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A darkness strangeand lo.., p.18
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       A Darkness Strangeand Lovely, p.18

           Susan Dennard
 
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  Or Daniel Sheridan holding my arm.

  Gritting my teeth, I rammed it all from my mind. I refused to let my roiling emotions for him confuse me right then. Focus on Paris, I ordered myself, turning my face toward the gardens. The river’s breeze caressed my cheeks, cooling the sun’s heat, and though the chestnut trees beyond the fence whispered at me, their rusted-red leaves were too distant to offer any relief from the sun.

  “Should I . . . buy you a parasol?” Daniel’s voice shattered my calm.

  I huffed out a breath. “Well, seeing as you have already given me one parasol I do not carry, a second would be a total waste, don’t you . . .” I trailed off. His lips were crammed so tightly together, they had turned white. I had hurt him.

  I gave a second, even heavier exhale. As much as Daniel had upset me, he wasn’t the one I was angry with. Nor was he the one who was angry with me. So as we ambled past the charred palace, I said as cheerfully as possible, “I like your monocle.”

  Daniel blinked, and the monocle popped from his eye. Then, flushing as purple as a turnip, he shoved it back in place. “Thanks.” His voice was gruff. “It was a gift. From Madame Marineaux.”

  “Oh!” I perked up. “She has wonderful taste, no?”

  “Er . . . I suppose,” he murmured, and we descended back into silence. Soon we were beyond the charred palace and to the Musée du Louvre. It was as the ruined Tuileries Palace would look if it were intact: all elaborate carvings, elegant archways, and lifelike statues beside each window.

  I turned to Daniel. “Have you been inside the museum? To see the art?”

  “No.” Regret dragged at the word. “We . . . we haven’t had much time for sightseeing. But”—he nodded emphatically, as if promising himself—“I will go in one day. See the art and the architecture that makes Paris, well . . . Paris.”

  I gawked at him. There was such passion in his voice—even with his affected manner of speech. His cheeks flushed, and he glanced down at me. “Sorry. I ain’t . . . I haven’t gotten to see much of the city. Yet.”

  “Right. Because you were in Germany?”

  He nodded, his eyes brightening. As we crossed into the clamorous Rue de Rivoli and left the Louvre behind, he said—shouting to be heard over the traffic—“I worked with a general there. Von Zeppelin. He’s the one who invented that airship.” We reached the opposite sidewalk, and Daniel added in a normal volume, “Von Zeppelin’s a genius, and it was a brilliant idea of the Marquis’s to send me east.”

  His brows knit suddenly, and he looked at me. “But here I am talkin’ . . . talking about myself. I should be asking about you. About your mother and Philadelphia.”

  With that simple subject change, it felt as if all the white-faced buildings on the street suddenly closed in on me. Their gray roofs blocked out the sun. The rattle and clop of traffic filled every space of my hearing—a drone of meaningless noise to play beneath the single thought running through my brain.

  My daughter is now dead to me.

  Somehow a response formed in my mouth. “Mama is not well.”

  Daniel stopped before an enormous, buzzing intersection and tugged me in front of him. The noise was almost deafening, and it was only the movement of his lips that told me what he said: “Still?”

  I looked down and did not answer.

  He hunched forward until his mouth was close to my ear. “Do you wish to speak of it?”

  I started, suddenly realizing how close he stood. I had managed to avoid all thought of Mama for this long, to avoid all those black memories.

  I refused to fall into that pit now.

  I grabbed Daniel’s arm, saying loudly, “Let’s resume our walk.”

  Daniel frowned but did not argue. He guided me around the carriages and pedestrians until we finally squeezed through the other side of the intersection and into a narrow street. More beige buildings and gray roofs peered down at us. A baker here, a butcher there, and many small hotels. Eventually we reached a grassy square surrounded by great, old chestnuts. A giant fountain of four bronze women pouring water rippled and churned with fallen red leaves.

  “Library’s just there,” Daniel said, pointing to a white stone building across the street. Other than the ornate details around the windows and the letters over the door declaring Bibliotèque Nationale, it looked like the rest of Paris.

