Chain of Gold (The Last Hours #1)

Cordelia stiffened her spine. She had made a mistake in mentioning Paris; she would not compound it by seeming weak. She gazed out upon the dance floor, a smile glued to her lips. She caught sight of her brother, now in conversation with Thomas Lightwood. The two boys sat casually on a rout-seat together, as if they were exchanging confidences. Even Alastair was doing a better job of charming the influential than she was.

Not far from them, leaning against a wall, was a girl dressed in the height of fashion—men’s fashion. Tall and almost painfully slender, she had dark, dark hair like Will and James did. Hers was cut short and smoothed down with pomade, the edges finger-combed into careful curls. Her hands were long, ink-and-tobacco-stained and beautiful to look at, like the hands on a statue. She was smoking a cheroot, the smoke drifting up past her face, which was unusual: fine-boned and sharp edged.

Anna, Cordelia realized. This was Anna Lightwood, Lucie’s cousin. She was certainly the most intimidating person in the room.

“Oh, my,” said Catherine, as the music rose. “It’s a waltz.”

Cordelia glanced down. She knew how to dance: her mother had engaged an expert instructor to teach her the quadrille and the lancer, the stately minuet and the cotillion. But the waltz was a seductive dance, one where you could feel your partner’s body against yours, scandalous when it had first become popular. She’d never learned it.

She very much wanted to dance it with James. But he probably didn’t even wish to dance at all; he probably wanted to talk with his friends, as any young man would. She heard another spate of giggles and whispers, and Catherine’s voice saying, “Isn’t she that girl whose father—”

“Daisy? Would you like to dance?”

There was only one boy who called her that. She looked up, incredulous, to see James standing in front of her.

His beautiful hair was disorderly, as it always was, and more charming for that: a lock of it fell over his forehead, and his lashes were thick and dark over his pale gold eyes. His cheekbones arched like wings.

The group of girls had fallen into a stunned silence. Cordelia felt as if she might be floating.

“I don’t,” she faltered, having no idea what she was saying, “quite know how to waltz.”

“Then I shall teach you,” James said, and a moment later they had whirled out onto the dance floor.

“Thank goodness you were free,” James said with frank cheerfulness as they moved among the other couples, searching for a space. “I was afraid I’d have to ask Catherine to dance, and all she talks about is how scandalous Matthew is.”

“Glad to be of service,” said Cordelia, a bit breathless. “But I truly can’t waltz.”

“Oh, neither can I.” He grinned and spun to face her. She was so close to him, and they were touching, his hand on her forearm. “At least not well. Shall we agree to try not to mash each other’s toes?”

“I can try,” Cordelia said, then gave a small squeak as he drew her into his arms. The room swam for a moment. This was James, her James, and he was holding her, his hand on her shoulder blade. He took her other hand and placed it firmly on his arm.

And then they were off, and she was doing her best to follow. She had learned that much at least: how to be led in a dance, how to respond to your partner’s hinted movements. James danced well—nothing surprising there, given how graceful he was—and he made it easy to follow him.

“Not bad,” James said. He blew at the lock of hair dangling over his forehead, but that only made it fall farther into his eyes. He grinned ruefully as Cordelia forced herself through sheer exercise of will not to reach up and push it back. “Still, always embarrassing when your parents dance better than you do.”

“Humph,” Cordelia said. “Speak for yourself.” She caught sight of Lucie dancing with Matthew a few feet away. Lucie was laughing. “Maybe Catherine is in love with Matthew,” she suggested. “Maybe he holds a dark fascination for her.”

“That would be exciting. And I assure you, nothing exciting has happened to the London Enclave in a very long time.”

Dancing with James was its own reward, of course, but it occurred to Cordelia that it might also be useful. “I was just thinking how very many people there are in the Enclave, and how little I know of them. I know you and Lucie, of course.…”

“Shall I give you a bit of the tour of the rest of them?” he asked, as they executed a complicated turn. “Perhaps a few pointers on who everyone is will make you feel more at home?”

She smiled. “It would, thank you.”

“Over there,” he said, and indicated Ariadne and Charles, dancing together. Her wine-colored dress glowed under the lights. “Charles you know, and with him is Ariadne Bridgestock, his fiancée.”

“I didn’t know they were engaged!”

James’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “You know Charles is nearly assured of the position of Consul when his mother steps down after her third term. Ariadne’s father is the Inquisitor, a very advantageous political alliance for Charles… though I’m sure he loves her as well.”

James didn’t sound as if he entirely believed that, though to Cordelia’s eyes, Charles was gazing down at his fiancée quite adoringly. She hoped James hadn’t become cynical. The James she remembered was anything but cynical.

“And that must be Anna,” she said. It could not have been anyone else than the cousin Lucie had described in her letters: beautiful, fearless, always dressed in the finest clothes Jermyn Street had to offer. She stood laughing as she spoke with her father, Gabriel, near the door to the withdrawing room.

“Anna indeed,” said James. “And there is her brother, Christopher, dancing with Rosamund Wentworth.”

Cordelia moved her gaze to a slim boy in glasses she recognized from photographs. Christopher, she knew, was one of James’s close friends, along with Matthew and Thomas. He was glumly dancing with a furious-looking Rosamund.

“Alas, Christopher is far more at home with beakers and test tubes than he is with female company,” said James. “Let’s just hope he doesn’t pitch poor Rosamund into the refreshment table.”

“Is he in love with her?”

“Lord, no, barely knows her,” said James. “Besides Charles and Ariadne, Barbara Lightwood has an understanding with Oliver Hayward. And Anna is always breaking someone’s heart. Beyond that, I’m not sure I can think of any romances brewing in our set. Though having you and Alastair here might bring us some excitement, Daisy.”

“I didn’t realize you remembered that old nickname.”

“What, Daisy?” He was holding her close as they danced: she could feel the heat of him all up and down her front, making her prickle all over. “Of course I remember it. I gave it to you. I hope you don’t intend me to stop using it.”

“Of course not. I like it.” She forced herself not to move her gaze from his. Goodness, his eyes were startling up close. They were the color of golden syrup, almost shocking against the black of his pupils. She had heard the whispers, knew people found his eyes odd and alien, a sign of his difference. She thought they were the color of fire and gold, the way she imagined the heart of the sun. “Though I don’t think it suits me. Daisy sounds like a pretty little girl in hair ribbons.”

“Well,” he said. “You are at least one of those things.”

And he smiled. It was a sweet smile, the kind she was used to from James, but there was an edge to it, a hint of something more—did he mean she was pretty, or a little girl? Or did he just mean she was a girl? What did he mean? Goodness, flirting was vexing, Cordelia thought.

Wait, was James Herondale flirting with her?

“A number of us are having a picnic in Regent’s Park tomorrow,” he said, and Cordelia felt her body tighten. Was he about to ask her to accompany him somewhere? She would have preferred a private ride or walk in the park, but she would accept a group outing. In truth, she would have accepted a visit to Hades. “On the chance that Lucie hasn’t already mentioned it to you—”

He broke off: suddenly he was looking past her, at someone who had just come into the room. Cordelia followed his gaze and saw a tall woman, thin as a scarecrow in the black of mundane mourning, with gray-streaked hair dressed in the style of decades ago. Tessa was hurrying toward her, a concerned look on her face. Will was following.

As Tessa reached her, the woman stepped aside, revealing the girl who had been standing behind her. A girl dressed all in ivory, with a soft waterfall of white-gold curls gathered back from her face. The girl moved forward gracefully to greet Tessa and Will, and as she did so, James dropped Cordelia’s hands.

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