Drake Chronicles: 02 Blood Feud

BOOK: Drake Chronicles: 02 Blood Feud
4.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

For Pat, who suggested to a bored nine-year-old me:

“Why don’t you write a story?”



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24


Back Cover


England, 1795

If Isabeau St. Croix had known it was going to be her last Christmas Eve, she would have had a third helping of plum pudding.

As it was, she was avoiding the drawing rooms. She’d never imagined a parlor could be so crowded and stuffy, but when she’d mentioned it to Benoit, he’d only laughed and told her to wait for summer, when coal fog clogged the city.

“Don’t think I don’t see you there,
,” he remarked dryly.

He was tal and thin with a dashing mustache. So many fine gentlemen had fled France during the Revolution that every fine house in London now boasted a French chef. Never mind that most of those chefs had never even learned to boil an egg at home. They certainly did wel enough here. “
Mais non
, you are murdering my carrots.” He shooed away one of his harried helpers.

Taking advantage of his momentary distraction, Isabeau shrank back into the shadows of the bustling kitchen. She ought to have known better. Benoit was determined to have her dancing in satin slippers, as any nobleman’s daughter would.

Not too long ago she would have begged for the chance. And before that she would have expected it.

Spending a year on the streets of Paris had changed her.

Silk dresses and pearl earbobs seemed decadent now, and the concerns of fashion and gossip ridiculous. Benoit despaired that she preferred his company to the opera. But she loved the crackling of the hearth, the heavy scents of baking bread and roasting meat. Tonight there were bowls of oysters, plates of foie gras, a turkey stuffed with chestnuts, almond cream, and tiny perfect pastries in the shape of suns and hol y leaves.

Benoit was the only person she could truly talk to. Her uncle was kind enough, as was his wife, but he hadn’t lived in France for nearly two decades. Benoit had lived in Paris during the storming of the Bastil e. He knew. But he stil wasn’t going to let her hide out in the kitchen al night, no matter how she begged.

“One little slice of galette.” He handed her a plate and a fork.

It was a traditional Galette des Rois, served in every French house during the holidays. She took a greedy bite. The second mouthful revealed the hidden dry bean tucked into the cake.

She sucked the fil ing off it and dropped it onto her plate.

“Voilà!” Benoit grinned. “I knew you would get the bean. Now you are queen for the night.” He plucked the fork from her hand even though she protested. She hadn’t finished scraping every grain of sugar off the silver tines. “And so you must dance until dawn.

She slid off a wooden stool, knowing she couldn’t avoid the festivities any longer. It would be rude of her, and she had every reason to be grateful to her uncle. It hadn’t been easy for her to steal enough money for the passage to England and he could have turned her away when she reached his doorstep. He’d never even met her, after al ; she was the daughter of his estranged brother. His dead estranged brother, who hadn’t spoken to him since before Isabeau was born. And if it wasn’t for her uncle Olivier, or Oliver St. Cross as he was known here, she’d be spending this Christmas the same as she’d spent the last: huddled under the eaves of a cafe hoping some
might give in to the holiday spirit and buy her a meal. If not, she’d have nicked the coins from someone’s pocket and bought it for herself. One learned to do as one must while living in the al eys of Paris during the Great Terror.

Allez, allez,
” Benoit urged her. “I insist you find some handsome young man to flirt with you.”

She couldn’t imagine any young man would notice her, even in the beautiful white silk gown she’d been given to wear. She stil felt skinny and hungry and smudged with dirt and hadn’t the vaguest notion how to dance anymore. She had confidence only in her abilities to steal food and to find the best rooftops on which to hide when the riots broke out.

She forced herself to leave the kitchen mostly because the thought of the dozens of guests upstairs terrified her so. Before Paris, she had lived on a grand family estate in the countryside.

The house had marble floors and silk settees and dusty vineyards where she could eat grapes until her fingers turned purple. But then her parents had been taken.

What was a Christmas bal to the threat of the guil otine?

She found her way to the drawing room, where the guests had gathered for the midnight supper. Her uncle had leaped at the chance to re-create his own favorite childhood memories of
under the guise of making his niece more comfortable. He wasn’t fooling anyone. They could al see how thril ed he was to be serving tourtiere and champagne to his friends. He stood by the main hearth, which was draped with evergreen branches and white lilies from the hothouse. His waistcoat was hol y-berry red, barely containing his cheerful girth.

“Ah, here she is,” he said.

Isabeau concentrated on smiling, on not tripping on the hem of her gown and not wiping her sweaty palms on her skirts, on anything but the curious and pitying eyes tracking her progress.

“My niece, Lady Isabeau St. Croix,” her uncle announced. In Paris she had introduced herself as Citoyenne Isabeau. It was safer.

“Oh, my dear,” an old woman fluttered at her, the ostrich feather in her hair bobbing sympathetical y. “How awful. How perfectly awful.”

.” She didn’t know what else to say to that, so she curtsied.

“Those barbarians,” she continued. “Never mind that now, you’re quite safe here. We English know the natural order of things.”

Another sentence she had no reply for. The woman seemed genuine, though, and she smel ed like peppermint oil. Her satin gloves were trimmed with red bows when she patted Isabeau’s hand. “My nephew is around here somewhere, I’m certain he would love to partner you in a dance.”

.” She had every intention of hiding behind one of the giant evergreen displays before succumbing to any such fate.

The drawing room was even more beautiful than Isabeau could have imagined. She had helped set out the bowls of gilded pine cones and hol y leaves dusted with silver and tied the ribbons around the pine boughs fastened to every window.

But at night, with dozens of beeswax candles burning and the frigid winter wind pushing at the glass, it was magical. And just as stuffy as she had feared, thanks to the hot air laced with cloying perfumes and floral hair oils fil ing every corner of the room. She edged toward the doors leading out to the gardens.

The rosebushes and yew hedges were edged with a delicate frost, as if lace had been tossed everywhere. The moon was a soft glow behind thick clouds. She shivered a little when snow began to fal gently, but didn’t go back inside. She could hear icy carriage wheels creaking from the road and the sounds of music from the room behind her. The snow made everything pale as a pearl. She smiled.

“With a smile like that, I forbid you ever to frown again.” She whirled at the voice, shoulders tensing. She’d only been living in the pampered townhouse for a little while and already she was losing her edge. She ought to have heard his footsteps, or at least the door opening.

“Forgive my intrusion,” he said smoothly, bowing. “And my impertinence, seeing as we have yet to be properly introduced.

But you could only be the mysterious Isabel St. Cross.”

“Isabeau,” she corrected him softly. She’d never known a man like him. He only looked to be in his twenties, but he carried himself with an elegance and a confidence of one much older.

His eyes were gray, nearly colorless in the winter garden.

“Philip Marshal , Earl of Greyhaven, at your service.” When he kissed the back of her hand, his touch was cool, as if he’d been standing in the snow too long. She was suddenly nervous and felt inexplicably trapped, like the time she’d been caught behind a fire set in the streets to keep the city guards at bay.

“I should return,” she murmured. She was only eighteen years old, after al , and the only reason she’d been permitted to attend the bal was because it was Christmastime. It was probably unseemly for her to be outside unchaperoned, even if he was an earl. She couldn’t remember. Her aunt had listed off so many rules, they were bleeding together. She’d known them al before the Revolution. Now she only knew she felt an odd desire to stand closer to him, and not just because she had forgotten her wrap inside.

BOOK: Drake Chronicles: 02 Blood Feud
4.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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