Description: Art student Clary Ashton can’t imagine a more perfect spot to study painting than Paris in the spring of 1878, until she witnesses a body thrown into the Seine, the body of Liam Heaton, another art student whose claims to be without money or family never rang true. What Clary thinks is murder becomes much more as Liam’s secrets come to light and his identity is revealed. When Clary’s own brother falls under suspicion for Liam’s death, she is desperate to clear him, but as she delves deeper into the murky underworld and the glittering salons of the city, she finds caught between two dangerous men- a political extremist days away from a royal assassination, and the young intrepid British secret agent, Reese Tretheway, who is determined to stop him.
Reese could be compared to a 19th century James Bond, but Clary is no Bond girl. Brought up like a gypsy in the wilds of America, Clary finds her skills at roasting lizards and hunting rabbits little use in seeing behind the treacherous sophistication of both Reese and of those who hold the key to Liam’s death. Reese manages to hunt revolutionaries without ever wrinkling his evening clothes or revealing his own secrets, all of which Clary finds maddening. When Clary realizes she knows too much and has become a target of the revolutionaries, she and Reese have to find a way to tolerate each other long enough to save Clary’s brother and try to stop the assassination, or face the possibility of losing their own lives.
“Very coarse red hair is a sign of propensities much too animal.”
NATURE’S REVELATIONS OF CHARACTER by Joseph Simms, 1873
PARIS, Monday, April 30, 1878
Clary’s brother told her about the gargoyle brooding deep in the Seine, the gargoyle who was the guardian of the drowned and the hopeless. She didn’t believe him, of course, but she looked every time she was at the river. She couldn’t help herself. Sam claimed the creature fell off Notre Dame during the restoration of the church, the only one lost of the hundreds of gargoyles who perched there, the gargoyles who waited and watched the mortals below them.
Now the superstitious, the old bargemen and laundresses whose lives were bound to the river, they believed the fallen creature crouched in the depths of the river, a one-horned demon with stricken eyes and grasping fingers who waited and watched for the drowned to come down.
This morning Clary only glanced at the river, the murky water smothered in mist, muted like the cloudy green of absinthe. Clary could almost imagine she caught a whiff of the licorice scent of the drink the other art students seemed to crave.
She didn’t hear the stranger approach. His breath announced him an instant before he grabbed her arm and tried to draw her close. Clary shoved away from him, dropped everything, and reached into the pocket in her boot for her knife.
“Stay away,” Clary ordered, first in English and then remembering where she was, in French, as she held the knife in front of her. It was only a small bowie knife, but she hoped the sharpened tip and the gleam of the blade would discourage him. She was not about to give up the little money she possessed to a thief.
The man stared at the knife as if he could not believe it was real, and then examined her face. “I only thought you might like a friend, girl,” he said in French. It took her a moment to decipher his French, spoken with both a strange accent and a jaw that had been pushed sideways at some point in his life. “I have a bit of business to take care of and then I will have more of this,” he continued, holding up a franc.
She wondered what kind of business an unshaven man in much mended clothes could have.
“I think we could have a nice time,” he added, waving the franc, “and I promise you won’t need your little knife. How much?”
“No,” Clary replied, waving her knife back at him, deciding this was not the time for subtlety. “I don’t like you. I don’t like you at all. Go away before I decide to plunge my little knife into your stinking heart.” She thought it wouldn’t hurt to clarify her lack of interest to a man whose brain was the size of a possum. Only someone of limited intelligence would have mistaken her for a lady of the evening, or rather the morning, since it was just past six. Her clothes should have given him a clue. The plain navy blue walking dress was old, to be sure, but not overly tight, and it buttoned to her throat.
He looked her up and down one more. “Please yourself. I’ll just find someone else who will appreciate my money. Besides, you are as scrawny as plucked chicken.” He spat on the ground to confirm his insult.
“And you’re as ugly as a…as a poodle.” Her voice trailed off. She wanted to say “as ugly as a mangy cur” but didn’t know the French for either “mangy” or “cur.” The man walked away as if he hadn’t heard her, and Clary stamped her foot, furious at herself for not knowing any French curse words. She needed to find someone to teach her some as soon as possible. The man climbed up the steps to the next bridge downstream, the Pont Royal, disappearing from her view behind the stone walls that edged it.
Clary tried to go back to her study of the Pont du Carrousel. She wanted to see the bridge in the dawn light before Quillan met her to go on to the studio. Wisps of mist rose and twined around the iron spirals supporting the bridge, obscuring the riverbanks, giving the illusion the bridge led not to the Louvre, but to some other world far from this one. This was what she would capture in her painting.
“Miss Ashton, I need your help,” a raspy voice said from behind her. Clary whirled about, her knife in front of her again. “Miss Ashton, it’s just me, Liam, Liam Donovan, you remember, don’t you?”
Liam Donovan was not a man one forgot. Even though it was at least six months since Monsieur Dupay ordered Liam to leave the studio, he was an oddity among the vast assortment of art students overrunning Paris. His glorious fiery red hair and beard made him stand out in a crowd, but it was his insistence on wearing a worn black velvet smoking hat with a long silvered tassel, all the time, even out of doors, that made him memorable, if slightly ridiculous.
“Mr. Donovan, I’m sorry.” She let her hand drop. “You startled me. What are you doing here?”
“I need your help, and I hoped I would find you here.” He moved closer, thrusting a tattered red leather folio at her.
She didn’t take it. “How did you know where to find me?” she asked, bothered by his sudden appearance. Paris was too large a city to just happen upon someone, particularly on the riverbank early in the morning. Now that he was only a few feet from her, Clary was startled to see the changes in him, the changes the opium had wrought. When she knew him, Liam had been a husky man with a barrel chest, but his threadbare clothes hung on him now, and his hair under the smoking cap was matted and dull.
