SHE DRESSED CAREFULLY, attending to the details of her appearance as she hadn’t done for months. Her personal maid had run off weeks before, and she had neither the wit nor the will to hire another. So she spent an hour with the curling rods herself—as she had in the years before she’d been kept so lavishly—meticulously coiling and arranging her freshly rinsed hair.
It had lost its bright gold luster over the long, bleary autumn, but she knew what lotions and potions would bring back its shine, what pots of paint to select to put false color in her cheeks, on her lips.
She knew all the tricks of the trade. How else could she have caught the eye of a man like Reginald Harper? How else had she seduced him into making her his mistress?
She would use them again, all of them, Amelia thought, to seduce him once more, and to urge him to do everything that must be done.
He hadn’t come, in all this time, in all these months, he hadn’t come to her. So she’d been forced to send notes to his businesses, begging him to come, only to be ignored.
Ignored after all she had done, all she had been, all she had lost.
What choice had she had but to send more notes, and to his home? To the grand Harper House where his pale wife reigned. Where a mistress could never walk.
Hadn’t she given him all he could ask, all he could want? She’d traded her body for the comfort of this house, the convenience of servants, for the baubles, like the pearl drops she fixed on her ears now.
Small prices to pay for a man of his stature and wealth, and such had been the limits of her ambitions once. A man only, and what he could give her. But he’d given her more than either of them had bargained for. The loss of it was more than she could bear.
Why had he not come to comfort her? To grieve with her?
Had she complained, ever? Had she ever turned him from her bed? Or mentioned even once the other women he kept?
She had given him her youth, and her beauty. And, it seemed, her health.
And he would desert her now? Turn away from her now ?
They said the baby had been dead at birth. Stillborn, they said. A stillborn girl child that had perished inside her.
Hadn’t she felt it move? Felt it kick, and grow vital under her heart? In her heart. This child she hadn’t wanted who had become her world. Her life. The son she grew inside her.
The son, the son, she thought now as her fingers plucked at the buttons of her gown, as her painted lips formed the words over and over.
She’d heard him cry. Yes, yes, she was sure of it. Sometimes she heard him cry still, in the night, crying for her to come and soothe him.
But when she went to the nursery, looked in the crib, it was empty. Like her womb was empty.
They said she was mad. Oh, she heard what servants she had left whispering, she saw the way they looked at her. But she wasn’t mad.
Wasn’t mad, wasn’t mad, she told herself as she paced the bedroom she’d once treated like a palace of sensuality.
Now the linens were rarely changed, and the drapes always drawn tight to block out the city. And things went missing. Her servants were thieves. Oh, she knew they were thieves and scoundrels. And spies.
They watched her, and they whispered.
One night they would kill her in her bed. One night.
She couldn’t sleep for the fear of it. Couldn’t sleep for the cries of her son inside her head. Calling her. Calling her.
But she’d gone to the voodoo queen, she reminded herself. Gone to her for protection, and knowledge. She’d paid for both with the ruby bracelet Reginald had once given her. The stones shaped like bloody hearts against the icy glitter of diamonds.
She’d paid for the gris-gris she kept under her pillow, and in a silk bag over her heart. She’d paid, and dearly, for the raising spell. A spell that had failed.
Because her child lived. This was the knowledge the voodoo queen had given her, and it was worth more than ten thousand rubies.
Her child lived, he lived, and now he must be found. He must be brought back to her, where he belonged.
Reginald must find him, must pay whatever needed to be paid.
Careful, careful, she warned herself as she felt the scream beating at her throat. He would only believe her if she remained calm. He would only heed her if she were beautiful.
Beauty seduced men. With beauty and charm, a woman could have whatever she wanted.
She turned to the mirror and saw what she
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