Suzanne had always been unbearable, something only exacerbated by the fact that she was the youngest of the four children had by Isabella's parents, Princess Marie of France and Alexandre de Reyer, Duke of Provence and Savoy, and the youngest was always treated with a certain indulgent reverence, allowed to get away with far more than older siblings. Nevertheless, with Suzanne it had always been ridiculous and excessive, even if much of the spoiling and special treatment she received was due more to a demanding nature than deliberate favouritism. Her parents gave in to her every whim, and always had done, no matter what the whims where. They had not even raised substantial protests when, at the age of thirteen, she had made her biggest demand of all, the one that would begin everything.
Isabella remembered well the dinnertime the conversation had taken place; recalled Suzanne's reedy voice piping up, cutting through everyone else's dialogue and demanding all attention on her. "Do you remember the girl I met at that ball last Christmas? The American one?" she had said to her mother.
Their mother nodded. "The American Ambassador's daughter, Emily? Yes. Why do you ask?"
"She goes to St Peter's," Suzanne continued in her typically superior manner. "The school near New York City?"
"Yes, I know the one you mean, darling. Quite a few people have been sending their children over there recently; it is gaining a prestigious reputation for itself. I believe the Férets are even thinking of sending their daughters, and you know how long the family has been loyal to Sacred Heart."
"And Kristian goes there," Suzanne pointed out. "Kristian and all of his siblings. Which proves how good the school is."
"Oh, no one is disputing its excellence, Suzanne," their father said, chuckling. "Every time the debate about schooling has occurred no one I know has had a bad word to say about Peter's, other than that they are surprised an American school has become one of the best in the world. But then, it was founded upon a European model."
Suzanne sniffed, as though she could not care less about such a fact. "Well, Emily says it is fabulous. She has been telling me all about it in the letters we have been writing. I want to go there."
Their mother looked very surprised. Isabella was not. She had known what Suzanne was angling for from the start, why else would she have brought the matter up? She wanted something, as always. "Really? Darling, we have had your name down at Sacred Heart since you were born. Your brother and sisters are there and-"
Suzanne cut their mother off rudely. "I don't care where they are! I want to go to St Peter's! You said so yourself, even the Férets are sending their children there. No one stays in France for school anymore, Maman, it is terribly nineteenth century. As is Sacred Heart; old and tired and unfashionable."
Oh, how Isabella longed to reach across and shove Suzanne's face into her soup bowl. Judging by the looks on the faces of her brother and sister, they felt the same way.
"Now, Suzanne, that is very unfair," their father attempted, pointlessly. Reasoning with Suzanne had always been impossible. "Sacred Heart is also recognised as one of the best schools in the world; possibly the very best in Europe. And both your mother's family and mine have been going there for over a hundred years-"
"St Peter's is better! Everyone who graduates goes to Harvard or Yale or some other fantastic college!"
"I thought you wanted to go to art school, Suzie."
"It is the principle, Maman!" Suzanne whined, banging the end of her spoon on the table. "I want to go!"
As their parents could not change her mind after several half-hearted attempts that ceased whenever she began to scream and deride Sacred Heart, and wished to avoid even severer tantrums if they refused her, Suzanne was shipped off to America in September 1925. Isabella had been utterly disgusted, as had her older sister Catherine and younger brother Dominique, who were attending, as Isabella was, the school Suzanne should have gone to - the Sacred Heart Academy in Orléans. This disgust only grew the first time they saw their sister again, when she came home for the Christmas holidays.
For some inexplicable reason no one could comprehend, she refused to speak in any language other than English (and this she did in a quite ridiculous-sounding false American accent which lapsed into French at the end of each sentence), and swanked around all holiday spouting about the friends she had made, especially her roommate, who happened to be the American President's youngest daughter. Though nothing was ever voiced, Isabella knew that the whole household had breathed secret sighs of relief when Suzanne flew back for the new term in January. She certainly had, and was already dreading the next time she had to put up with her sister's offensive company.
To her gratefulness, it was not often from then on, for as she grew older Suzanne rarely came home for the holidays at all; getting many invites to friends' houses all over the world, and never failing to accept them. No doubt that was more 'fashionable' than spending time at home with one's family. Isabella was certainly not going to complain about Suzanne's absence, though she felt furious every time she witnessed how bereft their parents seemed after another telephone call or letter telling them that once more she would not be returning.
