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Jonathon and I shared a hired carriage back to our respective residences. I doubted he’d have to sneak back into Mrs. Northe’s in the way I’d have to sneak back home; men did not have to answer to their whereabouts. Lord Denbury was lord of his own domain, and that would never be questioned. A young woman was not afforded such freedom of destiny.
But the particulars of freedom were lost to me the moment that Jonathon closed the cab door behind me, shutting us into the dark compartment. Somehow being truly alone together in full cover of night gave us permissions we hadn't allowed ourselves of late. The intense situation we had just shared brought us back to one another, to the partnership and perils we had become so familiar with. With those perils also had come passion. He and I must have been of a mind, for the moment I reached for his hand, he took the opportunity…
“Will you permit me a moment of not being entirely gentlemanly, Miss Stewart?” he asked in a hot murmur in my ear. "We've been trying to be so proper and behaved—"
“You're permitted,” I nearly gasped. He tore the cap from my head and entwined his fingers in my hair. Pulling me into his arms, he kissed me deeply, again and again, hands roving, until the carriage slowed its pace. East down the block stood my home, and I could not remain locked in his embrace indefinitely.
With a reluctant groan, he released me to catch my breath. I was just as woeful to be let go. But the driver wouldn't just sit there without question or further payment, and we did not dare to be suspect in our actions. Silent as I descended the carriage—I was afraid my voice would tell tales of me—I donned my cap once more, hoping no one was watching the front door of the divided townhouse, and that I could quietly ascend to our top floor rooms as undetected as I'd descended. I was in luck in returning to my bed unnoticed, though the eyes of Stevens still haunted me, as if I could see him hovering at my window like some creature in my beloved Gothic yarns. The sorts of tales that had once so titillated me left a far different taste in my mouth now that I was living what would only be believed as fiction.
That night came a nightmare, as if the night's victory was just a tease, as if I couldn't possibly be afforded a sensual dream of Jonathon's kisses alone, heaven forbid. Just as I was beginning to feel we were gaining ground as lovers and partners once more and winning against enemies in our waking hours, the dread fear and reality of his looming departure was writ large over my unconscious hours and the dread I could not entertain while awake had full reign while asleep.
This time the dream was shared with Jonathon, as we used to when our souls met in the painting and our consciousness was linked in dreams, a life-saving particular his curse could never have predicted. I was so glad to see him in my mind's eye, thrilled that he had returned to my resting self, but it seemed he didn't see me down the hallway from his striking silhouette. He was preoccupied on something before him, far, far away down the endless corridor that was such a continuing construct of these dreams. Always a corridor, with different particulars. This time it was the long hall of a house. A fine house. Perhaps his...
Something was calling him, voices, murmurs. From the empirical evidence of our horrors thus far, I knew that a swarm of murmurs in my mind meant that the dark magic of demons was amassing, building, coalescing, drawing him out and away from me...
This was the darkness gripping hold of him as he'd intimated to me at the tavern, and I called out:
"Jonathon, don't follow shadows..."
He looked over his shoulder, back at me. His bright eyes were at first pained, but then flashed oddly, like the demon's once did. He turned back, away from me once more, and kept walking. Ahead of him was a familiar old room, his study, in
study he had been painted into, a painted prison we had both become all too familiar
with. I couldn't think he was walking back into it willingly... Forces would
fight for him, yet, would he ever fully be free and could he ever regain his
home? Could that place ever feel safe? What place could feel truly safe again
when demons invaded with little care for doors or decorum, rejecting the
sovereignty of soul? But thankfully, even though the devils wove their way into
my dreams, so did the angels. Greenwich,
Jonathon cried out far ahead of me, there was a burst of light, the door to his study splintered. He cried angrily and ran off into the darkness, pursuing something as all the gas lamps around me suddenly lowered their flame.
They're coming for you... A warning whisper in my mind.
If the devils had anything to do with it, they would part us. Separate us and pick us off one by one because as a team, we were invincible. Or, at least, had been thus far, thanks in no small part to some divine intervention. In our separation would lie our downfall, I was sure of it. Why in the world had I turned down his proposal? It was just what the devils wanted. Maybe they were at work within us more than we knew.
The nightmare meant that in the morning I rose at the time my father rose. He always did take to the morning better than I. Before I could face anything or anyone, I jotted down the details of the dream in my diary; purging the images was cathartic, and yet I still had to log details of the dream as potential clues.
I'd been careful to take the time to be fond with Father, and with Bessie, our housekeeper who moved in after her Irish husband died building the foundations of the
. A friend of my
mother's from protestant civil liberties circles, Bessie had angered both her
own family and her husband's by the sheer fact she was black and he was not.
She hadn't had options, resources, or legal recompense when he died, and being
a friend of the family, she filled a necessary void here, my widower father not
knowing much what to do to keep the house when I'd been away at school learning
Standard Sign. Brooklyn
"I assume you'll be going over to Mrs. Northe's today?" he asked, when I knew the question really meant if I would be seeing Jonathon.