“I used to hear you in the studio making arrangements to meet Quillan in the Tuileries. It didn’t seem to be a secret,” he said, wincing as he spoke as if he were in pain. “I need you to look at some of my drawings.” He held out the folio again and Clary noticed the bandage.
“Your hand is bleeding,” she said, looking at the grimy scrap of linen wrapped around his right hand, blood seeping through the part covering his palm.
He looked down at it and frowned, as if just noticing it. “It’s nothing. I am getting some money in a few minutes, and then I can talk to you. Things have gone wrong, very, very wrong. I need some help and I thought you could introduce me to your uncle. I tried to explain things to your brother, but he refused to listen, and he warned me not to go near your house. He has quite a strong left hook.” Liam rubbed a blue-black shadow on his jaw. “I don’t know where else to turn. Please, Miss Ashton.”
“My uncle? My brother?” Now Clary was very confused. “How could my uncle help you?” Clary’s uncle, actually her great-uncle, Benjamin Thompson, was an elderly expatriate American who spent his days either pottering about his miniscule garden or reading in front of the fire. She didn’t see how he could help Liam with anything. And Sam? She didn’t realize Sam even knew Liam, though her brother certainly didn’t need to be formally introduced to someone to punch them.
“Your uncle can help me find the right people to see. It is a long story.” Liam was pleading now.
“How do you know my brother?”
“I don’t have time to explain it all right now,” he said. “I’m late to meet someone. I saw the fellow go up on the bridge just a minute ago. Look at my drawings, please. I will tell you everything when I come back. There he is. Kirill!” Liam yelled toward the bridge, and Clary turned around, but didn’t see anyone. “Kirill!” Liam yelled again. “I have to go before he leaves. Please wait.”
He sounded so desperate, Clary agreed. “All right, but I won’t be here long.”
“Thank you.” Liam held out the folio to her and smiled.
Clary froze at the bizarre sight. “What’s wrong with your mouth, your teeth, Liam?” she said, not believing what she saw.
“What do you mean?”
“They, they are all golden,” she stammered. It was hard to get the words out. Every single one of Liam’s teeth glimmered as if each were brushed with gold dust. They glowed with a strange luminance as the first rays of the sun hit them. It was grotesque, like watching a man turn into a gilded statue before her eyes.
“Gold? What are you talking about? I’ve never needed any teeth capped with gold.”
“Not that kind of gold. They look like they’ve been painted.” Clary wondered if someone played a joke on Liam while he was sleeping or passed out. Her fellow art students were notorious practical jokers, and she was spared only because she was female. This was too cruel to be amusing though, far beyond any of the standard jokes of brushes dipped in glue and pinholes put in paint bladders.
Liam put his hand to his mouth, but Clary realized he couldn’t see for himself. “I don’t know. I don’t have gold teeth,” he said. “It must be a trick of the light. I have to go. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He tried to take a step forward, but stopped and clutched at his side.
“Are you ill?” Clary asked, wondering if some strange sickness could cause his teeth to appear so extraordinary.
“No, I’m fine. I’ll be right back.” He staggered up the narrow steps leading up to the Pont Royal. Clary watched him until he reached the top and disappeared onto the bridge. The walls on the sides of the bridge were not very tall, no more than three feet, so she assumed he had gone to the downstream side where she couldn’t see him from her vantage point. Who was Liam meeting to give him money at such an odd place and time? Her would-be “friend” claimed he too was getting money, but Clary could not imagine who would be handing out francs up on the bridge.
She looked down at the folio. It was tied with twine, the clasp broken, and it was thin enough to hold only a few drawings. Even if Liam had produced a few sheets of amazing work, she didn’t think he could get back in Monsieur Dupay’s good graces. The day Liam appeared at the studio befuddled by opium, Monsieur Dupay was furious. He had made it plain Liam was not to return.
Tucking her knife under her arm, she fumbled with the fraying bits of twine, attempting to untie the knot. Her fingers refused to work, the cold biting into them. The gloves she wore were so old and thin, they only provided the illusion of fabric. It was tempting just to cut the twine with her knife, though she knew it would then be difficult to retie it.
From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a dark shape above her. Startled, she looked up and saw a man, a red-bearded man, Liam, plunge down from the bridge, an arm trailing awkwardly behind him as he fell. His fingers curved as if beckoning her to follow. When he hit the misted water, his body cleaved the surface cleanly and disappeared beneath it.
For an instant, Clary was frozen, staring at the ripples in the water, waiting for him to reappear. The river turned dark as it flowed under the shadows of the bridge arches, and she couldn’t make out anything in the water under them. She ran toward the stairs, then back the other way looking for someone to help. There was no one. Clary turned back again and saw the black smoking hat, the tassel flapping about, tumbling down. The hat stilled her when it landed on the river. It bobbed and twisted about in the ripples of the current, appearing and disappearing in the mist, a St. Vitus dance of futility to stay afloat.
Clary ran down the bank to the edge of the river, dropped the folio and her knife and reached down to pull off her boots, wishing she wasn’t enveloped in long skirts. Glancing back up at the bridge, she saw the man with the sideways jaw leaning over the edge, looking down at the water.
“Help,” she yelled, first in English, and again catching herself, in French.
The man gave her a long look and started toward her, not running, but walking as if he hadn’t understood the urgency.
“There’s a man in the water,” she yelled at him as he turned. His pace didn’t increase, and his eyes were fixed on hers, not the river. He started down the stone steps.