THREE MONTHS LATER
I’ve successfully avoided Magnus for most of the day. In the library, I pace back and forth. The smell of books is a comfort to me, but it does nothing to stop the racing of my heart.
I want to burst into tears, happy ones, but I just take a deep breath and then let it back out. Outside of the windows, spring has spread over the manor’s expansive grounds, brightening the day with blooming flowers. But I slowly feel the fear in my belly begin to take root again, curling up and making me feel sick.
“Oh, there you are,” Piper’s smooth voice echoes across the room where I stand. “My dear Cassie, I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
I swallow hard, trying to look as if nothing is wrong with me. While inside, I’m ready to burst.
“You found me,” I say, trying for a cheerful tone. “Did you need me?”
“It’s freezing in here,” Piper says instead of answering. “Let’s have a fire lit.”
“Oh, you really don’t need to do that,” I tell her, waving a hand.
“I insist.” Piper wraps her arms around herself as I take her in. Her sharp face still holds the beauty of youth. “Now,” she says. “I’m having tea and so are you. Don’t worry, it’s chamomile.”
My heart thuds in my chest, making my whole body tremble.
“Why would I worry about that?” I ask her, blinking as I follow her to the table by the fireplace.
Piper shoots me a knowing smile, sitting down heavily in her seat.
“My dear Cassie, the baby in your belly is no secret to me,” she tells me gently, squeezing my hand. “Magnus may be unaware, but I know the signs well enough.”
My bottom lip trembles and I sink into my chair, bursting into tears. How embarrassing.
“Oh no,” Piper says, rubbing a bony hand over my hair. “It’s alright, my love. Crying is normal and you are free to do it as much as you like. Baby hormones are a killer.”
“I’ve been here for three months,” I tell her with a sharp sob, wiping a hand over my face. “I don’t even know what my future with Magnus holds. What am I going to do?”
“I know that my son cares for you,” Piper says firmly, tipping my face up with a thin finger so that I have to look at her. “I’ve never seen him so smitten with anyone in his life.”
“Smitten doesn’t equal having children together,” I answer her, shaking my head. “How am I supposed to tell him that I’m pregnant with his baby?”
A maid who is definitely not Alice brings over a pot of tea and Piper makes me a cup with honey.
“Think of it this way,” she says as I take a sip to calm my nerves. “Are you happy? If the answer is yes, then there’s no reason to be afraid. My son will make a wonderful father.”
“I’m afraid that he won’t be excited,” I say quietly. It’s what I’ve been worrying about, though I know it’s silly to think that. “I’m afraid that he won’t want the baby and I’ll be without him.”
“Magnus is a good man and you know it better than anyone,” Piper says sternly. “I’ve seen the look on his face when you enter the room. He all but gave all of this up for you, my dear.”
“I don’t know what to do,” I admit, wiping my eyes. It’s true that Magnus gave up the life.
“I assume you’ve told your mother that you’re pregnant,” she says, and I nod. “And when your father gets back from the old estate and the renovations, you’ll tell him.” I nod again.
“I know that Magnus deserves to know,” I tell her, sighing. “And I’ll tell him soon.”
My hands shake against my fragile teacup, clattering the porcelain on the thin, silver-plated saucer.
Once I leave the library with Piper still sitting at the table, sipping at her fourth cup of tea with a shot of whiskey, I feel myself grow dizzy. For the last week, I’ve been feeling off. I assume it’s morning sickness and my mom informed me over the phone a few days ago that I would be fine eventually, but still. It’s a lot. Nausea snakes through my belly and up my throat, and I have to lean against the doorway to the dining room, breathing in and out shakily.
I stand up as quickly as I can as I hear Magnus talking to someone in the other room. I look around, finding a good place to sit and wait. I’m determined to hide from him, but my vision blurs. The room spins and even as I try to stop myself from hitting the floor, darkness envelops me and I tumble to the ground.
I can hear Magnus as I give in to the dark, calling frantically to me.