Today's Reading

"There are some wonderful jewelers on the Rue de la Paix," she said. "Perhaps if you glance in their windows, you will change your mind."

"Perhaps," said Cordelia, fighting the urge to stick her tongue out at Matthew. "At the moment, I must concentrate upon clothing. As my friend explained, my valise was lost on the journey. Would you be able to deliver these outfits to Le Meurice by this evening?"

"Of course, of course." Madame nodded and retreated to the counter at the opposite end of the room, where she began doing figures with a pencil on a bill of sale.

"Now she thinks I'm your mistress," Cordelia said to Matthew, hands on her hips.

He shrugged. "This is Paris. Mistresses are more common than croissants or needlessly tiny cups of coffee."

Cordelia humphed and disappeared back into the changing room. She tried not to think about the cost of the outfits she'd ordered—the red velvet for cold evenings, and four more: a black-and-white- striped walking dress with a matching jacket, an emerald satin trimmed in eau de Nil, a daring black satin evening gown, and a coffee silk with gold-ribbon trim. Anna would be pleased, but it would take all Cordelia's savings to pay Matthew back. He had offered to take on the cost, arguing that it would be no issue for him—it seemed his grandparents on his father's side had left a great deal of money to Henry—but Cordelia couldn't allow herself to accept it. She'd taken enough from Matthew already.

Having put her old dress back on, Cordelia rejoined Matthew in the

salon. He'd already paid, and Madame had confirmed delivery of the dresses by that evening. One of the models winked at Matthew as he escorted Cordelia out of the shop and into the crowded Paris streets.

It was a clear, blue-sky day—it had not snowed in Paris this winter, though it had in London, and the streets were chilly but bright. Cordelia happily agreed to make the walk back to the hotel with Matthew rather than flag down a 'fiacre' (the Parisian equivalent of a hansom cab). Matthew, his book tucked into the pocket of his overcoat, was still on the subject of her red dress.

"You will simply shine at the cabarets." Matthew clearly felt that he had scored a victory. "No one will be looking at the performers. Well, to be fair, the performers will be painted bright red and wearing false devil horns, so they might still attract some notice."

He smiled at her—the Smile, the one that turned the sternest curmudgeons to butter and made strong men and women weep. Cordelia herself was not immune. She grinned back.

"You see?" said Matthew, waving an arm expansively at the view before them—the wide Parisian boulevard, the colorful awnings of shops, the cafés where women in splendid hats and men in extraordinarily striped trousers warmed themselves with cups of thick hot chocolate. "I promised you would have a good time."

Had she been having a good time? Cordelia wondered. Perhaps she had. So far, she'd been mostly able to keep her mind off the ways she'd horrifically failed everyone she cared about. And that, after all, was the very purpose of the journey. Once you had lost everything, she reasoned, there was no reason not to embrace whatever small happinesses you could. Wasn't that, after all, Matthew's philosophy? Wasn't that why she had come here with him?

A woman seated at a nearby café, wearing a hat laden with ostrich plumes and silk roses, glanced from Matthew to Cordelia and smiled— approving, Cordelia assumed, of young love. Months ago, Cordelia would have blushed; now she simply smiled. What did it matter if people thought the wrong things about her? Any girl would be happy to have Matthew as a suitor, so let passersby imagine whatever they wanted. That was how Matthew managed things, after all—not caring at all what others thought, simply being himself, and it was astonishing how it allowed him to move easily through the world.

Without him, she doubted she could have managed the journey to Paris in the state she'd been in. He'd gotten them—sleep-deprived, yawning— from the train station to Le Meurice, where he'd been all smiles, sunny and joking with the bellman. One would have thought he'd rested in a featherbed that night.

They'd slept into the afternoon, that first night (in the two separate bedrooms of Matthew's suite, which shared a common living room), and she'd dreamt that she'd poured out all her sins to the Meurice desk clerk. 'You see, my mother is about to have a baby, and I might not be there when she does because I am too busy gallivanting with my husband's best friend. I used to carry the mythical sword Cortana—perhaps you know of it from' La Chanson de Roland? 'Yes, well, I turned out to be unworthy of wielding it and gave it to my brother, which also, by the way, puts him in potentially mortal peril from not one but two very powerful demons. I was supposed to become my closest friend's' parabatai, 'but now that can never happen. And I allowed myself to think that the man I love might have loved me, and not Grace Blackthorn, though he was always direct and honest about his love for her.'

When she'd finished, she looked up and saw that the clerk had Lilith's face, his eyes each a tangle of writhing black snakes.

'You've done well by me, at least, dearie,' Lilith said, and Cordelia had woken up with a scream that echoed in her head for minutes after.


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