The Importance of Being Emily
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by Robyn Bachar
Description: Magic, matchmaking and murder... Lord Willowbrook's spring ball is supposed to be a magical celebration, but Miss Emily Wright is bored. The only outlet allowed for her magic is matchmaking--for others, not herself. Why bother? The only man she wants, Michael Black, is a man she can never have. Suddenly the guests are abuzz with news of a young sorceress found drained of blood in the parlor. The mystery calls to her, and since she is the only available seer in all England, she jumps at the chance to prove herself. Michael has spent his life preparing for his ritual death, when he will join the Order of St. Jerome as an immortal chronicler. Now that dream hangs in the balance, his mentor accused of the murder. Worse, gentle Emily, the woman he silently loves, is walking into a world of horrors beyond her imagination. Torn between duty to the order and desire to keep her safe, Michael fights his growing need for a love that can never be his. All the while the real killer stalks the shadows of Willowbrook Hall, homing in on the next victim. Product Warnings This book contains a tough but tortured seer, a hero with an expiration date, scandalous kisses, scheming vampires and bloody corpses.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2011
eBookwise Release Date: May 2011
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [128 KB]
Reading time: 80-112 min.
I found my soul mate the night that Miss Amelia Morgan was murdered. It seems a strange thing that such a terrible event could lead to the most important discovery of my life, but such is the existence of a seer.
I have no control over my visions and can only suffer them as they appear--and I have on occasion suffered greatly because of them. Terrible headaches, fainting spells, recurring nightmares... My life would be simpler if I shut myself away from the world and cut off all contact with others, but it would also be boring, and the curiosity that comes with being a seer would never allow it. Said curiosity is the proverbial devil on my shoulder that gets me into trouble, suggesting that I poke my nose where it does not belong, but it was not my fault that the party was dreadfully tedious until the murder happened, and I wanted something constructive to do.
One moment I was sitting with my three younger sisters, Sarah, Mary and Josephine, listening to their endless chatter about their children and husbands, and the next the buzz of excited conversation began traveling through the ballroom like a cloud of invisible bees. Naturally I assumed it must be something scandalous--no magician gathering would be complete without some sort of scandal--and I watched the progression of the news with interest. Aside from my matchmaking attempts, hearing the latest scandal made attending the gatherings interesting. The news finally reached our corner of the room via Mr. Green, whose owlish brown eyes were even wider than normal behind his spectacles as he approached.
"Ladies, do not be alarmed, but Miss Morgan has just been murdered," he whispered loudly.
My sisters gasped in collective horror, and I glanced at them with disdain. "How?" I asked. Knowing how foolish young Miss Morgan could be, it was entirely possible that she had slipped on the stairs and broken her neck, and knowing Mr. Green's flair for the dramatic, he was making something out of nothing.
"Emily!" Sarah gasped. Sarah was two years younger than I, and always the first to reproach me for my inappropriate behavior. "Isn't it awful enough without asking for gruesome details?"
"I did not ask for gruesome details. I merely asked how it happened," I said. "Are you certain it was a murder, Mr. Green?"
I felt their irritation like the brush of flies' wings against my skin, but I ignored it. As librarians their magic made them naturally curious, but as gentle ladies they had the good manners not to ask about such a terrible event. Unlike my librarian sisters, I was born a seer, and mine is a curiosity that is never sated. While a librarian seeks to make a record of an event in magician society, a seer needs to know the motivation behind it. I always wish to know more, no matter the topic. I simply cannot help it, for the desire is in my blood.
"Yes, quite." Dabbing his face with a white handkerchief, Mr. Green helped himself to an open seat on the couch next to Mary, much to her dismay. "She was found alone in the parlor, where she bled to death."
Worrisome, but not unexplainable. "Perhaps she fell and cut herself," I suggested.
"She has clearly been bitten, and there is no blood to be found in the room. Her blood must have been consumed." Mr. Green drew out the final word with ghoulish glee.
My sisters shuddered, as Mr. Green no doubt intended them to, but I frowned in confusion. There were no master necromancers--or vampires, to use the rude term--in attendance that evening. No one of our social circle would ever be vulgar enough to invite any necromancer, master or apprentice, to a gathering, because as practitioners of death magic, necromancers were unwelcome in polite company. They were especially unwelcome to the celebration of the vernal equinox, meant to honor the return of spring. But how could Miss Morgan be drained of her blood if a master necromancer wasn't involved? Perhaps one had slipped in and out through the shadows? I had heard a rumor once that old master necromancers could travel such a way, and Willowbrook Hall was filled with dark corners and suspicious shadows. Or perhaps there was an insane alchemist in our midst, stealing the blood of defenseless girls to be used in some diabolical potion... How exciting!
