Authors: Julianna Scott
This is an Advanced Reading Copy of the book and may not have been through the final editorial and proof-reading process prior to publication. Please do not quote from the text in reviews, or critique the text on the basis of perceived errors, without double-checking with Strange Chemistry to see if the final version has been amended.
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
For Grace Pleskovich, mo dheirfiúr.
My biggest little fan.
“Do you think if I passed out, she’d let me sit for a few minutes?” I mumbled, as my legs started to twitch.
“Probably not,” Chloe smiled, amused by my growing irritation and no longer bothering to hide it.
Ne pas se voûter!
” came a shrill bark from behind me, followed by a hard slap on my back, “
“Don’t slouch,” Chloe translated quietly.
“Yeah,” I ground out from between clenched teeth, “got it.” My French may have been nonexistent, but the Seamstress from Hell, also known as Madame Loute, had knuckles that spoke for themselves.
“Don’t worry,” Chloe said from her comfy seat in the corner, “you’re almost done. Besides, if you were to faint and land on a pin, you’d bleed, and that would stain. Then you’d have to start all over again.”
I huffed a sigh and looked back up at the one window on the opposite side of the room, and began to count the ripples in the ancient glass – again. The right pane had eight, one of which looked like the top of an apple, while the left pane had ten ripples and looked like an old man with crooked eyes.
That had been the previous two and a half hours of my life; standing in a dusty classroom in the basement of Lorcan Hall, starring at rippled glass and imagining patterns into it to pass the time. All so I could get fitted for a gown, so I could attend a gala that I didn’t want to go to, and meet a bunch of people I already knew I wasn’t going to like. I had been standing perfectly still for so long my legs were starting to shake, and if I was poked with one more straight pin, I was going to pop the shriveled uppity seamstress right in the nose.
“You know,” Chloe added, “there are people out there who would kill for the chance to have a custom gown made for them.” Her inflection made it clear she was counting herself in that number.
“Yes, and there are
people out there who prefer to shop the old fashioned way; in a store with dresses lined up on racks, and all you have to do is try them…
!” I yelped with a flinch as yet another pin stabbed me in the shoulder.
OK, that one was on purpose…
Luckily for her, before I had time to seriously consider any form of retaliation, Attila the Seamstress pulled out the last pin and a few strips of sewing tape, and stepped back as the waves of green silk rippled down into place. “
,” she said with a proud raise of her chin. “
“Oh… Becca…” Chloe whispered, starry-eyed, “It’s beautiful!
Très magnifique, Madame!
” she added, touching Madame Loute’s arm.
Merci, ma chérie
,” Madame Loute replied, patting Chloe’s hand with what actually might have been a smile. Honestly, I shouldn’t have been surprised. The two had been buddies from day one, while I, the woman’s actual client, had remained little more than a pincushion.
Though not a
-speaking pincushion, which I was pretty sure was a big part of the problem…
“Are we finished?” I asked, finally relaxing my shoulders.
” she snipped, holding her hand out like she was trying to stop a bus. “
Bouger les bras
,” she ordered, with an upwards flip of her wrist.
Clueless as to what was being demanded of me, I looked to Chloe for a translation, but before she could say anything, Madame Loute came at me and grabbed both my elbows.
!” she snapped, as she began to manually flap my arms up and down.
“She wants to know if you can move your arms all right,” Chloe said, unable to stop herself from giggling at my involuntary chicken dance.
“It’s good,” I said, darting my tongue out at the still-laughing Chloe.
After a few more flaps, Madame Loute seemed satisfied and let my arms fall to my sides. “
Quelque chose ne va pas avec tes seins...
” she mumbled with a shake of her head as she stared at my chest. “
Comment se sentent-ils?
Again, I turned to Chloe who now had a hand over her mouth to hide the fact that she was straining not to laugh. “She says there is something wrong with your boobs.”
Chloe nodded. “She wants to know how they feel.”
“How do my boobs
? Um, fine?” I said with a shrug. “I’ve got to be honest, no one’s ever asked me that before.”
Elle est à l’aise
,” Chloe told her.
