THE DEVIL'S DECEPTION
“We are to leave in one hour, Theodore.”
The man gave him a look that suggested Theo could be something stuck on the heel of his polished leather boot and not a grieving nephew. Someone who carried his blood but he’d never met until the week after his parents were murdered.
“Be sure you are ready.”
Theo nodded, and his uncle walked from the room, closing it behind him with a decisive snap.
Theo loathed him. His father’s brother, and now his guardian. A man who felt he should be the new Lord Montgomery. Not some thirteen-year-old boy who had very little knowledge of the world he would one day walk in.
Tall, overbearing, and pompous, his uncle was everything his brother had not been. His father was the best man Theo knew; his uncle was the worst.
A year had passed since the day he’d found his parents brutally murdered. A year of hell. A year that had changed Theo into someone he no longer knew.
He was becoming his uncle. Cold and emotionless. But it was either that or walk into the lake he and his parents had rowed all over and let the water take his pain away. Let it stop the deep, aching grief that was relentless and threatened to destroy him.
His father and mother would have been ashamed had he done that, so Theo had learned to cope. He’d shut himself away from everything he’d once loved.
And now, for the final act, he would leave the only home he’d ever known. His uncle was sending him to Eton. Away from his family’s staff, the people who cared for him. Away from Iris, his friend. Once, he’d spent his days with her here, riding or playing.
He hadn’t laughed with her in a year. Theo didn’t think he’d ever laugh again.
He opened the note she’d sent him and read it once more.
I have not seen you in many months, but I can feel your grief. Yesterday I learned you are to attend Eton and can only imagine your pain at leaving the home you love.
Hold your memories close. Know always that your parents loved you with all that they were. They taught you to be strong. Never forget those lessons. Stay strong, and one day it’s my hope the pain eases and we meet again. Know that I am your friend, my dearest Theo, now and always.
He’d seen her from a distance but not spoken directly to her in a year. But she’d written to him every week, and he’d read each word carefully. He’d then folded the notes and placed them in a small chest under his bed.
Theo never replied because he didn’t know what to say. If he spoke of his loss and the suffocating grief, he may never put himself back together. Never be able to get out of bed and be the cold, hard boy he’d turned himself into to survive.
He’d been mourning his parents for a year, and now it was finally acceptable for him to leave his house. Iris had tried to visit with him. Tried to get inside over the past twelve months. Theo’s uncle had not allowed it. He’d spent the year being a prisoner in his own home. Walking in the gardens was acceptable, but little else.
Thankfully, the staff had not allowed his uncle to intimidate them. They’d come to his rooms to play cards and bring him food. Had it not been for them, his life would have been hell.
But now he was going away. It was almost a relief. Finally, he could leave here. This place held so many wonderful memories that were now all destroyed. Shattered by senseless murder and his emotionless uncle.
He’d heard his uncle talking to the magistrate. No one knew why the late Lord and Lady Montgomery had their lives ended so brutally in their beds. But one day, Theo would find who had done it and make them pay. Vengeance had burned and smoldered into a hard determination inside him.
He looked at his bed. Under it was something he wanted no one to see. Something he’d uncovered when he’d walked into his parents’ rooms and found them dead. He could allow no one to find it. Theo knew it would be safe here until he returned.
Someone would pay for what happened to the two people he loved most in the world.
A tap on his door had Theo looking around his room one last time. A place that had become his prison when once it had been anything but. He didn’t have any tears left and wasn’t sure he’d ever cry again.
He felt empty. Hollowed out and emotionless.
His uncle had told him Lord Montgomery does not weep. That he needed to be the man his father had expected him to become. He’d then talked at him every day for hours about his responsibilities and actions. His uncle had said Theo’s parents failed in their job to prepare him to be the lord he would one day become. Theo had not stood for that. Something in his eyes must have warned his uncle to never go there again because he hadn’t.
At thirteen, Theo was now a man, according to his uncle.
“Are you ready, my lord?” his butler said.
“I am, thank you, Stephens,” he said to the man who was standing in his doorway. His father’s butler, a man who Theo felt was almost a grandfather.
“Come along then. Your uncle awaits you in the carriage.” A hand settled on his shoulder, and it took every ounce of his strength not to turn into that body and let Stephens hold him. Let him tell him his life would one day again make sense. That he would laugh and find happiness and know what it was to be loved again.
Stephens kept his hand on Theo’s shoulder as they walked through the house. The staff were lined before the door waiting for him. Some were weeping.
He shook all their hands, because his father always said he needed to be kind and humble with them. His mother had insisted he know their first names.
They said things like “God be with you” and “your parents loved you.”
Theo nodded, dry-eyed, and then walked out the front door with Stephens. His uncle sat inside the carriage.
The butler opened the door.
“Hurry it along, Theodore. We have many miles to cover,” his uncle snapped.
“Goodbye, Stephens.” He shook his butler’s hand and then climbed inside.
“You don’t touch staff,” his uncle snapped at him.
Theo was mostly quiet and respectful, except when someone challenged what his parents had taught him. “As they are my staff, I can do as I wish.”
His uncle’s mouth tightened into a thin line at the reminder. He then fell silent as the carriage rolled away from his family’s home. Theo did not look back. Pain lay behind him.
He was looking out the window as they reached the village a thirty-minute walk from his home. Theo knew this, as he’d walked it many times with his parents and Iris.
He saw her as he reached Prism’s Bakers. Iris stood outside, watching his carriage.
How had she known he would pass at this time?
She moved closer, so close he thought the carriage could hit her, but it simply passed her by. It was close enough for him to see the tears tracking down her cheeks, though. He pressed a hand to the window, and she raised hers, and then she, too, was gone from his life. The three people he loved were no more.
Theo had a feeling as the carriage headed toward Eton and a new life, that, in fact, she would never be part of his life again. No one would because he never ever wanted to love someone as much as he had his parents and her, then lose them.
Theo decided as he looked across the carriage at his uncle, who was reading the newspaper, that he would become a coldhearted bastard just like him.