Of course it was awful of me to think such a thing, because a murder should never be thought of as an amusement, but since the tragedy had already occurred it was logical for me to use my abilities to help. Until then my magic had accomplished little that evening. Despite speaking with several young magicians, I had not made a single match. At the very least I should have been able to find one young couple at the party who were compatible in magic, spirit and temperament. It was spring, and young hearts were supposed to be filled with thoughts of love and new beginnings. That was the unspoken purpose of gatherings such as this--to allow young magicians to meet and be matched--and usually I was quite successful. The magician population had grown over the last two centuries, but we were still quite outnumbered by the nonmagical majority. Every marriage was celebrated, and every child cherished, but either my abilities as a seer were slipping, or the young magicians in attendance were too immersed in their own importance to be matched with anyone else.
"So Miss Morgan's death is a mystery then," I said. "Has a guardian been sent for?" Guardians enforced the laws of magician society, and I knew none were in attendance.
"Yes, but the killer has been apprehended. There is a chronicler in attendance, so he must be the culprit. He is being detained while they wait for the guardian to arrive." Flustered, the gentleman removed his spectacles and began wiping the lenses with his handkerchief.
The wrongness of his words hit me as though I had been slapped. "But why would a chronicler do such a thing?" There were some similarities between master necromancers and chroniclers, namely the need to drink the blood of living magicians as sustenance to continue their immortal existences, but chroniclers were noble and well respected. They were members of the Order of St. Jerome, ageless librarians trusted with keeping magician history, and they were not in the habit of draining flirtatious young tarts like Miss Morgan to death. Or anyone at all to death for that matter. It was simply ridiculous.
"Well, I assume they will learn his motive through questioning him. You ladies shouldn't be concerned. They have him locked in another room. He won't hurt anyone else," Mr. Green assured us. Despite the finality of his words, the situation did not sit right with me, and it made my skin itch.
"It's just awful. Her mother must be so upset." Josephine smoothed her hands over her stomach, and I fidgeted with the fingers of my black silk gloves as I fought back a pang of jealousy. Josephine was pregnant for the second time, and it was petty to be jealous of it, just as it had been petty to be jealous of her blonde ringlets and bright blue eyes while we were children. She had been gifted with beauty and temperance, and I had been cursed with dull brown hair, slate grey eyes and what was widely agreed to be a disagreeable disposition. I knew I should be grateful for Josephine's happiness. I should be grateful for the happiness of all my sisters, and their loving husbands, and their adorable children...
I shouldn't hate them for it, but a small bit of me did anyway.
With a slight shake of my head, I checked the buttons of my gloves. The gloves served a dual purpose--in addition to being fashionable, black silk dampened magic. I always wore them in the company of others. Even a careless touch could trigger a vision. I wanted more information on this murder, and because Mr. Green would not have any, I rose from my chair and straightened the skirts of my dark green gown.
"Where do you think you're going?" Sarah asked.
"To powder my nose." Determined, I began to walk away.
"You mustn't get involved in this," Sarah called after me.
"I'll only be a moment." I waved a hand dismissively. "Don't be such a worrywart. It's bad for your complexion."
Ignoring Sarah's further protest, I left the room. I paused in the hallway, uncertain of where to go next. If anyone was investigating, surely it would be at the scene of the crime in the parlor, unless her body had been moved. Anxious, I chewed my bottom lip as I peered down the long hallway for signs of activity. At first it appeared empty, but a flash of silver caught my eye. Looking closer, I spotted a man in the shadows stroking his mustache as he watched me, the flash of silver created by the large ring he wore on his index finger. It was Mr. Farrell, and I frowned when I recognized him.
Until recently I had never had a suitor, despite being the eldest of my sisters, but now I had the attention of Mr. John Farrell, a sorcerer. Unlike a seer or librarian, a sorcerer values power above knowledge, and so the idea of being a sorcerer's wife did not appeal to me. The idea of spending my life alone, however, was equally unappealing. My parents were of the opinion that a sorcerer was better than no husband at all, and so I entertained the idea of marrying Mr. Farrell. Because seers are often looked upon with fear and suspicion, I was not considered to be desirable marriage material. He was likely to be my one and only suitor, and if I rejected him, I knew there would be no other chance at a new beginning for me. Unlike the young magicians I matched who were full of hope and promise, I no longer entertained the dream of a bright future. For me this equinox would be no different from the others that came before, or would come after.
Mr. Farrell had left the ballroom earlier to join my father at cards, and I wondered what he could be doing lurking in the hallway. I shivered. There was something unsettling about the look in his eyes.
