Chapter Twenty-Four

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I was lying on top of my bed, still fully clothed, unmoving.

My lungs rasped on, though I had taken my inhaler again after I got back and out of the cold.

I sighed.

I looked at the small clock on the bedside table; it was eight-thirty. Dinner had been early and ended sooner than I expected, and there was still plenty of time before services in town.

I could go if I wanted. I could stand there and stare at Marigold across a crowded room, loving her, desiring her, aching for her, thinking all kinds of thoughts I was sure would damn me straight to Hell, if I were of her faith. Or any faith.

My faith had run out long ago.

Most likely, though, if I went I would end up calling her father out on his actions. There was no way I could be in the same room with the man, let alone watch him pray to his God in self-righteous piety while his daughter cried her eyes out at the back of the building.

There was no way in the world I'd be able to stand for it, and the scene I'd create would only heap more scandal upon Marigold and her family.

But God, I wanted a shot at that heartless bastard. Whether I succeeded in humiliating him or he pulverized me, I didn't care. I wanted to hurt him, somehow, even if I couldn't come close to repaying him for the way he'd hurt her.

Even if he ended up beating the living daylights out of me, I wouldn't care, I couldn't feel any worse than I did at that moment.

The candles burned down, flickering near their death. I lit two more.

I picked up the book. I didn't know if I should think of it as Sutton's or J. Howard's now. Then I accepted it was J. Howard's, just as Aurelia Belle had really been his, however their lives had turned out.

For a moment in time, stolen from antiquity, they belonged to each other, and they had left their most beautiful mark on the world in the form of the girl I couldn't forget.

I heard a noise. At first I thought the snow had turned to freezing rain and was pelting my window.

Then I recognized it as something else entirely.

I looked out from the fogged glass and saw Marigold below, my angel in the snow, tossing rocks to get my attention. She was alone, and I wondered how on Earth she'd managed to get out of Finch's house on her own.

I rushed down the back steps and unlocked the door. She came inside and stood there, staring at me, her eyes rimmed with red but not shedding tears now.

"Tell me," she demanded, "tell me who you are, and where you really came from."

"Marigold—"

"Tell me you know something about him!"

"About who?"

"About the man who came to see me when I was a little girl! The one who told me never to take this off." She held up her pendant. "He came up to me at the station one day. I was only five, but I remember."

"Wait," I said, and I took her by the hand and led her upstairs to my room. "I have something to show you."

"Just tell me what you know of him, please! All my life I've wondered if he had anything to do with the fact Father always despised me. The man said he'd come into town on the special. That he'd known my mother. I remember him getting on the special moments later and leaving, and I never saw him again. In fact I don't remember anyone coming into town on that train ever again... not until you. Do you know him?" She spoke so fast she was nearly out of breath as she held me by the shoulders.

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