Capturing the Devil Page 2

“Plus”—I pulled the letter from the premier chef of Paris from my purse and waved it playfully at Liza—“Monsieur Escoffier was quite specific about obtaining the best cut of meat. And Uncle isn’t the one who’ll deal with a stiff leg,” I added, leaning a bit more heavily on my cane. “Let me worry over that.”

Liza looked ready to argue but held a perfumed handkerchief to her nose instead, her gaze snagging on the mechanical canopy above us. A conveyor belt with hooks swept by, a constant loop of gears clicking and metal clinking, the noise adding to the clamor of the streets as butchers staked hocks of fresh meat to it. She watched the dismembered limbs jostle their way into the buildings where they’d undoubtedly be broken down further, seemingly lost in thought.

Likely she was searching for another reason I ought to stay inside and rest, but I’d done plenty of resting in the weeks we’d been in New York. I needn’t hear from others what I could and could no longer easily do. I was more than aware of that.

While it was true I wanted Thomas’s eighteenth birthday to be special, it wasn’t the whole truth behind my obsessing. Uncle hadn’t permitted me to leave my grandmother’s home much for fear of fracturing my leg further, and I was going mad with inactivity and boredom. Throwing Thomas a party was as much for me as it was for him.

Though I was grateful for my cousin—she and Thomas had taken turns entertaining me by reading my favorite books aloud and playing the piano. They had even put on a few plays, much to both my amusement and my dismay. While my cousin had the voice of a nightingale, Thomas’s singing was atrocious. A cat in heat held a note in a more pleasant manner than he did. At least it proved he wasn’t limitlessly skilled, which pleased me to no end. Without them or my novels, things would have been much worse. When I was adventuring between the pages of a book, I wasn’t sad over things I was missing outside.

“Your grandmother’s kitchen staff is capable of doing the shopping to Mr. Ritz’s instructions. Wasn’t he the person who recommended Mr. Escoffier? These are not the sort of scenes one should be subjected to prior to a dress fitting.” Liza nodded at the eyes being pried from the goat’s skull and set in a bowl, while its belly was sliced open to remove organ meat. “No matter how accustomed you may be to macabre things.”

“Death is a part of life. Case in point”—I jerked my chin toward the fresh meat—“without the death of that goat, we’d starve.”

Liza scrunched her nose. “Or we could all learn to simply eat plants from now on.”

“While that sounds valiant, the plants would still need to die for your survival.” I ignored the tweak of pain in my leg as a particularly icy blast of wind barreled over the Hudson River and slammed into us. The sky’s gray belly bulged with the promise of more snow. It seemed like it had been snowing for a month straight. I was loath to admit that Uncle was right: I’d suffer the consequences of today’s activities later this evening. “Anyway, my fitting is in twenty minutes, which gives us plenty of time to—”

A man in a dark brown cutaway coat and matching bowler hat jumped aside as a bucket of waste splashed onto the street from the tenement window above, narrowly escaping a most unpleasant bath. He crashed directly into me, knocking my cane to the ground along with what appeared to be a medical satchel filled with familiar tools. Forgetting about his bag, he held fast to my arm, preventing me from tumbling onto our items and potentially getting impaled on anything sharp.

While I steadied myself, I eyed a rather large bone saw peeking out from where it had come undone in his bag. There was also what appeared to be an architectural drawing. Perhaps he was a doctor building his own medical offices. After he made sure I wasn’t in danger of falling, he let me go and quickly snatched up his satchel, stuffing the medical tools back in and rolling the drawing back up.

“Apologies, miss! M-my name is Henry. I didn’t mean to—I really should learn to watch where I’m going. I’ve got my mind full of a million things today.”

“Yes. You should.” Liza swiped my cane from the ground and gave the man a scowl Aunt Amelia would be proud of. “If you’ll excuse us, we must be on our way.” The man turned his attention to my cousin and snapped his mouth shut, though I couldn’t be sure if that was due to her beauty or her temper. She openly scrutinized him while he seemed to collect his thoughts. “If you’ll pardon us, Mr. Henry,” she said, latching onto my arm once more and tossing her caramel-haired head back in a most haughty manner, “we’re late for a very important appointment.”

“I didn’t intend—”

Liza didn’t wait to hear about his intentions; she led us through the maze of butchers and vendors, her pale sage skirts and parasol in one hand, and me in the other. We were moving at a pace much too difficult for me to manage when I finally wriggled free of her grasp and steered her off West Street.

“What in the name of the queen was that about?” I asked, indicating the man we’d practically run from. “He didn’t intend to bump into me, you know. And I believe he was quite taken with you. If you weren’t so abysmally rude, we could’ve invited him to the party. Weren’t you saying just yesterday that you wished to find someone to flirt with?”