"As one would only expect, and as she should," Bessie said matter-of-factly, shifting a piece of bread from her plate onto mine when she saw I'd taken to my food rather quickly. I caught her winking at me. I returned a wink when Father wasn't looking.
Bessie must have been encouraging Father not to be so worried about Lord Denbury's proposal, as he simply didn't press the issue further after her comment. She knew all too well the damage various familial pressures could do to true love across boundaries. Father shifted the conversation to acquisitions, and I mentioned what I thought the collection lacked, and then we were all off to our respective duties and errands.
I spent a little longer on my appearance, pinning up my hair with seed pearl pins Mrs. Northe had gifted me, sure to wear the nicer of my two lace-trimmed cream blouses, noting the slight tear in the sleeve had been repaired. Bless you, Bessie. I wore my best overskirt with its slight bustling at the back, a deep plum, my favorite color, with a little matching plum vest trimmed in mauve that made the piece seem like a whole ensemble. After the delicious kisses he gifted me the night prior, I wanted to be at my feminine best, though my best dresses were ball gowns I'd been given as gifts. A mere trip to Mrs. Northe's parlor did not necessitate a ball gown, fine as the parlor was.
The maid let me in, gesturing me into the parlor, and ran down the list of who was in, who had been in, and who was out. It was quite the rotating guest list. Mrs. Northe and Lord Denbury were both evidently out, but Lavinia was looking a bit lost in the parlor. The maid was quick to fetch us both tea. The black-clad girl, hair partly up and partly streaming down her back in a fetching deep red stream, looked like a Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painting in mourning.
"Natalie, I'm very glad to see you. I wanted to tell you something I heard. One of my associates dropped this note for me." She referenced a small card in her lap. "He was out at the new White Horse Tavern, downtown, and he thinks he got a sense of the man who was behind the substance. And he said he thought someone looked familiar, someone who...interrupted the man in question, just as he was pressuring a group of lads. I don't suppose...Lord Denbury is on the trail of anyone, is he?" she asked hopefully, as if my Jonathon could be the hero she seemed to need.
I shrugged. I wasn't sure that we were letting on any word of our activities to anyone. It wasn't that I didn't trust Lavinia, there was something about her that compelled me, but I would let Jonathon be the one to share what he'd been up to. I assumed perhaps he was taking Mrs. Northe to the location in question, from whence he'd followed Stevens. Before Lavinia could press me further, there was some commotion at the front door.
Suddenly, I heard a familiar British accent crying out: “Darling, I’ve come for you!”
Lavinia looked up, wide-eyed, partly in ecstasy, partly in shock, as if she couldn’t believe her ears. And then her cheeks turned as red as her hair. We both knew exactly who that voice belonged to.
Nathaniel Veil had returned from
. And it would seem he was on
a mission. England
I could hear the maid protesting with him that he needed to be announced, but he charged right into the parlor in an imperious swoop of black fabric and flying locks of hair, not bothering to take off his cloak, tossing aside his top hat onto a nearby chair, and practically diving across the parlor and onto his knees before the divan where Lavinia perched so gracefully.
Enter Nathaniel Veil.
Tall and wild, the Gothic actor—all in the finest black, tailored vestments—did not leave his persona behind on the stage once he took his bow. Instead, he lived his theatricality in every moment, to the fullest, the energy and powerful presence entirely overtaking a room. I had to stop myself from laughing, not because I found him foolish, but merely because I was so entertained by his full commitment to being unquestionably dramatic. It was contagiously delightful.
And Lavinia’s expression was rather priceless. I could see the joy on her face, but as he took her hands in his and kissed them with flourish, a fierce pain took over, and her whole demeanor darkened.
“Ah, you finally pay attention to me now that I’ve gone and done something terrible?” she murmured. “You fly to the side of your injured toy?” He looked up at her in horror. “And you might want to be just a touch less rude, Mister Veil,” she added, “and say hello to Miss Stewart, who does happen to be in the room with us at present.”
“Hello, Mister Veil," I said gently from across the room. "It is so good of you to come. I am sure your Association will derive great comfort from your presence.”
Veil sprang up and instantly was across the room and back down on his knees again, taking up my hands in his this time. He did not kiss them, thankfully, for poor Lavinia’s sake, but he did hold them to his breast and spoke with absolute earnestness, his accent every bit as delectable to me as Jonathon's was. “Miss Stewart, I am so frightfully glad to see you, too, have you been taking good care of my dove here and my best, bosom friend? Where is that glorious cad Den, anyway?”
“I… You mean Lord Denbury?” I said, trying to hold back a chuckle, having forgotten Veil’s pet name for Jonathon, a name I was not allowed to utter under any circumstance. Ever.