  “Why are all the buildings this same beige stone?” I grumbled. “How does anyone know what building is what?”

  “You sound annoyed.” Daniel grinned. “They’re all that same beige limestone because that’s what’s most available. Directly under the city.” He stomped his foot. “There are quarries beneath all of Paris. And it’s all built in the same style because it was all conjured up at the same time and led by one man. Georges Haussmann. He wanted to make Paris cleaner and more manageable.”

  I held my breath. The passion was back in his voice. He had been talking like the old Daniel. The real Daniel, and oh, how I wanted him to stay . . .

  “So if we wanna get in the library,” he continued, “we have to go ’round the other—” His words broke off, and he cleared his throat. “That is to say, the entrance is on the other side.”

  My stomach sank.

  “There . . . is a large reading area that is separated from all the books,” he added. “A capital place for studying.”

  Capital. I winced. Where had he even picked up that word? Well, I refused to give up hope yet. Perhaps if I could get him to talk more about architecture or his inventions, he would go back to himself. “What sort of research are you doing, Mr. Sheridan?”

  “I have something that is almost finished. A surprise.” He pulled me back into a walk, and we left the fountain behind. “What about you? What do you intend to research?”

  Failure. I couldn’t contain my sigh. “I guess I will look for any books on the Black Pullet. I think Elijah was in Paris when he first learned of the creature, so there must be something.”

  “Can you read French?”

  My footsteps faltered. “No. I hadn’t even thought of that!”

  His eyes bunched up and his lips pressed tight, as if he was trying to fight off a laugh, but at last he gave up. He slapped his thigh. “Well, I can’t read it either, Empress, so it looks like we won’t be gettin’ a whole lot done.”

  My lungs swelled, yet I found I couldn’t breathe—was afraid to breathe. He had called me Empress, and he had spoken completely like himself. At last I beamed up at him. “I-in that case, we will just have to find what we can and have someone translate later.”

  “I reckon so.” Daniel gave me a rakish wink, and I almost melted right there on the cobblestones.

  “Maybe we can figure out a few words,” I continued, trying—and failing—to hide the quaver in my voice. My heart was banging like a timpani. “For example, we know Elijah learned something in Le Dragon Noir. We can search indexes for it.”

  “Good idea.” He nodded approvingly. “We can also cross-reference all mentions of Le Dragon Noir with the letters. Look for connections.”

  “Yes!” I squeezed his arm. “That’s perfect. Now if we only can make the librarians understand us.”

  He doffed his hat playfully. “You just leave that to me, Empress.”

  Moments later, we reached the library’s entrance on the other side. “This library is old,” Daniel said as we passed through an archway into a flower-filled courtyard. People milled about, lost in their books, their feet crackling on the gravel. “And as it ages, it keeps getting bigger and bigger. More space and more books.” He grinned and held open an enormous oak door for me. Beyond was a simple marble-floored hall with a winding staircase.

  The moment I stepped inside, I eased out a breath I hadn’t even known was trapped. Being in a library was like a gentle balm. No matter the city, no matter the time, you always know what you’ll find. My home was halfway around the globe, yet here was something as familiar to me as myself.

  The last time I had been in a library,
Marcus had tried to kill me—but not even that could upset me now. I could forget about everything here. Let it fade into a meaningless whir in the back of my brain . . .

  Daniel nodded to a dark wood door at my right. “This way, Empress.” He set his heel against the door and turned to face me. “Prepare to be amazed.” Then he rocked back, and the door creaked open.

  My heart hitched. I gasped.

  Spanning before me was row after row of desks. There was nothing to distract the devoted reader.

  Gaping, I scuffed into the room and stared at the ceiling’s domes and circular skylights. Then I caught sight of the walls, and somehow my mouth fell open even farther. From floor to ceiling were shelves—three floors of shelves, to be precise.

  “That’s not even the beginning,” Daniel whispered. “Le magasin central is where most of the books are actually kept.” He pointed straight ahead, to where the floor sank down into a recessed area of endless shelves.

  “Sakes alive,” I breathed. “Where do we even begin?”