Time went by, and Isabella left Sacred Heart, as Catherine had before her. She had opted not to further her academic studies, whilst Isabella went to the University of Paris for English and French literature. Neither of their decisions were particularly surprisingly, unlike Dominique's to move to Los Angeles to indulge his passion for film directing, of all things. But other than small shocks such as this, Isabella would never have described the years as eventful. They were average and expected, and especially where she was concerned. Whilst at university she had married someone she had been courting since their schooldays together; the youngest son of the Emperor of Austria, Archduke Rupert von Brandtburg-Fitzaren. With their families more than consenting to the match, the two of them had wed in April 1927. They had welcomed their first child, Gabriel, in the December of the same year, and a second son, Henri, had followed eleven months later.
Catherine had also wed in 1927, in the September, not caring that her younger sister was marrying before her, any more than she cared that her husband was only the heir to a Marquisate. Isabella admired Catherine for not caring about such things, but could not help that she did, very much so. If she was going to have to be chained down by the shackles of matrimony, she was certainly going to be chained to someone worth being chained to. She was passing her surname down to her children, too, and forging her own line. She did not see why ancestry had to be solely about the male; her family were just as important as Rupert's.
Fatally, making a fantastic match no matter what the cost also seemed to have become the mindset of Suzanne when she came home for a rare visit over the Christmas of 1929, spouting about something once more. By then, she had not been back for an entire year due to having had an invite to spend the summer with one of her dreadful school friends in Southampton, New York. It was there, Isabella found out as Suzanne recounted her tale to her during her first night home, that she had met him.
She had been almost asleep when her sister had barged into her bedroom with an excited expression, throwing unwelcome light into her eyes with the small candle she was holding in an unsteady hand. She was near vibrating, unable to stand still, and grinning widely. "What are you doing, Suzanne?" Isabella had hissed, sitting up and rubbing sleep out of her eyes. She was only glad that Rupert and she were no longer sharing a bed; he would have strangled her younger sister for daring to barge in and wake them up.
"I just want to talk," Suzanne replied, sitting down on the edge of the mattress and placing the candle down on the bedside table.
"What is it?" Isabella sighed, knowing Suzanne would not leave until she had said whatever she intended to. She was too thick-skinned and selfish.
"I met someone. I had to tell you. It was in the summer, at a party I went to when I was staying with Rachel."
"Oh, how nice." Isabella could not have been more uninterested, yawning into her hand, eyelids fluttering with the need to fall back into the warm doze of a few minutes before.
"He is a friend of her uncle. Lord Edmund Harwood." It was clear from the way Suzanne said the name that she expected Isabella to have heard of him. Isabella had. She had heard of him, and heard too much for comfort, but she had no way of revealing that to her sister without revealing more than she could. So she stayed silent, neutral-faced, and Suzanne screwed up her nose in displeasure that her boasting had, to her knowledge, fallen flat. "Don't you know who he is?"
"I cannot say I do."
"He is the heir to a Dukedom! His father is the Duke of Parryshire, in England!"
"They are very close cousins of the English Royal Family! Edmund is, in fact, fourteenth in line to the Crown!"
"Surely you have at least heard of the family's empire? Harwoods law firms? His father bought out another firm twenty years ago and now they have offices all over the world! Edmund is the heir to that as well. To the whole company. It is worth a fortune."
"Could you be even a little enthusiastic, please?" Suzanne whined.
"What on earth do you want me to say? Do you intend to marry him?"
She tossed her hair and gave a haughty snort of disdain. "Marry? Of course not! We are just having fun!"
Isabella looked at her incredulously. "You are just having fun? But I presume that he is far older than you."
"A little. But he is only thirty-seven, Izzie. That isn't old. And he is entitled to some fun; he has been alone since his wife died. She was Sophie Dashley, the daughter of President Dashley, by the way…"
Isabella's expression became more and more glazed as Suzanne continued ranting about Edmund and their 'relationship' for going on an hour. By then, when she finally left with her candle, promising that they would continue the discussion another time, Isabella was almost asleep again, slumped against her pillows, wishing some higher power would strike her sister down so she did not have to endure any more insipid stories.
