Authors: Megan Chance
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Historical
ALSO BY MEGAN CHANCE
An Inconvenient Wife
City of Ash
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2014 Megan Chance
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Lake Union Publishing, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Lake Union Publishing are trademarks of
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Cover design by Cyanotype Book Architects
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013922577
who has always believed
Omnia Mundi Fumus et Umbra
All in the World is Smoke and Shadow
hough it was only a few hours until dawn, it was not quiet. It never was in this part of town, which was not among the best in Paris. Talk and laughter from a nearby cafe murmured through my open window, along with the soft cries of whores calling from doorways as they tried to eke the last bit of profit from the night. Some things even two hundred years did not change.
I searched the shadows of the street below. He had not found me yet, but he would, and it would all begin again. He had learned too much in Barcelona, and I did not think he would give up now.
I didn’t know whether to welcome or dread his arrival. It had already been a year, much of which had been spent in darkness and shadows and fear, hiding from the world. Twelve months, and now, here I was, myself again, only to find I was no longer very good at living.
I sighed and turned away, leaving the window open for the scents of the city to drift inside. Sometimes it was only the smells that told me where I was—what place, what time. Whenever I stepped off a steamer or out of a carriage, I stopped and inhaled deeply.
this is Paris. Or London. Or Madrid or Rome or Vienna.
Though I would not have been able to describe before that moment what smells were uniquely theirs.
I took a deep breath of Paris now. It was not quite my home—there was no place I called that anymore, though Paris was as close as any, and this hotel belonged to my past and so was comforting, despite its cheap pretensions to grandeur. I was no longer accustomed to anything less than the best, but I’d wanted a place to heal after the months of hiding. This last incident had shaken me greatly, and I was exhausted at the thought of starting again, of seeing his face and knowing what he meant to do. To fight again—had I the strength for it now?
Slowly, I went to the flecked mirror near the bed and put up my hair, which was a thick and heavy brown with a great deal of red. My crowning glory, some said. Others had written poetry of my graceful neck and my smooth shoulders. My naked breasts graced dozens of canvases. Music celebrated my laughter and my frowns.
Your beauty will be your fortune,
my mother had said to me once, so long ago now I wasn’t certain it was my own memory, or just something I’d been told.
I undressed, and reached for my portmanteau, taking out the narrow razor case. The blade inside gleamed. I turned down the lamp to a tender glow, and then I stepped into the bath. I took my time, lowering myself inch by inch, sighing at immersion, letting the warm water lap my body for a moment, relaxing within it.
Then I raised my arm from the water. I glanced down at my wrist, at the thin pink scar that marked it already, the vein pulsing beneath it, a blue line beneath my pale skin making an easy map to follow. I brought the razor to my wrist and cut, wincing at the pain, waiting for—I don’t know . . .
, some feeling I didn’t know, something real even if it wasn’t new—as the blood bloomed beneath the blade, as I slit deep and long, tracing the old scar.
But there was nothing but pain and that familiar ennui. Even this was not enough.
Well, I’d known that would be so, hadn’t I?
I turned to the other wrist, cutting it just as deeply, and then I let the razor fall to the floor. The water stung as I submerged my arms again. I watched the blood wisping like smoke as it was drawn from my wrists, curling in beautiful patterns as it followed the weave and weft of the faint current set by my breathing and my pulse, and then there were no more pretty patterns; only clear water fogging into homogenous pink and then red. I embraced the lassitude when it came; I was weightless and strange, no longer myself but someone else, that long ago me who had watched a brilliantly bejeweled woman across the room and felt an unyielding, unhesitating affinity.
I heard her voice in my head still. I heard her laughter. I felt the way her breath trembled the hair at the nape of my neck, the way the diamonds circling her wrist had pressed hard into my arm. I remembered how I’d lost myself in their seductive, tempting sparkle.
What do you most desire, Odilé?
I looked down at the water, very red now.
I leaned my head back, and waited for the sunrise.
cannot explain how it begins, or why it happens, what strange alchemy puts such things in motion. Whether it is a whisper on the wind or the whiff of a strange perfume that has people stopping in their tracks, caught by a curious caprice as they barter with merchants or test the firm heft of an orange, caught by a desire they’d never thought to have.
