Among the suburban castles of Belmont Hills, placed back on a large, meticulously landscaped lot, stood a mansion that most avoided.
The air seemed to chill regardless of the season. Few had ever walked beyond the gates of the manor. Not even those associated with the family that dwelled within. Everyone knew their name. The name that controlled Boston, and caused a slight tremble in all who heard it.
Fire burning in its hearth illuminated the master’s library. He sat in a tall, wingback chair, a book open in front of him and a small, dark-haired girl hugging a pink rabbit sitting on his knee. A smile creased his oft-scowling face. “The handsome rogue and the fair princess rode off into the sunset where they lived happily ever after.”
“I don’t get it,” the child objected. “They didn’t like each other. How could they fall in love?”
He looked down at her with a shake of his head. “Six years old and already so cynical. Two people can still fall in love if they start off poorly.”
“No, they can’t. That’s just a story.”
“You think so, do you?” He closed the book and set it aside. “I’m going to let you in on a secret.” Glancing around in a playfully exaggerated manner brought a giggle from the girl. “When we first met your mother didn’t like me.”
She gasped. “Nuh-uh.”
“Oh, yes. You see, I was already the head of our House then. I had wealth and power, but your mother was impressed by neither. It took time, but I eventually convinced her to let me take her to dinner. Now look at us; we’re the most powerful House in the country, and most importantly, we have four beautiful children.”
“Well,” the girl considered the story, “I guess it could happen.”
“You guess, huh?” he answered with a smile. Kissing her on the head, he lifted her off his knee and sat her on her feet. “Put the book away, my dear. Time for you to go to bed.”
The child started to object but thought better of it. She scooped up the book and scampered over to return it to one of the many cases. Her father watched her with a contented gaze until a throat clearing drew his attention. A tall woman’s delicate form darkened the doorway. He furrowed his brow at the distressed look on his wife’s face. Her eyes contained a reddish tint.
“Alexander. We need to talk.”
“Of course.” Rising, he took the girl by the shoulders and guided her to the door. “Run along to bed, sweetheart.”
“Okay. Goodnight, Daddy.”
“Goodnight, Mommy,” she said, looking up at the ebony-haired woman, opening her arms for a hug.
Her mother swallowed hard as she ignored the girl.
“Mommy’s not feeling well,” Alexander interjected, eyeing his wife curiously. “Just go ahead to bed. She’ll hug you extra hard tomorrow.”
Glancing back and forth between them, the girl was confused. After an encouraging nod from her dad, she made for the door. Once the child was out of the library, Alexander narrowed his eyes. “What the devil is wrong with you, Anastasia? Why didn’t you- ?”
“She’s ungifted,” she blurted. The words appeared painful to say.
Her husband’s face fell as shock took him. “What? That’s impossible.”
“It’s true,” she assured with a sniff. “She should have shown signs by now. We should be able to sense her energies.”
“She’s just a late bloomer.”
“No, Alexander. I’ve spent days trying to detect a single inkling of power within her. And believe me; I desperately wanted to find something, anything.”
Staring at her, dumbfounded, he struggled to process the revelation. Turning away, he ran a finger along his well-groomed beard. “It’s not possible. We’re both wizards. We can’t have an ungifted child.”
“It happens. Rarely, but it does happen.”
Anastacia frowned at his suddenly hard tone. “Yes.”
The warmth that he showed his daughter drained from Alexander’s face as he turned back to his wife. He instead displayed the stone-faced menace most who had interacted with him knew quite well. “Whose is she?” he asked with frightening calm.
She flinched as Alexander suddenly lunged forward, slamming his hand against the wall beside her head with a force that belied his unimpressive stature. His eyes burned with rage. “Whose is she?” he screamed, his breath hot on her face.
A tear ran down from Anastasia’s eye. Her lip trembled as she struggled to maintain her composure. The intense anger on Alexander’s face drained as her palm struck him hard across his cheek. “How dare you ask me that question?” she spat with venom in her voice.
Alexander swallowed hard as he calmed down. Fury was replaced by anguish. It was a look his wife had not seen on his face often. He hung his head, taking deep, stabilizing breaths. Delicate fingers stroked his dark hair. His wife rested her head on his. “You can’t honestly believe- .”
“No,” he interrupted. “Of course not. I’m sorry. It’s just…”
“I know. What are we going to do? About her.”
He lifted his head, glaring with hard eyes. “We cannot have weakness in our House.”
“Alexander.” She reached out and took his hand. “I can use her.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have a theory. Testing it will require a subject.”
Turning away, he ran a hand through his hair. “You want to experiment on our youngest child?”
“As opposed to just tossing her away?” Sensing his hesitation, Anastasia placed a supportive hand his shoulders. “Alexander. If I’m right, it will change the world. Our House will be unstoppable. Boston will only be the beginning. Ironically, our family’s weakest link could be the key to our most powerful weapon.”
His wife certainly knew him well. His ambition was endless. It had driven him to kill his father and cow the other Houses of Boston. But his father was a grown man, and the Houses would just as soon dominate him if they could. She was a child. A child who loved them.
“You’ll have your subject.”
“Thank you. We’ll have to explain it to the children. They won’t understand.”
“They’re Blackwells,” Alexander stated. All doubts are gone. “It’s time they learned what that means.”
Anastasia nodded, resting her head against his back. The library fell into a chilling silence save the crackling of the fire. “We can’t put it off,” she finally said. “The longer we wait, the harder it will be.”
Alexander stared at the pink, plush bunny that his daughter had left by his chair. Bending down, he scooped it up. “In the morning. Let her sleep.”