About the book
By you, I am forever undone…
Miss Leonore Willoby lives for one reason only: getting revenge on the man responsible for her brother's death. A goal that appears right within her grasp when she discovers that the esteemed Earl is also secretly running a gaming hall.
In the eyes of the ton, Ephraim Paterson, Earl of Eaveton, is more a point of contention than a person. After witnessing a traumatizing scene as a child, his choice to lead a double life seems like a double-edged sword. Much like the dagger a lady presses to his throat one night.
Torn between her lifelong mission and her growing feelings for Ephraim, Leonore is conflicted. For the man she loves seems guiltier and guiltier each day that passes. Especially when he asks her to never, under any circumstances, enter the dark room in the basement.
Leonore Willoby stood in the pouring rain, both her hands busy, one holding the umbrella, and the other, something far more valuable, her fingers white with the strength of her grip. Never having been a social darling, for her tongue was considered far too sharp for a lady, Leonore came up with a better idea. Perhaps, reading about the truth was better than hearing it.
She glanced up at the inscription on the old, decrepit building. The Gazette. The red bricks glistened with moisture, as the elongated windows gaped at her. She stared defiantly back at them. She had come here to tell the truth, and by God, she would not be silenced, no matter what the ramifications of this might be. Indeed, she had nothing left to lose. Mayhap that was where all this courage was coming from. For those who had nothing left to lose… those people were the most dangerous ones.
She took a deep breath, and started climbing up several stairs, pushing the door open violently. She entered, closing her umbrella, and putting it onto a small bench pressed all the way to the wall. Her eyes did not fail to notice a small, huddled group of three men sitting opposite her. She pretended she didn’t see their gazes which befell her the moment she appeared.
Surely, she must have looked quite the sight. The hem of her gown was all muddy and soiled. Fortunately, the length was enough to hide her shoes. No lady should ever be caught out in such ghastly weather. The echo of her dear, late mother’s voice reverberated inside her mind. However, if there was urgent business that a lady needed to tend to, then no weather should prevent her from doing so. That was also what her mother would have advised.
“I demand to speak to whoever is in charge here,” she spoke fearlessly, staring at the only man of the three who had remembered to stand up in the presence of a lady.
He squinted at her, as if he couldn’t see her properly, his eyes gypsy dark, just like his skin. She glanced down at his rough hands, a worker’s hands, with grubby nails and black, oiled fingers. But, it wasn’t him who replied.
“Oi, ain’t ya lost, missy?” The man spoke with a thick accent, a thin piece of wood hanging from the corner of his lips.
“Who is in charge here?” she repeated her query, ignoring his comment. The last thing she wanted to do was be drawn into an argument with such a person.
“Whatcha need ‘im for?”
“That is my business,” she rebutted.
“He ain’t got no time for girl business,” the man waved his hand at her dismissively. “Go share yer news with yer friends at a tea party or somethin’.”
“You mean to tell me he doesn’t have time for a sensational story which will bring in more readers?” she spoke confidently, squeezing the small bundle of papers carefully wrapped, in her hand.
She knew it wouldn’t be easy. She had been running all over town in an effort to gather more information, but what was crucial to her story she already had in her possession. She believed it would be more than enough.
“I told ya, missy, he ain’t in’erested in girl talk,” he frowned at her more aggressively this time.
“I would like to hear him say it himself, if you don’t mind.”
She tenaciously remained calm and composed for one single reason alone. Enemies hated that. They expected retaliation, anger, displeasure, anything but courtesy and calm demeanor. Leonore had more than enough altercations in her life to know how to leave an argument with her dignity intact.
“What? Me sayin’ it ain’t ‘nough?” The man now stood up, his brooding stature tall and menacing, but Leonore didn’t step back.
“I hear you very well, Sir,” she replied. “It is you who don’t seem to be hearing me well.”
“You gotta long tongue on ya,” he frowned, still standing. She could see his hands curling into fists in displeasure, but she doubted he would act upon that rage, especially in public like this. “Ain’t nobody told ya women ain’t expected to be talkin’ back?”
