Authors: Sharon Cameron
Sophia stepped back. René Hasard was not innocent, and therefore could not be beautiful. He had blood under his nails, not just hers, but the blood of the hundreds—maybe even thousands—who had gone beneath the Razor. Like anyone who chose to ally themselves with LeBlanc. And he would not be sharing anything he’d seen in this room with that particular man tonight.
She climbed the steps one at a time, a hand over her bandaged side, and when she reached the bright sunshine beyond the little door, she looked back down the curving stairs. She had almost let him kiss her. She should never, ever think about that again. She turned the key and locked René in the dark.
know, Tom. What should I have done?” Sophia leaned back into the pillows, having just vomited for the second time into the bowl Orla held out for her. She was glad she had at least waited until now for that humiliation.
“Let her alone,” Orla chided. “She’ll rip that cut open if she keeps this up.”
Tom stopped limping about his room and sat down in the armchair, thumping his stick to take out his frustration. His room was on the ground floor, in the oldest part of the house, thick-walled, gloomy, and away from the nicer apartments. Which was the way he liked it. It was as far as Sophia had gotten after she left the sanctuary.
“It is well sewn,” said Orla, peeking beneath the blanket, where Tom could not see. She handed Sophia a wet cloth for her face.
“I’m shocked a man like that would know how to do it,” Tom commented. “And how in the name of the holy saints is he getting out of the north wing?”
Sophia shook her head. She didn’t know. There was much, she now realized, that they did not know about René Hasard. They might not know anything about him at all. “And where is the other one?” Tom continued. “What’s his name?”
“Benoit,” Orla replied.
Tom turned to Sophia. “Did Hasard mention where he was?”
She shook her head. They’d been careless about Benoit—watching René, or trying to, but not his manservant, misjudging Benoit’s potential in the same way they had always depended on others underestimating Orla. A stupid mistake. The kind that could get someone’s head cut off.
“Then the question is,” Tom said, “how soon might there be a hue and cry over his missing master?”
Sophia sighed. “Orla, go to the north wing and see if you can find Benoit. Tell him that René sends word that he’s with his fiancée, and might not return until just before dinner. Make it seem … you can make it seem as if he’s in my rooms, if you want. I doubt Benoit will question you then.” Sophia ignored the soft swearing coming from Tom’s chair. “We’ll think of some other excuse before dinner. Perhaps Monsieur will be ill.” Likely he already was. She looked to Tom. “Do you agree?”
He nodded. Orla, grim as ever, patted her head once and hurried out Tom’s door. Tom leaned back in his chair, rubbing a rough chin. “LeBlanc knew the Red Rook would come. It was a trap.”
“But I think,” Sophia ventured, “that he did not expect the window.”
Sophia closed her eyes, trying not to remember the way it had felt to pull a knife out of a dead man. “Is there news from the Holiday?”
“Oh, yes. It’s all over the countryside. Burglary and murder. They’re tracking the scent west. Spear is with them. He was worried sick when you didn’t come back. I thought he was going to tear the house down.” Tom waited, but Sophia didn’t say anything. “And the dead man was a stranger to you?”
“Yes. Was he LeBlanc’s?”
“Must’ve been. He was a stranger to everyone. And who do you think killed him?”
Sophia’s eyes opened. “Wasn’t it me?”
“Did you clean your knife?”
“No.” Sophia thought back to the fuzzy dark with the foxes barking and the unnatural silhouette of a knife sticking out of a chest. “It wasn’t my knife,” she said suddenly. “The handle was too thick. Did I have two knives when I came in here?”
“No, only your own. Where is the other knife, then?”
“I don’t know.”
“And more to the point, whose knife was it, who put it into the stranger’s chest, and who else might have seen you climbing out a window of the Holiday?”
They were questions neither of them could answer.
Tom said, “We are in a fix, my lovely sister.”
“But I am very glad you’re not dead.”
She smiled wanly from his pillow. She had considered long ago what might happen on one of the Rook’s missions, what was sure to happen if she was caught. She had thrown her death on the scale, weighed it out against her future, and made a choice. And that choice had been a secret shame to her. It hadn’t been that many generations since the chaotic centuries following the Great Death, when all that could be expected from life was feuding, war, and the struggle to survive it. Personal fulfillment just wasn’t one’s top priority when the children were starving or raiders were cresting the hill. But Sophia Bellamy had not been born into those dark times. She had been born into an enlightenment, an age of privilege, art, education, living in a way that her Bellamy ancestors would not have dared to dream. And she’d been more than willing to risk it, everything her forebears had struggled to achieve, for nothing better than adventure and a challenge to her wits. When it came down to it, Sophia Bellamy simply feared boredom more than she feared death.
But all of that had changed the first time she crawled into the Tombs. Being the Red Rook hadn’t been about adventure then. Suddenly it was about blood and disease and death and the children who watched their parents’ heads being tossed into coffins. It was about injustice and a city possessed. It was about stealing from Allemande and cheating the Razor. And knowing that, in her opinion, only made her actions all the more reprehensible.
What sort of person went to the lengths she did to dam a flood of evil, and then lay awake at night dreading when there would be no more evil behind the dam? Without the Red Rook, she would be nothing but the girl she was before and the girl she would become: a wife, doing just as her mother and grandmother had, doomed to managing a house and dinners with Mrs. Rathbone until the end of her days.
The truth was that Sophia Bellamy went to the Sunken City because she didn’t know who she’d be anymore if she didn’t. If she was caught, she wouldn’t be sorry. She would only be sorry that the people she loved most would bear the pain of it.
“Tonight,” Tom said, “let’s go on with this dinner as planned. Can you do it?”
Sophia nodded. She had to.
“Hasard will be sick, and we’ll send Benoit for Dr. Winnow just before dinner begins.”
