Amongst the talk in London, in hushed whispers spoken in careful glances over the shoulder, one thing was certain - Lucius, Lord of Waverly Manor, killed his wife.
I was first told at Lord Goddard’s ball upon mingling with the other ladies. Many watched the men filter into the ballroom, some with envious eyes. My friend had been eyeing Lucius the same, and I had mistakenly assumed that she was infatuated with him. “By all means, Miss Burress, if you find yourself staring at Lord Waverly too much to enjoy our company, simply ask him your hand already.”
The face of Rosa Burress flushed with what I had assumed was embarrassment, looking at me as though I were mad. “Why, Miss Lorena Martin, if I had not heard you correctly, I would have thought you mad enough to suggest I dance with someone like Lucius Waverly!”
“There’s no need for denial,” I said, glimpsing at Lord Waverly, whom stood alone. “We have known each other all too long, Rosa. You need not worry about conflict with me. I could even fetch him, if you wish.”
Rosa’s brow creased before she calmed herself, and for a moment, I thought I had angered her. “You must be unaware of Lord Waverly’s reputation. Had you known an ounce of what the rest of us do, you would be quite hesitant to even speak his name.”
I grew curious, then, resting my near-empty cup of tea on the table before leaning close to her. “And what do you know that seems to be so grave? Is he seeing a married woman? Perhaps he-“
“He killed his wife.”
I hesitated then, looking between Rosa and Lucius in disbelief. Certainly, he and I had never spoken, and he seemed to be perpetually surrounded by an air of mystery. He hardly spoke, but when he did, his voice was always low, as if speaking above a murmur would unveil his terrible secret. It soon came time to choose partners for the dance, and against Rosa’s agitated warnings, I moved for the archway he was standing under.
Lucius did not notice me at first. He held a glass of wine in his gloved hands, staring out at the ball room as if lost in thought. When I cleared my throat to gather his attention, he seemed to flinch. “Lord Waverly,” I said, smiling politely with a slight bow. “It is a pleasure to meet you - my name is Lorena Martin. Pardon my straightforwardness, but it appears that you do not have a partner for the first dance of the party. I, myself, am also in want of a partner, and I find that you look as though you would be a marvelous partner.”
Lucius glanced over me once, then, with a long sip of his wine, muttered, “I do not dance, Miss Martin, nor would I want to.”
I felt heat rising in my cheeks from the embarrassment of rejection, though I had no intentions of actually partnering with him. Stepping just close enough for our conversation to be private, I looked up at him innocently, saying, “I’m sure your wife would disagree with that statement, Lord Waverly.”
The look Lucius gave me was enough for me to freeze in place, holding my breath as if I expected to become his next victim right there. His green eyes seemed to cast daggers into me, and I found that I had no remark for the utter expression of anger on his face. “Miss Martin,” he began, his words harsher and sharper than before. “I have only arrived in London nearly half a year ago, and if you were competent enough to hold a conversation, you would find that I have never married, and have no desire to do so with ladies such as yourself. I do not know where you could have possibly received the notion that I am married, though I suspect it was spoken by none smarter than you.”
A gasp left my lungs, and I fought the urge to throw his wine onto him in a fit of anger. Speaking perhaps before I had truly thought over my words, I raised my brow and said, “Is that why there’s talk of murder in your veins? Perhaps you are married no longer, but it is generally agreed upon that there was once a Lady Waverly. By the shortness of your temper and the arrogance of your words, I find that such a heinous act may not be so unimaginable in your mind.”
Lucius stepped closer until he was nearly towering over me. I could smell the wine on his breath, though I was certain that he wasn’t drunk. “And tell me, Lorena, just who was this Lady Waverly, if you are so certain she existed?”
I found that I had no answer, though I could feel the eyes of curious watchers on me, or perhaps it was simply the nature of Lucius’s uncanny presence. Lifting my skirt so that I could make a hasty escape, I stepped away, bowing. “Good night, Lord Waverly.”
As I made my way to leave the ball entirely, I had nearly made it to the front door when Rosa grabbed my forearm roughly, leading me outside with a cautious look over her shoulder. When the door shut and we were within the safety of the night, she released me, looking at me with a similar expression to Lucius’s. “Are you trying to get yourself killed? What could you have possibly gained from asking Lord Waverly of his wife? Oh, you stupid, stupid girl!”
I looked down at my shoes to avoid her harsh gaze in fear that I might burst into tears. Steadying my breath, I said, “Lord Waverly said he has never married.”
“Did you expect a murderer to be honest with you?”
I looked up at her, peering through the well-lit windows of the ball, observing the guests and finding that Lucius was nowhere to be found. “Why has no one convicted him, if everyone is so certain he murdered Lady Waverly?”
Rosa sighed, clenching her hands nervously as she called for a carriage to take us back to our respective houses. “You cannot convict a man - especially a Lord - without evidence. Certainly, some have tried. They searched for the body of Lady Waverly in the forest near his manor, but to no avail. It is as though Lady Waverly has simply vanished.”
Rosa seemed so certain that Lucius had killed his wife that I found myself doubting even his own word. We climbed in, and I felt more free to speak of the dreaded rumor within the safety of the carriage. “How are you so certain that she ever existed?”
“You’ve only just recently integrated into the higher society, so I am not surprised that you had never met her. Lady Waverly - Eliza, as she was commonly called - attended every ball, though she was always a timid thing. She was excessively kind, though she typically kept to herself just as Lord Waverly does. It was always suspected that the lord of the house was away, for she never spoke of him until just before her presumed death. If you ask me, I believe they had a rather unhappy marriage, and that is why Lord Waverly did it.”
I did not speak in fear that I would uncover more truths than I was prepared for. The carriage arrived at my house all too soon, and upon bidding Rosa goodbye, I fell into a restless, uneasy sleep.