He admires your work. Only ten minutes. Then you can run away and hide in your studio. With a short laugh, Francis withdrew it. Turning away from his dissolute face, she moved to the hall mirror—and frowned at her reflection. She had been planning to work in the studio, which meant that her thick, gold-streaked hair was merely dragged back from her face and tied behind with a ragged ribbon.
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Lesli Cohen, administrative assistant in the same Clark University academic department, provided additional technical guidance, as well as her usual generous and enthusiastic moral support. Prologue January Twilight had fallen over Venice, to plunge the marble corridors of the palazzo into gloom. The sound of unfamiliar masculine voices made seventeen-year-old Leila pause at the top of the stairs. She peered down over the elaborately carved balustrade. As her father emerged from his study, one of the men moved toward him.
His voice was an easy, friendly murmur, smooth and soft as silk. The edginess she heard in his tones made her anxious. Hastily she retreated round the corner and hurried back down the hall to her sitting room. With shaking hands she took out her sketchbook and forced herself to focus on copying the intricate woodwork of the writing desk. It was the only way to take her mind off whatever was happening on the floor below. He might simply be vexed by the interruption at teatime.
In any case, she knew very well she was supposed to keep out of sight. The last thing he needed was to be worrying about her. And so, left to her usual companions—her sketchbook and pencil—Leila Bridgeburton awaited the arrival of the tea tray, sadly aware that today, just like yesterday and the day before, it would contain only service for one. The man with the shimmering gold hair was Ismal Delvina, twenty-two years old. He had recently arrived in Venice after a most unpleasant voyage from Albania.
His angelic countenance, however, evinced only the sweetest amiability. As they followed Jonas Bridgeburton into the study, Risto softly mentioned the discovery to his master. Ismal smiled at his unwilling host. The color draining from his face, the Englishman turned back to their master. Given your activities, you should have kept the girl as far from you as possible. I had to take her out of school. He glared at Ismal. As the latter moved to the door, Bridgeburton lunged at him—but Mehmet moved in the same instant and dragged the Englishman back.
You will not make any unpleasantness, I hope. I prefer not to make you childless, or the little girl an orphan—but Risto and Mehmet—" He gave another sigh. If you find it difficult to cooperate quickly and fully, I fear it will prove impossible to soothe their turbulent spirits. Yet so valuable, are they not? That was why, in the night of the dream or the actual night, the carriage had stopped and she had stumbled out and fallen to her knees.
Then, even after the retching stopped, she had not wanted to get up again. She had wanted only to stay there and die. Leila smiled weakly because maybe all this was funny. Then the masculine voice said, "Coming back at last, are we? She looked up, and even that slight motion made her so dizzy that she clutched at the cloak to keep from falling.
Since she had no idea what else to do, Leila began to cry. He pushed a large, crisp handkerchief into her shaking hands. He pressed her closer and patted her back and let her sob until she was done with it.
By that time, it was too late to feel afraid, even if he was a stranger. She was afraid of the answer. But the dizziness was subsiding, and her mind painted chilling recollections: the three foreigners in the hall below Then dizziness And she understood, without having to be told. Those men had killed Papa. But he was holding her hand and urging her to be brave. Leila made herself listen while he explained. The servant had hardly finished explaining how foreigners had invaded the house and killed the master when he spotted one of the villains returning.
He squeezed her hand. I strongly doubt the Venetian police would trouble themselves with protecting a young English female. There was only…Papa. She had no one now. Why are you doing this? Especially such a pretty one. And I shall never abandon you. Rely upon it. She could only hope he meant it. Not until they reached Paris did Francis Beaumont reveal the rest of what the servant had told him: that the father she idolized was a criminal who trafficked in stolen weaponry and had apparently been killed by displeased customers.
He was, according to the will he showed her, her guardian. In the circumstances, Mr. Herriard felt it was safer not to correct that impression.
She listened and agreed, her head bowed, her face hot with shame, all the while aware she was worse than alone. She was an outcast. But Mr. Herriard promptly set about giving her a new identity and rebuilding her life, and Mr. Beaumont—though under no similar legal obligation—helped arrange for her studies with a Parisian art master.
Though she was the daughter of a traitor, the two men stood by her and looked after her. In return, she gave them all the gratitude of her young heart. And in time, innocent that she was, she gave Francis Beaumont a great deal more. He admires your work. Just ten minutes. Then you can run away and hide in your studio.
With a short laugh, Francis withdrew it. Turning away from his dissolute face, she moved to the hall mirror—and frowned at her reflection. She had been planning to work in the studio, which meant that her thick, gold-streaked hair was merely dragged back from her face and tied behind with a ragged ribbon. But when she started toward the stairs, Francis blocked her way. I like you mussed. His gaze trailed over her ample bosom to linger on her—regrettably—equally lavish hips. And such a sweet kitten you were once.
If they get in your way, you just walk over them. Best that way, I agree. The door knocker sounded. With an oath, Francis drew back. Shoving a loose hairpin back into place, Leila hurried to the parlor, her husband close behind. By the time their visitor was announced, they were perfectly composed, the model of a proper British couple: Leila, her posture straight, upon a chair, with Francis standing dutifully at her side.
Their guest was ushered in. And Leila forgot everything, including breathing. In real life, that is. Greetings were exchanged over her head, whose internal mechanisms had temporarily ceased functioning.
Leila numbly offered her hand. His lips just brushed her knuckles. His hair was pale, silken gold, a fraction longer than fashion decreed. He also held her hand rather longer than etiquette decreed—long enough to draw her gaze to his and rivet all her consciousness there.
His eyes were deep sapphire blue, burningly intense. He released her hand, but not her gaze. I tried to purchase it, but the owner knew what he had, and would not sell.
Good grief. Petersburg without having to fight off a hund red desperate painters. Artists would sell their firstborn for a chance to paint this face. You must not think it is mere vanity which brings me. Yet it is only human nature to wish for permanence.
Excerpt from Captives of the Night
Lesli Cohen, administrative assistant in the same Clark University academic department, provided additional technical guidance, as well as her usual generous and enthusiastic moral support. Prologue January Twilight had fallen over Venice, to plunge the marble corridors of the palazzo into gloom. The sound of unfamiliar masculine voices made seventeen-year-old Leila pause at the top of the stairs. She peered down over the elaborately carved balustrade. As her father emerged from his study, one of the men moved toward him. His voice was an easy, friendly murmur, smooth and soft as silk. The edginess she heard in his tones made her anxious.
Captives of the Night