Passion, p.24
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       Passion, p.24

         Part #3 of Fallen series by Lauren Kate
 
Page 24

 

  They were magenta. With diamond-shaped high heels, and tied at the ankle with an elegant silver bow.

  What had she done?

  Then she realized what Bill had meant by going three-D.

  She had literally stepped into Lyss body.

  Luce glanced around her, terrified. To her horror, all the other girls in line were motionless. In fact, everyone Luce looked at was frozen stiff. It was if the entire party had been put on Pause.

  See? Bills voice came hotly in her ear. No words for this, right?

  Whats happening, Bill? Her voice was rising.

  Right now, not a whole lot. I had to put the brakes on the party, lest you freak out. Once were straight on the three-D business, Ill start it back up again.

  So . . . no one can see this right now? Luce asked, waving her hand slowly in front of the face of the pretty brunette girl whod been standing in front of Lys. The girl didnt flinch. She didnt blink. Her face was frozen in an unending openmouthed grin.

  Nope. Bill demonstrated by wiggling his tongue near the ear of an older man, who stood frozen with an escargot poised between his fingers, inches from his mouth. Not until I snap me fingers.

  Luce exhaled, once more strangely relieved at having Bills help. She needed a few minutes to get used to the idea that she was--was she really-- Im inside my past self, she said.

  Yes.

  Then where did I go? Wheres my body?

  Youre in there somewhere. He tapped at her collarbone. Youll pop out again when--Well, when the time is right. But for now, youve slipped entirely inside your past. Like a cute little turtle in a borrowed shell. Except its more than that. When youre in Lyss body, your very beings are entwined, so all sorts of good stuff comes with the package. Her memories, her passions, her manners--lucky for you. Of course, you also have to grapple with her shortcomings. This one, if I recall, puts her foot in her mouth with some regularity. So watch out.

  Amazing, Luce whispered. So if I could just find Daniel, Id be able to feel exactly what she feels toward him.

  Sure, I guess, but you do realize that once I snap my fingers, Lys has obligations at this ball that dont include Daniel. This isnt really his scene, and by that I mean, no way the guards would let a poor stable boy in here.

  Luce didnt care about any of that. Poor stable boy or not, she would find him. She couldnt wait. Inside Lyss body she could even hold him, maybe even kiss him. The anticipation of it was almost overwhelming.

  Hello? Bill flicked a hard finger against her temple. You ready yet? Get in there, see what you can see--then get out while the gettings good, if you know what I mean.

  Luce nodded. She straightened Lyss black gown and held her head a little higher. Snap to it.

  And. . . go. Bill snapped his fingers.

  For a split second, the party snagged like a scratched record. Then every mid conversation syllable, every whiff of perfume being carried through the air, every drop of punch sliding down every bejeweled throat, every note of music from every player in the orchestra, picked up, smoothed out, and carried on as if nothing in the world had happened.

  Only Luce had changed. Her mind became assaulted by a thousand words and images. A sprawling thatch-roofed country house in the foothills of the Alps. A chestnut-colored horse named Gauche. The smell of straw everywhere. A single long-stemmed white peony laid across her pillow. And Daniel. Daniel. Daniel. Coming back from the well with four heavy buckets of water balanced from a pole laid across his shoulders. Grooming Gauche first thing every morning so Lys could take him for a ride. When it came to small, lovely favors for Luce, there was nothing Daniel overlooked, even in the midst of all the labor he did for her father. His violet eyes finding her always. Daniel in her dreams, in her heart, in her arms. It was like the flashes of Luschkas memories that had come to her in Moscow when shed touched the church gate--but stronger, more overwhelming, intrinsically a part of her.

  Daniel was here. In the stables or the servants quarters. He was here. And she would find him.

  Something rustled near Luces neck. She jumped.

  Just me. Bill flitted over the top of her capelet. Youre doing great.

  The great golden doors at the head of the room were eased open by two footmen, who stood at attention on either side. The girls in line in front of Luce began to titter with excitement, and then a hush swept the room. Meanwhile, Luce was looking for the fastest way out of here and into Daniels arms.

  Focus, Luce, Bill said, as if reading her mind. Youre about to be called into duty.

  The strings of the orchestra began playing the baroque opening chords of the Ballet de Jeunesse, and the whole room shifted its attention. Luce followed everyone elses gaze and gasped: She recognized the man who stood there in the doorway, gazing out at the party with a patch over one eye.

  It was the Duc de Bourbon, the cousin of the king.

  He was tall and skinny, as wilted as a bean plant in a drought. His ill-fitting blue velvet suit was ornamented with a mauve sash to match the mauve stockings on his twig-thin legs. His ostentatious powdered wig and his milky-white face were both exceptionally ugly.

  She didnt recognize the duke from some photograph in a history book. She knew far too much about him. She knew everything. Like how the royal ladies-in-waiting swapped bawdy jokes about the sad size of the dukes scepter. About how hed lost that eye (hunting accident, on a trip hed joined to appease the king). And about how right now, the duke was going to send in the girls whom hed preselected as suitable marriage material for the twelve-year-old king waiting inside.