“My apologies,” she spoke as her nostrils flared angrily. “I wasn’t aware that you intended for this to be a monologue and not a dialogue.”
The guy next to him chuckled with his hand pressed to his mouth, as if in an effort to suppress even more laughter. Then suddenly, a door at the end of a narrow corridor flew open, and a small-statured man who seemed to be as wide as he was tall, stared at them from behind thick-rimmed glasses that rested on his Roman nose.
“What is the meaning of this commotion?” he demanded to know, standing in the doorway, his hand on the doorknob signaling that he was about to close the door immediately once offered an excuse for this interruption.
Leonore knew that she couldn’t allow him to close that door without her on the other side of it.
“Are you the editor of The Gazette?” she inquired officially.
“Who wants to know?” he looked sternly at her.
“I do,” she exclaimed. “Leonore Willoby.”
“Is that name supposed to mean anything to me?”
“No, but what I have here should,” she responded, offering him a quick glance at the bundle of papers in her hands. “Because it will make you a very famous man.”
He sighed heavily, taking off his glasses and proceeding to rub the bridge of his nose with the tips of his fingers. When he placed his glasses back on his face, he was looking fixedly at her.
“You have five minutes.”
“That is all I need,” she smiled, walking over to him, and entering his office.
She waited until he closed the door behind her, then walked around his desk and took a seat. She glanced around, shocked by the number of papers and books which seemed to be just stacked one on top of the other, in no particular order. She looked away, not allowing it to distract her.
She dropped the bundle on the desk between her and the editor, whose name she read on a small wooden stand to the right of his desk. Mr. Christopher Lowell.
“Your five minutes have already commenced, Miss Willoby,” he informed her adjusting his glasses as he peeked at the manuscript, but still refused to reach for it.
“What I have here is exactly the kind of a story that will make your name well-known in the entire country,” she started, almost breathless. “It is the true story of an earl, whose name is known to myself, but I’ve kept it a secret in the manuscript, who lives a double life as a member of the peerage and a gaming-hell owner.”
He chuckled to himself at her story.
“My dear Miss Willoby, we don’t publish such fiction pieces. If you wish to become the next Jane Austen, then I bid you to go and take your little novel elsewhere, for I–”
“This is not a novel!” she snapped back. “If you would only read it, you would see for yourself.”
He leaned back in his chair, which squealed under the weight of his little round body, which threatened to burst through the tight vest he was wearing.
“You won’t go until I read it, will you?”
The corner of her lip danced in a victorious smile, but she remained composed. She won a battle, but the war was yet to be triumphed.
“Oh, all right,” he sighed, reaching over the desk for the papers. “I need some private time to read it over. You may wait outside.”
She listened intently, and she could hear the sound of those three horrid men who were still outside in the hallway. She would do no such thing as wait outside, with them.
“I will not interrupt you,” she replied with a voice that would not allow for any backtalk. “You won’t even know I’m here.”
He gave her a helpless look, his brows furrowed over his glasses. There was nothing left to be said. The discussion was over, at least for the time being.
He extracted the first sheet of paper and started reading. Leonore tried to focus her gaze on anything else in the room, but it was hard. The clutter which reigned within was overwhelming, and every time she picked a single item that caught her attention, the onslaught of all the others around it made it difficult to concentrate.
So, she focused on the window behind Mr. Lowell. She could see the wall of the adjacent building, and just the upper lining of the cloudy skies. The rain was relentless, promising no cessation in the next several hours. Leonore only hoped she would not catch a cold in this ghastly weather, but even if she did, it would all be worth it.
When Mr. Lowell finally lifted his gaze from the papers, she could see utter shock and disbelief on his fleshy face. His lips parted, but no sound came from them. Only silence.
“It cannot be,” he ultimately voiced his shock. He placed the papers on his desk, then patted them with the tip of his index finger. “The lost son of the earl, who was raised in the Seven Dials?”
She merely nodded. That was all the confirmation he needed.
