In a private suite on one of the upper floors of the Palace of Versailles, Celest Morningstar turned from side to side, admiring herself and her wedding gown in a large gilded mirror.
“See, Henry,” Celeste’s mother, Charlotte, said to her husband as she watched her daughter with pride in her eyes. “I told you the expense was worth it.”
Henry let out a long sigh. “If you say so, my dear.” Celeste gasped and put her hand to her chest as though wounded. Henry chuckled as he stood up from his chair and walked over to his daughter, taking her hands and kissing her on the cheek. “Of course it was worth it. Your beauty rivals the stars themselves.”
“Thank you, Papa,” Celeste said, giving his hands a squeeze before turning back to look at herself some more. Marceline, her best friend and maid of honor, stood next to her. Her other bridesmaids, Genevieve and Clare, were across the room at another set of mirrors putting the final touches on their makeup.
The dress was truly exquisite. Made of silver cloth with silver lace, the pannier hip cage stood a foot wide on each side. Her corset was so tight she could hardly breathe, but it made her waist nearly disappear compared to the pannier. It also elevated her cleavage, which made the tops of her breasts stand out enticingly, the neckline draped in silver tulle.
Her normally red hair was entirely hidden by an ornate white-haired wig, curled tendrils of which draped around her neck, which was painted white, along with the rest of her face. Her cheeks and lips were rouged, and only one black beauty mark had been added, a star just above her right cheekbone. She loved stars. Her name meant heavenly, after all. Which paired beautifully with her last name of Morningstar. Truly, the only thing she regretted about her marriage to Armand was the loss of her last name. There was a time when she considered not marrying just for that very reason. She would become a courtesan instead, perhaps be a mistress of the king. No shame in that.
But then she met Armand Beaumont, Lord Rothschild, right here in Versailles. They had never met before because her family wasn’t noble, merely extremely rich. Her grandfather was a merchant who early on saw the potential in beaver pelts for the hatting industry and bought a large share in the Hudson Bay Company, which operated in Canada. The return on that investment had only grown ever since, and now the Morningstar family had more money and their hands in more businesses than Celeste could ever be cared to count. The one thing they couldn’t buy—was a title.
The king could no longer ignore the financial power of the Morningstar family and began slowly inviting the family into his inner circle, which included invitations to Versailles, where they could closely mingle with the aristocracy.
Celeste had been more or less ordered by her parents to catch a noble, the higher ranked the better. But that first day, while Celeste was still walking around with eyes the size of saucers as she took in the opulence of the palace, she had met Armand—and her heart sang.
Armand was also taken with the new “jewel of the court” and did not play coy with his affections, stealing her away at every opportunity for a kiss or to whisper sweet affectations in her ear.
Celeste did not fall in love with his title—his father was only a viscount—but with him, something that surprised her. He was charming, of course, and terribly handsome, but he was not vain or cruel. He had many friends and doted on his younger sister, Elise. He revealed to Celeste his desire to live far away from Versailles, on a modest country estate where he could breed horses and raise as many children as possible.
Celeste had never considered living anywhere but Paris, but Armand’s vision of a quaint and quiet future appealed to her more than she thought it would. It seemed that the more time she spent with Armand, the less she cared about rank, status, fashion, or gossip. She simply wanted to be with him, and what better place than a stately home in the country?
Her parents were less than pleased that she desired the match so strongly after such a short time on the market. They begged her to wait, to toss a larger net and see what she could catch. But she was determined, and Armand’s family had no reason to oppose the match. Her dowry more than made up for the fact that she was the daughter of an esquire.
Still, she could not pass up the opportunity to have one of the grandest weddings Paris had ever seen. She would have her one last day of shining like a star in the sky as the wealthiest and most noble persons of France attended her wedding. She might desire a life out of the limelight, but she still wanted to be remembered while she was gone.
