Just before you read the next chapter of the novella, we need to let you know that whilst almost all images have been re-instated, some have been lost. Including the one that related to the first question of the Scavenger Hunt. We have therefore introduced a new first question and ask that you go back to the list of questions to check that you have answered it. Our apologies, but it was beyond our control. We hope it won’t deter you from entering and completing the hunt. Goodluck!
And now, read on!
‘Gad, Parthenope, I saw you! You gave him a miniature book. You can’t deny it. What is going on between you and Bacigalupo? You and he seemed so secretive, with the drapes of your studio almost closed. But not only that, your damned factor met me at the door and told me you were out!’
Parthenope turned away. ‘Concentrating,’ she said with teeth clamped round a length of linen thread. ‘Threading needle.’
‘Parthenope, you’re fobbing me off!’
‘Nuh-uh,’ she shook her head as she focused on the eye of the needle, the dangling tail of thread still hanging from her mouth like a starving worm. I was frustrated and wanted to shake her but instead plied Sarina with my barrage of words.
‘And you, Sarina. Why so mysterious about your visit to Annabelle’s? I am your friend, both of you. You dishonour me if you don’t trust me.’
Sarina shook her head in denial.
Parthenope on the other hand was more blunt. Succeeding in pulling the thread through the needle, she thrust it into a cushion like a woman who knows how to use a sword. ‘Oh piffle, Lucia! Don’t be so melodramatic! If you want, we could reverse the dishonour bit and say you are guilty by even thinking such things of us. If you must know, Bacigalupo had ordered a book, a new piece I have done on The Masked Ball and I was giving it to him. As to the drapes being drawn, I think you would do the same if you and de Fleury were . . . well, you know!’
I was stunned. Lucia and Bacigalupo inamorata. Gad!
‘A printed guide to Annabelle on how young women should desport themselves at Balls.’
‘But the jewelry case?’
‘She had borrowed my parure to see if it graced her gown. It didn’t.’
I looked at them both and their faces were clear and unencumbered and shame surged through me. I was too much in Niccolo’s company it seemed and the fear I had for him and the suspicion of anyone who could hurt him was overtaking me. ‘I am sorry, dear friends. So sorry. It’s the tension with all these Others around, making their presence felt before the Ball.’ My friends agreed and we poured tea on our troubles and dampened the coals and were once again ladies of Veniche and board-members of the Museo.
Later as I stepped along an alley toward my home, I mused on my lover and cried out as a hand grabbed me and dragged me around the corner. ‘Percy! What do you think to do!’ By then I had my stiletto out and would have stabbed him unknowingly if I hadn’t smelled the delicious fragrance of his shaving balm.
‘Sink me you’re a little a fighting cat, aren’t you? Put your sewing tool away, Lucia. I want to talk.’
‘Then come home. This is hardly the way of a gentleman.’
‘I have no time.’ His words were clipped, as if Time did indeed snap at his heels. ‘The book Lucia. Where is it? Where has de Fleury hidden it?’
‘Percy, I don’t know.’ My lies were glib. ‘And how do you know he has it? If that is indeed the case then I am unaware. And would prefer it to stay that way. I’m a little tired of being stretched between you both like a piece of string.’
‘Oh he has it, without doubt my dearest Lucia. And we should all shake because of it. I can’t imagine why you soil your bed with him.’
I drew myself up as I slipped the stiletto into my belt. ‘Sir Percy, we have known each other a long time and we have been as close as brother and sister. So to honour that and my affection for Lady Marguarite, I shall ignore the slur you have just placed on my character. Now, unhand me,’ I tugged my other arm from him and began to pull away. ‘Next time we meet I hope you remember that we were friends and treat me with the civility I am due.’
‘Lucia, I apologise. That was crass and demeaning.’
‘Yes, it was,’ I called over my shoulder as I turned out of the alley into the piazza that contained my home. ‘A pity you can’t be more like your brother,’ I whispered sotto voce.
In truth, I cared not if Sir Percy Blakeney heard me. He had, in a heartbeat, torn every bit of our friendship to shreds . . .