“How do you know all this?” He still sounded unconvinced, although the proof was right there before his eyes.
“I have letters in my possession, written to someone close to me on behalf of the man himself.”
“Would you consider publishing those, too?”
“Absolutely not,” she shook her head fervently. “Those are private, for my family’s eyes alone.”
He obviously didn’t like her answer, but he also knew that she wouldn’t change her mind no matter what he offered her.
“Well…” he leaned back into his chair once more, as if pondering whether he should accept publishing this, “I’d be putting a lot on the line with this. Why don’t you just leave the story with me, and I’ll let you know what I’ve decided.”
“The story leaves this place only in my hands,” she replied determinedly. “If you do not wish to bother yourself with something that might bring you not only fame but even more readers, so be it. I’m certain my story will find a home somewhere else.”
She reached across the desk, grabbed the papers and proceeded to stand up. Then, she turned and started heading for the door.
“Wait!” Mr. Lowell shouted upon seeing that she was resolved to leave, without agreeing to any of his terms.
She turned to face him once more, her eyes cold and unrelenting. They were the exact opposite of who she was, but under the circumstances, revealing one’s emotions could only mean her downfall. She had to play this right, for she only had one chance.
“I could pay you after we publish the story,” he pleaded.
“No.” She raised her dark, elegant brow in utter refusal. “You will pay me now, right this instant, if you wish to have my story.”’
This was no longer her mission of desperation. This was a mission to save not only her life, but the life of her brother Gregory as well. She was all he had, and she had to make sure that he would be well taken care of, no matter what she would need to do to make that happen.
“Tick, tock, Mr. Lowell,” she reminded him coolly. “I do not have all day.”
“Oh, very well!” he snapped, realizing that he was desperate to publish this story placed before him under any circumstances. “Now, hand it over.”
Slowly, she returned to the desk, and lowered the precious bundle onto it softly, as if it were a slumbering babe.
“Just so you don’t go around telling people that Miss Leonore Willoby drives a hard bargain, I will be happy to add some more to the story, if you pay well.”
“What do you mean?” His eyes bulged out of their sockets at the thought of there being more to this juicy scandal.
“I shall find out more about the affairs of the prodigal son, and I will be happy to make it a next installment,” she explained.
“By all means!” The little man’s hands trembled at the potential.
He gazed down at the bundle of papers, hungry, desperate to read them again.
“My restitution?” She eyed him, her heart pounding faster than the hooves of a horse running a race at Ascot.
Mr. Lowell reached down into the drawer of his desk, grabbing a handful of shiny coins, which splattered onto the desk before them. Satisfaction ricocheted through her. She collected them all hastily, as if they were merely a mirage and might disappear any moment. She pocketed them quickly into her purse, then nodded to the fleshy little man who had already started to reread the story to himself.
She went past the three men in the hallway, choosing to ignore them. Her heart rejoiced, and she walked barely touching the ground beneath her feet.
What she couldn’t possibly know in that blissful moment was that her triumph would be short lived, as the dark ominous clouds that brought only rain for the time being, promised a storm yet to come.
Ephraim Paterson was to many in the Ton known as the Earl of Eaveton. A man of simple, yet exquisite taste and sensibility, he was a welcome face at any ball, and the wish of more than one mother to become a son-in-law. His tall and muscular body was always dressed immaculately, according to the latest fashion. His black hair was the color of charcoal, and his steel-blue eyes seemed to pierce through any effort at concealment.
Yet, his body had its secrets. His tall collars hid deep, crimson marks which had healed over time only enough not to be visible at first glance. But, to those who knew what to search for, they were easily spotted. For wounds one received as a child never fully healed. On the contrary, they would eventually become a fundamental part of the man the child had grown into. They would shape his outlook on life, and they would guide him in his communion with the rest of the world. Ephraim always felt that his scars were something to hide, something to be ashamed of, just like his other life.
Indeed, Ephraim Paterson was known to many as the Earl of Eaveton, a well-known and respected man, but there was a small, carefully select group of people who knew him as something completely different: the owner of a gaming Hell named Lucky Deer.