The promised resumption of the conversation was never had in the end, and Isabella had never been so relieved in all her life. Had she had to listen to more cooing about how perfect Edmund Harwood was, she would have shot herself, or perhaps her sister. The festivities kept them both occupied and sent the holidays flying by so fast that Suzanne and her mooning over Edmund were gone before she could even count down the days until it would happen.
However, Isabella found herself not as free from the man as she would have liked, as Suzanne was back a mere two months later. She had run straight to their father's study as soon as she arrived home, so distressed that she completely negated Isabella's presence in a corridor as she sprinted past her, powder-blue coat flying out behind her along with her light brown hair, tragic trickles of black paint running down from her eyes. Intrigued as to what was wrong with her now, Isabella followed, arriving in time to see her fling herself into their father's arms. He looked most alarmed.
"My dear, what on earth are you doing here? What's wrong?"
"Oh, Papa!" she wailed, seeming genuinely upset, none of her usual theatrics about her. "I did not know what else to do! I…he…"
Their mother appeared then, rushing through the doorway looking bewildered and worried. "Suzanne? My God, what is going on; what is the matter? You are supposed to be at school!"
Suzanne detached herself from their father, sobs slowing, and then went and sat down on a nearby chaise longue as though in a dream, legs primly together, posture perfect. She stared into space, lips parted and taking in short little breaths. "I…I…I am with child."
Marie gasped and looked as though she would faint. Isabella put her arms around her to hold her up, before guiding her into an armchair where she slumped, right hand over her gaping mouth. Alexandre sat down heavily behind his desk and reached for the whiskey decanter, brow furrowed.
Suzanne stared around at the silent figures. "Will no one say anything?" she asked, voice no more than a whisper.
Isabella looked at her parents as blankly as they were looking at each other, and her, all of them at a loss. It was a good long while before Alexandre broke the silence and asked, "And who is the father?"
"Edmund," Suzanne said. She cast her wet eyes to the floor, looking something like ashamed, while Isabella closed her own in despair.
"Edmund? Is this the same Edmund you were talking about all Christmas?"
"Yes. The very same." Suzanne looked to Marie with trembling lips. "Maman, he says…he says I must…terminate the pregnancy."
The words brought Marie out of her shock. "He said what?" she shouted. "No! I refuse to allow it!"
The whole story poured out of Suzanne then. She had discovered she was expecting only a week before, and upon realising had gone straight to Edmund to tell him. She had been unsure how he would react, but had never anticipated the voracious anger she was met with, nor him informing her that as he already had four daughters he needed to raise and marry off, with no wife to aid him in it, he did not need or want a bastard child to further complicate things. Edmund had then produced a chequebook and written out a slip payable to a woman in New York City and handed it to Suzanne, along with an address, informing her that the woman would sort the problem out, before ordering her to leave his office. Bewildered and frightened, Suzanne had done the only thing she could think of; packed her bags, gone to the airport and boarded the first flight to Paris available.
After the tale, Isabella had no idea what she was supposed to say, and it seemed her parents did not either. Her father was violently cursing 'that contemptible bastard' under his breath and pouring out more whiskey, whilst her mother had moved to sit next to Suzanne to try and administer some comfort. Isabella felt very sorry for the situation her sister was in, but at the same time did not feel much sympathy for Suzanne herself. She should have foreseen the possible consequences of carrying on a reckless affair with an important and much older man; consequences Isabella had tried to warn her of at Christmas, to no avail. But then, on the other hand, Edmund should have been more cautious too, and he should never have been so stupid as to treat her the way he had done. The consequences would be horrific if anyone discovered that one of the English royals had got a granddaughter of the King of France with child and ordered her to have it illegally terminated. Isabella would not have been surprised if her overprotective and hotheaded grandfather tried to start a war with England over the incident.
All held breaths were therefore released when a month later Suzanne wrote with the news that she was keeping the child, and had come to an agreement with Edmund that after the baby was born and she had graduated from St Peter's, they would marry and have it legitimised.
