Today's Reading

It was a confection of a place, all pale blue and gold like a mundane Easter egg. On their first visit Cordelia had been both startled and oddly charmed to see how they displayed their wares: models—tall, slender, and chemically blond—promenaded up and down the room, wearing numbered black ribbons around their throats to show that they were displaying a particular style. Behind a lace- curtained door was a wealth of fabrics one could choose from: silks and velvets, satin and organza. Cordelia, upon being presented with the trove, had silently thanked Anna for instructing her on fashion: she had waved away the lace and pastels and moved quickly to select what she knew would suit her. In only a couple of days the dressmakers had whipped up what she had ordered, and now she'd returned to try on the final products.

And if Matthew's face was anything to go by, she had chosen well. He had settled himself into a black-and-white-striped gilt chair, a book—the scandalously daring 'Claudine à Paris'—open on his knee. As Cordelia left the cupboard and came to check the fit in the triple mirror, he looked up, and his green eyes darkened.

"You look beautiful."

For a moment, she almost closed her eyes. 'You look beautiful, Daisy.' But she would not think about James. Not now. Not when Matthew was being so kind, and loaning her the money to purchase these clothes (she had fled London with only one dress and was desperate for something clean to wear). They had both made promises, after all—Matthew, that he would not drink to excess while they were in Paris; Cordelia, that she would not punish herself with dark thoughts of her failures: thoughts of Lucie, of her father, of her marriage. And since they'd arrived, Matthew had not so much as touched a wineglass or a bottle.

Pushing aside her melancholy, she smiled at Matthew and turned her attention to the mirror. She looked almost a stranger to herself. The dress had been made to measure, and the neckline dipped daringly low, while the skirt clung about her hips before flaring out, like the stem and petals of a lily. The sleeves were short and ruched, baring her arms. Her Marks stood out stark and black against her light brown skin, though her glamours would prevent any mundane eyes from noting them.

Madame Beausoleil, who kept her salon on the Rue de la Paix, where the most famous dressmakers in the world—the House of Worth, Jeanne Paquin—were situated, was, according to Matthew, well acquainted with the Shadow World. "Hypatia Vex won't shop anywhere else," he'd told Cordelia over breakfast. Madame's own past was shrouded in deep mystery, which Cordelia found to be very French of her.

There was very little under the dress—it was apparently the mode in France for dresses to skim the shape of the body. Here, slim stays were worked into the fabric of the bodice. The dress gathered at the bust with a rosette of silk flowers; the skirt flared out at the bottom in a ruffle of gold lace. The back dipped low, showing the curve of her spine. It was a work of art, the dress, which she told Madame (in English, Matthew translating) when she bustled over, pincushion in hand, to see the results of her work.

Madame chuckled. "My job is very easy," she said. "I only must enhance the great beauty already possessed by your wife."

"Oh, she's not my wife," Matthew said, green eyes sparkling. Matthew loved nothing more than the appearance of scandal. Cordelia made a face at him.

To her credit—or perhaps it was just that they were in France— Madame did not even blink. '"Alors,"' she said. "It is rare I get to dress such a natural and unusual beauty. Here, the fashion is all for blondes, blondes, but blondes cannot wear such a color. It is blood and fire, too intense for pallid skin and hair. They are suited by lace and pastel, but Miss...?"

"Miss Carstairs," Cordelia said.

"Miss Carstairs has chosen perfectly for her coloring. When you step into a room, 'mademoiselle', you will appear as the flame of a candle, drawing eyes to you like moths."

Miss Carstairs. Cordelia had not been Mrs. Cordelia Herondale very long. She knew she should not be attached to the name. It hurt to lose it, but that was self-pity, she told herself firmly. She was a Carstairs, a Jahanshah. The blood of Rostam ran in her veins. She would dress in fire if she liked.

"Such a dress deserves adornment," said Madame thoughtfully. "A necklace of ruby and gold. This is a pretty bauble, but much too tiny." She flicked at the small gold pendant around Cordelia's neck. A tiny globe on a strand of gold chain.

It had been a gift from James. Cordelia knew she should take it off, but she was not ready yet. Somehow it seemed a gesture more final than the slashing through of her marriage rune.

"I would buy her rubies willingly, if she let me," said Matthew. "Alas, she refuses."

Madame looked puzzled. If Cordelia was Matthew's mistress, as she'd clearly concluded, what was she doing turning down necklaces? She patted Cordelia on the shoulder, pitying her terrible business sense.

...

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