Miss Genevieve gaped in speechless shock as her host finished his horrific tale.
"But Stephen, you're..."
"One of the few males to survive as long as I have and, ironically, now the last to carry on my family's name."
"There are no other children? No other heirs?"
"None. My family are all dead and buried including..."A rattling cough shook his chest, halting him mid sentence. He sipped water from the crystal tumbler on the table, struggling against his subconscious' attempt to avoid the unspeakable.
"Stephen, is your mother's final resting place there as well?"
"After many decades of loneliness and isolation, she was finally permitted to rejoin her loved ones."
"Then the rumors are true. Miss Matilda was your mother."
"She was ever the watchful presence in my life, but the townsfolk likely knew her better than I. After I was born, I was sent away to be raised by another family. When she could tolerate the separation no longer, I returned for brief visits, but these were few. As I grew older, she became more paranoid about my safety although for the longest time I was not told why. Every year I fulfilled my promise to her and sent a letter on her birthday letting her know I was well."
"Why did you return, Stephen? Why place yourself in such peril?"
Stephen grew surprisingly calm, a response Genevieve was not expecting and was a little unnerved by."I could never escape Violetta. She has a stranglehold on this house, but many times over the years I have caught a glimpse of the woman in black haunting my steps. Since I can't escape fate, I chose to face it. It is here I will live out the rest of my days just as my mother did. I am the last of the Westerfells. The shadow princess's curse dies with me."