She had ended up returning to America after only two days, having decided once calmed that she would try to persuade Edmund to change his mind. She was determined that she could, because she knew how much he loved her in his heart. This decision had been supported wholeheartedly by their parents, who could see no other real alternative to Suzanne marrying the man, though he was someone that they despised the idea of having for a son-in-law. Suzanne did not tell them in her letter why Edmund had changed his mind, and they did not ask. They were just relieved that their daughter's name would be spared most of the indignities of the situation and what could have been a diplomatic crisis was now averted.
Curious to find out more, Isabella telephoned her sister not long after the letter to their parents arrived, only to be met with unexpected news.
"I am expecting a boy," Suzanne informed her before they even got past the usual pleasantries, sounding smug.
"Well, congratulations," Isabella replied, frowning to herself at the tone. "How are you?"
"Well, thank you. And yourself, dear sister?"
"I am as well as can be. Is everything progressing normally with the baby?"
"Oh, everything is fine. Of course, I already look and feel like a whale. Most unattractive. I don't know how you stood it, let alone twice!"
Isabella rolled her eyes. "It is perfectly natural, Suzanne."
"Well, I intensely dislike it." Suzanne then sighed wistfully. "But planning for the future is getting me through my confinement. I get more excited every time I even think about it. You do realise, of course, that when I marry Edmund - andafter his dear, dear father has passed - we are going to move to England, to the family seat in Westerwick. I will be Duchess of Parryshire!" Suzanne sounded thrilled by the prospect.
Isabella did indeed realise. She had only been reminded more times than she could count since Suzanne had first met Edmund. She knew it was due to her sister's jealousies about the fact that her husband was of higher birth than Edmund. "I am so happy for you." Unable to resist a little taunt, she then added, "So why did Edmund change his mind?"
"Pardon?" Suzanne let out a foolish, tinkling laugh. "Edmund did not change his mind, silly! He wanted to marry me and have this child all along!"
"He…I am afraid I don't follow," she admitted, gaping in shock and beginning to pay attention to the conversation for the first time. "You came home in floods of tears because Edmund had ordered you to get rid of the baby. How on earth can you justify that he wanted it, and you, all along?"
"He just did not know how to say so. But when I arrived back in New York I went to a doctor to see if the baby was well, and he did a few tests. I don't understand how they work, but he told me I was having a son! I told Edmund when I went to see him and," she let out another little laugh, "he was so pleased! He apologised and proposed on the spot. I suppose knowing the sex of the child made it all more real to him, and he finally knew what he wanted. And, after all, he needs an heir."
Isabella knew, without needing any more information, that that was the crux of the matter, and idiotic, childish Suzanne was deeply in denial. No doubt Edmund had gone to one of his advisors with the dilemma after learning of the pregnancy and they had pointed out the fact that he had no wife and no male heir and was advancing on forty. Suzanne was from the right sort of family, and she was young and fertile and reasonably attractive. Marrying her was a logical thing for him to do, even if the bastard she was carrying ended up being a girl. They could always have more children and would surely manage to have a boy eventually. Suzanne was not going to cease to be able to carry babies any time soon. If need be, they had twenty years to produce an heir.
Not that she said anything of her suspicions to her sister, though. Letting Suzanne live in blissful fantasy was easier.
Having wanted to give birth at home with all her family around her to cater to her every whim and hang on her every word, Suzanne and Edmund arrived in France at the beginning of August 1930. The estimated date of arrival had been the seventeenthof the month, and so by the time Suzanne went into labour during the afternoon of the twenty-second the household was tense with waiting. The labour turned out to be long and arduous, and by the time the child arrived, it was half-past three in the morning. Everyone was slumped together waiting, quiet music playing on the gramophone. Isabella was half-dozing with her head on Catherine's shoulder, unable to quite go to sleep due to worrying about Suzanne, however much she disliked her. She was young and frightened, and being naturally thin was never an advantage when it came to having a successful birth. They had had a cousin of a very similar build, and her first child had become stuck, leading to the both of them dying. She was troubled that the same might happen to her sister.
However, her worries ended up being in vain, and finally the cries of an infant were heard coming through the ceiling. Her mother let out a sigh of relief and cast a tired glance upwards. "Thank God it is over," she said. They all nodded in agreement and noticeably relaxed into their various seats and people. However, the peace was disturbed a moment later by a roar of fury echoing around the château.
"IT'S A WHAT!"
They all jumped, anyone dozing startled into instant wakefulness.
"Good Lord!" her father exclaimed. "What the hell is that idiot yelling about now?"
Isabella would never be sure what made her run from the room and upstairs towards the disturbance but she was thankful evermore that she did. Edmund Harwood was still having a tantrum when she arrived; striding around the room, red-faced and cursing, while an equally red-faced infant was cradled carelessly in the arms of a frightened-looking midwife's assistant as the midwife herself tried to calm Edmund down. The high-pitched cries of the newborn were ear splitting, the poor thing no doubt frightened by the loud noise. What a horrific way to come into the world, Isabella thought.
"You lying whore!" Edmund roared at Suzanne, having completely ignored the fact that Isabella was there. "You told me it was a boy!"
Eighteen-year-old Suzanne was the picture of exhaustion, still slumped amongst the bloodied bed sheets. She closed her eyes and a tear ran down her face. "I didn't know," she whispered. "I didn't know, Edmund. The doctor told me it was a boy…how was I to know otherwise?"
Having heard and seen enough, knowing someone needed to take control of the situation, Isabella acted. "Give that here," she said to the midwife's assistant. The young girl handed the wailing bundle over with a grateful expression, and Isabella got her first real look at the child. Indeed, it was not a boy, but a perfectly formed little girl with a tiny button nose and a shock of pale blonde hair. Her eyes were screwed shut, streams of tears pouring out from under them. Isabella's heart clenched. "Will you shut up!" she snapped at Edmund, who was still yelling profanities, completely unheeding of everything else going on around him. "You are distressing the baby!"
He rounded on her with no hesitation. "Don't you dare tell me what to do, you stupid bitch," he snarled. Isabella gritted her teeth, hands underneath the tiny body in her arms clenching into fists. Oh, the man had no idea who he had dared address so. Had she been able to she would have beaten him half to death without hesitation. "What do I want with that? I already have four daughters! I don't need another, and certainly not a bastard! What use is it to me?"
Isabella knew she was going to achieve nothing by staying, so she merely shot Edmund a look filled with hate and disgust, before turning around and walking out of the room. Rupert was standing outside looking shocked, glancing between her and the baby and the closed door of Suzanne's room.
"What the devil is going on, Izzie?"
Edmund's voice rung clearly through the thick wood, interrupting her before she could get out the reply on her lips. "I don't want snivelled apologies, girl! I want to be rid of it!"
"But…?" Suzanne sounded bewildered. "Rid of it? How?"
"I don't care much; just make sure it's gone."
Isabella looked at Rupert at the same time he looked at her, and then both of their gazes were drawn downwards to the infant in Isabella's arms. They did not need to say anything. Cradling the slowly quieting girl tighter in her arms, Isabella followed her husband's movements away, leaving Edmund and Suzanne to their row. She looked down, taking her in again. A daughter, yes, she had always wanted a daughter, and so had Rupert. A sister for Gabriel and Henri; a beautiful girl who she could already tell was going to have the Aurenière looks.
No one had any objections to the plan; in fact, they rejoiced in it. Considering no one other than relative strangers in New York had seen Suzanne as she grew larger had therefore could have suspected that she was pregnant, it was perfect. It would never need be known that she had produced a child outside of wedlock at all; the baby was Isabella's and she had kept the pregnancy to herself and not shown much, or masked it very well. Other than a handful of very close family, no one would ever be any the wiser of the true parentage of the baby Isabella and Rupert had baptised as Arabella-Marie Amelia Alessandra d'Aurenière-Reyer-Brandtburg-Fitzaren on the 3rd September 1930 in the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. She was legitimised by law as their daughter two days later, and Isabella could not have been more relieved at knowing any worries and doubts she had had were finally put to rest. No one would ever notice any irregularities on the birth certificate now; never question the parentage of the little Archduchess.
Her natural parents could not have cared less, that much had been very plain to Isabella and everyone else who knew of the goings-on. They had left within a week of her birth; Edmund back to his daughters and job in New York and Suzanne to enrol at a prestigious art school in the same state. No one ever basked in their presence again until many, many years later, and Isabella certainly could not have cared less.
