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Lady Gouldian
Author: Calia Read

PROLOGUE

 


1914

It starts with love.

For your story and mine, it will always begin with love. Every person on this earth will have love draw the air from their lungs in a hollow exchange, benefiting only love and leaving your soul empty.

It’s the middle that matters most. It’s there where you’ll have to find a way to survive and live in your new emptiness. And that’s most crucial of all. As for me, I tried to fill my barrenness with more love. And like the first time, I was left with nothing. But the second time hurt more than the first. (Far more than I ever could have anticipated.)

Every breath I take hurts. My thoughts aren’t clear, and simple every day acts seem impossible.

So I stay in my room, with only broken promises and happier memories when he once loved to keep me company.

I get up from my bed and make my way to the window, staring down at the driveway. I want nothing more than to go and be with him. I know where he is. I could go to him. I should go to him.

But I have nothing left in me, except a small sliver of pride. I once begged him to stay with me. I told him I loved him. And I received reassurances that everything would be okay.

Yet here I am.

All alone.

Idly, I trace carved initials on the window-sill. My fingers slowly outlining the letters, N A T H. Abruptly, I stop, closing my eyes. Before I can think of the past, I transition to his name. I’ve done this so many times I could follow the curve of each letter in my sleep. Slowly, my hand lowers to my side as I stare at the names.

“Come back to me,” I whisper.

When I receive no response, I take a deep breath.

This wasn’t right. This wasn’t how my life was to be. I wasn’t supposed to be here, in this purgatory. I had to be with him. My place was supposed to be by his side.

“You once loved me,” I whisper against the glass, wishing my words could reach him. “Can’t you love me again?”

More silence.

My aching heart wants a reply so badly to my question that I slam my palm against the window.

I remember the past as though it was yesterday. It was such a beautiful time, filled with laughter, secret smiles, and hours upon hours of conversations about the future. But life cruelly stole away the people I loved.

I couldn’t help but wonder, what else would life steal from me?

If I had a choice, nothing. Not a single thing.

The longer I remain here, alone in my room, left with only my pain to keep me company, a firm resolve grows within me. Life isn’t created for the weak. I will protect myself at all costs and do what others before me have done to defend themselves from the world. I will take from life before life ever has the opportunity to take from me again.

As I turn away from the window, an idea begins to take shape in my head. My determination grows. Yes, every story starts with love, but it ends with loss.

A smile curves my lips upward. It will never be my loss again.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 


1919

Nathalie

I don’t consider myself to be bold.

Boldness belongs to very few. Courageous people are the ones that can change the world and shape history. They consider any opportunity to be a thrilling sport and smile in the face of danger.

I prefer to err on the side of caution so I don’t risk getting hurt. And as for opportunities? When they come my way, I weigh the good and bad for so long, that the chance is long past gone before I ever make up my mind.

But today? Today I have no choice but to be bold. It’s a heady feeling that makes my blood tingle. Every breath I take is as shaky as my hands. If I whispered my intentions to my sister-in-law, Serene, the boldest person I know, she would either nod, her eyes glimmering in approval, or check my forehead and ask if I’ve fallen ill.

And that is when you know you’re committing a bold act.

With a deep exhale, I give the church one last look, grab the handle of my valise with one hand and the hem of my dress with the other and walk up the steps.

The wedding began fifteen minutes ago. By now, the wedding party has made its way down the aisle. So has the beautiful bride. I’m confident she’s nervous, yet all too happily standing beside her future husband. The priest will talk about the sanctity of marriage and read scripture. At least, that is what happened at my wedding to Oliver.

The double doors are unlocked, but if the people on the other side knew my intention, knew my plans, I wager they would have locked me out.

Loudly, they creak open. The foyer hasn’t changed in the slightest since I wed here. Just the smallest of nostalgia sweeps over me as I look around. I remember how anxious I was before the ceremony began. But I think, deep down, I knew I was making the biggest mistake of my life.

I place my valise in the vestibule, then quietly step into the church. The beautiful space seems large and more imposing than I remember. The Corinthian arcades arch high above the pews, reaching toward the vaulted ceilings. Light pours in through the tiered windows, onto the aisle. It seems impossibly long and leads directly toward a woman in a vision of white. She faces a man with rich dark hair that can only belong to Asa. My stomach clenches into a tight ball. I haven’t seen him in years. He looks so handsome in his tuxedo and white waistcoat. I can only view his profile, but I can see his austere expression as he stares down at his future bride. I stop myself from crying out. From reaching out for him.

It is the priest’s next words that capture my attention. “Should anyone here present know of any reason that this couple should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

“Wait!” I shout.

My voice echoes around me, bounces off the high ceilings. I hear gasps around me, and pews creak as people turn and look at me. The priest lifts his head from the Bible clasped between his hands.

Slowly, my hands lower to my side. All the energy and life inside me starts to fade when I see Asa turn his head in my direction.

Asa drops his fiancée’s hands. His shoulders stiffen. His eyes widen ever so slightly as he takes me in. It’s as though he can’t believe I’m here. His future bride appears just as shocked as Asa and gapes at me. I met Juliet once in Savannah. How the blonde, meek, and mousy woman managed to find herself facing Asa at the front of a church will be something I will never understand. I feel a momentary sense of guilt for interrupting her wedding, but I must let Asa know how I feel.

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