Chain of Gold (The Last Hours #1)

They were no longer dancing. James turned away from Cordelia without a word and strode across the room toward the newcomers. She stood, frozen in confusion, as James bent to kiss the hand of the stunningly beautiful girl who had just walked into the room. Titters rose on the dance floor. Lucie had stepped back from Matthew, her eyes wide. Alastair and Thomas both turned to look at Cordelia with expressions of surprise.

At any moment, Cordelia knew, her mother would notice that she was drifting in the middle of the dance floor like an abandoned tugboat and charge toward her, and then Cordelia would die. She would die of the humiliation. Cordelia was scanning the room for the nearest exit, ready to flee, when a hand grasped her arm. She was spun around and into an expert grip: a moment later she was dancing again, her feet automatically following her partner’s.

“That’s right.” It was Matthew Fairchild. Fair hair, spicy cologne, a blur of a smile. His hands were gentle as he swept her back into the waltz. “Just—try to smile, and no one will notice anything happened. James and I are practically interchangeable in the public consciousness anyway.”

“James—left,” Cordelia said, in shock.

“I know,” said Matthew. “Very bad form. One should not leave a lady on the dance floor unless something is actually on fire. I’ll have a word.”

“A word,” Cordelia echoed. She was beginning to feel less stunned and more angry. “A word?”

“Several words, if it will make you feel better?”

“Who is she?” Cordelia said. She almost didn’t want to ask, but it was better to know the truth. It was always better to know the truth.

“Her name is Grace Blackthorn,” said Matthew quietly. “She is the ward of Tatiana Blackthorn, and they have just come to London. Apparently she grew up in some hole in the country in Idris—that’s how James knows her. They used to cross paths in the summers.”

It is a girl who does not live in London, but she is about to arrive here for an extended stay.

Cordelia felt sick to her stomach. To think she had thought that Lucie was talking about her. That James could have felt those feelings about her.

“You look ill,” Matthew observed. “Is it my dancing? Is it me personally?”

Cordelia drew herself up. She was Cordelia Carstairs, daughter of Elias and Sona, one of a long line of Shadowhunters. She was the inheritor of the famous sword Cortana, which had been passed down through the Carstairs family for generations. She was in London to save her father. She would not fall apart in public.

“Perhaps I’m nervous,” she said. “Lucie did say you didn’t like many people.”

Matthew gave a sharp, startled laugh, before schooling his face back into a look of lazy amusement. “Did she? Lucie’s a chatterbox.”

“But not a liar,” she said.

“Well, fear not. I do not dislike you. I hardly know you,” said Matthew. “I do know your brother. He made my life miserable at school, and Christopher’s, and James’s.”

Cordelia looked over at James and Grace reluctantly. They made a stunning picture, his dark hair and her fair icicle beauty. Like ashes and silver. How, how, how could Cordelia ever have thought someone like James Herondale would be interested in someone like her?

“Alastair and I are very different,” Cordelia said. She didn’t want to say more than that. It felt disloyal to Alastair. “I like Oscar Wilde, for instance, and he does not.”

The corner of Matthew’s mouth curled up. “I see you go directly for the soft underbelly, Cordelia Carstairs. Have you really read Oscar’s work?”

“Just Dorian Gray,” Cordelia confessed. “It gave me nightmares.”

“I should like to have a portrait in the attic,” Matthew mused, “that would show all my sins, while I stayed young and beautiful. And not only for sinning purposes—imagine being able to try out new fashions on it. I could paint the portrait’s hair blue and see how it looks.”

“You don’t need a portrait. You are young and beautiful,” Cordelia pointed out.

“Men are not beautiful. Men are handsome,” objected Matthew.

“Thomas is handsome. You are beautiful,” said Cordelia, feeling the imp of the perverse stealing over her. Matthew was looking stubborn. “James is beautiful too,” she added.

“He was a very unprepossessing child,” said Matthew. “Scowly, and he hadn’t grown into his nose.”

“He’s grown into everything now,” Cordelia said.