With enough excitement in his every day, double life to last him a small eternity, Ephraim had never been inclined to read the newspapers. In fact, he steered clear of them at all times. Everyone around him knew that. That was why Ephraim was completely and utterly stunned, unpleasantly so, when his right-hand man Terry, a young lad of only seventeen but with the head of a fifty-year-old sailor who’d seen his fair share of trouble in life, slammed that morning’s newspaper right before him on the desk.
“What is this?” Ephraim’s brow furrowed at the sight of The Gazette, his least favorite newspaper of all. Just because he didn’t read them, it didn’t mean that he wasn’t acquainted with their contents.
“Read it,” Terry urged him.
Having known the lad since he had been only ten years old had created between them a closeness that Ephraim never thought he could ever have with someone outside his own family. Yet, Terry had proven himself loyal beyond words on more than one occasion, and Ephraim knew he could rely on him for whatever he needed.
That was exactly why Terry had been allowed to speak to Ephraim almost as if the two were brothers. On more occasion than one, Ephraim had truly felt they were. Not blood brothers, but brothers of the heart.
“You know I don’t bother myself with such things,” Ephraim reminded him, pushing the newspapers away, back at Terry.
He was hoping to get back to his usual morning affairs before they headed for the city for more serious work. But something in the way Terry spoke urged him to rethink. Terry slid the newspaper back to Ephraim. The front page screamed at him in big, bold letters, but Ephraim still refused to acknowledge any of the titles.
“Page Five,” Terry continued.
Ephraim raised his gaze at the boy. His clothes suited him much better now that he had grown into them, and his own burn scar on his upper right arm was well concealed. Terry had been nothing but an orphan living in the streets when Ephraim saved him from a burning building. The boy was hungry, cold and hurt. Ephraim couldn’t leave him to the mercy, or better yet, the cruelty of London’s streets. He had taken the boy in, and Terry never forgot that one fateful moment separated him from the rest of the children like him, who found nothing but cruelty and even death in the streets, while he himself had found a job and means of supporting himself.
“Is it the gossip columns?” Ephraim joked, spreading his lips into a smile. Perhaps there was something funny in there. Only Terry’s face wasn’t cheerful as usual. His features had gotten darker, ominous even, as if Terry had matured ten years in only one night.
“Just read it already,” Terry sighed, walking around Ephraim’s study and then, stopping by the window, with the thick curtains pushed to the side to allow the entrance of the morning sunlight. He turned his back at Ephraim, waiting.
“I have no idea what is it with you and newspapers this morning, but if it will get you out of here, I shall take a look.”
Ephraim finally grabbed the newspaper, opened to the required page and started reading. It didn’t take long for him to realize exactly why Terry had urged him to read it. His shock and anger increased with every subsequent word his eyes went over, and his fingers trembled. Somewhere around half of the article, he had to rub his eyes, because his vision was starting to get blurry. He couldn’t tell if something was wrong with his eyes or if it was just his brain, unable to process and make sense of the information it was receiving.
When he was finally done, he slammed the newspaper before him, and jumped up from his chair. He started pacing about the room, like a caged tiger. His reputation in society was uncertain, and he was hoping to fortify it with a marriage to a good, decent woman and then even becoming a member of the House of Lords.
Now, this black stain on his reputation stared at him from the ink, mocking him and all his efforts at making something of himself. His thoughts were spinning wildly inside of him.
“What despicable villain wrote this tangle of lies?” he shouted at no one in particular, rather at the whole world, as his words echoed in the room.
Terry had averted his gaze from the window, and was staring at Ephraim, equally befuddled. He had read it as well. The whole sordid affair, from the beginning until the very end. Much of it was true. Terry couldn’t deny it, no matter how fond he was of Ephraim. However, some of those things were pure lies. Someone had certainly allowed their imagination to go wild.
“I’ve asked around already,” Terry immediately replied. Ephraim’s hope was dashed to the sky, confident that he would be able to punish this impudent person this very day. “No one knows. The author is anonymous.”