He whispered my name, though it was so quiet that I wondered if I had imagined it. I started down the hall toward him, but before I reached him a door burst open and a man rushed out. I stepped aside as he stormed past without pause or notice, and anger and despair rolled off him like a thundercloud. The emotions hit me like a strong gust of wind, and I gasped and placed one hand against the wall for support. Though distracted, I recognized him as Mr. Michael Black, a librarian I was very well acquainted with. Struggling to keep the energy at bay, I managed to turn and watch as he disappeared into the library and slammed the door behind him. I glanced back at Mr. Farrell, but he was gone.
After a few deep breaths I followed Mr. Black, drawn to his disquiet like a moth to the flame. Without knocking, I opened the door to the library and slipped inside, shutting it behind me.
"I have no more answers to give you," he said. I spotted him seated in a chair in front of the fireplace, his head in his hands. His shoulders were slumped as though the weight of the world was upon them, and my heart ached for him. He was a good man, and I considered him a true friend. He was a chronicler's apprentice, and with a sinking feeling I realized that his mentor, Mr. Simon St. Jerome, must be the one accused of the murder. How awful, and completely impossible.
"Are you all right?" I asked gently.
He looked up, surprised. "Emily. What are you doing here?"
I paused for a moment, because he had never called me by my name before, but I rather liked the sound of it and did not reproach him. "I want to help you," I explained.
Mr. Black smiled and shook his head. "I appreciate your concern, but I don't think that you can."
"Of course I can. I am a seer, and I am capable of more than matchmaking. If you tell me the details of the situation, I'm sure I can help you resolve it." Holding my head high, I crossed the room and took the chair across from him.
Because he was a confirmed bachelor I had never had the opportunity to match him, and it was a shame, for he was quite handsome and good-natured. Most men paid me little mind unless they were seeking information, such as their match, but for the past few years Mr. Black and I had often sat together at gatherings such as this one without any agenda for personal gain on his part. He seemed genuinely interested in conversing with me. His company also had the benefit of being a benign association--at the time neither of us had any marriage prospects, and we were uninteresting enough that we could speak without setting tongues wagging. Well, perhaps only fewer tongues than usual, for magicians do enjoy their gossip.
"I don't doubt your abilities, but I'm not sure that would be proper." Mr. Black glanced at the door. "Does your father know where you are?"
"I assume he's still busy at cards. Unless the murder interrupted the game, though I doubt it. Nothing short of an act of the gods would distract them from their play," I said dryly. Father spent his time at gatherings immersed in some game or another. "Please let me help you. I can read the energy of the room where the incident took place. I can determine truth or falsehood in the answers of someone being questioned."
"I wouldn't want to inflict a harmful vision upon you."
"I have seen many things that are inappropriate for a lady. Visions do not organize themselves according to a seer's sensibilities. Besides, if the higher powers believe I am capable of seeing such things, who are we to argue with them?"
His brow furrowed as he considered my argument, and then he nodded. "You have a valid point. But if your father berates me for involving you, I am placing the blame squarely on your shoulders."
I smiled. "That is usually what happens. I am quite notorious, as you know. Now, your mentor is accused of attacking Miss Morgan?"
"Yes, and Simon would never do such a thing. They are condemning him solely because he is a chronicler." Anger surged from him again, and I took a steadying breath. He was affecting me too easily, and I centered myself to regain control.
"Were you with him when she was attacked?"
"No, I wasn't. I was speaking with Mr. Castle at the time. Simon was alone." Mr. Black sighed and ran his fingers through his short black hair. It gave him a charming mussed look, and I folded my hands in my lap to fight the sudden urge to straighten it.
"Does he have any enemies in attendance?" I asked.
"Not that I'm aware of. I've never seen him quarrel with anyone, but he must have some. Three hundred years is a long time to go without stepping on someone's toes."
"Well then. I would like to see the body before the energy of the room is too disrupted to be of use." I squared my shoulders, seeking to appear as confident as I sounded. I had never attempted anything like this before, but I was certain I could do it. What sort of friend would I be if I didn't do everything in my power to vindicate his mentor?
"Very well." Mr. Black rose and held his hand out to help me to my feet, and I smiled up at him. Though I usually avoid touching people, even with my gloves on, I trusted him enough to take his hand. As I stood I was distracted by how tall he was, followed by how lovely his dark eyes were in the soft light of the library, but then the familiar but unwelcome dizziness of a vision shoved its way into my thoughts. My body jerked as I was blinded by a flurry of images, sounds and emotions, but I knew two things with absolute certainty before I was overwhelmed: Michael Black was my soul mate, and he would be dead within a year.