I cannot tell you how she does it, only that she does. She is the cause and the urge, and all things move to her pipe and drum. I have followed her for years, long enough to recognize when it happens, when everyone begins to talk of Paris, or all thoughts turn to Rome or Vienna or Madrid.
But now my timing seemed somehow off. Lately I found myself always a step behind, arriving always just after she’d left. I was not the most patient of men, and this inability to find her had me twisting with frustration. I could not afford to let her out of my sight for so long. It had already been two and a half years since Barcelona. The clock was ticking; she must make her choice soon. The knowledge was both the curse that had set me on this path seven years before and my solace now. She could not stay hidden for long. Her very nature forbade it. I would find her. All I could do was hope it wouldn’t be too late when I did.
I knew she was in London—or had been—and it was there I knew I would hear of her next step. But I’d heard nothing yet, and I was restless and short-tempered, for once abandoning the salons I frequented nightly to seek peace and solace in a city tavern. I was cutting into one of the heavy steak pies my countrymen consider to be edible when an old friend of mine, Giles Martin, an artist of little renown and less talent, happened in.
He seated himself at my table without delay, reached across the table for a chunk of my pie and shoved it into his mouth, his eyeglasses tipping crookedly on his long patrician nose. He straightened them automatically, saying excitedly as he did so, “I’ve had the idea, Nick. I know what I shall do next!”
“Who is it this time?” I asked wryly. “Have you finally convinced that pretty redhead at the fish market to take off her clothes for you?”
“Not yet,” he said, completely unfazed. “But she’s not to be, I fear. I’ve moved on. I’ve made a decision—I know at last what will make my career:
I regarded him skeptically. “Landscapes? You?” Giles hated weather, preferring most of the time to shut himself up with his newest “inspiration,” which usually lasted only as long as it took him to get between her thighs.
“Not just any landscape, Nick. Imagine this if you will: picturesque decay. Crumbling buildings. Gorgeous poverty—”
poverty? Here? Good God, what have you been drinking?”
,” Giles said impatiently, reaching for another piece of my dinner. “London’s exhausted her charms for me.”
“Then where? Paris?” I gave him the rest of the pie, which was only greasy shortcrust and gristle. He scrabbled at it with his fingers.
“Venice,” he said.
“Ah, Venice. And just how did you come to that?”
“It’s all anyone’s talking of lately. Whistler’s planning to go. I heard Duveneck might abandon his students in Vienna for it as well.”
That caught my attention. “Both of them?”
“They say now is the best time.” He stared out the tavern window as if he saw the Rapture. “You know, I’ve never felt so strongly about anything in my life.”
That look in Giles’s eyes—I knew it. Everyone talking; men abandoning their former plans to rush off. The hush in Giles’s voice when he uttered the word
, as if he were consumed with the thought of it, as if all the charms of the world—including that pretty redhead he’d been obsessed with only days before—were subsumed in its thrall.
My waiting was over.
I tempered my excitement. As casually as I could, I said, “Venice? You know, I wouldn’t mind going there myself.”
“Come with me,” Giles said. “Hell, we could get rooms together, share expenses, that sort of thing. I don’t see as how a poet might not gain as much inspiration from the city as an artist.”
“And no doubt there will be plenty of Venetian maids lingering in ‘gorgeous poverty,’ in need of a coin or two,” I teased.
He laughed, and I ordered another ale. Though I joked with him the rest of the evening, I was too distracted to remember later what we talked of. Venice. How had I not considered it before? The city of pretense and duplicity and decay. It was perfect for her. She was Venice personified, with her immortal agelessness and her beautiful, mysterious eyes that promised deliverance and salvation, her mouth that had spoken a hundred promises.
All of them lies.
It was the perfect place for the task I’d been given. I had heard of no new artistic geniuses, and no one was yet speaking of new works to inspire the ages, and so I believed she had not yet chosen. There were only six months left in this cycle—not much time, at least for her—but it meant I was close. The horror of the last time I’d made the attempt to destroy her still haunted me, but now I knew what to expect. Now I had a plan. This time, I would have what I wanted at last.