Passion, p.23
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       Passion, p.23

         Part #3 of Fallen series by Lauren Kate
Page 23


  I did warn you! He hopped up to the rim of the tub and tottered across it until he was in Luces face. Right as we were coming out of the Announcer. You just didnt hear me because you were underwater!

  Very helpful, thank you.

  You needed a bath, anyway, he said. This is a big night for you, toots.

  Why? Whats happening?

  Whats happening, she asks! Bill grabbed her shoulder. Only the grandest ball since the Sun King popped off! And I say, so what if this boum is hosted by his greasy pubescent son? Its still going to be right downstairs in the largest, most spectacular ballroom in Versailles--and everybodys going to be there!

  Luce shrugged. A ball sounded fine, but it had nothing to do with her.

  Ill clarify, Bill said. Everyone will be there including Lys Virgily. The Princess of Savoy? Ring a bell? He bopped Luce on the nose. Thats you.

  Hmph, Luce said, sliding her head back to rest against the soapy wall of the tub. Sounds like a big night for her. But what am I supposed to do while theyre all at the ball?

  See, remember when I told you--

  The knob on the door of the great bathroom was turning. Bill eyed it, groaning. To be continued.

  As the door swung open, he held his pointy nose and disappeared under the water. Luce writhed and kicked him to the other side of the tub. He resurfaced, glared at her, and started floating on his back through the suds.

  Bill might have been invisible to the pretty girl with corn-colored curls who was standing in the doorway in a long cranberry-colored gown--but Luce wasnt. At the sight of someone in the tub, the girl reared back.

  Oh, Princess Lys! Forgive me! she said in French. I was told this chamber was empty. I--Id run a bath for Princess Elizabeth--she pointed to the tub where Luce was soaking--and was just about to send her up along with her ladies.

  Well-- Luce racked her brain, desperate to come off as more regal than she felt. You may not s- send her up. Nor her ladies. This is my chamber, where I intended to bathe in peace.

  I beg your pardon, the girl said, bowing, a thousand times.

  Its all right, Luce said quickly when she saw the girls honest despair. There must just have been a misunderstanding.

  The girl curtseyed and began to close the door. Bill peeked his horned head up above the surface of the water and whispered, Clothes! Luce used her bare foot to push him down.

  Wait! Luce called after the girl, who slowly pushed the door open again. I need your help. Dressing for the ball.

  What about your ladies-in-waiting, Princess Lys? Theres Agatha or Eloise--

  No, no. The girls and I had a spat, Luce hurried on, trying not to talk too much for fear of giving herself away completely. They picked out the most, um, horrid gown for me to wear. So I sent them away. This is an important ball, you know.

  Yes, Princess.

  Could you find something for me? Luce asked the girl, gesturing with her head at the armoire.

  Me? H-help you dress?

  Youre the only one here, arent you? Luce said, hoping that something in that armoire would fit her--and look halfway decent for a ball. Whats your name?

  Anne-Marie, Princess.

  Great, Luce said, trying to channel Lucinda from Helston by simply acting self-important. And she threw in a bit of Shelbys know-it-all attitude for good measure. Hop to it, Anne-Marie. I wont be late because of your sluggishness. Be a dear and fetch me a gown.

  Ten minutes later, Luce stood before an expansive three-way mirror, admiring the stitching on the bust of the first gown Anne-Marie had tugged from the armoire. The gown was made of tiered black taffeta, tightly gathered at the waist, then swirling into a gloriously wide bell shape near the ground. Luces hair had been swept up into a twist, then tucked under a dark, heavy wig of elaborate curls. Her face shimmered with a dusting of powder and rouge. She was wearing so many undergarments that it felt as though someone had draped a fifty-pound weight over her body. How did girls move in these things? Let alone dance?

  As Anne-Marie drew the corset tighter around her torso, Luce gaped at her reflection. The wig made her look five years older. And she was sure shed never had this much cleavage before. In any of her lives.

  For the briefest moment, she allowed herself to forget her nerves about meeting her past princess self, and whether shed find Daniel again before she made a huge mess out of their love--and simply felt what every other girl going to that ball that night must have felt: Breathing was overrated in a dress as amazing as this.

  Youre ready, Princess, Anne-Marie whispered reverently. I will leave you, if youll allow me.

  As soon as Anne-Marie shut the door behind her, Bill propelled himself out of the water, sending a cold spray of soapsuds across the room. He sailed over the armoire and came to rest on a small turquoise silk footstool. He pointed at Luces gown, at her wig, then at her gown again. Ooh la la. Hot stuff.

  You havent even seen my shoes. She lifted the hem of her skirt to show off a pair of pointy-toed emerald-green heels inlaid with jade flowers. They matched the emerald-green lace that trimmed the bust of her dress and were easily the most amazing shoes she had ever seen, let alone slipped onto her feet.

  Oooh! Bill squealed. Very rococo.

  So, Im really doing this? Im just going to go down there and pretend--

  No pretending. Bill shook his head. Own it. Own that cleavage, girl, you know you want to.

  Okay, I am pretending you didnt say that. Luce laugh-winced. So I go downstairs and own it or whatever. But what do I do when I find my past self? I dont know anything about her. Do I just--

  Take her hand, Bill said cryptically. Shell be very touched by the gesture, Im sure.