Matthew laughed, again as if he was surprised to be doing it. “That was a very shocking observation, Cordelia Carstairs. I am shocked.” But his eyes were dancing. “Did James tell you about tomorrow?”

“He did say there was some sort of excursion—a picnic, I think. I am not sure if I am invited, though.”

“Of course you’re invited. I’m inviting you.”

“Oh. Can you do that?”

“I think you’ll find I can do whatever I want, and I usually do.”

“Because the Consul is your mother?” Cordelia said.

He raised an eyebrow.

“I’ve always hoped to meet her,” Cordelia said. “Is she here tonight?”

“No, she’s in Idris,” he said, with a gracious half shrug. “She left a few days ago. It’s unusual for the Consul to live in London—she’s rarely here. The Clave requires her.”

“Oh,” said Cordelia, struggling to hide her disappointment. “How long will she be—”

Matthew spun her in a surprising twirl that left the other dancers looking at them in puzzlement. “You will come to the picnic tomorrow, won’t you?” he said. “It will keep Lucie amused while James moons after Grace. You want Lucie to be happy, don’t you?”

“Of course I do—” Cordelia began, and then, glancing around, realized that she had not seen Lucie in some time. No matter how she craned her head and searched among the dancers, she did not see her friend’s blue dress, or the glint of her brown hair. Puzzled, she turned to Matthew. “But where is she? Where did Lucie go?”





3 THIS LIVING HAND




This living hand, now warm and capable

Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold

And in the icy silence of the tomb,

So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights

That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood

So in my veins red life might stream again.

—John Keats, “This Living Hand”



It was a bit like the moment in a dream where one realized one was dreaming, only in reverse. When Lucie saw the boy from the forest come into the ballroom, she assumed she was dreaming, and only when her parents began to hurry over toward him and his two companions did she realize that she wasn’t.

In a daze, she pushed through the crowd toward the ballroom doors. As she neared her parents, she recognized the woman they were speaking to, her taffeta dress stretched across bony arms and shoulders, her oversize hat covered with lace, tulle, and a memorable stuffed bird. Tatiana Blackthorn.

Lucie had always been a bit frightened of Tatiana, especially when she had come to their house, demanding that James cut the thorns from her gates. She remembered her as a sort of towering skeleton, but with the passage of years, it seemed that Tatiana had shrunk: still tall, but no longer a giant.

And there beside her was Grace. Lucie recalled her as a determinedly poised child, but she was quite different now. Cold and lovely and statuesque.

But Lucie barely spared them a glance. She was staring at the boy who had come in with them. The changeling boy she had last seen in Brocelind Forest.

He had not altered at all. His hair was still a black spill over his forehead, his eyes the same eerie green. He wore the same clothes he had in the forest: dark trousers and an ivory shirt whose sleeves had been rolled up above his elbows. It was very odd attire for a ball.

He was watching as Tessa and Will greeted Tatiana and Grace, Will bending to kiss Grace’s satin-gloved hand. Oddly, neither of them greeted the boy. As Lucie neared them, her brows drew down into a frown. They were speaking to each other, ignoring him entirely, talking through him as if he weren’t there. How could they be so rude?

Lucie hurried forward, her mouth opening, her gaze fixed on the boy, her boy, her boy from the forest. He raised his head and saw her looking, and to her astonishment, a look of horror passed over his face.

She stopped dead. She could see James making his way through the crowd toward them somewhere in the distance, but the boy was already stepping away from Tatiana and Grace, moving toward Lucie. Speeding toward her, actually, like a runaway horse on Rotten Row.

No one else seemed to see him. No one turned to look at either of them, even when he seized hold of Lucie’s wrist and drew her after him out of the room.



* * *




“Would you do me the honor of this dance?” said James.

He was conscious of the presence of his parents, and of Tatiana Blackthorn, observing everything with her poison-green eyes. He was conscious of the music, continuing around them, and conscious of his own heartbeat, loud as thunder in his ears. He was conscious of all those things, but they seemed distant, as if trapped behind a wall of glass. The only thing that was real in the room was Grace.

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