“Yes. Where the devil is the man?” Veil jumped back to his feet again. A towering presence, he paced a few steps before throwing himself onto a pouf. I opened my mouth to answer, but he was onto another subject, addressing Miss
“I’ve sent a call to round up my Association. We can’t have anyone trying to
take advantage of them again, so we’ll rally the troops here. How are they, Vin?” Kent
It seemed everyone important to Nathaniel had a pet name. I cringed at "Vin". He dared not call me "Nat"; he could save that nickname for himself, surely.
“They are all passable. Trying to mitigate any damage done,” Lavinia answered, her tone even. “As Miss Stewart said, your presence will do them good. However, I suggest setting a firm tone. We can’t have this seem like errant behavior will make you come running.” She stared into her teacup. “And before you ask or assume, I was not trying to do that to you. I was genuinely interested in…options.”
Veil crossed the room to her again in a mere step. Even though there wasn't room for him, he sat down beside Lavinia, edging her over, her own skirts spilling over his trousers, the two of them a streaming splay of black fabric. If his next words were an act, then he was a very good actor indeed, for he seemed utterly sincere. There was nothing he did by halves, but his truly contrite and earnest tone could not be denied.
“Promise me you’ll talk to me before you turn to anything else,” Veil said gently. “All of you. I want all of you to feel supported. Is that clear, Vin? I didn't start my Association out of ego. I started it to save lives. Do you remember how many near suicides we had our first year as acquaintances, all brought together by some old dark loneliness that was sown down deep in our bones?”
"I do remember," she whispered, barely audible.
"The point is we have each other, rather than substances, rather than drastic measures. In the Association, all are cared for," he murmured. Lavinia wouldn’t look at him, merely nodded. He took a black-gloved finger and placed it under her chin, forcing her to look up at him. “And some are cared for more than others.”
“Nathaniel, please don’t,” she murmured, even though he had turned her face to him, her eyes still refused to meet his. Blushing furiously, she was surely uncomfortable that I was in the room still. This kind of intimacy was rather shocking to be shared with an acquaintance in the room, but Veil didn’t seem to care; he flaunted custom regularly, the whole of his life and his actions public and unapologetic. I was amenable to honest conversation between lovers, but Lavinia didn’t know me well enough to know I would not judge her for it.
“Where are you and your Association meeting, Mister Veil?” I asked, lest he try to press the intimacy issue further and publicly kiss her, a shock indeed.
“Why here, of course," Veil replied as if that were obvious. "Mrs. Northe did say I was welcome in her home when she wired me.”
“Ah. Yes." I smiled. "But does…Mrs. Northe know about potential…company?”
Veil blinked a moment. “You don’t think she’ll mind, do you?”
I took a moment to choose words carefully, stifling a surprised chuckle at his oblivious regard for anyone but himself and his own. “I’d think she’d appreciate a bit of an advanced notice, as would the staff, Mister Veil,” I finally replied.
Lavinia just stared at me with a wide, horrified stare, trying to mouth an apology. It only made me want to laugh again, until I imagined what it would be like if I were the staff. Maybe I’d go help them. I had benefited from Mrs. Northe’s acquaintance, learning how the upper echelon lived, but when one was as distinctly middle-class as I was, life could go either way and so would my empathy.
“Yes… I suppose you’ve a point there, Miss Stewart…” Veil murmured. "Did I mention you're looking lovely? Purple. Suits you. One of the rare colors I'm fond of."
He bounded up again and darted into the hall; it was impressive how quickly he moved, preternatural almost. It fit with his persona eerily well. I heard him call into the hall: “Lovely young miss who I entirely, rudely, bowled past at the door, would you do me the kind favor of preparing for guests?”
My jaw hung open at the sheer cheek of the man.
“How… many…” I heard the poor, beleaguered young maid reply.
“Oh, I’d say about forty,” he offered cheerfully. “Give or take a few.”
“For…ty…give or take…” came the frightened response. There was a scuffle down the stairs to the kitchens below, and I heard a clatter of a few pans and fire irons.
“Thank you, beautiful!” Veil cried after her, and bounded back again to Lavinia’s side. She had been able to do nothing but stare after him, helpless to stop the tumbling, sweeping force of nature that was the man she so clearly couldn’t help but adore. “So. Darling,” he said, edging back onto the seat, practically in her lap. “I think just a good meeting, all of us, among friends, would do a lot for morale, don't you think?”
Veil then looked over at me, remembering his earlier question that had gone unanswered. "I say. Where is that charmer of yours, Miss Stewart?”
"I appreciate that you think I'm the keeper of Lord Denbury's whereabouts, Mister Veil,” I said with a chuckle. "But I haven't a clue."
"Well, would you find a way to fetch him?" Veil said as if exasperated. "Otherwise, he'll miss a bloody good show! Impromptu parlor shows are my favorite."(End of Chapter 9.1 -- 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! The Magic Most Foul team really hopes the audience will continue to grow and it can only do so with YOUR help! If you haven't already, do pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and the sequel: The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause! Donations directly support the editorial staff.
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