A Darkness Strange and Lovely (12 page)

The same beige-faced buildings and gray roofs I’d seen when entering the city now peered down at me from every direction, and I couldn’t help but imagine all the people behind each tall window and down each winding street.

And with the sun setting beyond the rooftops, the streetlights seemed to glow even more brightly, casting all those lives and smiles and heartbreaks in an unearthly warmth.

I grinned until my cheeks ached. I had done it! I’d left Philadelphia far behind, and my troubles were long lost in the dust. Or . . . they were at least somewhat behind me.

Oh, don’t think of all that,
I ordered myself. I was in Paris and with my dearest friend. I ought to give myself at least a few hours to revel in it.

Jie let me gape for several minutes, but then her usual impatience kicked in, and she hauled me down to the busy street. After waving over a hansom cab, she rattled off the hotel name and a few French words. The driver helped us inside the coach.

“Learning the language?” I asked, impressed, as we settled onto the bench seat beside each other.

Jie twirled the end of her braid. “I don’t like relying on Joseph to talk to everyone, and I
hate
not knowing what people say about me.” She sighed and stared out the window as we clattered to a start. “But we’ve only been here a month. I haven’t learned much.”

Some of my excitement melted, and for a moment I pressed my hands to my lips and watched her. She was the same girl from the summer—fierce, quick to smile, and unafraid—but there was a new dullness in her eye.

“You don’t like it here,” I stated.

“Is it that obvious?” Her eyes slid to mine. “It’s not the city’s fault, or even the Parisians’. Truth is, I’ve just been lonely.”

“Me too.” I sighed and hooked her arm in mine. “But now we’re together.”

She chuckled. “And I’m glad for it, yeah?” Suddenly her breath caught, and she wrenched free. “Eleanor, you have two hands! How?”

“Uh, w-well,” I stammered. It was all fine to avoid mentioning Oliver, but
this
would certainly need an explanation. Stupid Eleanor! Why hadn’t I prepared an answer for this?

“I used . . . magic,” I finally said.

“How?”

I shrugged one shoulder. “I simply figured it out, I suppose.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “Simply . . . figured it out?”

I nodded, relieved when she didn’t question me further and only said, “Joseph did say you had power.”

Taking my new hand in her own, she slipped off the glove. She spread out my fingers and held them to the light. “It’s just like your old hand!”

“It
is
my old hand.” I pulled it back, embarrassed. “I . . . I managed to call it through the curtain and bind it here.” That was mostly the truth.

She whistled. “That sounds like dangerous stuff. You should’ve waited for Joseph.”

I only grunted in response, and Jie seemed to notice my discomfort. She dropped my hand. “You don’t wanna talk now—sorry. You should look at the city, yeah?”

“Right. I’m in Paris.” I forced a smile, sliding to the window. But the streetlamps glared off the glass, making it hard to see much beyond the cobblestone streets.

“Or,” Jie said with a laugh, “maybe you should look at the city tomorrow. In the daylight.”

I turned back toward her. “So where is your hotel? And, um . . .” I scratched at my ear. “Do you think I could stay with you?”

“Of
course
you can stay with me.” Her eyes lit up. “Besides, I’m sure the instant Monsieur LeJeunes knows you’re here, he’ll offer you a suite.”

I exhaled heavily. “Thanks, Jie. Is this
monsieur
the host you mentioned in your letter?”


Oui
.” She batted her lashes. “He’s the Marquis du Bazillac, and he’s in the Senat—though he’s running for the presidency. He was the one to write to us in Chicago. Of course, he thought we were three men. Imagine his surprise when he realized I was a woman.” She grinned wickedly.

“And he doesn’t care about the Centennial Exhibition? About the fact that you’re wanted
fugitives
?”

“Naw. He knows it’s not true, and he’s trying to win the people’s hearts by saving them from
les Morts
. Though he has had to work extra hard to keep the gossip . . .” She trailed off, searching for the right word. “To keep it
clean
. I think that’s why he makes us do so many events. Parties, balls, Senat meetings. But I can’t complain.” She opened her arms. “We live like royalty, yeah? Our hotel is fit for Empress Tz’u-Hsi herself. And we’re right across the street from these amazing gardens called the Tuileries. You’ll definitely want to see those tomorrow.” A bright-toothed smile suddenly split her face. “Oh boy, I bet the Marquis will buy you new gowns and jewelry. Why, look at what his friend gave me.” She whipped the end of her braid up to my face. It was held by a jade lotus hair clasp. “It’s Chinese, yeah?”