“Maybe to us,” Ephraim’s teeth scraped against each other as he spoke. “But not to The Gazette’s editor.”
Desperate, Ephraim raked his fingers through his hair, unable to stop moving about the room. He started imagining all the people who would read this pile of nonsense. Well, not really nonsense. Not all of it, at least. Only, when truth is mixed up with lies in such a fashion, people had the tendency to believe everything they were served. In this case, Ephraim believed it would be so.
“My reputation is ruined,” he finally said, slumping down onto the sofa next to his bookshelf. “It’s all gone to Hell.”
Denial was all he could think about. Yet, there was no way he could ever deny all this. His mind rushed, a waterfall of woes washing over him, obliterating the thought of anything else. He had been careful, so very, very careful about all this. Keeping his identities separate one from the other was crucial. He believed he had been doing such a good job of it.
Now, it was obvious that someone had managed to find out his deepest, darkest secret. But, who?
His face, which had been so carefree that very same morning, mere half an hour ago, had now taken on a haunted quality of a wild creature who knew that the hunter’s rifle was breathing down his neck, and it was only a matter of time before the rifle would go off. Ruthless, yes. But, that was how life was for many people, including Ephraim.
He hoped that he had left the woes and sorrows of his life behind once he entered adulthood, but it seemed that some vile, detestable human being took it upon himself to come up with this scheme and ruin Ephraim’s life.
“All the plans and intentions I’ve had for myself are done for,” he continued, knowing that Terry was listening, but there was nothing for him to say or add. “Do you know what my marital prospects would be after this? The possibility of me having an heir to my name? And the House of Lords? I can certainly forget all about that business!”
Everything had already been published for the world to see. The impact of this troubling information would be monumental. His life, both his lives actually, would be cut with the sharp edge of the knife, held by the hand of whoever wrote this damning article. The public would rejoice in this bloody spectacle, as they always do when someone high up is brought very low. They would adjust their monocles and point at the poor bastard drowning in a pool of his own blood.
“As if I didn’t have enough trouble looming over me as it is,” he snarled, grinding his teeth so hard he could hear the noise inside his head.
“Maybe, people will see it as nothing but pure gossip,” Terry tried to ease the pain of this blow, and Ephraim appreciated it, although he didn’t believe it.
“I doubt it. People are jackals, taking pleasure in the downfall of others,” Ephraim shook his head, suddenly jumping up to his feet again, feeling the nervous agitation of every muscle in his body. “You know,” he started shaking his index finger at Terry menacingly, “whoever wrote this thinks this is checkmate. But I beg to differ!”
Terry raised his eyebrow at Ephraim, curious to hear more.
“I will not leave it at that,” Ephraim shook his head fervently, furiously, his nostrils flaring up, his dark curls framing his face which now shone like a madman’s in the soft glow of the morning sun. “Because, whoever wrote this believed mere truth wasn’t enough.”
He flew back over to the desk and opened the newspaper once more, pointing his finger at a specific line.
“See, this here!” he shouted in a frenzy. “This is an outrageous lie! A secret rendezvous in a hotel?! Why, I’ve never even met this lady! This… Lady Rutherford!”
Terry nodded. Indeed, whoever wrote this story had certainly embellished it for the specific needs of the press.
“A rake to run away from!” Ephraim quoted from the article, his cheeks on fire with rage. “Why, there are things written about me in here I wouldn’t do even if my life depended on it! The nerve of this man!”
He grabbed the newspaper and rolled it up. He couldn’t leave it at this. Absolutely not. Seeing that his day had already been ruined by this article, that meant that he wouldn’t be able to focus on anything else, at least not until this horrible issue was sorted out. Only, Ephraim doubted it could be sorted out at all.
“Get my carriage ready,” he growled at Terry.
At least, he would give the editor and the author of those heinous lies a piece of his mind.
“Where are we heading?” Terry asked, although he could take a pretty good guess.
