Passion, p.16
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       Passion, p.16

         Part #3 of Fallen series by Lauren Kate
 
Page 16

 

  They came through the front door in twos and threes, guests as old as white-haired Mrs. Constance and as young as Luce herself. Bright-eyed, and wrapped in white summer cloaks, the women curtseyed to the men in smart suits and waistcoats. Black-coated waiters whisked through the large open foyer, offering twinkling crystal goblets of champagne.

  Luce found Henrietta near the doors to the main ballroom, which looked like a flower bed in bloom: Extravagant, brightly colored gowns of every color, in organza, tulle, and silk, with grosgrain sashes, filled the room. The younger ladies carried bright nosegays of flowers, making the whole house smell like summer.

  Henriettas task was to collect the ladies shawls and reticules as they entered. Luce had been told to distribute dance cards--small, expensive-looking booklets, with the Constances jeweled family crest sewn into the front cover and the orchestras set list written inside.

  Where are all the men? Luce whispered to Henrietta.

  Henrietta snorted. Thats my girl! In the smoking room, of course. She jerked her head left, where a hallway led into the shadows. Where theyll be smart to stay until the meal is served, if you ask me. Who wants to hear all that jabbering on about some war all the way in Crimea? Not these ladies. Not I. Not you, Myrtle. Then Henriettas thin eyebrows lifted and she pointed toward the French windows. Oof, I spoke too soon. Seems one of em has escaped.

  Luce turned. A single man was standing in the room full of women. His back was to them, showing nothing but a slick mane of jet-black hair and a long tailed jacket. He was talking to a blond woman in a soft rose-colored ball gown. Her diamond chandelier earrings sparkled when she turned her head--and locked eyes with Luce.

  Gabbe.

  The beautiful angel blinked a few times, as if trying to decide whether Luce was an apparition. Then she tilted her head ever so slightly at the man she was standing with, as if trying to send him a signal. Before hed even turned all the way around, Luce recognized the clean, sharp profile.

  Cam.

  Luce gasped, dropping all the dance card booklets. She bent down and clumsily started scooping them up off the floor. Then she thrust them into Henriettas hands and ducked out of the room.

  Myrtle! Henrietta said.

  Ill be right back, Luce whispered, sprinting up the long, curved stairway before Henrietta could even reply.

  Miss McGovern would send Luce packing as soon as she learned that Luce had abandoned her post--and the expensive dance cards--in the ballroom. But that was the least of Luces problems. She was not prepared to deal with Gabbe, not when she needed to focus on finding Lucinda.

  And she never wanted to be around Cam. In her own lifetime or any other one. She flinched, remembering the way hed aimed that arrow straight at what hed thought was her the night the Outcast tried to carry her reflection away into the sky. If only Daniel were here . . .

  But he wasnt. All Luce could do was hope that hed be waiting for her--and not too angry--when she figured out what she was doing and came home to the present.

  At the top of the stairs, Luce darted inside the first room she came to. She closed the door behind her and leaned against it to catch her breath.

  She was alone in a vast parlor. It was a marvelous room with a plush ivory-upholstered love seat and a pair of leather chairs set around a polished harpsichord. Deep-red curtains hugged the three large windows along the western wall. A fire crackled in the hearth.

  Beside Luce was a wall of bookshelves, row after row of thick, leather-bound volumes, stretching from the floor to the ceiling, so high there was even one of those ladders that could be wheeled across the shelves.

  An easel stood in the corner, and something about it beckoned to Luce. Shed never set foot upstairs in the Constance estate, and yet: One step onto the thick Persian carpet jogged some part of her memory and told her that she might have seen all of this before.

  Daniel. Luce recalled the conversation hed had with Margaret in the garden. Theyd been talking about his painting. He was making his living as an artist. The easel in the corner--it must have been where he worked.

  She moved toward it. She had to see what hed been painting.

  Just before she reached it, a trio of high voices made her jump.

  They were right outside the door.

  She froze, watching the door handle pivot as someone turned it from the outside. She had no choice but to slip behind the thick red-velvet curtain and hide.

  There was a rustling of taffeta, the slamming of a door, and one gasp. Followed by a round of giggles. Luce cupped a hand over her mouth and leaned out slightly, just enough to peek around the curtain.

  Helston Lucinda stood ten feet away. She was dressed in a fantastic white gown with a soft silk- crepe bodice and an exposed corset back. Her dark hair was pinned high on her head in an array of shiny, intricately placed curls. Her diamond necklace shone against her pale skin, giving her such a regal air it nearly took Luces breath away.

  Her past self was the most elegant creature Luce had ever seen.

  Youre all aglow tonight, Lucinda, a soft voice said.

  Did Thomas call on you again? another teased.

  And the other two girls--Luce recognized one as Margaret, the elder Constance daughter, the one whod walked with Daniel in the garden. The other, a fresher replica of Margaret, must have been the younger sister. She looked about Lucindas age. She teased her like a good friend.

  And she was right, too--Lucinda was glowing. It had to be because of Daniel.

  Lucinda flopped on the ivory love seat and sighed in a way Luce would never sigh, a melodramatic sigh that begged for attention. Luce knew instantly that Bill was right: She and her past self were absolutely nothing alike.

  "Thomas?" Lucinda wrinkled her small nose. Thomass father is a common logger--

  Not so! the younger daughter cried. Hes a very uncommon logger! Hes rich.