“Oh my.” I took it gently in my hands and stroked the delicate petals. “It’s beautiful, Jie.”

She grinned happily and flipped her braid behind her head. “Just wait—you’ll probably get something beautiful too. And I
know
the Marquis will want to take you to all the teas and dinners he makes Joseph and Daniel attend.” Her smile fell. “In fact, Joseph is off at some
salon
tonight, so you won’t see him until tomorrow. The man is so exhausted from all the visits he has to make, but he’d much rather have the city’s love at the price of sleep than go through what we did in Philadelphia.”

My brows drew together. “So when do you get any work done?”

“It’s . . . slow.” She flicked a piece of dust off her pants. “Everything about our job is a mystery. But listen, I want to hear more about you. What sights do you want to see tomorrow?”

As if on cue, my stomach grumbled angrily. I grinned. “First, I would really like to
eat
.”

She laughed and rubbed her hands together. “Then let’s get you a baguette!”

 

The Hotel Le Meurice was so grand, I was terrified to step inside. Like a moth in the butterfly garden, I absolutely did not belong. But if Jie could swagger into the gleaming marble foyer with its white columns and gold chandeliers and not mind the stares, then so could I.

Jie gave a nod to the navy-uniformed man behind the front desk; and before I had a chance even to see what was beyond the main entrance, she whisked me left, beneath an enormous crystal chandelier and on to a grand stone stairwell.

“This marquis,” I said, ogling the pink marble walls, “he’s rich, I presume?”

Jie laughed. “Very. He probably sleeps on a mound of gold.”

Two flights up, we stepped into a hall that ran off in either direction. Teal rugs muffled our footsteps, and lamps every few feet gave a steady stream of electric light.

“I am in awe,” I declared. “All of Paris is so elegant, and this is downright opulent!”

“You haven’t even seen the best part yet.” Jie pointed directly across from us to a white door built into a wall of glass-paneled windows. White curtains blocked whatever was on the other side. “That’s the lab. Now you’ll
really
be impressed.” She slipped out a key, and moments later, the door swung back.

I gasped, rooted to my spot in the doorway. “Impressed” was an understatement. The same teal carpet as the hall’s was underfoot, while mauve armchairs lined the room’s edge. Simple mahogany bookshelves covered the walls, and in the middle of the room were three wide worktables—all lit by dangling chandeliers.

“Wow,” I breathed.

“It’s supposed to be a parlor for the three suites in the corner.” She motioned to the back, where a tiny hall connected to three doors. “But the Marquis paid for us to make a lab.”

“Do
you
all sleep on mounds of gold?”

She snickered. “Just satin, I’m afraid.” She slid her hands into her pockets and ambled in.

I stepped carefully after her. “And you think the Marquis will pay for me as well?”

“Yeah. I’m sure of it.” She guided me around the paper-strewn tables and toward the corner hall. “The Marquis has more money than he knows what to do with. He’s paying for Daniel to visit Germany.”

My heart skittered. “Daniel . . . isn’t here?”

“No. He’s studying with the German army to learn about weapons and flying machines—pretty much anything that might be useful to us.”

“Oh.” Disappointment slashed through me, so sharp, it actually
hurt
. I bit the inside of my mouth. “And for how long,” I asked, trying to keep my face passive, “is Daniel away?”

Jie shrugged. “The Marquis offered to send him for a whole month, and Daniel jumped at the chance. . . but I think he decided to stay only two weeks in the end.” She shuffled into the hall, which was really nothing more than a narrow room with a door on each wall. “So that means he should return in a few days.”

My heart stumbled again, but I stoutly avoided thinking about my feelings. The last thing I needed to worry about was a young man—even if he had left me somewhat heartbroken.

I cleared my throat. “So which room is yours, Jie?”

She motioned to the door on the right, and then with a flick of her wrist, she spun the knob and pushed inside.

I moved to follow but instantly stopped again. My jaw went slack. The hardwood floor was covered in an elaborate violet carpet that matched the chaise longue and two armchairs. A huge, plush bed in sky blue stood beneath a draping blue curtain that contrasted perfectly with the maroon-and-gold window curtains. A writing desk, two bedside stands, and even a full-length mirror stood guard against cream walls.

