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Norfolk, England 1819
Lord Blackraven could see her from the rocky cliff. She walked, trancelike, into the murky ocean of her doom. The moonlight illuminated her pale skin as her raven hair floated on the water. He jammed his heels into his stallion's ribs, sending the beast sailing over the ravine. The branches slapped his face, keeping him from his beloved. He screamed her name wildly, "Arabellina! Arabellina!"
She heard his call but mistook it for the fevered voices in her confused mind. Lord Blackraven was never coming back. He was dead. Stabbed. Every dream of happiness lay buried with him. She took a long breath, her last, and sank into the swirling waves, the stone tied to her feet taking
A quick motion in the periphery of Henrietta's watering eye yanked her attention from her book. Had the mail coach come? She anxiously peered out the window to the cobblestone road just beyond the ivy-covered garden gate.
No mail coach. Just her elderly neighbor standing in her worn, sagging morning dress, shooing chickens off the road with a straw broom. Henrietta's heart sank. The mantel clock chimed the hour, sounding like two spoons being clanked together ten times. The mail was twenty minutes late! This proved what she always suspected, that the Royal Mail Service held a personal grudge against her.
Nestling back in her chair, she drew the thick woolen blanket about her to shield herself from the ever-present draft in the old parlor, and returned to the last page of The Mysterious Lord Blackraven.
She took a long breath, her last, and sank into the waves, the stone tied to her feet taking her deep into the sea's turbulent belly.
"Arabellina! No!" Lord Blackraven scrambled down the rocks as the last bit of Arabellina's raven hair disappeared under the foaming waves. He dove in, grabbing her sinking body and pulling her up.
In her confused state, Arabellina fought his arms. He lifted her shaking body to the surface and wiped the curls from her face, his eyes frantically searching hers.
"Am I dead? Is this heaven?" she asked.
"No, my love. It is I, Lord Blackraven. I've come back for you, my darling. I love you. I've always loved you."
Henrietta closed the book, wiped her weeping eyes with the sleeve of her muslin gown, and peeked out the window again. A chicken and a few fat, dirty sheep. But no mail coach.
Oh, hang it!
She exhaled, blowing stray black curls off her forehead. In just three days she had gobbled up the novel while waiting on a letter from her cousin Mr. Edward Watson. Now she would have to wait another year for her next bookand pray to God that Edward's letter would arrive first!
She tossed the finished volume onto the side table with its sisters. She had promised to smuggle the books to the other ladies in the village. They, too, were wild to read Mrs. Fairfax's latest gothic creation, even if they had to hide the sensational volumes under their beds or in their sewing boxes. Henrietta had no need for such measures. Her father gave little notice to his daughter's reading habits, too lost in his theoretical world of numbers and space.