  Still, Amelia, Lucinda said, spreading her skirt around her narrow ankles. Hes practically working-class.

  Margaret perched on the edge of the love seat. You didnt think so poorly of him last week when he brought you that bonnet from London.

  Well, things change. And I do love a sweet bonnet. Lucinda frowned. But bonnets aside, I shall tell my father not to permit him to call on me again.

  As soon as shed finished speaking, Lucindas frown eased into a dreamy smile and she began to hum. The other girls watched, incredulous, as she sang softly to herself, stroking the lace of her shawl and gazing out the window, only inches away from Luces hiding place.

  Whats gotten into her? Amelia whispered loudly to her sister.

  Margaret snorted. Who is more like it.

  Lucinda stood up and walked to the window, causing Luce to retreat behind the curtain. Luces skin felt flushed, and she could hear the soft hum of Lucinda Biscoes voice just inches away. Then footsteps as Lucinda turned away from the window and her strange song abruptly broke off.

  Luce dared another peek from behind the curtain. Lucinda had gone to the easel, where she stood, transfixed.

  Whats this? Lucinda held up the canvas to show her friends. Luce couldnt see it very clearly, but it looked ordinary enough. Just some kind of flower.

  That is Mr. Grigoris work, Margaret said. His sketches showed so much promise when he first arrived, but Im afraid somethings come over him. Its been three whole days now of nothing but peonies. She gave a strained shrug. Odd. Artists are so queer.

  Oh, but hes handsome, Lucinda. Amelia took Lucinda by the hand. We must introduce you to Mr. Grigori tonight. Hes got such lovely blond hair, and his eyes . . . Oh, his eyes could make you melt!

  If Lucinda is too good for Thomas Kennington and all of his money, I doubt very much that a simple painter will measure up. Margaret spoke so sharply that it was clear to Luce that she must have had feelings for Daniel herself.

  Id like very much to meet him, Lucinda said, drifting back into her soft hum.

  Luce held he
r breath. So Lucinda hadnt even met him yet? How was that possible when she was so clearly in love?

  Lets go, then, Amelia said, tugging on Lucindas hand. Were missing half the party gossiping up here.

  Luce had to do something. But from what Bill and Roland had said, it was impossible to save her past life. Too dangerous to even try. Even if she managed it somehow, the cycle of Lucindas who lived after this one might be altered. Luce herself might be altered. Or worse.

  Eliminated.

  But maybe there was a way for Luce to at least warn Lucinda. So that she didnt walk into this relationship already blinded by love. So that she didnt die a pawn in an age-old punishment without even a speck of understanding. The girls were almost out the door when Luce got the courage to step from behind the curtain.

  Lucinda!

  Her past self whipped around; her eyes narrowed when they fell on Luces servants dress. Have you been spying on us?

  No spark of recognition registered in her eyes. It was odd that Roland had mistaken Luce for Lucinda in the kitchen but Lucinda herself appeared to see no resemblance between them. What did Roland see that this girl couldnt? Luce took a deep breath and forced herself to go through with her flimsy plan. N-not spying, no, she stammered. I need to speak with you.

  Lucinda chortled and glanced at her two friends. I beg your pardon?

  Arent you the one handing out the dance cards? Margaret asked Luce. Mother wont be very happy to hear that youre neglecting your duties. What is your name?

  Lucinda. Luce drew nearer and lowered her voice. Its about the artist. Mr. Grigori.

  Lucinda locked eyes with Luce, and something flickered between them. Lucinda seemed unable to pull away. You go on without me, she said to her friends. Ill be down in just a moment.

  The two girls exchanged confused glances, but it was clear that Lucinda was the leader of the group. Her friends glided out the door without another word.

  Inside the parlor, Luce closed the door.

  What is so important? Lucinda asked, then gave herself away by smiling. Did he ask about me?

  Dont get involved with him, Luce said quickly. If you meet him tonight, youre going to think hes very handsome. Youre going to want to fall in love with him. Dont. Luce felt horrible speaking about Daniel in such harsh terms, but it was the only way to save the life of her past self.

  Lucinda Biscoe huffed and turned to leave.

  I knew a girl from, um--Derbyshire, Luce went on, who told all sorts of stories of his reputation. Hes hurt a lot of other girls before. Hes--hes destroyed them.

  A shocked sound escaped Lucindas pink lips. How dare you address a lady like this! Just who do you think you are? Whether I fancy this artist or not is no concern of yours. She pointed a finger at Luce. Are you in love with him yourself, you selfish little wench?

  No! Luce jerked back as if shed been slapped.

  Bill had warned her that Lucinda was very different, but this ugly side of Lucinda couldnt be all there was to her. Otherwise, why would Daniel love her? Otherwise, how could she be a part of Luces soul?

  Something deeper had to connect them.

  But Lucinda was bent over the harpsichord, scrawling a note on a piece of paper. She straightened, folded it in two, and shoved it into Luces hands.

  I wont report your impudence to Mrs. Constance, she said, eyeing Luce haughtily, if you deliver this note to Mr. Grigori. Dont miss your chance to save your employment. A second later she was nothing but a white silhouette gliding down the hallway, down the stairs, back to the party.

  Luce tore open the note.

  Dear Mr. Grigori,Since we happened upon each other in the dressmakers the other day, I

 
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