And thus her little whirlwind grew up, completely oblivious to her unconventional birth, her third child and only daughter. Over time the tufty pale blonde hair she had been born with grew out into loose golden curls, and she looked more and more like Isabella every day. She thought of this resemblance as the biggest blessing in the world, having been worried that even if Arabella-Marie had looked all Aurenière as a baby, she might have grown up to develop the distinctive, dark Harwood features possessed by Edmund and his family which would have been hard to explain away if questioned.
Antoine was born two years later, and another son, Charlot, two years after he. It seemed, sadly, that she was incapable of bearing daughters of her own. But such a thing was not so surprising, considering that the House of Brandtburg-Fitzaren had always run very strongly to males. Rupert's parents had been very surprised - and delighted - when they were presented with their first, and only, granddaughter.
But the innocent, happy life of her unexpected little girl was not meant to last, and as much as Isabella had seen the storm clouds brewing for some time over their family, she had tried to ignore them; done everything in her power to prevent lightening from striking. The months, the years, had continued to go by, and soon Arabella-Marie had grown from an excitable child charging around whatever space she happened to be in, usually pretending she was on some sort of epic adventure, to a slightly more sedate and adult ten. She was tall for her age, with a willowy figure, and Isabella could already see the woman she was going to become beginning to emerge. It terrified her even as it filled her with pride.
Two weeks after Arabella-Marie's birthday, the whole family was whisked abroad by Rupert, who needed to go on a business trip on account of some global-wide company he had bought on a whim and wanted, as a rarity, to take everyone with him for a short holiday. They had not been away that summer, and so the children had begged and pleaded to go, and in the end Isabella had been powerless to refuse.
Thus, in early September Isabella found herself on the small Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, staying in a very nice house just outside Castries. The holiday had been pleasant and sunny and very average, but such things did not put her at ease. The thunder rumbling in the clouds was so loud it was becoming almost deafening, and before they left everyone had been telling her to watch herself and her family. A few older and wiser people had terrified her by telling her to watch Arabella-Marie in particular. They will go for her, one of them had said. If they want something to hold over us, they will go straight for her. Watch her, and watch her closely. Her life could be in danger.
So Isabella had not let Arabella-Marie out of her sight since they had arrived, something that had annoyed her headstrong daughter intensely. She knew that the trip had been a bad idea, and she had regretted agreeing to it ever since they had left the security of home. In Paris she felt reasonably secure letting Arabella-Marie run about where she pleased; it was her city, her home, and even at the age of ten she knew it like the back of her hand. It was unlikely anyone would try to get to her there, or even could, as she had put alerts out to the border guards concerning anyone she thought might make some sort of attempt, or anyone connected to them. Anyone she had vetoed would not be allowed into the country. But not so in Saint Lucia; there was no second front, only her. And whilst she felt a certain confidence that everything would be fine, considering their quite remote location - she would never have agreed to the trip at all if they had been going somewhere much more public, such as England or America - she could never be sure. There was always a chance, and it was a chance she never should have taken. And so she kept one eye at all times on her daughter, ignoring her whinging about being treated like a baby, and prayed for the trip to be over soon.
After two weeks the holiday finally came to an end with the closing of the deals Rupert had wanted to make. As Isabella sat reading in the parlour while a violent tropical storm raged outside, rain hammering against the window panes, she was relaxed for the first time in ages, just for knowing everyone's things were being packed at that very moment. Tomorrow they would be back in Paris and life could go on, danger averted for the time being.
The screams that broke through her haze of peace were not very loud, especially due to the thunder roaring through the skies outside, but they penetrated her hearing as though the perpetrator was standing right next to her. Screams for her, for Rupert, over and over before they were abruptly cut off. The screams in a far too familiar voice, but with a tone Isabella had never heard before. Absolute terror.
She ran, bursting out of the front door and into the hot rain moments later, soon followed by Rupert. He had appeared out of nowhere, looking just as panicked as she did despite having no idea what was going on. But she did. She knew only too well.
A large black car was in the driveway, with two men standing in front of it. One had a soaking-wet Arabella-Marie held to him, his arm over her mouth to stop her making any more noise, and the other was nursing bright red, bleeding fingers. The arm over Arabella-Marie's mouth to silence her rather than the more logical hand became plain, and even in the midst of everything Isabella felt a strong surge of pride that her daughter was determined not to go down without a fight.
"What the hell do you think you are doing!" Rupert roared.
