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Page 59

She stopped, red-faced and sobbing. Tears streamed down her cheeks—a sight I couldn’t bear under any circumstances. I was about to pull her into my arms, hug her as tight as I could, and tell her everything would be okay. But then she spoke again, and it stopped me cold.

“And don’t even get me started on Petra.”

My spine stiffened. “What about her?”

“I’ve seen the way you look at her, Ewan. I saw you take her picture yesterday.”

“You were in the picture, too.”

“Only because I happened to be standing there.”

I was incredulous. I had as much sexual interest in Petra Ditmer as I did in Hibbs.

“She’s a child, Jess. The idea that I have the hots for her is ridiculous.”

“Almost as ridiculous as me getting up in the middle of the night to turn on a record player I’ve never even seen.”

Jess wiped her eyes and left the kitchen. I followed, chasing her up the steps to the first floor.

“Jess, wait!”

She continued up the servants’ steps just outside the dining room, storming upstairs. I stopped, caught short by the sight of someone standing in the great room, framed by the doorway that separated it from the dining room.

Petra Ditmer.

“I rang the doorbell,” she said. “Maggie let me in.”

“How long have you been here?” I said.

“Not long,” Petra said, even though the flush on her cheeks made it clear she’d heard, if not everything, then at least a big chunk of our argument.

“This isn’t a good time, Petra.”

“I know, and I’m sorry.” She looked at the floor, nervous. “But I read the letters last night. The ones that were in the ceiling.”

Petra dug into the backpack she was carrying and removed the envelopes, now individually sealed in plastic bags. Pressing them into my hands, she said, “You’ll want to read these, Mr. Holt.”

I dropped the letters onto the dining room table. At that moment, they were the least of my concerns. “I will, but—”

Petra scooped them up and pushed them back into my hands. “Now,” she said. “Trust me.”

* * *

? ? ?

The letters sat open on the floor of the Indigo Room, where Petra and I had retreated after she demanded I read them. There were four of them, handwritten in a swooping, elegant script.

“All of them were written by someone named Callum,” Petra said. “They’re addressed to Indigo, which makes me think she hid them in the floorboards after she read them. You know, for safekeeping.”

“Why would she need to hide them?”

Petra pointed to the first letter. “The answer’s right there.”

I picked it up, the paper as rigid as parchment, and began to read.

July 3, 1889

My dearest Indigo,

I write these words with a heavy heart, having just spoken to your father. As we both feared, my darling, he has unconditionally refused to give me permission to ask for your hand in marriage. The reasons for his decision were exactly the ones we had anticipated—that I lack the means to provide you with the lifestyle to which you are accustomed and that I have proven myself not a whit in the world of business or finance. Although I pleaded with him to change his thinking, assuring him that if you become my wife you will want for nothing, he refused to entertain the matter. Our plan to join our lives as husband and wife the proper way—with your father’s blessing, before the eyes of God, and witnessed by those closest to us—has come to a shattering end.

Yet I retain hope, my beloved, for there is another way in which we can become man and wife, although it is one I wished with all my heart to avoid. Since your father has made it abundantly clear his opinion won’t be swayed, I boldly suggest we defy his wishes. I know of a reverend in Montpelier who has agreed to join us in marriage without the consent of your family. I know full well that elopement is a drastic undertaking, but if your love for me is as strong as you claim, then I beseech you to consider it. Please reply immediately, telling me of your decision. Even if it is no, I assure you I will remain, always and forever—

Your faithfully devoted,

Callum

I lowered the letter, my gaze moving to the painting above the fireplace. Hibbs had told me the story about Indigo’s failed attempt to run off with the man who’d lovingly created that portrait, and I wondered if he and the letter writer were one and the same.

Standing, I approached the painting, once again amazed at the amount of detail on display. The joyful spark in Indigo’s eyes. The hint of a smile in her ruby lips. The individual strands of fur on the rabbit she was holding. Other than the cracked paint around the rabbit’s eyes, the work was flawless. I wasn’t surprised one bit when I looked to the bottom right corner and found the artist’s name.

Callum Auguste.

“It was him,” Petra said, suddenly beside me. “He’s the dude who wrote the letters.”

“Yes,” I said, chuckling at her word choice. “The very same dude.”

We returned to the letters on the floor, where I proceeded to read the rest, beginning with one dated three days after the first.

July 6, 1889

My darling Indigo,

My heart has been singing with joy since receiving your reply, and will continue to rejoice for the rest of my days. Thank you, my dearest one, for agreeing to my plan, despite how much it pains you to disobey your father’s wishes. I know the bond between you is stronger than what most fathers and daughters share. You are the apple of his eye, and one cannot blame him for wanting only the best for you. It is my greatest hope that he will soon come to understand and accept what we already know—that all you and I require is our undying love.

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