  He flashed his eyebrows and tugged me over to the nearest desk. “You can start by organizin’ all your brother’s letters. I’ll find the reading material.” He pulled out a gold-upholstered chair, helped me sit, and then swept me an easy bow.

  This time I did melt. The instant he twirled around, I sank back into my seat like butter on a hot skillet. Whatever oddness had been between us, it was gone now. The air was easy. Daniel was simply Daniel, and I was simply Eleanor.

  I laid out all my letters, and soon enough, Daniel came marching back with a stack of books teetering in his arms. He eased them onto the desk. “We’ll start with these. The librarian’s going to bring us anything else he finds.”

  Snagging the top book—Étude des Grimoires—I flipped to the index. Instantly, a giggle broke through my lips. “It’s here!” I tapped the page. “Le Dragon Noir.”

  “And here’s La poule noire.” Daniel leaned over my shoulder and planted a finger on the opposite page. “The Black Pullet. Not a bad start, Empress.”

  All I could manage was a nod. He was so close—so close that I could see the stubble he had missed shaving. Could see each muscle in his jaw.

  But it was the smell of him that almost undid me. Metal and salt and everything he had always smelled of came rushing into my nose, and with it came the memories. Swirling. Intense.

  My back to the lamppost. His hands cradling my face. His lips pressed fiercely to mine.

  A low moan escaped my mouth.

  Daniel flinched, his face jerking toward me.

  I clamped a hand over my mouth. Oh God. Please say I did not make that noise aloud.

  His brow knit with concern. “Are you all right?”

  I nodded frantically, my eyes nearly popping from my skull. “Hungry,” I said behind my hand. “Sorry.”

  “Well, we can eat after we finish this.” Grinning, he hooked his heel around the chair next to mine, drew it out, and plopped down.

  I bowed over my book and avoided meeting his gaze. For several moments I could feel him watching me. It made me hot—miserably, boiling hot—and just when I thought I would explode with sweat and flushed cheeks, he turned away.

  I drew in a long, shaky breath, and when I finally had the courage to glance at Daniel, it was to find him fully focused on my letters.

  “Your brother,” he drawled, “makes about as much sense to me as French politics.”

  “It makes no sense to me either.”

  “Who’s this Ollie fellow, d’you suppose?”

  “Uh . . .” I bit the inside of my mouth. What could I say?

  “Or Monsieur Girard in the last one?” Daniel went on, oblivious to my sudden panic. “Or this random hackney driver?”

  I sank back in my chair. “I-I don’t know. Perhaps we should focus on the books first.” I grabbed up the letters and shoved them aside with far more force than necessary. But again, Daniel didn’t seem to notice. He simply shrugged, and in a matter of minutes we had sunk into a rhythm. Daniel scanned indexes, I marked pages, and the librarian—a soft-spoken Frenchman—continued to bring us book after book.

  Minutes slid into hours, and after examining forty-seven different books and determining that only thirteen were useful, we came to the final text in our stack: Napoléon et la campagne d’Égypte.

  Daniel flipped to the index. “I don’t know what Napoleon would have to do with grimoires, but we might as well . . .” He trailed off.

  “What?” I asked.

  “It is here. One page about Le Dragon Noir. Page fifty-seven.” He thumbed through until he found the right page, and then we both read the passage.

  “Here.” I tapped the middle paragraph and haltingly tried to translate. “‘Many Egyptians . . . thought Napoleon had a necromancer . . .’”

  “‘But,’” Daniel said, following along, “‘there was never’—I don’t know what that word is.”

  “Me neither, but look here.” My eye caught on a paragraph further down on the page—on a French phrase I knew well. “‘The soldier,’” I continued translating, “‘who was famous for . . . for discovering Le Dragon Noir was a known necromancer.’” I straightened. “Does that mean the grimoire was found in Egypt?”

  “Sure sounds like it. And look: the soldier’s name is Jacques Girard.”

  “Monsieur Girard!” I snatched the letters off the table and found the last one, sent from Egypt. But my shoulders drooped as I read aloud, “‘Monsieur Girard was not home today. I fear I wrote the wrong address. If I cannot find him, then I will have no choice but to find the pages.’”

