"Oh, but that would only ruin the fun! It is rather entertaining to watch you wrangle the dust." She could feel her niece glowering at her, but she kept her eyes on her needle. "Besides, you know I have an aching back."
What her aunt lacked in health she made up for in pluckiness, but Valeria knew better than to argue with a woman of one and seventy. The task of cleaning their new abode fell to her, and her alone. "I cannot understand why we haven't sought the help of a maid."
"We have been here a little over a week," her aunt reminded her, "and we've yet to find anyone appropriate. I, for one, do not mind that it is just the two of us. This grand house is ours to explore. It feels like an adventure, does it not?"
"It does." Valeria squinted her eyes, which were still stinging from the dust. "It's an adventure, and I will be the journey's first casualty."
"Casualty?" Lydia shook her head at her niece's choice of word. "Not every adventure has to be dangerous."
"This particular adventure
dangerous. The dust will kill me yet. I can feel it inside me, tickling my lungs."
"Speaking of dust, you have a bit on your nose."
"Do I?" Valeria swiped her nose with the back of her hand, then turned her attention back to the drapes. Then she touched her forehead, which was wet with perspiration and covered in sweat-soaked strands. "I can only imagine how wild I look right now."
"Nonsense!" Lydia's lips were tilted by a mocking smile. "The dirt suits you."
"It is really terrible of you, you know... to find pleasure in my pain." When she gave the drapes a shake, the dust exploded in her face. As soon as she turned around, her aunt wailed with laughter. "Oh dear. I am afraid to ask, but... why are you laughing now?"
Valeria looked down at her white gown, which had turned a bit gray in the dust explosion. Now she was covered in filth. "How could you laugh at this, Lydia?! You are too cruel."
"My apologies." Her laughter rendered her apology disingenuous. "I must say; however, the look on your face is priceless."
Valeria stared at the empire waist of her gown, and the trail of dust that surrounded it. "This dress was one of my favorites!"
sorry. Truly." Lydia laid her needlepoint on a nearby table, one of the few pieces of furniture in the sparse drawing room.
"Do you think it is ruined?"
"Your gown? Oh, I am sure it will clean up nicely," she lied. "Now, why don't you clean the pianoforte?"
"I suppose I could." Valeria pulled back the drapes, allowing a shred of light into the dim drawing room. "It is so dark and musty in here... like a dank, old castle. And the lack of sunlight is more than a bit depressing."
"I am sure Henry would like it," Lydia said, referring to her late husband. Valeria had been her companion for the last seven years, ever since Henry's death. At the time, Valeria was a woman of five and twenty with dwindling prospects. Now, at two and thirty, she was firmly on the shelf. It seemed it was her destiny to stay with her aunt, which she certainly did not mind. For all their bickering, they were truly the best of friends. "Henry always had a taste for the Gothic."
"Unless he had a taste for lung-debilitating dust, I can't imagine
he would like it."
"The dust can be cleared. Underneath it all, I am sure this place is beautiful."
Valeria sighed as she made her way to the pianoforte. "Did you see the cobwebs in the servant's quarters? It is enough to make your skin crawl. As long as the spiders remain en masse, we should not hire a maid. I would feel as if I was sending her to her death."
"As brave as you are, you'll have the spiders evicted in no time."
"Hmph. Right," Valeria scoffed. "If that's what you think, you've gone mad. I am deathly afraid of any creature that could bite me, sting me, or potentially poison me." She ran a finger along the top of the pianoforte, leaving a trail in the dust. "Is it true that no one has lived here in the last fifteen years?"
"It is true." Lydia glanced around the room as she spoke. From the cracked ceiling to the creaking floorboards to the tatty drapes, the entire room wreaked of dilapidation. "It's such a waste, isn't it?" She hoped her niece would pick up on the sarcasm in her voice.
Valeria gently touched one of the pianoforte's ivory keys. The resulting sound was so sour, it made her spine tingle with disgust. "It is terribly out of tune."
"So it is."
"But I suppose that isn't too much of a concern, seeing as I have no musical talent."
"Well, it isn't unlike your singing, dear. A broken pianoforte would be the perfect accompaniment for your... unique voice."
Valeria narrowed her eyes and wagged a finger. "You
terrible, you know."
"I know." The smile on Lydia's lips could not have been wider.
"Truly terrible." Valeria's hands flew to her hips as she assumed a playfully peeved stance. "And I suppose you could sing better than me?"
"Of course! I sing like an angel." With a smirk, she added, "An angel in the middle of strangulation, I should say. Now, moving onto other matters... do you hear an odd tapping noise?"
Valeria stopped dusting and cocked her head to one side. "I believe someone is at the door, Lydia."
"Oh dear." Lydia's face twisted, as if she had bit into something sour and spoiled. "No doubt it is that insufferable Cassandra girl. I am afraid you will have to greet her on your own, dear. I'd rather not subject myself to a headache today."
"Should I really greet her like this?" Valeria motioned toward her dusty gown.
"Wear a shawl."
"Do you really dislike her that much?"
"I don't dislike her at all." Lydia handed a shawl to her niece, which she wrapped around her shoulders. The garment hid a significant amount of the day's dusty damage. "She is simply not my favorite person in the world. Her tiny voice makes me think of a tittering bird, and not in a way that is particularly pleasant."
"She's been very welcoming. Cassandra Prentiss is the first and only friend I have made since moving to Northumberland. As remote as it is, she might be the only friend I
make. It would serve me well to be kind to her."
"Then you should not keep her waiting." Lydia snatched her embroidery from the table and relocated her needle and thread. "Give her my regards."
Sighing, Valeria left the dusty drawing room and hurried to meet her guest. When she opened the door, Cassandra's blonde eyebrows were lifted by surprise. "Oh my!" she squeaked. "You're still meeting your guests at the door? If you keep this up, I might start to doubt you are a lady of quality!"
Valeria stepped aside as her friend passed through the doorway. "We are still settling in."
"I'm only teasing, Miss Woll." Cassandra stepped daintily through the foyer and followed her friend to a sitting room. When they sat across from each other, the smile on Valeria's face was a forced one. Cassandra Prentiss must have been in desperate need of a friend, because she made a habit of visiting every single day. And she talked mostly of herself, which might have contributed to Lydia's negative opinion of her. Cassandra talked endlessly of her own affairs, and she never failed to make her life sound more dramatic than it was.