Chain of Gold (The Last Hours #1)

Lucie nodded. “Aunt Charlotte is so kind, I can’t imagine she won’t help.”

Aunt Charlotte was Charlotte Fairchild, the first woman ever to be elected Consul. She was also the mother of James’s parabatai, Matthew, and an old family friend of the Herondales.

A Consul had enormous power, and when Cordelia had first heard of her father’s imprisonment, she’d thought immediately of Charlotte. But the Consul wasn’t free to do whatever she wanted, Sona had explained. There were groups within the Clave, powerful factions always pressuring her to do this or do that, and she couldn’t risk angering them. It would only make things worse for their family if they went to the Consul.

Privately Cordelia thought her mother was wrong—wasn’t that what power was, the ability to risk angering people? What was the point of being a female Consul if you still had to fret about keeping people happy? Her mother was too cautious, too fearful. Sona believed the only possible way out of their current situation was for Cordelia to marry someone influential: someone who could salvage their family name if Elias went to prison.

But Cordelia would not mention that to Lucie. She had no intention of mentioning it to anyone. She could barely bring herself to think about it: she was not against the idea of marrying, but it had to be to the right person and it had to be for love. It would not be as part of a bargain to reduce her family’s shame when her father had done nothing wrong. She would solve this with cleverness and bravery—not with the sale of herself as a bride.

“I know, it absolutely is awful right now,” said Lucie, and Cordelia had the feeling she’d missed several moments of Lucie talking, “but I just know it will be over soon and your father will be back safely. And meanwhile you’ll be in London and you can train with me and—Oh!” Lucie took her arm out of Cordelia’s and dipped into her handbag. “I almost forgot. I have another installment of The Beautiful Cordelia for you to read.”

Cordelia smiled and tried to put the situation with her father out of her mind. The Beautiful Cordelia was a novel that Lucie had begun when she was twelve. It had been intended to cheer Cordelia up during an extended stay in Switzerland. It chronicled the adventures of a young woman named Cordelia, devastatingly beautiful to all who beheld her, and the handsome man who adored her, Lord Hawke. Sadly they had been parted when the beautiful Cordelia had been kidnapped by pirates, and ever since then she had been trying to find her way back to him, though her journey was complicated by many adventures as well as so many other attractive men—who always fell in love with her and desired marriage—that the real Cordelia had lost count.

Every month, faithfully, for four years, Lucie had mailed Cordelia a new chapter and Cordelia had curled up with her fictional counterpart’s romantic adventures and lost herself in fantasy for a while.

“Wonderful,” she said, taking the sheets of paper. “I can hardly wait to see if Cordelia escapes from the wicked Bandit King!”

“Well, as it turns out, the Bandit King isn’t entirely wicked. You see, he’s the youngest son of a duke who’s always been—sorry,” Lucie ended meekly at Cordelia’s glare. “I forgot how you hate to be told the story before you read it.”

“I do.” Cordelia knocked her friend in the arm with the rolled-up manuscript. “But thank you, darling, I shall read it directly I have a moment.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Is it—I mean, I wish to chat alone with you, too, but are we being dreadfully rude asking your brother to walk behind us?”

“Not a bit,” Lucie assured her. “Look at him. He’s quite distracted, reading.”

And he was. Though James seemed entirely caught up in whatever he was perusing, he nevertheless skirted oncoming passersby, the occasional rock or fallen branch, and once even a small boy holding a hoop, with admirable grace. Cordelia suspected that if she had tried such a trick, she would have crashed into a tree.

“You’re so lucky,” Cordelia said, still looking over her shoulder at James.

“Why on earth?” Lucie looked at her with wide eyes. Where James’s eyes were amber, Lucie’s were pale blue, a few shades lighter than her father’s.

Cordelia’s head snapped back around. “Oh, because—” Because you get to spend time with James every day? She doubted Lucie thought that was any special gift; one didn’t, when it was one’s family. “He’s such a good older brother. If I’d asked Alastair to walk ten paces behind me in a park, he would have made sure to stick by my side the entire time just to be annoying.”