“We’re going to find out who wrote this piece of garbage,” Ephraim hissed. “And, seeing he’s got a death wish, when I get my hands on him, I shall be happy to oblige.”
Ephraim’s eyes glowed wildly. All the scars on his body and his soul now rearranged to write one single word: revenge. And, by God, he would have it.
Ephraim was not what one would consider a patient man.
That was exactly why he disliked the idea of being told to wait in front of the office of the newspaper editor, as he had stepped out for a moment. Ephraim didn’t feel like taking a seat on the shabby benches of the narrow hallway. Instead, he opted for a nervous pace up and down that same corridor with its worn-out carpets, gritting his teeth.
When he had walked up and down the entire length, he wasn’t calmer, as he had hoped to be. Instead, he was infuriated and even angrier than he had been up until that point. His thoughts swarmed inside his mind like an angry beehive, threatening to sting at any moment.
He glanced at the front door. He had been the only person who had crossed through it for the last half an hour. At least that was what his pocket watch had told him upon consulting it for the correct time. He reached into his waistcoat and pocketed his watch once more.
He remembered quotes from that damned article once more. A rake to run away from. His mind imploded with anger, reminding him of all the consequences that were to arise as a result of all this. He needed to find out who was behind this, who had dared play these games, not even conscious that he was risking his own life in this manner.
At that moment, two ladies walked through the door. The moment their gaze befell him, one leaned over to the other, whispering something into her confidante’s ear. Their eyes seemed to endeavor to pierce a hole right in the middle of his forehead. The whispering monologue was short but effective. The other one just nodded, and they passed him by as if he were a puddle that needed to be walked around, fearing they might soil the hems of their gowns.
Usually, he would bow. Normally when he was in no particular mood for it, he would still force himself, remembering the need for civility. Only now, civility was the last thing on his mind. He had no reason to resent these two women, and yet, their gossipy whispers felt like a fist in his lower abdomen.
The ladies passed him by and disappeared up the nearest staircase. The door to the office he needed to enter was still closed. A minute later, the front door opened once more, and a short, chubby man entered, with several packages under his arm. He waddled quickly, like a penguin, his entire body swaying to one side, then the other. He paid no attention to Ephraim who was standing in the opposite end of the hallway.
When the man grabbed the doorknob to his office and entered, he was surprised to see Ephraim standing immediately behind him, slamming the door shut.
“What is the meaning of this!?” the short man demanded. “Who are you?”
One gaze was enough for him to recognize Ephraim Paterson.
“My Lord!” he mumbled confoundedly, the packages under his arm dropping down to the ground, right by his feet. He didn’t even bother to bend down and pick them up.
Ephraim allowed his rage to completely take over him. His fingers grabbed the man’s collar, pushing him aggressively against the nearest wall. The man smelled of tobacco and cheap liquor. Ephraim almost turned to the side at his sour breath but forced himself to remain as he was.
“You seem to have a death wish, my good man,” Ephraim squeezed through clenched teeth, feeling his fingers whitening from the strength of his grip, but he still refused to loosen it.
“What–?” the man spat, unable to take a proper breath. “I didn’t… it’s not what you think!”
“I’m thinking why you would write such a heinous piece about me, spreading malicious lies, unless you have a bizarre wish to end your own life,” Ephraim growled.
He wanted to beat this man senseless, to make sure that he would talk and explain this dreadful mess. He held little hope that it could be rectified in any manner, but at least, his own sense of pride would be satisfied. As for salvation… that was a whole different matter altogether.
“It’s not–” the man gurgled, as if his throat filled with water. “It wasn’t me!”
Ephraim loosened his grip only a little, with the threat that it could become even tighter than before at any moment, and the man knew it.
“You’re the editor, aren’t you?” Ephraim snarled like an angry animal about to attack. That was exactly how he felt, and there was little civility left in him to control his fury. “You decide what gets published and what doesn’t.”
“I do, but…” the man coughed, “I didn’t write it–”
“Then, who did?”
“It was a woman,” the man squealed.