I’m not sure what Chloe said, but whatever it was, a moment later – and without warning or apology I might add – Madame Loute reached up and grabbed my chest with her cold, bony hands, and squeezed like she was honking two horns. I couldn’t stop my eyes from nearly popping out of my head, while Chloe snorted a laugh and had to turn away.
,” Madame Loute sighed, releasing her hold on me and walking toward the door. “
Je reviendrai dans un instant,
” she said, then disappeared into the hallway.
?” I said, glaring at Chloe as soon as the door closed. “Did she just call me small chested?”
Chloe laughed. “Caught that one, did you?”
“Cranky old bitty…” I mumbled, glancing down at my chest. “It’s her fault anyway. With all the holes she’s been poking in me, I’m surprised I haven’t flown around the room like a popped balloon.”
“She’s only trying to help,” Chloe smiled. “And just look at you,” she added, her eyes glued to my new gown. “You look amazing!”
“After all this, I should hope so.” I turned around to face the full-length mirror propped up against a bookcase. It really was a magnificent dress, there was no denying that. Deep emerald green silk with an embroidered front, ornate scooped neck and flowing draped sleeves that fluttered elegantly when I walked. It was by far the nicest item of clothing I had ever put on.
“What’s wrong?” Chloe asked, obviously having noticed the face I was making, “Don’t you like it?”
“No, no, I do. It’s incredible… really.”
“Then what’s the matter?”
“Nothing I guess, it’s just… I don’t know, you don’t think it’s a little… ‘Maid Marian crashing Cinderella’s ball’?”
Her eyes went dreamy. “Yes, that’s exactly what it is,” she mooned, “and it’s perfect.”
“Right,” I chuckled, realizing I should have expected no less from Lorcan Hall’s resident Happily-Ever-After expert, “but let’s remember that this is a formal Gala, not a costume party. Are you sure I won’t look silly?”
“Oh no! Not at all! Everyone dresses traditionally for these things, it’s expected. You would look strange in anything else. Trust me, this will be perfect,” she assured me, letting the silk of my skirt slide over the back of her hand. “I wish I could go…” she sighed, her bottom lip slowly making a more pronounced appearance.
“I’m sorry Chloe, I wish you could come too, but there is nothing we can do. Only Jocelyn, Cormac, Alex and I were invited. And technically Alex wasn’t invited, but Jocelyn wants him with us, so they are
him to come. The Bhunaidh are pretentious jerks Chloe, you know that.”
“And jerks aren’t worth your time. You’re better off here.”
“Sure,” she groaned. “Better off here by myself, while you all get to go to a castle, and attend a gala, and wear gowns and tuxedos, and dance under the stars…” she gushed in a voice becoming more melodramatic by the second.
“OK, first of all,” I cut in, “it is forty degrees out there, so no one will be doing anything under the stars besides shivering. Secondly, these people are pretentious jerks. Just look at
,” I scoffed in an exaggerated French accent.
“She’s not really one of them,” Chloe pouted.
“Exactly! She’s not one of them, she only
for them and yet still she acts like the Queen of Sheba! Besides, what kind of people hire personal designers, anyway? And not only hire them, mind you, but sends those designers to make clothes for other people? Who does that?” OK, I was venting now, but I couldn’t help it. I’ve never had patience for stuck-up people.
“It was a gift, they were just trying to be nice,” she tried again, but even I could tell she didn’t believe her own words.
“Maybe. But more likely, they were worried that whatever I was going to wear wouldn’t have been good enough for their oh-so-important affair.”
She sighed again, but nodded this time. “You’re probably right,” she allowed, “But really, can you blame them? Who knows what you would have shown up in, you are an
,” she added with a laugh.
“Worse,” I laughed, “I’m an American
! I could have shown up in yoga pants and a sweatshirt.”
“Don’t forget your flip-flops.”
“Nah, it’s too cold for flops, I would probably have gone with sneakers,” I winked.
“Right,” she giggled, though the sadness lingered slightly.
“We’ll be back before you know it,” I said, taking her hand and giving it a playful shake.
“But what if you
me?” she whined, in a last ditch effort just as Madame Loute came back in.
“We’ll be gone for less than a week,” I grinned, “I think we’ll be OK. But I promise, if for some reason I need to time walk…” I paused as Madame Loute pulled out two large foam bra cups, “…
or hide a body
…” I added quietly with an evil smirk, “you’ll be the first one I call.”