“Pfft!” Lucie exclaimed. “Of course I adore Jamie, but he’s been dreadful lately, ever since he fell in love.”

She might as well have dropped an incendiary device on Cordelia’s head. Everything seemed to fly apart around her. “He what?”

“Fell in love,” Lucie repeated, with the look of someone enjoying imparting a bit of gossip. “Oh, he won’t say with who, of course, because it’s Jamie and he never tells us anything. But Father’s diagnosed him and he says it’s definitely love.”

“You make it sound like consumption.” Cordelia’s head was whirling with dismay. James in love? With who?

“Well, it is a bit, isn’t it? He gets all pale and moody and stares off out of windows like Keats.”

“Did Keats stare out of windows?” Sometimes keeping up with Lucie was difficult.

Lucie plowed on, undeterred by the question of whether England’s foremost Romantic poet had or had not stared out of windows. “He won’t say anything to anyone but Matthew, and Matthew is a tomb where James is concerned. I heard a bit of their conversation this morning by accident, though—”

“Accident?” Cordelia raised an eyebrow.

“I may have been hiding beneath a table,” said Lucie, with dignity. “But it was only because I had lost an earring and was looking for it.”

Cordelia suppressed a smile. “Go on.”

“He is definitely in love, and Matthew thinks he is being foolish. It is a girl who does not live in London, but she is about to arrive here for an extended stay. Matthew does not approve of her—” Lucie broke off suddenly and clutched at Cordelia’s wrist. “Oh!”

“Ouch! Lucie—”

“A lovely young lady about to arrive in London! Oh, I am a goose! Of course it’s clear who he meant!”

“Is it?” Cordelia said. They were nearing the famous Long Water; she could see the sun sparkling off the surface.

“He meant you,” Lucie breathed. “Oh, how lovely! Imagine if you got married! We could be sisters in truth!”

“Lucie!” Cordelia dropped her voice to a whisper. “We’ve no proof he meant me.”

“Well, he’d be mad not to be in love with you,” said Lucie. “You’re terribly pretty, and just as Matthew said, you’ve just arrived in London for an extended stay. Who else could it be? The Enclave simply isn’t that large. No, it must be you.”

“I don’t know—”

Lucie’s eyes rounded. “Is it that you don’t care for him? Well, you can’t be expected to, yet. I mean you’ve known him all your life, so I imagine he isn’t that impressive, but I am quite sure you could get used to his face. He doesn’t snore or make rude jokes. Really, he isn’t bad at all,” she added judiciously. “Just consider it? Dance one dance with him tomorrow. You do have a dress, don’t you? You must have a lovely dress, if he is to be properly stunned by you.”

“I do have a dress,” Cordelia hastened to reassure her, though she knew it was far from lovely.

“Once you have stunned him,” Lucie went on, “he will propose. Then we shall decide whether you will accept and if you do, if you will have a long engagement. It might be better if you did, so that we can complete our parabatai training.”

“Lucie, you are making me dizzy!” Cordelia said, and cast a worried look over her shoulder. Had James heard any of what they had said? No, it didn’t seem so: he was still wandering along, reading.

A betraying hope swelled in her heart, and for a moment she allowed herself to imagine being engaged to James, being welcomed into Lucie’s family. Lucie, her sister in the eyes of the law now, carrying a sheaf of flowers at her wedding. Their friends—they would certainly have friends—exclaiming, Oh, you two make a perfect couple—

She frowned suddenly. “Why does Matthew not approve of me?” she asked, and then cleared her throat. “I mean, if I was the girl they were talking about, which I am sure I was not.”

Lucie waved her hand airily. “He did not think the girl in question cared for James. But as we have already ascertained, you can fall in love with him quite easily, if you put a bit of effort into it. Matthew is overly protective of Jamie, but he is nothing to fear. He may not like many people, but he’s very kind to the ones he does like.”

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