Low Midnight Page 50

“Yeah? You want to talk about ill feeling, do you?”

It isn’t so terribly cold, is it?

It was. His balls were very certain it was. “You haven’t been cold in a hundred years, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

You’re not scared, are you?

“No. But I’m as pure as I’m ever going to get, with or without my clothes.”

Please, Cormac. Only for a few minutes …

“I suppose I can tell myself you like seeing me naked.”

She had nothing to say to that, which made him smirk. If she’d had a body, he’d bet she’d be blushing. He shrugged off his jacket, peeled off his shirt. Boots, jeans, boxers. And yes, it was cold. He didn’t mind so much in his clothes, but he sure felt it now in the sensitive bits. He was going to get her for this.…

“I hope you’re feeling this,” he muttered.

It is … rather unpleasant.

“Let’s get this over with.”

He gathered that in other circumstances this might involve a full-on bath, but since there were no enchanted springs nearby, they were left using a washcloth and bottle of water. Damp cloth on the skin, freezing air—not a good combination, and she wouldn’t let him hurry.

Finally, she deemed them pure enough in body and intentions to proceed, and he quickly slipped back into his clothes, leaving the jacket aside for now.

The spell she’d concocted was based on sympathies, she explained. Certain herbs had a connection to the earth, certain stones or crystals aligned certain energies, all of which would call to the gold in the earth. She thought the spell was supposed to turn it liquid, and it would bubble to the surface, where it would collect in pools they could simply gather up. It would be impressive, if it worked.

Guided by her instructions, he drew a circle in powdered chalk. Drew the appropriate symbols at the cardinal points, all familiar actions. Placed the gold ring at the center of the circle. The fire in the iron pot was burning low but steadily. A sequence of dried herbs tossed on the coals produced a heady incense. Here in the dark, in a halo of orange light, Amelia murmuring in the back of his head, pungent smoke surrounding him, he did feel as if he slipped out of the world and into a sideways one, where anything could happen. The earth under him might crack open, spirits might fly down from heaven.

Shaking his head, he woke himself from whatever trance was weaving through him.

There, she murmured, which meant … was it done?

They waited.

The coals burned down; the chill returned to their circle of warmth. Nothing else happened, no cracks breaking in the soil, no veins of ore rising to the surface, no liquid threads pooling. They were both patient. Cormac sat still until he started shivering and had to go put on his jacket.

I’m not entirely sure what to expect, Ameliasaid, sounding perplexed. I should try again, make adjustments. Hope for the best.

This was going to be a long night.

Chapter 20

AMELIA REMEMBERED the very last time she spoke with her brother. With anyone in her family, really. She had already told her mother and father she wanted to leave. To travel in order to pursue her education was what she’d told them, with a safe-sounding plan to go to Paris and stay with respectable friends, never mind that she’d almost immediately leave for less safe and less respectable destinations around the world. This was perhaps not her wisest course of action—her mother still broke into uncontrollable weeping whenever anyone mentioned Arthur Pembroke, whom Amelia had so indecorously refused. Refusing a good offer of marriage was one thing. Wishing to travel was ever so much worse, apparently. But she’d told them, set them off weeping again. At least, her mother wept and her father glared at her, his soft face growing more florid by the second.

They demanded that she speak with James. She gathered he’d been ordered to “knock some sense into the silly girl.” Figuratively, of course, but the level of outrage she’d generated might indicate otherwise.

He arrived later that afternoon by carriage. She was in the garden reading a book and had to be summoned to the drawing room, which seemed to infuriate him, as if she should have been waiting for him, dutiful and quiet, hands folded in her lap. As if she should spend her whole life waiting, never speaking a word.

She arrived in the drawing room. He was pacing back and forth before the fireplace, agitated, like a character out of an Austen novel. She stood, trying to think of what to say. To speak exactly the right words so he would understand. Her mind was a blank.

“Are you insane? Really, Amelia. Are you utterly out of your mind?” He turned on her with a look he might give a hound with no house training. He was a handsome man, tall and fit, very well dressed by a London tailor, hair and mustache trimmed by his well-trained valet.

“I hadn’t thought so,” she said softly. “I simply don’t think I can stay here with you all giving me that look.” She felt smaller and smaller, regressing in time and space, until she might have been a child again. “My plans are not so very strange—”

“And what exactly do you imagine people will think of us? How will your plans reflect on the family, do you think?”

Truthfully, she didn’t care. The family could take care of itself. It didn’t need her. She was tired of this, though. Tired of James, tired of all the shouting and the tears, tired of disappointing everyone so thoroughly. She wanted to be gone. James could rant all he wanted, she put her mind elsewhere, repeating to herself the Latin names of plants with medicinal properties. Salix alba, Stachys byzantina …

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