A preview of Cursed Once More

          So absorbed was I in this hap­py train of thought that I did not at once notice the let­ter lying next to my place at the table. The hand­writ­ing was unknown to me, and I did not often receive let­ters except from the ladies of our social set. Such let­ters were not fre­quent, as Atti­cus and I had become less pop­u­lar after the scan­dal of his father’s mur­der and Richard’s death had become known. Nei­ther of us found this a cause for mourn­ing, since our true friends had stood by us, but it made the appear­ance of this let­ter all the more curi­ous.
          The seal was the sin­gle ini­tial B. I slid a knife under the seal and unfold­ed the let­ter, which was writ­ten in a mas­cu­line scrawl on paper rather thin­ner than I was accus­tomed to from those in my husband’s cir­cle.
          My dear niece, it began.
          Shocked, I glanced to the end to seek the sig­na­ture. Horace Burleigh, Thurn­ley Hall.
          I must have made some sound, for Atti­cus looked up from his work. “Is some­thing wrong, my love?”
          “I—no. No, not at all. Don’t let me dis­turb your read­ing.”
          When he returned to his doc­u­ments, I took up the let­ter again. My mother’s name before her mar­riage had been Burleigh, that much I knew. But nev­er had I dreamed I would hear from any of that branch of the fam­i­ly again. Had she not been turned out of her home, dis­owned by her fam­i­ly because of her mar­riage to my father? I knew the sto­ry well from my child­hood. Indeed, she had grown bit­ter with resent­ment against her kin­folk for refus­ing to help us when my father’s death had left us alone and unpro­vid­ed for. Had they tak­en us in, my moth­er would not have worked her­self to a thread for all those years and might not then have suc­cumbed to the ill­ness that killed her.
          My thoughts were a tumult of anger and grief as I began to read the let­ter.

          How over­joyed I was to learn of your exis­tence! Dur­ing a recent vis­it to Lon­don I caught sight of you and your illus­tri­ous hus­band, and I noticed at once your remark­able resem­blance to my late, beloved sis­ter, Miri­am. When I made inquiries, I learned of your iden­ti­ty. Imag­ine my delight to dis­cov­er that my sis­ter had been blessed with a daugh­ter. And not just any daugh­ter, but a baroness! You have made me very proud by doing so well for your­self. I under­stand that the prop­er­ties linked to the Telford estate are exten­sive and endow the title with a rich income, and you must be enjoy­ing your new wealth and sta­tus among your new peers after the years of obscu­ri­ty and pri­va­tion. It is to your cred­it that you were able to weigh the advan­tages of a match with the present baron against his defor­mi­ty.
          Doubt­less you are curi­ous about the fam­i­ly you were nev­er per­mit­ted to know, and you are sure­ly as eager as I to re-forge the sacred bonds of kin­ship. You must have sore­ly felt the lack of fam­i­ly when you mar­ried and upon the trag­ic death of your father-in-law. Grieve no more, my dear, for now you have a pater­nal fig­ure to help you through the strange new world in which you find your­self.
          I entreat you and the baron to do me the hon­or of pay­ing a vis­it to Thurn­ley Hall at your ear­li­est con­ve­nience so that we may begin to make up for lost time.
                                                                                                                                Your devot­ed uncle,
                                                                                                                                Horace Burleigh, Esq.