He could throw a punch or fence with a master, and he could do them both while reciting Shakespeare or Donne.
In short, he knew everything a gentleman ought to know, and, by all accounts, he’d excelled in every area.
People looked at him.
People looked up to him.
But nothing—not one second of his prominent and privileged life—had prepared him for this moment. And never had he felt the weight of watchful eyes so much as now, as he stepped forward and tossed a clump of dirt on the coffin of his wife.
I’m so sorry
, people kept saying. I’m so sorry. We’re so sorry. And all the while, Turner could not help but wonder if God might smite him down, because all he could think was—
Ah, Leticia. He had quite a lot to thank her for.
Let’s see, where to start? There was the loss of his reputation, of course. The devil only knew how many people were aware that he’d been cuckolded.
Then there was the loss of his innocence. It was difficult to recall now, but he had once given mankind the benefit of the doubt. He had, on the whole, believed the best of people—that if he treated others with honor and respect, they would do the same unto him.
And then there was the loss of his soul.
Because as he stepped back, clasping his hands stiffly behind him as he listened to the priest commit Leticia’s body to the ground, he could not escape the fact that he had wished for this. He had wanted to be rid of her.
And he would not—he did not mourn her.
“Such a pity,” someone behind him whispered.
Turner’s jaw twitched. This was not a pity. It was a farce. And now he would spend the next year wearing black for a woman who had come to him carrying another man’s child. She had bewitched him, teased him until he could think of nothing but the possession of her. She had said she loved him, and she had smiled with sweet innocence and delight when he had avowed his devotion and pledged his soul.
She had been his dream.
And then she had been his nightmare.
She’d lost that baby, the one that had prompted their marriage. The father had been some Italian count, or at least that’s what she’d said. He was married, or unsuitable, or maybe both. Turner had been prepared to forgive her; everyone made mistakes, and hadn’t he, too, wanted to seduce her before their wedding night?
But Leticia had not wanted his love. He didn’t know what the hell she had wanted—power, perhaps, the heady rush of satisfaction when yet another man fell under her spell.
Turner wondered if she’d felt that when he’d succumbed. Or maybe it had just been relief. She’d been three months along by the time they married. She hadn’t much time to spare.
And now here she was. Or rather, there she was. Turner wasn’t precisely sure which locational pronoun was more accurate for a lifeless body in the ground.
Whichever. He was only sorry that she would spend her eternity in his ground, resting among the Bevelstokes of days gone by. Her stone would bear his name, and in a hundred years, someone would gaze upon the etchings in the granite and think she must have been a fine lady, and what a tragedy that she’d been taken so young.
Turner looked up at the priest. He was a youngish fellow, new to the parish and by all accounts, still convinced that he could make the world a better place.
“Ashes to ashes,” the priest said, and he looked up at the man who was meant to be the bereaved widower.
, Turner thought acerbically, that would be me. “Dust to dust.”
Behind him, someone actually sniffled.
And the priest, his blue eyes bright with that appallingly misplaced glimmer of sympathy, kept on talking—