The man crossed the road, moving from light to shadow and back again, gliding from one street corner to another. He moved . . . strangely. As though the air around him were not air at all, but water. Or perhaps smoke. His polished shoes struck the cobblestones at a clipped pace. He was tall. Broad shouldered. Despite the evening silhouette about him, Celine could tell his suit was made of exquisite material, by a practiced hand. Likely Savile Row. Her training at Madame de Beauharnais' atelier—the finest couturière in Paris—had granted her a particular eye for such things.
But his clothes did not intrigue Celine nearly as much as what he'd managed to achieve. He'd cleared the street without uttering a single word. He'd scattered women with parasols and children with powdery beignets and men in elegant top hats, with nary a glance in their direction.
That was the kind of magic she wished to possess.
Celine craved the idea of wielding such power, simply for the freedom it would afford her. She watched the man step up to the curb, envy clouding her gaze, filling her heart, taking place of the hope she'd barely allowed purchase a minute ago.
Then he looked up. His eyes met hers as though she'd called out to him, without words.
He was younger than she'd expected. Not much older than she. Nineteen or twenty, perhaps, no more. Later Celine would try to remember details about him. But it was as though her memory of that moment had gone hazy, like oil swiped across the surface of a mirror. The only thing she remembered with distinct clarity was his eyes. They shone in the flame of the gas lamp as though they were lit from within.
Dark grey. Like the barrel of a gun.
He narrowed his gaze. Tipped his hat at her. And walked away.
"Oh, my stars," Pippa breathed.
Murmurs of assent—spoken in several languages—rippled across the rows of seated young women. They leaned into each other, an air of shared excitement passing over them. One of the twins from Düsseldorf said something in German that made her sister titter behind her hands.
Only Celine continued staring at the rapidly receding figure, her eyes narrowed, as his had been. As though she were in disbelief.
Of what, she did not know.
Their wagon continued making its way toward the convent. Celine watched the boy fade into the darkness, his long, lean legs carrying him through the night with an otherworldly confidence.
She wondered what made everyone at the crossing yield to him without question. Longed for the barest measure of it. Perhaps if Celine were someone to command such respect, she would not have been forced to leave Paris. To lie to her father.
Or murder a man.
This excerpt ends on page 14 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book Descent by Roland Smith.