The candlelight lent a soft-shadowed clarity to the
musicians before him. He admired their satin jackets and
their old-fashioned rolled wigs, their hands moving over
bows and valves and strings in effortless harmony. Rhys
didnâ€™t know the piece they were performing, but it illumed
his surroundings as much as the chandeliers did. It was
light and loud and complex and simple and...blissful. He
could lounge in the satinwood chair all night, hearing it.
It wasnâ€™t particularly bothersome that he seemed to be the
only member of the audience in attendance. He thought that
perhaps this might be a final rehearsal, something of that
sort. He was, after all, a lord; rules were bent all the
time for the ton. And it wasnâ€™t as if he didnâ€™t
appreciate the artistry, the splendor, of their work.
He leaned back, a half smile on his lips, tapping his
fingers against the arm of his chair. The music thrilled on
and on, and he thought heâ€™d never been so content in his life.
Just then a movement to his right caught his eye. Rhys
glanced over. A woman was taking her seat three chairs down,
skirts and petticoats rustling.
Her attention was fixed upon the musicians, just as his had
been. She was gentry at least, dressed in a frock of rose
damask and cream ruffles to match the hall, a wrap of stiff
white gauze framing her shoulders. Light pooled around her;
her ringletted hair was very pale, her powdered skin was
very pale; compared to the rest of the chamber she was
alabaster and shimmer, actually a little too bright to
behold. His eyes began to tear.
She opened her fan; he was dazzled by the flash of pink
rubies on lace. She lifted it to her face and then turned
her head, meeting his gaze from beneath kohled lashes.
He thought she might be beautiful. It was damned hard to
tell, what with all the candlelight, but of course she was
beautiful. On this stupendous night, in this soaringly
exquisite place, how could she be anything but?
She murmured his name. He sat up straighter and offered her
civil nod. She was young, and she was fair, and if she knew
him the last thing heâ€™d want to do was ignore her, because
who knew what the night would bring after the music endedâ€”
Her fan lowered. She studied him with eyes of velvety black.
â€śItâ€™s not real,â€ť she whispered. â€śYou do know that. Itâ€™s not
real. None of it.â€ť
His mouth opened. He wanted to speak and could not; no sound
emerged. His hands gripped the chair but that was all he
could do. He couldnâ€™t move, he couldnâ€™t breathe. For one
long, horrible moment the entire world went dark. The music
played on, but it was different now, it was sly and terrible
and crept in tendrils through him, eating away at him like a
The woman stood. She turned to face him; the wrap slipped
down her arms.
â€śIs this the best of you, then?â€ť she asked in her cultured
voice, cool and sensual, a blade of light surrounded by that
darkness. â€śIs this the best I can expect of you? You lazy
bastard. Iâ€™m not going to risk my neck helping you if you
donâ€™t even try.â€ť
Lazy bastard. Lazy bastardâ€”
He knew her. He realized it just then. Her name escaped
himâ€”heâ€™d loved her once, and he knew herâ€”
Rhys did not wake up. He could not evade those tendrils even
now, not enough. He still couldnâ€™t really move. He couldnâ€™t
see, or Turn.
But he did manage a single, heaving breath. And it didnâ€™t
taste like Soho, or London, or anything civilized. It tasted
like cold, wormy dirt. It tasted like death.
And that, Rhys realized, was real.
His teeth were clenched. His jaw locked. His back and legs
and entire body were a frozen spasm of rigid agony, and the
symphony never ceased.
He tried to shut it out. He reached for the first clear
image that flashed behind his lidsâ€”light; the bright and
unforgiving face ofâ€”
She jolted awake in the night, instantly, awfully, her every
sense flooded with dread, her skin slick with cold sweat.
She did not gasp or twitch; she didnâ€™t breathe at all. She
lay in the bed with her eyes wide open and knew that whoever
had crept into the suite with her would see only a mattress
and gems and strangely rumpled sheets.
The wash of her Gift hummed across her body, disguising her,
an instinctive defense. The power of it chilled her blood
even as the manâ€™s voice sheâ€™d heard echoed back into
nothing, a memory. A bad dream.
But she lay there anyway a very long time, as motionless as
she could be. She listened to the sounds of the city pushing
over the treetops of the park, past her walls: dogs barking.
Horses sighing, plodding hooves, iron-wheeled carts being
pulled over cobblestones. Men and women laughing, even at
this hour, and tavern music, and the very clouds above her
dissolving, particle by particle, drop by drop, with the
slow building heat of the coming morning. And no one spoke
her name again.
Sheâ€™d dreamed it. That was all.
God, what a fright. It hadnâ€™t felt like a dream; when
sheâ€™d opened her eyes she would have sworn there was a man
standing over her, shadowed and close. But there wasnâ€™t.
There was no human smell anywhere nearby.
Slowly she sat up in the bed, rubbing her hands over her
face, the rings on her fingers warm and rigid against her
cheeks. With her head bowed she sucked in a lungful of air,
released it, and watched as the locks of her hair became
once again visible, phantom pale strands shrouding her face
Without meaning to, she glanced at the mirror. It was
exactly where she had left it, propped against the wall. The
crack down the middle became a sharp silvery thunderbolt in
the dark, frozen forever against the blue.
The ghosts shifted and sighed against it. They brightened
and faded, and tried so hard to speak.
Zoe slipped from the bed. She padded to the glass, her feet
chilled against the floor, and knelt before its wide, clear
expanse, the bangles at her wrists chiming softly as she moved.
She touched it lightly. It was cold, very cold, beneath her
No response. In the silence of the chamber, in this dark
small hour, even the beings that haunted her on the other
side seemed to have grown weak.
â€śHayden, are you there? Was it you?â€ť
Something did stir then. Something did change, a new shape
forming against the endless blue. It looked like the outline
of a man...perhaps a man, shaded and haloed with smoke...and
then nothing: the smoke and man curled up and away.
She leaned forward, staring harder, but the light was too
murky, and whatever sheâ€™d seen did not appear again.
Zoe leaned back on her heels, the anklets stretched tight
against her skin, then gave it up and sank all the way to
She thought of her bed back in the cottage at home, the
plush feather mattress. Of the nightingales that would rouse
at dusk, serenading her as sheâ€™d sit and dream by the parlor
window. The silver-faced clock gently ticking upon the
mantel, a wedding gift to her great-grandparents. The
Wedgwood cream ware on the shelves in the kitchen, the
handsome rosewood chairs and table, the silk azure curtains
sheâ€™d help sew herself as a child.
The dense eastern woods. The soft summer nights.
Sheâ€™d imagined a hundred different lives in that cottage.
Sheâ€™d imagined being married in the vine-covered gazebo in
back, as Cerise had done, and cutting greens for her
husbandâ€™s salads from her little garden. Sheâ€™d imagined her
own children growing up there, admiring the clock, pouring
the cream, stroking the curtains as they gazed at the wild
woods just beyond reach. Just as she had done.
Hayden or something else, the shade in the mirror did not
reappear, no matter how firmly she pressed her fingers to
the glass. So Zoe went back to bed.