“Wow,” I said. “Your situation has really changed. To think you were living
and
working in a closet only a few months ago—to think that Philadelphia
still
believes you’re to blame for all those deaths and walking corpses.”

She opened her palms. “Like I said, I think that’s why the Marquis makes Joseph go out so much—to counteract the bad gossip. And to help his own presidential campaign. Either way, we’re the only people who can help Paris, and unlike the stupid Centennial Exhibition, no one here expects us to pretend the problem isn’t exactly what is. These sacrificed Dead are walking, yeah? And it’s our job to find who’s behind it all.”

I frowned. “Tell me more about the Dead. What’s happening exactly?”

“We call them
les Morts
, remember?” She crossed to the bed and flung herself on her stomach. “The basics are that these Dead show up randomly . . . but they’re the Hungry Dead. Rabid and
fast
.”

“Is it a necromancer?”

She propped herself on her elbows. “We don’t know. See, all
les Morts
have one thing in common: they were murdered first . . . and their ears and eyes were cut off.”

I shrank back, my stomach coiling. “That’s what you meant by ‘sacrificed’?”

“Yeah, and it’s not nice. They keep showing up reanimated. Or they
were
. We haven’t seen any in almost three weeks. But listen, Joseph can explain it better. He has some theories, and he can tell you about ’em once he’s back from”—she twirled one hand in the air—“living the tiring but very glamorous life.”

“You sound as if you don’t like the glamorous life.” I pointed at the nearest window. “But a view of Paris? Free clothes and trips to Germany? What is there to dislike?”

“A lot.” She rolled her eyes. “You should see how the women fall over Joseph and Daniel; it’s . . .” She clamped her mouth shut.

“It’s what?”

“Nothin’.” She rolled onto her back and watched me through half-lowered lids.

“What is
that
look for?” I demanded.

“This is my I-know-how-you-feel-about-Daniel face.”

“Excuse me?” I hitched up my skirts and stalked to the bed. “How do I feel about him?”

She tipped her head to the side. “You two are like . . . I dunno, like something that’s completely in love but won’t admit it.”


What
? That’s utterly absurd.” I dropped onto the chaise at the foot of the bed.

She crossed her arms. “You seem awful defensive.”

“Honestly.” I moaned. “Why does everyone seem to think this about me? I am
not
in love with Daniel Sheridan.”

“Who else thinks it?”

“Oh, um—” I paused, not wanting to mention Oliver. “My maid.” I glanced to the right. “But I’m not. In love, I mean.”

She swung her legs around and leaned back onto the pillows. “Isn’t there some line about protesting the truth too much?”

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” I sighed dejectedly. “It’s from
Hamlet
, and you’re probably right. But listen, I thought . . . well, I thought there was something between us. But when I asked him how he felt, he told me very plainly that he was
not
in love with me.”

Jie winced.

“Surprise.” I wiggled my fingers halfheartedly in the air. “Now can you please drop these silly notions.”

“But have you considered that maybe it’s a complicated situation because of—”

“Enough,” I cut in. “
Please
. I do not want to discuss Daniel a moment longer. Please finish what you were saying before. About all the women.”

She nodded slowly and clasped her hands behind her head. “Well . . . the ladies are in love with Joseph and Daniel, and it’s sickening.” She watched me, clearly waiting for my reaction.

“Don’t worry, Jie.” I gave a tight laugh. “The women can have them both. I have other things to worry about.
Les Morts
. Marcus.”

“Marcus?” She sat up. “You mentioned him in your telegram, but I didn’t understand.”

“Um . . .” I gulped, searching my brain for any topic that
wasn’t
Marcus. I only needed a few minutes to get a solid story in order. A story that carefully avoided any mention of Oliver. I cleared my throat. “Can we possibly order dinner first?”

“Right!” She scooted off the bed. “I promised you a baguette. I’ll get you some food, and then you can tell me what’s going on. And
then
”—she waved to my enormous yawn—“I’d say it’s time for bed.”

Other books

Apparition by C.L. Scholey
Dragon Shield by Charlie Fletcher
Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
Three to Tango by Emma;Lauren Dane;Megan Hart;Bethany Kane Holly
Do They Know I'm Running? by David Corbett
Survivors by Z. A. Recht
In Search of Sam by Kristin Butcher
Yesterday & Forever by Rodger, Sophie
The Crystal's Curse by Vicky de Leo


readsbookonline.com Copyright 2016 - 2021