From the day Celeste met Armand to the day their engagement was announced was barely a month, but it had taken nearly a year to plan the wedding. It took many months for her wedding gown alone to be made. In all that time, their bond only grew stronger. It took every ounce of willpower for her to not share her bed with him. But she refused to risk not fitting into her gown after the time and money it took to create. They had pleasured each other as much as possible, but Celeste was pleased to know with certainty that she was not pregnant, and that she would have at least nine more months alone with Armand at his estate before any children came along. She wished it could be longer.
Celeste turned from the mirror to smile at her brother. He was dressed every bit the part of a young nobleman, his white suit complementing his own white face and hair and contrasting beautifully with a royal blue waistcoat. He leaned against the doorframe with his arms and ankles crossed. He winked at Marceline, who blushed even through her caked-on makeup. Charles was every bit the known rake, but Celeste loved him anyway.
“How kind of you to make an appearance, Charles.”
Charles walked over and kissed Celeste on the cheek. “If I missed the wedding of the year I know Maman would never let me hear the end of it.”
“The year?” Celeste said with a frown, then she turned back to the mirror to fluff her hair. “Decades, at least. They will still be speaking of today at the turn of the century.”
Their mother huffed as she went to Charles and straightened his wig before patting his cheek affectionately. “It is so wonderful to see both of my children so beautifully attired. Don’t worry, darling, I will make sure your wedding is equally as smashing.”
“Maman!” Celeste whined.
“Oh, fine. Slightly less smashing.”
Celeste smiled and when she heard the chorus hired from Notre Dame Cathedral begin to sing, her stomach twisted and turned and she was at once immensely happy and immensely terrified. This was it, the moment when she would dedicate her life to Armand, no matter what happened in the future. And she would do it in front of everyone in France who mattered, even the king and queen.
Celeste’s father cleared his throat as he checked his pocket watch. “Right on time. I’m amazed. The procession will begin after the first song. We should go to the waiting room.”
Charles cleared his throat. “Umm, actually, before we go—”
“Did you see Armand?” Celeste asked. “Is he dashing?”
“Umm…well, I can’t quite say—”
“Why not?” Celeste prodded, becoming annoyed with her brother’s sudden caginess. “Didn’t you and the other groomsmen help him prepare?”
Charles seemed to give a resigned sigh. “No. No, we didn’t.”
Celeste’s heart thumped hard against her ribcage. Something was terribly wrong.
“What…what happened?” she asked, not sure she wanted to know the answer.
“We all went out last night, as you know,” Charles said. “We took a couple of carriages into Paris to the clubs. A couple of brothels.” Celeste glared at him. “For us, not Armand. You knew what to expect.”
Celeste did. She knew the traditions of men exploring worldly delights one last time before being shackled to their bride forever. But Armand had promised he would not bed any other woman, and she had believed him. Still, she glared harder and clenched her teeth.
“Charles, what are you saying?” Charlotte asked, her voice worried.
“I left him alone, drinking and gambling with some of the whores, while I…went to a private room. When I came back…he was gone.”
“What?” Celeste shrieked. “What do you mean he was gone? Where did he go?”
“I…I don’t know,” Charles said.
“What the bloody hell, Charles!” Henry yelled.
“Oh dear me,” Charlotte moaned, opening her fan and waving it in front of her face.
Marceline and the others chuckled, finding the exchange oddly amusing.
“The girls said he went outside for a piss and never came back,” Charles explained. “The other guys, the ones who stayed in the salon and hadn’t followed a chit, said the same thing. They said he wasn’t too into his cups, so they didn’t follow. They expected him to come right back, but he just…didn’t.”
Celeste’s head was spinning and she was having trouble breathing. Damn the corset! “What-what-what…what happened? Did you go look for him?”
“Of course!” Charles said. “All night! We searched the whole district, went to every brothel and club and even the cheap pubs. We looked down alleys and under stairs. We alerted the watch to help us, but they couldn’t find him either.”
The room was silent except for the sounds of music and singing wafting up from the Cotelle Gallery, where the procession was supposed to be taking place right then. The girls no longer found the situation humorous and watched Celeste, wondering what they should do. Charlotte and Henry were equally at a loss. Should they yell at Charles some more? Go to the police? What about the wedding? It had already started! Everyone in France was waiting for Celeste to walk down the aisle…but how could she with no waiting groom?
Celeste was frozen in place. She was in equal measure angry and afraid. She wanted to throttle her brother, but she wanted to go look for Armand herself. Something terrible must have happened to him.
Charles could no longer take the silence. “I’m so, so sorry, sister. I never imagined Armand to be the type to run off on you.”
“What the—” Celeste grabbed a bouquet of flowers from a nearby vase, the only thing within grabbing distance, and whipped him with them, the petals scattering furiously. “How dare you say such a thing! Where is he?”
Charlotte and Marceline each grabbed one of Celeste’s arms, pulling her back.
“Calm down, dear,” Charlotte said. “Throwing a tantrum isn’t going to bring him back.”
“I knew it,” Henry grumbled. “I knew he was a cad from the start.”
“Oh, you did not!” Celeste sneered. “You never had a word against him. None of you did. I never did. I refuse to believe it. He would never run out on me. Never! This is some sort of terrible prank, isn’t it?”
Everyone in the room shared pitiable glances with each other, and Marceline whispered something to the other bridesmaids, but Celeste couldn’t hear what she said.
“No,” Charles said. “It’s not a prank, I assure you. He’s gone, Celeste. Probably back to one of his estates.”
“No!” Celeste yelled again, fighting back tears as the gravity of the situation began to weigh on her shoulders. She pushed Charles out of her way and opened the door. She turned sideways to go out into the hall, and then rushed toward the stairs that led down to the gallery. Her family chased after her.
“Celeste!” Charlotte yelled. “Come back! You can’t let anyone see you like this!”
She could feel her wig coming loose, and she was sure she smudged her makeup, but she didn’t care. She had to get to the altar. He would be there, she was sure of it. He might have gotten scared for a moment, she had even had some moments where she wasn’t sure she was ready to be a wife, but he would have come back. He wouldn’t leave her…
As she approached the gallery, the ushers opened the doors to the long expanse of the room, the white carpet sprinkled with rose petals and rows of gilded chairs where countless guests stood. Everyone who had been awaiting the bride expectantly gasped when they saw her and began to whisper to each other. But Celeste didn’t care. She picked up the front of her gown so she wouldn’t step on the hem as she ran to the altar. She refused to believe he wasn’t there. He was there, she was sure of it.
But as she reached the end of the aisle, she saw only the bishop, the groomsmen, and the flower girls waiting for her. She felt sick as the room began to spin. This couldn’t be happening.
One of the groomsmen went to her side. “Celeste, I’m sorry. Let’s go back—”
“Where is he?” she asked him. He recoiled in terror of the tiny fury in front of him. He couldn’t answer her.
Celeste turned around, facing the hundreds of guests, and yelled, “Where is he?”
At their home in Paris, a large townhouse overlooking the Seine, Celeste sat in a chair, staring out the window at the garden below. Her eyes were open, but she was not seeing. She had not slept in days, her eyes red and swollen and her nose raw.
“I’m sorry, Monsieur and Madame Morningstar, Lord and Lady Rothschild,” a police officer said, his helmet in his hands. “We have searched every house of assignation in the city center that we know of. We didn’t find him, nor did we gain any leads. If anyone does know where he is, they aren’t speaking.”
Armand’s mother, Serene, burst into tears, and her daughter, fourteen-year-old Elise, went to her side to comfort her.
“But…he’s not at home either,” Armand’s father, Pierre, said. “We have sent word to every house we own and the butlers all say he has not been seen in weeks, not since we all came back to Paris to prepare for the wedding. Where could he be?”
The officer was quiet for a moment, not wanting to state the obvious and cause the family more distress, but it was inevitable. “I’m sorry, Lord Rothschild, but I am afraid we must consider the possibility that Armand is…dead.”
Silent tears escaped Celeste’s eyes while Serene moaned and had to be led to a chair by Elise and Charlotte lest she faint to the ground. Pierre gave a shuddering sigh and put his hand to his mouth. Henry walked over and clapped him on the back. Charles quietly stood in a corner. He had been assigned much of the blame for Armand’s disappearance in the last few days, so he stayed out of sight as much as possible.
Celeste stood up, surprising everyone since she had barely left the chair in days. She turned to the police officer, her hands clasped in front of her.
“I’m sorry, sir, but that is unacceptable.”
“Beg your pardon, mademoiselle,” the officer said. “My condolences. Tragic thing to happen the night before his wedding. Believe me, we have spared no expense, no man in searching for him. The sad truth is that he was drunk in a bad part of town and probably the victim of a mugging gone wrong. We have patrols along the river, just in case he turns up.”
“Oh God,” Pierre said, and this time he had to be led to a chair. “My son… My poor boy.”
“Forgive my bluntness, sir,” the officer said, flustered.
“No, you mistake me,” Celeste said. “He’s not dead. If he were, I would know.” She put her hand to her heart. “Here.”
The officer cleared his throat. “I understand your reticence. It is possible the young man was taken. In that case, all we can do it hope a note for ransom comes soon.”
Serene sniffed and shook her head. They had all been hoping for that all along, but when a note didn’t come within the first days, their hopes on that front quickly vanished.
“There is also the possibility that the young man has…simply run away,” the officer said, his voice low. It was an option no one wanted to speak of out loud, though almost everyone had considered it. “He could have left Paris, left France, in order to…escape the pressures of marriage.”
“No,” Celeste said firmly. “Never. He would never leave me. He loves me. We have a future planned—together. No, he did not run away.”
The officer cleared his throat and gave a small nod, more to placate the girl than agree with her. Everyone else in the room also grimaced or shifted uncomfortably, not looking at her. From the start, that Armand had run away was the prevailing theory, and the more Celeste denied the possibility, the more people pitied her. Certainly him fleeing was at least a better alternative to him being murdered, but Celeste wouldn’t hear of it.
“We have sent word to the authorities in other major cities, London, Vienna, Barcelona, to keep a lookout for him. Who knows, we may get lucky.”
The family members each nodded in turn. There wasn’t anything else to say on the matter, they supposed.
The officer placed his helmet back on his head. “I only wanted to update you on the situation. I’ll alert you if there are any new developments.”
“Of course,” Henry said, going to the officer and shaking his hand. “Thank you for coming by.” He motioned toward the door, where a footman appeared to show the officer out, closing the door behind him. Henry looked back glumly over the family. When he met Celeste’s eyes, he noted the determination in them, and he wasn’t sure if he should admire her or pity her. Pity typically won out.
“So, what are we going to do now?” Celeste asked, stepping next to her father. If the police were ready to take a step back, then someone else would have to take charge of finding him. Why shouldn’t it be her?
“I suppose we should return home,” Pierre said, his voice rough. “If any demands for a ransom are sent, they will arrive there.”
“Very sensible,” Celeste said, moving aside from the door. Pierre stood and went to his wife, helping her to stand. She laid her head on his shoulder as he led her from the room, Elise following behind them.
When they were gone, Celeste then looked at the gathered members of her family. “So, what are we going to do now?”
Charlotte stood. “I think I’m going to lie down. I can’t do anything else right now.”
“Of course, Maman,” Celeste said, stepping to her mother’s side and rubbing her back as she went to the door where a maid was waiting to escort the woman to her room. Celeste then turned to her father, looking at him with a raised eyebrow.
Henry sighed and gripped both of her shoulders, pulling her to him and kissing her forehead. “You should rest too, my darling. This has been a trying time for you.”
“I can’t give up, Papa,” Celeste said, standing back. “If I were missing, I know Armand would never give up searching for me, nor, for that matter, would you, I should think.”
“Of course I would never give up if it were you who was missing,” he said consolingly. “But we must be sensible. We would need at least something to go on. Some lead or a witness or a note, something. We have nothing right now. We can only hope the police are able to unearth a clue soon.”
“The police,” Celeste scoffed. “They don’t care about Armand. Not really. They just want the case closed as quickly as possible so they can go back to sitting on their arses or walking in circles.”
“Celeste, watch your words, young lady,” her father scolded. “There is so cause for such vulgarity.”
“There is every cause!” Celeste said. “Armand is missing and we have done nothing to find him. We should be out there ourselves looking for him.”
“Are you mad?” Henry asked, growing more frustrated by his daughter with each passing moment. “Can you imagine the scandal if you were seen in the Beaubourg? I would think you’ve suffered enough embarrassment over the last few days.”
Celeste’s face flushed and she looked away. She had tried to ignore what people were saying about her after she screamed at all of Paris high society—the king!—at her wedding. Of course the rumors were simply that Armand had run away, leaving a heartbroken Celeste to go mad. It was embarrassing, she didn’t deny that. But it paled in comparison to her worry for Armand and her desire to find him.
The fact that people were more concerned with her reaction at the wedding than that Armand was missing and possibly in danger was what frustrated her the most. Given that he had gone missing the night before the wedding, Celeste worried that everyone—the police, their friends, even their own family—had simply accepted the theory that he had run away and didn’t thoroughly investigate other possibilities. The police said they had searched all of the city center, but did they really? She had no way of knowing. Which was why she thought the family—all of them—should go and look themselves. No one would work harder to make sure no stone was left unturned than they would. But it appeared to Celeste that even they had given up. How could they simply accept that their son, their bother, their daughter’s almost-husband was just gone? She couldn’t reckon it.
“When the doctor was here to check on your Maman yesterday, he left a tincture to…calm her. To help her sleep,” her father said. “Perhaps you should take some as well. We can always ask for more.”
Celeste scoffed and rolled her eyes as she walked away from him. “You wish me to drug myself? Now? When Armand needs me the most?”
Henry sighed angrily, out of patience. “Celeste, stop this foolishness. The situation is hard enough without you questioning the investigation at every turn. Be quiet and let the police do their job.”
Celeste’s eyes watered and she looked away. It was a rare thing for her father to silence her. It was his right, of course, but he usually found his loud-mouthed daughter amusing, and even a source of pride as it often demonstrated her excellent—and expensive—education. To lose the support of her father now, when she needed it the most, was the most painful blow she had experienced thus far aside from Armand’s disappearance itself.
Henry sighed and took Celeste’s shoulders again, giving her another kiss on the forehead. “Take the tincture. Rest, my darling. All will come to light soon, I am sure of it.” He gave her shoulders a squeeze and then turned, walking quickly from the room before she could reply.
She squeezed her lips together tightly, trying to think of what she should do next. Her father was right that she couldn’t go to the brothel district herself, not alone anyway. It was much too dangerous, and she didn’t know a thing about it, really. But that was not the only place the boys had gone that night. They went to their clubs as well, the places where high-society men gathered to drink, gamble, and talk business—or just escape their wives for a while. It was frowned upon for women to enter the clubs, but they were not forbidden. It was not uncommon for a wife or fiancé to show up and demand her man return home. Mistresses were frequent guests as well. Celeste supposed she could—
“If you don’t stop, they could have you committed,” Charles said, interrupting her thoughts. She looked over at him, surprised. She had forgotten he was still there. She rolled her eyes and crossed the room toward him.
“Papa wouldn’t dare.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” he said as he went to a sideboard and poured two tumblers of brandy, offering one to her as he took a seat on a chaise lounge, his arm draped over the back. Celeste sat primly in a chair across from him as she sipped her drink, enjoying the spicy burn as it slipped down her throat.
“He’s more angry at the whole thing than he is letting on,” Charles said. “I wouldn’t push him.”
“What the Devil are you on about?”
“The money, Celeste. The money. I know you and I are blessed to not worry about that, but he isn’t. Yes, we’re rich, but only by being smart at business. That wedding wasn’t just to show you off to the nobles, it was an investment. It wouldn’t just have given you a title and land, which would be added to the family coiffeurs, it would have opened countless doors for all of us. People who had been holding back on doing business with us because we were merely bourgeois would have been able to work with us without risking their own reputations. I could have snagged a duchess when I was ready to plonk a ring down, you little fool. A duchess!”
Celeste suppressed her anger with another drink. How could her family be worried so much about money when Armand was missing!
“We will still have all those things when Armand is found and we are finally wed,” she said, her teeth tight.
Charles sighed and shook his head, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. “Do you really believe that? Be reasonable, little sister.”
“I…I’m not stupid,” she said, wiping a tear away as she let her anger subside a bit. She could always let her guard down around her brother. They were both flawed—she a spoiled brat and he a scandalous cad—so they never needed pretenses between them to appear as something they were not. Something they couldn’t even do in front of their parents, who liked to imagine their children were perfect.
“I know that there is a chance that he is dead,” she said. “Or kidnapped. But until we have a ransom note or a body, I won’t accept that. As for the possibility that he has run away…I can’t believe it. I simply can’t. I risked everything in loving him. I gave him my heart, my future, my family’s stability. If he abandoned me, how could I have been so blind? I’ll never be able to trust myself again.”
“It’s not your fault,” Charles said, scooting forward and placing a hand on her knee. “You aren’t responsible for his actions.”
“But I don’t believe I was wrong in choosing him, in putting my faith in him,” Celeste said. “Truly. He wouldn’t have left. He’s out there, Charles, alone and in danger. I’m sure of it.”
Charles grunted and sat back on the chaise, running his hand over his chin. Celeste noticed for the first time that he hadn’t shaved in days. She realized that he had been worried and grieving too. He and Armand had grown quite close, and he no doubt was heartbroken for his friend. Not to mention the stress of being held responsible. Celeste didn’t, but she wasn’t sure she had told him that.
“What if he is?” Charles asked.
Celeste blinked. No one had entertained the idea of her actually being right before. “What?”
“What if he is?” Charles repeated. “Alive, that is. That he’s just…somewhere in Paris and we haven’t found him. If that is true, what do you want to do?”
She sat forward in her chair, feeling hopeful for the first time throughout this whole ordeal. “Find him! Let’s go to the Beaubourg and look for him ourselves!”
“No!” Charles said. “You can’t go to the Beaubourg. You’re not a whore. You’re not even a courtesan. No! Papa would kill me! I’m in enough trouble as it is.”
“He doesn’t have to know,” Celeste said, looking at the window and seeing that the sun had set without her noticing. “We go at night, in the dark, and I’ll wear a cape. Dress discretely. If thieves and whores wouldn’t talk to the police, maybe they will talk to us.”
“You, dress discretely?” Charles quipped, and she slapped his leg.
“This is not a time to be cheeky,” she said. “I’m serious. He’s counting on me to find him, I’m sure of it.”
“You are mad, little sister,” he said, finishing his drink and putting the tumbler on a table next to the chaise. “Perhaps Father should have you committed—for your own good.”
Celeste felt the little spark of hope she had felt at the idea of her brother helping her begin to extinguish. “So…you won’t help me either?”
“I will go to the Beaubourg,” he said, standing up, Celeste following suit. “I’ll go and ask around. Spread a few coins, see what I can find out.”
“Not alone!” she said, gripping his arm. “If someone took Armand they could take you too! Especially if it is discovered that you are asking questions about him.”
Charles removed her hand from his arm. “Either I go alone or no one goes, do you understand?”
Celeste choked back tears, unable to respond. She wanted him to go search for Armand, of course, but she didn’t want him to go alone. If something happened to her brother as well, she wasn’t sure she could survive it. Charles put his hand behind her neck and pulled her to him, kissing her forehead as tears ran down her cheeks.
“Don’t go,” she finally whispered. She couldn’t risk her brother in order save her lover. It broke her heart to say it, but she knew had to.
Charles nodded. “Alright.”
They held each other for another moment before Charles finally released her and walked out of the room, leaving her alone in the near dark with only candles and a fire to keep her company.
Celeste put her hand to her mouth as she thought about what to do. But her mind was at once racing and stumbling. She was in a fog from the sorrow and exhaustion. She wasn’t sure she could sleep, but she at least needed to rest. She finally left the room and climbed the stairs to her chambers.
“Shall I help you prepare for bed, miss?” her lady’s maid, Nanette, asked.
“Not just yet,” Celeste said. “It is early yet. I just need to be alone. Come in at ten.”
“Of course, miss,” the woman said with a curtsey as she backed away.
Celeste gave her a nod as she opened the door and went into her room. She closed the door behind her and turned to lean against it, but when she did, she saw the lace curtains waving in the wind, the large window above a window seat having been left open.
But that was impossible. The house had been completely secured since the wedding, just in case whoever took or killed Armand came for Celeste as well. She turned to open the door and call for help, but she heard a rustling sound from her large four-poster bed. Her vision was obscured as a heavy damask canopy she sometimes closed on cold nights was currently pulled open, the sections tied around each post.
She should have been afraid. Someone was in her room! But…she wasn’t. She couldn’t explain it, but she felt the urge to see who was there, not to run and scream.
The fireplace was lit, so there was some light in the room, but most of the room was still in shadow. Celeste gulped.
“Who…who’s there?” she asked.
A dark figure ran from the bed to the window so fast, it was only a blur. Celeste gasped and put her hand to her mouth. But instead of leaping from the window, the figure stopped and looked at her.
“Armand!” she gasped. She was sure it was him even though his face was partly hidden as he looked at her from over his shoulder. It was his eyes, his long dark hair, the same suit he had been wearing when he left her that last night to go carousing with Charles and their friends. She stepped forward, her arms outstretched, tears falling. “My darling! I knew you were alive!”
As she moved forward, though, Armand turned toward her slightly—and hissed.
Her hands went to her mouth to stifle a scream. She didn’t know what she was seeing. It was Armand, but…he was different. His pallor was gaunt, he seemed thin, and in his open mouth…his teeth could only be described as fangs.
Armand then turned away from her and thrust himself out the window. She ran to it, nearly tripping on her gown in the process. She sat with her knees on the window seat as she leaned out into the dark night.
“Armand!” she yelled. She squinted into the darkness, where there was only a half-moon to light the expansive lawn and other townhouses beyond it. She thought she saw a dark figure leap over the stone gate that surrounded the property and into the next yard. But that was impossible! How could he have gotten so far so quickly? And the wall was twelve-feet high in that section. Come to that, how did he get out of her room in the first place without killing himself? Below her window was a straight drop, no carvings or lattices that would make the daughter of a very rich man accessible. In spite of that, her window—all the windows in the house—had been locked tight, just in case. So how did he get in?
Celeste watched as the dark figure leaped over the wall of the neighbor’s property as well. She shook her head, trying to understand what she had seen. It was Armand, she was sure. But he looked so different. Frightening! Was he ill? Is that why he left? Had he contracted some sort of terrible disease and didn’t want to risk passing it to her? But if that was the case, why would he risk coming into her room. Into her…bed.
Celeste looked at her bed and saw something glinting in the middle of it. She slid from the window seat and walked forward cautiously. From the edge of the bed, she could see that a gold and red jewel was lying there. She reached out and picked it up, turning toward the firelight to get a better look. It was old, ancient even. Made of gold with a large red stone in the center on a long gold chain.
Tears came to her eyes as she kissed the jewel and held it to her chest. She looked up and gave thanks to Heaven. He was alive! She knew he was. And he hadn’t forgotten her. He still loved her. That had to be why he left the necklace for her.
Celeste went back to the window seat and sat down, looking over the city in the moonlight, hope blooming in her chest once again.
“I’m coming, my love,” she whispered.