"Let her go. Oh God, let her go," Isabella said. The situation had her reeling and her voice came out so weak. So pathetic, and so unlike her, but she had never felt so helpless. The men had guns, and any weapons of hers were back inside the house, stashed safely away where Rupert or the children would not find them. There was nothing she could do. There was just nothing.
The man whose fingers Arabella-Marie had nearly bitten off pulled his gun from his belt and aimed it at her and Rupert. "You will let us leave without incident," he said. "We are here on the orders of His Grace, the Duke of Parryshire, to take this child to England until further notice."
Isabella might have known, but hearing the words made her feel even fainter. This was actually happening, everything she had worked so hard to prevent. She could barely breathe. "Edmund?" she gasped out, clutching the doorframe to keep herself upright. "Oh my God, no." She looked wildly at Rupert, as though he could do something. As though if he tried he would not be shot dead.
"If you try to prevent us from leaving," the man continued, droning on as though reading from a script, "we will stop you by force." As soon as he had finished speaking, the man holding Arabella-Marie dragged her towards their vehicle, whilst he kept Isabella and Rupert at bay with the gun.
"Please, no!" Isabella begged, sobbing freely as she watched her daughter being dragged away, her eyes huge and terrified as they peeped out over the sleeve of the man's jacket. "Please! She is just a child! This has nothing to do with her - surely even Edmund cannot be so cruel as to use her as a pawn in all of this!"
Rupert, silent and motionless until then, suddenly started forward with a feral yell, shocking her. But he had no more begun to mount the three steps down from the veranda to the driveway than a gunshot tore through the air, and he collapsed to the ground. She cried out in horror at the same time that Arabella-Marie did, before she was thrown into the back of the car and, no longer subdued, began to scream freely. The sound was muted behind the glass, as were her hysterical bangs on the window as she realised she could not get the door open.
Hysterical herself, Isabella shouted back, trying instinctively, pointlessly, to reassure. "You are going to be fine, darling! Everything is going to be fine! Just be brave, for me! For Papa! Everything is going to be fine!"
The man who had shot Rupert sprinted away, climbing into the back of the car with her daughter. Through the window, she saw him produce a syringe and the bottom dropped out of her stomach. She reeled again, sure she was going to faint.
"Don't hurt me!" Isabella could hear her daughter begging as the man moved the needle towards her neck. "Please don't hurt me! Please, please, please!"
The other man was in the driver's seat before she even saw him move, and then the engine was started and the car racing away, Arabella-Marie's screams faded away quickly with the speed they were going, the wheels ripping up gravel in their haste.
It sounded like silence when it was all over, and yet there was still so much noise. The rain poured from the sky in a torrent; thunder crashed; Rupert made noises of distress, bleeding from his shoulder; and Isabella could hear that she was sobbing, even if she was not really aware of it.
She started forward in a daze, out into the rain, eyes caught by a purple object lying in the middle of the waterlogged driveway. She crouched down to pick it up, uncaring that she was being soaked to the skin, her breath catching when she realised what it was. Arabella-Marie's diary. She remembered seeing it lying on the back seat of the car last time they had gone out, but had forgotten to get someone to fetch it inside. Her daughter must have gone out to do so herself; just slipped out the front door for a matter of seconds, as impatient as ever, and they had been lying in wait for such an opportunity.
She had gone out for seconds to get her diary.
She numbly wandered back to the veranda, sitting down on the top step where she opened the little book, sobs and breath catching in her throat when she saw her daughter's messy handwriting inside as expected. It was unspoilt by the rain, protected by the hard front cover.
Property of Ella d'Aurenière, age 9 10. If found, please, please return to me at 18 Quai de Béthune, Île Saint-Louis, Paris, or the Palace of Versailles, Versailles, both in the Kingdom of France. There will be a big reward! Thank you!
Colourful scribbles snaked around the writing, creating a border. The page was filled with hearts and stars and flowers and little sketches of Arabella-Marie and her friends, so well done that she did not need the names underneath each one to recognise them. An amusing message from Aveline was penned neatly in one corner, which Arabella-Marie had drawn a heart over in pink ink, and scrawled a reply remarking on her best friend's hilarious sense of humour.
Such pure innocence. That would be gone forever now.