  Bill was hinting at something, clearly, but Luce didnt understand. Then she remembered his words right before they dove through the last Announcer.

  Tell me about going three-D.

  Aha. Bill mimed leaning against an invisible wall in the air. His wings blurred as he fluttered in front of her. You know how some things are just too out-of-this-world to be pinned down by dull old words? Like, for example, the way you swoon when Daniel comes in for a long kiss, or the feeling of heat that spreads through your body when his wings unfurl on a dark night--

  Dont. Luces hand went to her heart involuntarily. There were no words that could ever do justice to what Daniel made her feel. Bill was making fun of her, but that didnt mean she ached any less at being away from Daniel for so long.

  Same deal with three-D. Youll just have to live it to understand it.

  As soon as Bill opened the door for Luce, the sounds of distant orchestra music and the polite murmuring of a large crowd flooded into the room. She felt something pulling her down there. Maybe it was Daniel. Maybe it was Lys. Bill bowed in the air. After you, Princess.

  She followed the noise down two broad, winding flights of golden stairs, the music getting louder with each step. As she swept through empty gallery after empty gallery, she began to smell the mouthwatering aromas of roasted quail and stewed apples and potatoes au gratin. And perfume--so much she could hardly inhale without coughing.

  Now arent you glad I made you take a bath? Bill asked. One less bottle of eau de reekette punching holes in lozone.

  Luce didnt answer. She had entered a long hall of mirrors, and in front of her, a pair of women and a man were crossing toward the entrance of a main room. The women didnt walk, they glided. Their yellow and blue gowns practically swished across the floor. The man walked between them, his ruffled white shirt dapper under his long silver jacket and his heels nearly as high as the ones on Luces shoes. All three of them wore wigs a full foot taller than the one on Luces own head, which felt enormous and weighed a ton. Watching them, Luce felt clumsy, the way her skirts swung from side to side as she walked.

  They turned to look at her and all three pairs of eyes narrowed, as if they could tell instantly that she had not been bred to attend high-society balls.

  Ignore t
hem, Bill said. There are snobs in every lifetime. In the end, theyve got nothing on you.

  Luce nodded, falling behind the trio, who passed through a set of mirrored doorways into the ballroom. The ultimate ballroom. The ballroom to end all ballrooms.

  Luce couldnt help herself. She stopped in her tracks and whispered, Wow.

  It was majestic: A dozen chandeliers hung low from the faraway ceiling, glittering with bright white candles. Where the walls werent made of mirrors, they were covered with gold. The parquet dance floor seemed to stretch on into the next city, and ringing the dance floor were long tables covered in white linen, laid with fine china place settings, platters of cakes and cookies, and great crystal goblets filled with ruby-colored wine. Thousands of white daffodils peeked out of hundreds of dark-red vases set upon the dozens of dining tables.

  On the far side of the room, a line of exquisitely dressed young women was forming. There were about ten of them, standing together, whispering and laughing outside a great golden door.

  Another crowd had gathered around an enormous crystal punch bowl near the orchestra. Luce helped herself to a glass.

  Excuse me? she asked a pair of women next to her. Their artful gray curls formed twin towers on their heads. What are those girls in line for?

  Why, to please the king, of course. One woman chuckled. Those demoiselles are here to see if they might please him into marriage.

  Marriage? But they looked so young. All of a sudden Luces skin began to feel hot and itchy. Then it hit her: Lys is in that line.

  Luce gulped and studied each of the young women. There she was, third in line, magnificently wrapped in a long black gown only slightly different from the one that Luce herself was wearing. Her shoulders were covered with a black velvet capelet, and her eyes never rose from the floor. She wasnt laughing with the other girls. She looked as frustrated as Luce felt.

  Bill, Luce whispered.

  But the gargoyle flew right in front of her face and shushed her with a finger to his fat stone lips. Only crazies talk to their invisible gargoyles, he hissed, and crazies dont get invited to many balls. Now, hush.

  But what about--

  "Hush. "

  What about going 3-D?

  Luce took a deep breath. The last instruction he had given her was to take Lys by the hand. . . .

  She strode over, crossing the dance floor and bypassing the servants with their trays of foie gras and Chambord. She nearly plowed right into the girl behind Lys, who was trying to cut ahead of Lys in line by pretending to whisper something to a friend.

  Excuse me, Luce said to Lys, whose eyes widened and whose lips parted and let a tiny confused sound escape her mouth.

  But Luce couldnt wait for Lys to react. She reached down and grabbed her by the hand. It fit into her own like a puzzle piece. She squeezed.

  Luces stomach dropped as if shed gone down the first hill of a roller coaster. Her skin began to vibrate, and a drowsy, gently rocking sensation came over her. She felt her eyelids flutter, but some instinct told her to keep holding fast to Lyss hand.

  She blinked, and Lys blinked, and then they both blinked at the same time--and on the other side of the blink, Luce could see herself in Lyss eyes . . . and then could see Lys from her own eyes . . . and then--

  She could see no one in front of her at all.

  Oh! she cried out, and her voice sounded just as it always had. She looked down at her hands, which looked just as they always had. She reached up and felt her face, her hair, her wig, all of which felt the same as they had before. But something . . . something had shifted.

  She lifted the hem of her dress and peeked down at her shoes.

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