“A woman?” Ephraim frowned, his deep brows coming together in utter dismay. He couldn’t believe that a woman could have authored such scandalous fabrications. “What woman?”
His steel-blue eyes flashed wildly at the man, astonishment crashing over him like the sea during a storm.
“I want her name,” he demanded furiously.
“My Lord, I can’t just–”
“You can,” Ephraim hissed, his fingers now digging into the man’s neck unpleasantly, though without actual pain. “And, you will. Her name.”
“It’s Leonore… Leonore Willoby,” the man meowed the name under his breath, and Ephraim immediately released him from his grip.
The man rushed behind his desk, as if the distance would protect him from this madman who had barged into his office demanding to know the name of the source.
Ephraim kept repeating the name inside his mind, but no matter how many times he said it, he couldn’t remember a woman with such a name. He did not know her. However, she seemed to know him. That was what frightened him the most. He could not quell the shiver that raced down his spine, like the tingle of skeletal fingers reminding him of the knife that was hanging just above his head.
He smelled the damp whiff of liquor again, and his eyes darted at the man, who was breathing heavily as if he had spent the entire morning running.
“What can you tell me about her?” Ephraim said in a grim tone, with the heaviness of the world about to crumble down right underneath his feet, just when he thought that he had everything under control.
The man grabbed a handkerchief from the desk and dabbed his pudgy, reddened face with it before he spoke.
“She has black hair, and dark-colored eyes, brown I think,” he started off with a description, although it was so vague that it could have been any woman on the street for all Ephraim cared. He needed something more specific than that. “She is taller than me, and… beautiful… remarkably so.”
“So, it was a woman’s beauty that sealed your death warrant?” Ephraim growled, all dangerous and feral. Apart from her name, he still had nothing else.
“No, no,” the man shook his head, the dankness of his persona spreading all around them, filling Ephraim’s nostrils to the point of nausea. “At first, I didn’t want to see her. She wouldn’t leave. So, I read her story. I still didn’t want to publish it, but then she said she would find out more about it, and write another installment, if I paid her well.”
She would find out more–
Ephraim’s pulse pounded. Whoever this Leonore was, she was stubborn as well as foolish. He would find her and demand to know what the reason behind all this truly was. Not that it mattered much anyway. His life had already been veiled in a swirl of rumors, but he still managed to keep afloat. Now, he doubted such a thing would be possible. This would drag his reputation into the mud so deeply he would never be able to retrieve it.
“When is she to come back here?” Ephraim asked.
“I don’t know,” the man sounded sincere. He had been too frightened to lie.
Ephraim had hoped that he could merely appear here at the same time she was due to appear, and that would save him the hassle of finding her. It seemed now that he would be forced to go in search of the mysterious Leonore Willoby.
He walked around the desk, toward the chubby man, but didn’t put his hands on him this time. He didn’t need to. The man was trembling, his entire body expecting an onslaught of blows, but none were delivered.
The truth was Ephraim had always refrained from physical violence. He didn’t believe in it. He always endeavored to settle the matter in any other way, hopefully by communication. Only, this time, he was blind with rage, and he allowed his inner animal to take over, something that hadn’t happened since he was a child, when he saw something so traumatizing that he still couldn’t sleep at night.
The man’s silent sobs brought him back to the present moment. He stared at the man deeply, his steel-blue eyes cutting into him like knives, ominous and overpowering.
“If she dares bring you anything else for publishing, you…will…refuse…it,” Ephraim spoke slowly, accentuating every single word, wanting to make sure that the man would hear him properly, because he wouldn’t tolerate any mistakes. “If I ever see my name published in your newspaper in any context, that will be the last day of your life. Have I made myself clear?”
“Y…y…yes–” the man nodded, pressing his handkerchief to his lips, his fingers quivering.
With that promise Ephraim had no intention of keeping, he rushed out the door, slamming it closed behind him.
He had to find her. There was no other way. If she was out to discover other secrets he was hiding, then he needed to find her and stop her before it was too late.
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