  And Luce--no, Lys--was an early favorite of the dukes to fill the slot. That was the reason for the heavy, aching feeling in her chest: Lys couldnt marry the king, because she loved Daniel. She had loved him passionately for years. But in this life, Daniel was a servant, and the two of them were forced to hide their romance. Luce felt Lyss paralyzing fear--that if she took the kings fancy tonight, all hope of having a life with Daniel would disappear.

  Bill had warned her that going 3-D would be intense, but there was no way Luce could have prepared for the onslaught of so much emotion: Every fear and doubt that had ever crossed Lyss mind swamped Luce. Every hope and dream. It was too much.

  She gasped and looked around her at the ball--anywhere but at the duke. And realized she knew everything there was to know about this time and place. She suddenly understood why the king was looking for a wife even though he was already engaged. She recognized half the faces moving around her in the ballroom, knew their stories, and knew which ones envied her. She knew how to stand in the corseted gown so that she could breathe comfortably. And she knew, judging from the skilled eye she cast on the dancers, that Lys had been trained in the art of ballroom dancing from childhood.

  It was an eerie feeling, being in Lyss body, as if Luce were both the ghost and the one haunted.

  The orchestra came to the end of the song, and a man near the door stepped forward to read from a scroll. Princess Lys of Savoy.

  Luce raised her head with more elegance and confidence than shed expected, and accepted the hand of the young man in the pale-green waistcoat who had appeared to escort her into the kings receiving room.

  Once inside the entirely pastel-blue room, Luce tried not to stare at the king. His towering gray wig looked silly poised over his small, drawn face. His pale-blue eyes leered at the line of duchesses and princesses--all beautiful, all dressed exquisitely--the way a man deprived of food might leer at a pig on a spit.

  The pimply figure on the throne was little more than a child.

  Louis XV had assumed the crown when he was only five years old. In compliance with his dying fathers wishes, hed been betrothed to the Spanish princess, the infanta. But she was still barely a toddler. It was a match made in Hell. The young king, who was frail and sickly, wasnt expected to live long enough to produce an heir with the Spanish princess, who herself might also die before reaching childbearing age. So the
king had to find a consort to produce an heir. Which explained this extravagant party, and the ladies lined up on display. Luce fidgeted with the lace on her gown, feeling ridiculous. The other girls all looked so patient. Maybe they truly wanted to marry the acne-ridden twelve-year-old King Louis, though Luce didnt see how that was possible. They were all so elegant and beautiful. From the Russian princess, Elizabeth, whose sapphire-velvet gown had a collar trimmed in rabbits fur, to Maria, the princess from Poland, whose tiny button nose and full red mouth made her dizzyingly alluring, they all gazed at the boy king with wide, hopeful eyes.

  But he was staring straight at Luce. With a satisfied smirk that made her stomach turn.

  That one. He pointed at her lazily. Let me see her up close.

  The duke appeared at Luces side, gently shoving her shoulders forward with his long, icy fingers. Present yourself, Princess, he said quietly. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

  The Luce part of her groaned inwardly, but on the outside, Lys was in charge, and she practically floated forward to greet the king. She curtseyed with a perfectly proper bow of her head, extending her hand for his kiss. It was what her family expected of her.

  Will you get fat? the king blurted out at Luce, eyeing her corset-squeezed waist. I like the way she looks now, he said to the duke. But I dont want her to get fat.

  Had she been in her own body, Luce might have told the king exactly what she thought of his unappealing physique. But Lys had perfect composure, and Luce felt herself reply, I should hope to always please the king, with my looks and with my temperament.

  Yes, of course, the duke purred, walking a tight circle around Luce. Im sure His Majesty could keep the princess on the diet of his choice.

  What about hunting? the king asked.

  Your Majesty, the duke began to say, that isnt befitting a queen. You have plenty of other hunting companions. I, for one--

  My father is an excellent hunter, Luce said. Her brain was whirling, working toward something-- anything--that might help her escape this scene.

  Should I bed down with your father, then? the king sneered.

  Knowing Your Majesty likes guns, Luce said, straining to keep her tone polite, I have brought you a gift--my fathers most prized hunting rifle. Hed asked me to bring it to you this evening, but I wasnt sure when Id have the pleasure of making your acquaintance.

  She had the kings full attention. He was perched on the edge of his throne.

  Whats it look like? Are there jewels in its butt?

  The . . . the stock is hand-carved from cherry-wood, she said, feeding the king the details Bill called out from where he stood beside the kings chair. The bore was milled by--by--

  Oh, what would sound impressive? By a Russian metalworker who has since gone to work for the czar. Bill leaned over the kings pastries and sniffed hungrily. These look good.

  Luce repeated Bills line and then added, I could bring it to Your Majesty, if youd just allow me to go and retrieve it from my chambers--

  A servant can bring the gun down tomorrow, Im sure, the duke said.

  I want to see it now. The king crossed his arms, looking even younger than he was.

  Please. Luce turned to the duke. It would give me great pleasure to present the rifle to His Majesty myself.

  Go. The king snapped his fingers, dismissing Luce. Luce wanted to spin on her heel, but Lys knew better--one never showed the king ones back-- and she bowed and walked backward out of the room. She showed the most gracious restraint, gliding along as though she hadnt any feet at all--just until she got to the other side of the mirrored door.

 
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