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Page 46

Monsieur Lanier and his mother remained rooted in place, staring in shock at the display. Coralie leapt to her feet and yanked a bellpull, then rushed to Celine, trying to catch her flailing hands. As several footmen, two maids, and Mary tumbled in, Violet retrieved her pedal and drum and concealed them in her box.

Mary produced smelling salts, which calmed Celine. Coralie hovered, wanting to help, but Madame Lanier held out her hand, her anger making the curls of her carefully coiffed gray hair tremble.

“Come away, Coralie. These are tricksters and frauds, and they are not getting a penny of my money.”

Oh, damn and blast. Violet ground her teeth. They needed that fee.

Coralie showed some backbone at last. She refused to leave, gave orders to the servants, and oversaw getting Celine into a hired conveyance she sent a footman to fetch.

Madame Lanier loudly announced her intention to retire, ignored by everyone but her son, and marched upstairs as Celine was bundled out the door. Celine, surrounded by servants and breathless with gratitude for them taking care of her, entered the coach. While the attention was around her, Violet stepped back into the dining room, wiped the remains of phosphorus paint from the walls, and stuffed the handkerchief into her pocket. She’d already shoved the box of their accoutrements and the candelabra at Mary.

Violet reached the foyer again to see the hired coach pulling away from the door, Mary looking anxiously out the window. Violet rushed out, but the coach kept moving, its lights growing smaller in the darkness. Bloody . . .

A touch on her arm made her jump. Monsieur Lanier stood next to her, a look of apology on his face. Violet remembered, in her agitation, to remain in her persona. “But where have they gone?” she asked, her Russian accent heightened.

“I told your coachman to drive on. I would like to speak with you, Mademoiselle le Princess.”

What about? Violet hesitantly followed him into a parlor, which was opposite the dining room. Monsieur Lanier kept the door open, and stood looking at Violet without asking her to sit down. She watched him nervously, noting the distance between herself and the door, and the obstacles she’d have to navigate to reach it—a sturdy armchair, a tall table with square legs filled with knickknacks, a little desk.

“Mademoiselle, I must ask you to remove those veils.”

“Oh no, Monsieur.” Violet needed no hesitation over that. The veils both provided a fiction and anonymity. She could run about the city in her ordinary clothes and have no one connect her to their show. “I cannot. It is forbidden me.”

Monsieur Lanier’s lips relaxed from their stern line. “Nonsense, you are a guest in my house. You may trust me.”

He moved quickly for a sedentary man. Before Violet could evade him, he deftly caught and threw back the veils.

Violet swung away and made for the door, but Monsieur Lanier got ahead of her, cutting her off and closing the door before Violet could reach it.

“Really, Monsieur, I must go.”

“In a moment. Don’t worry, I will not be summoning the police. I had a wager with myself—either you covered your face because you truly were a dangerous beauty, or you were so ugly you feared you’d drive your audiences away.” He gave her an admiring look. “I am pleased to see that the beauty is true.”

“You are too kind, Monsieur,” Violet said, pretending shyness. She ducked her head—he’d seen her, nothing she could do, but she didn’t need him memorizing her features.

“I also wanted to apologize for my mother’s behavior,” Monsieur Lanier said, sounding businesslike now. This banker would not fall to the ground and worship a deadly beautiful princess. “My mother is elderly and sometimes forgets her manners. She said she will not pay you, but please accept this for your trouble.”

He held up a roll of banknotes. The bundle was pleasantly thick, but Violet, who could count notes faster than a bookmaker at a racetrack, knew it was still only about one-quarter their usual fee.

Monsieur Lanier pressed the money into Violet’s hand, closing her fingers around it. He kept his hand wrapped around hers, and clamped the other about her wrist.

“And perhaps you may do me the honor . . .” He smiled into her face. “My wife is of a sickly disposition. Not often at home to me, if you know what I mean.”

Violet’s mouth went dry, her heart jumping in the beginnings of panic. “Monsieur, I must go tend to the countess. She needs me.”

“Why? She has plenty of servants. You’re a princess, aren’t you?” He said the word with a knowing sneer. “Not the sort of woman who waits on other women. The countess is a good actress, and she will be quite well when you reach her.”

“Truly, I must go.” Violet tried to pull away, but his grip was powerful.

Monsieur Lanier grabbed her other wrist. He pushed her against a wall—the wallpaper a pleasant cornflower blue with sprigs of white roses on it. The shape and size of the little climbing roses fixed in Violet’s mind, the loops of the vines becoming a mesmerizing pattern.

Monsieur Lanier released one of Violet’s wrists so he could squeeze her breast, hard. Violet tried to scream, but her throat closed up in dryness.

She struggled—how dare he?—and kicked with her high-heeled boot. Monsieur Lanier blocked her kick with surprising deftness, and he curved over her, his breath wine scented, his eyes glittering.

“Now, you stay still and give me what I want, and your fee will be considerably higher. Be a good princess . . .”

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