She nodded again. Winnow lived fifteen miles away and was nearly deaf.
“Then, after dinner, we can go to the sanctuary and deal with your fiancé.” Tom sighed. “A shame, really. He seemed so harmless at first.”
He was not harmless now. Sophia stared at the finely woven fibers of Tom’s linen sheets. Either the motion of her head or Tom’s words were making her ill.
“Blimey, Sophie,” Tom said suddenly. “Don’t look like that. I wasn’t planning on murdering the man. I definitely prefer to bribe him. What do you think he wants?”
Sophia let out her breath. What did René Hasard want? She remembered the way his words had moved the curls near her ear. Had he wanted her to turn her head? That the thought had even crossed her mind seemed like treachery; that she was thinking it yet again was a capital offense. She’d never kissed anyone before. Had never wanted to. And the peck she’d given Spear Hammond when she was six definitely did not count. She felt her face flushing and blinked long, in case Tom could see her thoughts. She said, “I have no idea what René Hasard wants.”
“Then that’s what we have to find out tonight. What will be enough to get him to betray his cousin and his city? And to drop this marriage contract.”
Sophia looked up sharply. “What about Father?”
“Father may just have to face up to it, Sophie. I wish we could’ve kept things going until I could prove for the inheritance, though God knows how I was going to do it …” Tom glanced once at his leg. “And this fee is mental, anyway. It’s supposed to keep us from marrying outside the Commonwealth, when really it just makes certain that every strapped-for-cash father on the island gets in a ruddy boat to go find a son-in-law.”
Sophia shut her eyes, heart aching like her head. If René was working with LeBlanc, then maybe there would have never been a marriage fee in the first place. But the letter had said he might go through with it. She thought about Bellamy House, every beloved and cobwebbed inch of it, and the money she would have given Tom, for a business. What price would she have paid for those things? “Tom …”
“Please, Sophie. It’s one thing for Father to sell you off to a prat. It’s another to sell you off to spend your holidays with the likes of LeBlanc. All in all,” Tom said, “if it’s between the land and my sister, I’d much rather keep my sister.”
She didn’t know what she wanted anymore. “And so Father will go to prison.”
Tom played with the head of his walking stick. “For five years he did little, and for three years he’s done nothing. I know he’s lost without Mother, but … they’re his mistakes, Sophie. Not mine, and not yours.”
Sophia sighed. Then her fiancé would just have to be bribed. But if she pulled out those scales again, weighing the things René Hasard might wish for against what she and Tom could give, she was very afraid that the Bellamys were going to come up wanting.
They were going to come up wanting no matter what.
The waiting hall outside the Bellamy dining room was small but formal, awash with soft, mirrored light that did not show the shabbiness of the upholstery. They only used this room when important guests came to dinner, and when Sophia entered, that guest was already there.
Albert LeBlanc was again in his blue jacket, a white shirt and meticulously arranged necktie beneath it. Sophia smiled brilliantly over his offered hand. All of her was brilliant; she and Orla had made sure of that.
It had been tedious and exhausting to get all the mud and blood off her skin and hair, especially without soaking her still-oozing cut. She’d spent a good part of the day in bed. But she was back in the dark hair now, black paint around her eyes and plenty of powder to cover paleness and shadowed circles. Her dress was a rich burgundy, a color originally chosen to set off her skin, tonight chosen to not immediately show a bloodstain. She’d never been more grateful for a tightly tied corset, though there was nothing she could do about the terrible ache in her head.
“Good dusk, Miss Bellamy,” said LeBlanc.
“You look quite pretty tonight, Sophia,” said her father. He seemed sad about it, and a little surprised, as if he’d just remembered that she was not a child, and that he was marrying her off to a stranger. Sophia kept her manufactured smile in place, raised her eyes, and saw that Spear stood just beyond Bellamy, filling one corner of the waiting room like a blond and marble statue.
“Hello, Spear. I thought you were away on the hunt. After a criminal, wasn’t it?”
He came to take her hand. “The chase was called off.” His eyes bore back into hers, as if he would tell her something, but couldn’t.
“Didn’t the foxes have the scent?” she asked.
“They did,” LeBlanc answered. “But I chose not to pursue the matter, and so left the chase. Petty thievery is not worth my time.”
“But …” Sophia glanced at Spear, and then back to LeBlanc. “I thought Tom said that a man had been killed?”
LeBlanc gave a dismissive wave. “Nothing was taken, Mademoiselle, and why should I be concerned with a quarrel among thieves?”
“The dead man was a thief, then?”
“Really, Sophia,” said Bellamy. “I wonder at Tom putting these stories in your head. It’s not decent conversation. I should speak with him, I’m sure …”
While her father talked, Sophia leaned just a little toward Spear, to catch his low, quick words. “He rode straightaway from the hunting party on the flatlands. No way to follow without being seen. Missing from just after highsun until now. And are you all right? I …”
“And where is Monsieur Tomas Bellamy?” LeBlanc was inquiring. “I was disappointed not to be greeted by him. I had wished to …”
Tom came into the room then, his stick tapping, brown hair curling against the scarlet of his uniform, and if Sophia had not happened to glance at LeBlanc at that very moment, she would have missed it. LeBlanc’s colorless eyes had widened just slightly, the forehead betraying a crinkle of surprise before shifting back to its unruffled exterior.
Sophia turned her head, frowning, causing a nauseating ache in her skull. She found the nearest chair and sat. Obviously, LeBlanc had been surprised to see Tom. But why? Why would he think Tom wasn’t going to come? Because Tom wouldn’t be able to attend? Because Tom was wounded, perhaps? She drew a sharp breath. Wounded last night, while searching LeBlanc’s room at the Holiday?