“Yes. I did.”

“And yet… he was polite, a bit clumsy, but harmless and seemed to have a sweet temperament. Not to mention, he wasn’t unpleasant to look at. Don’t you enjoy a man with dark features?”

Liza rolled her eyes. “Fine. If you must know, Henry is too close to Harry and I’m quite through with men whose names begin with the letter H for a while.”

“That’s absurd.”

“So is walking through a butchers’ alley in January in a pale dress, yet do you see me complaining, dear cousin?” I raised my brows. “Well, I can’t help it!” she cried. “You know how nervous I am to see Mother again, especially after I very briefly ran off and joined the carnival.”

At the mention of the Moonlight Carnival we both grew quiet for a moment, silently recalling all the magic, mischief, and mayhem it had brought into our lives in just nine days aboard the RMS Etruria. In that respect, the carnival certainly lived up to its show-bill claim. Despite the trouble it caused, I’d forever remain grateful for Mephistopheles and the lesson he’d taught me, intentional or not. By the end of that cursed voyage, any doubts I’d had about marrying Thomas disappeared like a magician casting an elaborate illusion.

Certainty was empowering.

Liza wrapped her cloak about herself and inclined her head down the next street. “We ought to hurry over to Dogwood Lane Boutique,” she said. “Any dressmaker who studied under the House of Worth won’t appreciate it if she’s kept waiting. You don’t want her to take her annoyance out on your poor gown, do you?”

I craned my head around, hoping for another glimpse down the butchers’ alley, but we’d already left that blood-splattered street behind. I took a steady breath in and slowly exhaled. I wondered if boredom and Thomas’s party were truly the only reasons behind my fascination with one of the goriest districts in New York City. It had been almost a month since we’d worked on a murder case. Three blessed weeks without death and destruction and witnessing the worst the world had to offer.

Which ought to have been cause for celebration. Still, I worried over the strange sensation lingering in the pit of my stomach.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it felt like a twinge of disappointment.

Gowns with beading and lace details.





21 JANUARY 1889

Liza took my cane and set it against the fleur-de-lis wallpaper of the dressmaker’s parlor, her eyes alight with a million romantic daydreams. I, on the other hand, imagined I looked half ready to faint. The smaller dressing lounge located off the main room was stiflingly warm. A large fire burned perilously close to racks of dresses made of chiffon, silk, and gauze. Though perhaps I was roasting because of the heavy layers of the extravagant gown I was trying on. It would be stunning for Thomas’s birthday, as long as I didn’t ruin it by sweating so much.

Bric-a-brac littered the marble mantel, inviting and homey, like much of the décor. A young woman brought in a piping-hot tea service and set it on an end table with scones, jam, and clotted cream. Two champagne flutes promptly joined the treats on a silver tray for us. Raspberries floated to the top, turning the beverage a delightful pink. I managed to shift most of my weight to my uninjured leg, though the effort was slightly exhausting as I focused on not wobbling.

“Stop fidgeting,” Liza ordered, slightly out of breath while she fluffed what layers she could on my dress. The gown was a beautiful blush color, the skirts a voluminous tulle with a beaded overlay that began from the bodice and cascaded to either side like a glittering waterfall made of crystal. Liza tugged the ribbons on my bodice a bit tighter, then covered them with the pink ruffle, which reminded me of the petals of a peony. “There. Now all you need are your gloves.”

She handed them over and I slowly tugged them up past my elbows. They were a cream so rich I wanted to dip a spoon in and taste them. I had my back to the giant looking glass and fought the urge to turn around and see the final result. As if plucking that very thought from my mind, Liza shook her head.

“Not yet. You need to put the shoes on first.” She hurried into the next room. “Mademoiselle Philippe? Are the slippers ready?”

“Oui, mademoiselle.” The dressmaker handed my cousin a pretty teal box with a satin bow, then rushed back out to the main room, ordering her employees to add more beads or tulle to other gowns.

“Here they are.” Liza approached me with a devilish grin. “Let me see your feet.”

“I’d rather not—”

I would have argued—my shoes of late had been more utilitarian and clunky than to my liking—but when Liza opened the lid and held up my new slippers, tears stung my eyes. If it were possible, the shoes were even more enchanting than the gown. They were flat silk shoes embroidered with roses and embellished with gemstones. A pale pink so exquisite I could hardly wait to wear them. When I touched them, I realized they weren’t silk—they were made of a buttery leather, so soft I could practically sleep on them. Liza helped steady me while I slipped them on, her own eyes misting as I wobbled and held tighter to her shoulder.

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