To the great relief of all involved, after cutting a few stray threads and the placement and adjusting of the bra cups – which was borderline creepy – my new gown was finally done. Once sprung from the fashion dungeon, I walked up to the main entrance of Lorcan with Chloe. She needed to leave for class, I needed to breathe air that wasn’t laced with mildew, dust, and fabric lint.
“What time do you all leave tomorrow?” Chloe asked as she pulled on her coat, almost managing to not pout.
“Early. We are supposed to be on the road by 8.”
“OK,” she sighed, definitely pouting now, “I’ll come by and see you tonight before you go.”
“Sounds good,” I smiled, as she looped her bag around her arm and headed off to class.
I stepped outside and leaned against the pillar at the top of the entrance steps, watching Chloe as she made her way up the path toward campus. I really did feel bad for her. I knew how much she wanted to help and be involved in the Order, and honestly I didn’t really understand why she couldn’t. Jocelyn had told her it wasn’t safe for her as her ability was too weak. While true, I never saw why that would be dangerous for anyone, however in this instance I was happy the situation was as it was. Chloe was the best friend I had, and much as I would have loved to have her with us at Adare Manor, that was the last place in the world she needed to be.
From what I’d heard, these Originals – or Bhunaidh, as apparently they liked to be called – were a group of Holders who thought way too highly of themselves. They measured a person’s worth only by the bloodline they were born into and the strength of the ability they possessed. To even be worthy of associating with them you had to meet their standards, the biggest of which was that you had to be a pure-blooded Holder; as in, no non-Holders in your bloodline. At all. Any Holder, even a full Holder, who was born outside of their circle and thus not pure-blooded, was deemed tainted and unworthy in their eyes.
And as for non-Holders, they might as well not even exist.
Chloe was not only born of two non-Holders, but the strength of her ability was unimpressive at best. There is no way these self-righteous snobs would have ever considered her worthy enough to associate with them, and were she to come with us, I knew exactly what would happen; she would show up wide-eyed and innocent, someone would insult her and hurt her feelings, and then I would have to kick their ass. Which, while completely justified as far as I was concerned, likely wouldn’t go over very well. So whether she realized it or not, Chloe really was better off staying home.
Still standing at the top of the steps, I looked out into the afternoon fog, and let the cold wet air fill my chest. The sky was steel gray, the mist of the fog hung just over the ground, and the evening shadows had started to stretch their legs. It really was beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that I decided to stay out and enjoy the view a bit longer. Why not? I mean, how often did people take time to truly admire the beauty around them every day when it is so easy to take it all for granted? I had always been told that it was important to remember to slow down every now and again and appreciate life’s little pleasures, so that’s what I would do; I would sit on one of the benches surrounding Lorcan and take in the sights and sounds of this magnificent campus. I would relax and spend some time enjoying the day. It would be revitalizing and inspirational. It would be profound and meaningful…
…and was in no way stalling.
After all, stalling involved doing something that was pointless or unnecessary; this was neither. I was trying to improve myself. I was communing with nature…
OK, maybe I was stalling… a little. I knew what needed to be done – what I had promised myself I would do – but now that it was time to make good on said promise, I wasn’t nearly as confident as I had been the day before when I’d made it. However, I was quickly realizing that were I to continue with the avoidance game, “admiring the beautiful outdoors” was not the way to do it – at least not in November.
With a frustrated shiver I stepped back into Lorcan, trying to warm my icy fingers against my arms, staring down the long hallway that, were I not a sniveling coward, I should be walking along right now. The hall leading to Jocelyn’s office.
The Order had a meeting scheduled that evening to go over everything before the four of us left the next day. The meeting was in Jocelyn’s office at 4.00. It was currently 3.38. Cormac, Min, and Mr Reid all had classes until 3.55, and Alex was assisting Mr Anderson with a tour set to end at the same time, thus none of them would get to the meeting until just before it started. I had known all this the evening before, and told myself that I would use this opportunity to arrive early to Jocelyn’s office so that the two of us could actually talk for a minute or two alone and break this weird sort of stalemate we had going on.