  “Huh,” Daniel said. “It could mean something or it could just be someone with the same last name.”

  I groaned.

  Daniel shot me a concerned look. “Don’t get frustrated, Empress. Why don’t we head back to the hotel now? I’ll have the librarian send the books to the lab.”

  I nodded, too tired to worry about Jie—or Joseph—waiting for me at Le Meurice. While Daniel dealt with the books, I wearily gathered up my letters and considered this latest information. Elijah wrote that he needed pages. Those had to be the missing pages from Le Dragon Noir. The ones that had been displayed at the Centennial Exhibition—and the whole reason Elijah had even come back to Philadelphia all those months ago.

  There was some other connection here, though. Something I was missing.

  But at least I could be certain of one thing: whatever was hiding in these letters, I was going to find it. Even if it meant consulting Oliver on it. Yes, it was time to share the messages with my demon.

  Daniel and I left the library, moving as slowly as when we had come, but now it was different—now I wanted the moments to drag by. Soon enough we would reach the hotel. Reach Jie and Joseph . . . and reach the truth.

  But not yet. For now I could still wrap myself in this. In Daniel.

  As we ambled past the chestnut-lined square, I suddenly realized something. “Daniel!” I yanked him to a stop. “We did none of your research! I’m so sorry—I took over all of your time.”

  He smiled shyly. “I didn’t actually have any research to do, Empress. I just wanted to . . . Here, come with me.” He pulled me into the square and over the grass to the fountain’s edge. As the water poured out from the bronze women’s vases, he slowed to a stop and angled himself toward me. “Will you be at the ball tomorrow night?”

  “Yes,” I said slowly. “Why do you ask?”

  He shrugged one shoulder, gulping furiously. When he didn’t say anything for several moments, I said, “Is that all you wan—”

  “I need to apologize,” he blurted.

  My eyebrows shot up. “Oh?”

  “I shouldn’t have been so rude this morning. In front of the hotel.” His eyes flicked down. “Although you were the one to lose your temper.”

  “Lose my temper? I only lost it after you . . .” I let my words fade. His lips were twitching up. “Oh, I see. You’re teasing me.”

  He reached out and popp
ed my chin with his thumb.

  I gave a mock gasp. “How dare you, sir! Touch me again, and I shall call the foxes.”

  “Foxes? As in the police?” He fought off a laugh—and failed. “I never pegged you for such criminal language, Empress.”

  I rolled my eyes. “And I’m not as highfalutin as you might think.”

  “Listen to you! ‘Highfalutin.’” He whistled through his teeth. “Next thing I know, you’ll be swearing and spitting.”

  “Only because I learned it from you.” I gave him a superior smile. “And if anyone here is highfalutin, it’s you, Daniel Sheridan.” I grabbed hold of his monocle and tugged it to my eye—but of course it was laced around his neck, and I wound up tugging him to me too.

  My heart stopped. His face was only inches from mine. I could feel his breath, gently brushing my cheeks. I could see every line in his jaw and every shade in his lips—and oh, his lips. They were so close.

  “Eleanor.” His voice was faint and rough. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

  “Yes?” I dragged my eyes from his lips and met his gaze.

  It almost undid me. I could see the longing in them—see the desire in the way his pupils widened and shrank in time to his breathing.

  “That night in the hospital, when you asked me if I—”

  “Eleanor!” a voice roared.

  As one, our heads whipped toward the sound. Stalking toward Daniel and me, his cheeks bright and his eyes glossy, was none other than Oliver. “Eleanor!”

  Acid churned into my throat. Daniel jerked away from me.

  “What the devil are you doing here?” Oliver shouted, almost upon us. His features were masked with fury.

  Daniel pushed in front of me. “Who the hell are you?”

  Oliver ignored him, staring at me over Daniel’s shoulder. “I’ve been waiting around for you for hours, El! Then I come here, and what do I find?”

  Daniel whirled around to me. “Do you know this man?”

  “I-I . . .”

  “Of course she knows me,” Oliver spat. “I’m her—”

 
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