Siana requested to be excused for a moment while she went through the bill. Viscount North nodded. She held up a lantern to read the contents of the bill. After going through it, she realized the reason for the sudden arrival of the bill: it had been drawn up long before she started helping her father with his business.
I thought you had settled everything, father, she thought. This amount had fallen through the cracks. The real amount was pretty fair seeing the contents of the bill. But the interests of all these years, nearly a decade, had generated 22,000 golds to be paid back. It was ridiculous that Siana or her father had never received a reminder for it. If I sell all my dresses and jewelries, it will be about 4,000 golds, and the house will fetch 8,000 golds, she thought, but I will still be 10,000 golds short.
She clasped and unclasped her hands on her lap. She wouldn’t be able to pay everything back, even if she sold everything she had. “I can pay only 12,000 golds in such short notice,” she told Viscount North.
“And the remaining 10,000?” he asked.
“I will need some time to pay it all,” she said worriedly.
“Time?” said Viscount North, “How long do you require?”
“That… I…,” stammered Siana, unable to answer. She hadn’t an inkling how she was going to pay him everything.
“During the time that I am supposed to wait,” began Viscount North, “What are you going to about the interest that will be generated further?”
Siana’s lips froze. She hadn’t thought about that at all. “Lady Siana,” he said, “The situation is grim. How can a young girl like you, without a wealthy guardian or relative, pay 10,000 golds even if I gave you ample time?”
“I will do whatever it takes to pay you back,” said Siana, “I just need a little time.”
Viscount North stroked his flimsy moustache that connected with his white beard. “Whatever it takes?” he said, “I want to hear more about that part.” Siana was silent. She didn’t know what he was getting at.
Viscount North let out a sigh. “You know what I hear from the no-good debtors?” he said with pity, “Exactly what you have just said. It’s obvious that they can’t pay everything back, like you.”
He took out a cigar from his breast pocket and lit it. The tip of the cigar turned red with heat as he puffed out a thick cloud of smoke. Siana coughed as he exhaled the smoke, but Viscount North seemed to hardly care.
“Lady Siana,” he said, puffing out more smoke, “If I wait for you to pay everything back, it will haunt me for years. Frankly, I doubt you will be able to pay me back even if I do wait.”
Siana was silent. He wasn’t wrong. She had no resources or extra property to sell in order to pay back the debt. The smoke from his cigar filled the entire room in a hazy air. When it had almost obscured everything in view, the Viscount spoke again.
“You said that you would do whatever it takes to pay me back,” he said, “So then what exactly are you going to do?” Siana couldn’t speak. She felt uncomfortable at his words. She knew something sinister was going to be proposed and yet, she had no choice but to listen.
“Marry me,” said the Viscount, looking at her through the smoky haze.
Siana was stunned. “Marry you?” she asked, incredulously.
“Yes,” he said puffing away at his cigar, “If you do, the debt will be forgotten. And of course, I will not touch any of your assets, they will be yours.”
Siana held her tongue because a barrage of cuss words was threatening to burst forth. The Viscount was nowhere near what she looked for in a man. He had to be, at the least, twenty years older than her. His reputation wasn’t respectable as well. He had a record of divorces. His first wife had left him because she couldn’t tolerate his many affairs with other women. He had then married a prostitute who had divorced him and fled to another country with a part of his wealth. Rumor had it that his strange and perverted fetishes had repulsed her, and she had had to flee.
Nobody wanted to marry Viscount North after that. Not the commoners, and not the aristocratic ladies. Even brothels had refused him entry because of his perverted fetishes. After much searching, he had married a third time, but the third wife had jumped off a window a year later. Thankfully, her injuries were not life-threatening but the lower part of her body was paralyzed. The heartless Viscount filed for a divorce declaring that he had no intention of tending to a crippled wife.
Siana knew he was looking for a new woman to ruin her life, but never had she ever thought, not even in her wildest dreams, that she would be his target. She refused to respond. The Viscount smiled wickedly and looked at her.
“You might already know, Lady Siana,” he smirked, “There aren’t many jobs that pay well for a single lady like you with no friends or family. I don’t want your youth to be destroyed toiling for scraps. Flowers are the prettiest when placed in a vase as decoration. Not when they are blooming on a road, waiting to be withered by the touch of a stranger.”
The Viscount drew on his cigar deeply and flicked the shortened end on the table, insultingly. Siana’s lips quivered in anger by the gesture. He was a man without manners or shame. She ardently wanted to kick him out of the house, but the dire situation stayed in her hand. For now, she needed to calm down and think of a way out of his proposal.
“As grateful as I am for your concern,” she said in a mock peasant voice, “And as eager as I am to consider your offer, it hasn’t been long since my father passed away.” She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief.