Chapter 1.2 (Read 1.1)
"It's begun," I finally managed to reply quietly, sliding the paper across the lacquered console table behind the sofa toward Jonathon's reach. "Another phase. They've gone after the Association. And the papers will vilify those poor dears, every last one of them. Jonathon, the demons won't give up..."
I rose nervously, going to the lace-covered window of Mrs. Evelyn Northe's fine parlor so I might watch New York City's richest and finest parade about Fifth Avenue, Central Park their magnificent backdrop, while Jonathon read the article that had so upset me.
Once he finished he looked up, tossing the paper onto a nearby writing desk. "Indeed. The demons seem hell bent on making everyone else as miserable as they must be. Well then, let's find that laboratory where that damnable concoction was brewed then." His upper-class British accent made his words crisp and biting, his tone laced with a bitter undercurrent; a man ready to go to war. "Shall we?"
I turned to him as a trolley car rumbled downtown, the rattle of the long cab matching my nerves. Jonathon was across the room, sitting tall and composed in a blue armchair upholstered in a fabric as expensive as his black suit. The blue of the chair magnified the shocking ice-blue of his eyes. Waves of onyx locks framed his handsome face and completed the elegant symphony of blue and black. I wondered if there would ever come a time when he wouldn't take my breath away when I turned to look at him. Or if I'd ever stop being terrified of losing him.
"Jonathon, no, we can't go," I finally replied. "You've been compromised. You can't play the demon. Remember the note?"
"Ah yes." He smiled, a bit too confidently. "This note?"
He dipped a hand to an interior pocket and pulled out two items, a folded paper and an envelope. He opened the first folded paper, showcasing one line of neat black script that had chilled me to the bone. Even from across the room the words hissed: "They're coming for you."
The phrase had become a recent feature in my nightmares. "Yes, that note," I said through clenched teeth.
He smiled again. "But I received this in yesterday's mail. A new development. Have a look."
He slid the small, neat envelope across the console as I'd done with the newspaper. We had to sit across the room from one another, being unmarried. It was the moral thing to do. The fact that no chaperone was present was a testament to the fact that any who knew us had given up on the idea that Lord Denbury and I could ever have a normal courtship. Still, we tried to be proper.
The envelope was addressed to Lord Denbury in the same neat, flourished script as the warning note had been, the paper of a finer weave than had ever passed over my gloved fingertips. There was a small black seal on the back, with a crest that looked important. But I suppose all crests look like they carry weight. If our family had a crest, I'd no idea, I was descended of middle-class academics.
I opened the note Jonathon had already unsealed and read:
My dear Lord Denbury,
Your situation has made itself known to me. First, let me say I am very glad to learn you're not dead. Secondly, I'm glad you're no longer a demon. Thirdly, I'm terribly sorry about all your wretched luck.
I followed the course of your portrait with some interest, and have been in contact with a friend, a solicitor who I understand assisted you. Mr. Knowles informs me you made contact with the "Majesty", one of three heads of a group known as the Master's Society. Ears we have employed inside that very office in Earl's Court you visited tell us a lackey could be en route to look in on you. I doubt kindly, so don't prepare tea. Take care. But know you are not alone.
I was assigned to
five years ago, employed in most secret
investigation, by orders from the highest and most precious in the land. I wish
to meet with you. To do so, please hire a southbound carriage at the
intersection of 75th and New
this coming Friday at 1:25 in the afternoon. Instruct the carriage to turn
right at 74th, continue south down Madison, right on 72nd and then westward; we
shall meet at the Park entrance. Don't worry, I'll find you. Keep your faith
and your head, you'll need them both. Lexington
Your friend,Sir G. Brinkman,
Employed by Her Royal Majesty, Empress Queen Victoria
PS Please burn after reading
I looked up at Jonathon, frowning. Secret investigator? "You've spies? Here? Spying on us? Why?"
"British spies span the world, my dear. We've an Empire, remember."
I wrinkled my nose. "Last time I checked, this country fought a revolution and threw you out."
"All the more reason for spies." Jonathon grinned. He glanced around to see if we might be seen, jumped to his feet and rushed to lock one strong arm about my waist. "We must keep a watchful eye on our wayward cousins here in our former colony." He pressed his forehead to mine. "Who knows what they might get up to? We have to make sure they're on their...best behavior..." His hand wandered down my body.
I giggled as I gasped. His ability to set me afire remained overwhelming. Leaning in to him I murmured with my lips so very near his. "Are we really the ones who need watching? I'd beware all those entitled lords thinking they can just come over here and have their way with any American girl..."
Jonathon blinked. His hands slid down my waist and clapped about my bustle. "Can't we?" He grinned as I laughed, diving in to kiss my neck. It was true. He could have his way with me if I wasn't careful. But before that happened... There was a little business of engagement. One could not play loosely with virtue. Not a woman with any pride or decency. Not a lady. "Ah but you're not just any American girl," he murmured, his breath hot upon the hollow of my throat. "You were the inimitable girl heaven sent to save me. The only girl to see my plight. The only one brave enough risk your life for mine." He pulled back to gaze into my eyes, his playful seduction transformed into deathly earnest. "And I'll not lose sight for one moment of the fact I'll never be able to repay the debt."
I kissed him softly on the lips, wanting to indulge more, but painfully aware that at any moment meant Father or Mrs. Northe could come around the hall and in through the open pocket doors. "You mustn't live in debt to me," I murmured.
"Then I'll live a life in love with you," he replied.
There he went again, with words to make me weak in the knees. Such words meant I threw myself at him for another kiss, this one longer. We heard a step on the stair. He broke away with a moan and stepped back a few paces. We looked but no one approached the pocket doors of the parlor so he didn't cross the room entirely.
"I must meet Brinkman. Straightaway. Just as he's said," Jonathon said brightly, fishing in another pocket for a box of matches. He'd been enjoying Mr. Northe's den of fine cigars a bit too often, it would seem, to have matches so easily on hand.
I raised an eyebrow. "You seem rather cheerful about it."
"Help, Natalie my love. We finally have help."
"We've always had Mrs. Northe."
"And bless her for all that she's done. But remember, we've not always had her. She ran off to
in the hour of our need--" Chicago
"And in doing so saved your friend, and who knows what else she got up to out there, she was up to something--"
"Natalie, we'll need all the help we can get. And if it's from Her Majesty herself? Well then, color me a bit patriotic and proud!" Jonathon cried and if I wasn't mistaken he almost puffed out his chest a bit. He struck a match and suddenly the note from Brinkman was in flames per the agent's request.
"How will you know Brinkman, Jonathon? An elaborate path to the park hardly helps you identify him. How do you know he's not one of theirs?"
Jonathon tapped between his eyes. "If nothing else, the curse gave me second sight. It has proven true that I see auras of brimstone, like hell-fire, upon sight of a Society operative. But around Knowles there is a faint pale light. Mrs. Northe too. And you? Simply angelic. I'll get one look at Brinkman and friend or foe will be immediately evident."
"Just... take your pistol." I folded my arms. "And I'm going with you. I hope you memorized those instructions because I don't remember the details of what you just burned."
Jonathon sighed. "I copied them down, Natalie. Do you think me a dullard? Now. Will it do me any good to say that I don't want you to come with me or be placed in any possible danger--"
"Teams work together and that's final."
"I supposed as much--"
"But what do we tell Father?" I asked earnestly. The ongoing question that would plague us until we could make our relationship more permanent was what to tell my father. The truth? Or a pleasant lie that would harm no one and keep him from worrying? But considering we were unable to shield Father from the horrors that had befallen me on Denbury's account, I was not sure what he'd accept or reject. Before I could wonder further, Jonathon answered.
"That it's a lovely day for a walk," Jonathon said with even brighter cheer, this time forced, moving to stand a further pace apart from me, looking towards the open pocket doors.
"Indeed," my Father said, startling me with his entrance behind me. "It's a lovely day for you, Natalie, to show your lord here your precious
I had wanted to celebrate our recent victory over the demon by spending days luxuriating in my beloved park, sharing my favorite place on earth with the incredible man who had fought with me, through hell and back, to be by my side. But fear of "they're coming for you" had us keeping more indoors, with Mrs. Northe's private guards on the watch. We hadn't told my father about that note. We were scared he'd forbid me from seeing Jonathon again, as he'd done just before I nearly died. My throat still bore the faint traces of the demons' bruises.
"Don't you think so, Lord Denbury?" my father said, his eyes bright. "A beautiful day in the park to set things on the proper course?"
"Yes, Mr. Stewart," Jonathon said. I could have sworn a nervous shudder rippled through him.
I had grown intimately accustomed to body language during my many years suffering from Selective Mutism due to the trauma of my mother's death. Years of silence meant I could read physical cues like a book and I read Jonathon uncannily well. And while I had only perused a part of that particular library and I wanted to pore over every page, something about his nervousness had butterflies launching into flight within me too. Something about my father's phrase and tone kindled a little spark of hope...
Jonathon fidgeted with his coat-sleeves. He never fidgeted. I bit my lip.
Father at long last broke the tense silence. "Evelyn has excused herself I know not where," he said mournfully. "I was hoping to promenade with her. Alas, I must leave it to the young." He wagged his finger. "Though I shan't be too far behind..."
"Ah. Yes." Jonathon said, patted his breast pocket, moved crisply into the entrance hall, checked his reflection in the tall wardrobe mirror, and turned to me with his most winning smile. "Miss Stewart?" He held out his arm.
"My lord." I smiled, my heart hammering, and we set off, Jonathon suddenly acting as though he'd seen a ghost...
(End of Chapter One. Chapter Two: 3/19 -- Copyright 2013 Leanna Renee Hieber, The Magic Most Foul saga - If you like what you see, please share this link with friends, Tweet it, FB, + it! Pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul saga books 1 and 2: Darker Still and The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause via the donate button on the sidebar! Cheers! Happy haunting! See you next Tuesday!)