Sir Percy unmasked . . .
‘Where is your hat?’ Percy’s hand grabbed my arm and in a none too gentle fashion, pulled me into my salon. ‘Lucia, where is your damned hat?’
‘Percy! Unhand me! How dare you?’
‘Dare? Sink me, dare? I dare woman, because your hat concealed one of the single most valuable commodities in the world.’ He advanced on me, his immaculately groomed hair and perfectly tied cravat at odds with the flush of his cheeks and the curl of his lips. ‘Where is the hat?’
‘I left it at the Museo.’
‘Left it Percy, left it. It’s in the corridor near the Hall of Enchantments.’
Percy crashed the tip of his walking stick onto the parquet, leaving an indentation that made me shudder. I had never seen him like this. Ever. And I knew at once that I must mollify him. Not just to protect myself, but to protect my . . . my lover. Niccolo and I had fled together, and there was none to shadow us as we floated down the Rio Grande in his heavily curtained gondola. I could hardly remember what happened. I know he held me, and perhaps there was more besides, but I just knew I had to conceal what he had done.
I had a curious feeling upon me, that I could walk on air, survive without food or sleep and all for the sake of the man who had taken the book from my hat. Even as Percy stood choleric and impolite in front of me and more dangerous than any Other I knew. More dangerous even than Niccolo de Fleury.
‘Percy, stop it! You are making me feel worse than I feel already.’ I subsided onto the chaise. ‘I told you I didn’t think you should steal the book and despite the fact you told me I would not be cursed, I nevertheless was frightened. And you left me! You, the gentleman, left me to find my way to my home unescorted and carrying, as you now tell me, one of the most valuable commodities in the world. If, my dear Percy, it is that valuable, I was quite within my rights to be frightened, wasn’t I? And that’s just what happened.’
‘What? Sink me, what the hell do you mean?’ His eyes had closed to slits.
‘Fright, Percy. I had a panic. It was dark and I thought I heard someone following me and I ran. There was some one behind me in the Museo and I ran as fast as I could. My hat came loose and I let it fall. My panic overpowered me and I ran all the way to the entrance and leaped into a gondola and had the gondolier paddle post haste away.’
‘Poste haste you say and yet it has been over two hours since I left you.’
‘Believe what you like, Percy.’ I stood and walked to the wine carafe and goblets that stood on an ormulu table and poured. My hands shook and the carafe rattled against the side of the goblet, wine spilling and I swore.
‘Lucia? You are scared.’ Percy took the carafe from me and turned me toward him and I prayed he could not read my mind or see through my subterfuge. ‘I am sorry, it’s just that we . . . you, me, Marguerite, everyone . . . need that book. We need it to protect ourselves from such a terrible approaching darkness.’
‘Percy, you scare me even more. You know me, I don’t scare easily and I look for amusement in dangerous places and yet, right now I feel the most dangerous place in the world is here, in this room with you.’
‘With me?’ He laughed, a dry cough. ‘Not with me, Lucia. Definitely not with me.’