Read an Excerpt
The Seventh Sinner
By Elizabeth Peters
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
Jean would never forget her first encounter
with Jacqueline Kirby. It was years before she
could think about it without blushing all over. An
acquaintance which begins with assault and battery,
however inadvertent, can hardly be termed
There was some slight excuse for Jean's behavior.
All morning she had been working, or trying
to work, in the Institute library. There were distractions.
First and omnipresent was the siren call
of the city outside the dusty library stacks. April
in Paris is famous, but May in Rome has an allure
that can distract the soberest student. The city of
Michelangelo and the dolce vita, the capital of the
papacy and the Caesars--whatever it is you may
be seeking, you can find it somewhere in Rome.
Jean's prized fellowship at one of the world's
most famous institutions of art and archaeology
was a poor substitute for Rome on a spring morning;
and the call of duty was not as effective as
Ulysses' waxen earplugs against the siren's song.
Michael was a second distraction, and if he was
not as overwhelming as an entire city, he was
closer at hand. Michael should have been working
too; but his sense of duty was as neglected as
his shaggy, shoulder-length brown hair. He
dithered aimlessly about the stacks,peering at
Jean through gaps in the shelved books and edging
up to her whenever she got into a dark corner.
Emerging, breathless and disheveled, from one
of these encounters, Jean had to admit she wasn't
avoiding them as wholeheartedly as she might
have done. Michael would leave her in peace if
she retired into her office and closed the door. The
small windowless cubicles assigned to the student
fellows were spartan affairs, with only a desk and
chair and a couple of bookcases. The doors had
glass panels on the upper halves, but they served
the same purpose as the sported oak of Oxford.
When the door was closed, the occupant did not
wish to be disturbed. Nothing less than a fire or
general insurrection justified so much as a knock.
As she stood contemplating her own office
door, Michael caught up with her again. His arm
went around her and Jean came back to her
senses with a start to find that her undisciplined
body was responding. She pulled away. All she
needed was to be caught in dalliance by one of
the members of the fellowship committee, two
weeks before that committee met to decide on the
renewal of student grants for a second year.
"All right," she hissed irritably. "I give up. . . .
No, damn it, I don't mean that! I mean, let's get
out of here."
Jean was never quite sure which of them was
responsible for the disaster. The Institute's halls
were magnificent expanses of polished marble.
As Jean emerged from the library she saw that the
corridor was deserted--a long, snowy stretch of
emptiness, shining like ice and just as slippery.
She couldn't resist. She broke into a run, with
Michael in enthusiastic pursuit.
They turned the corner together. Jean had one
flashing glimpse of a face, openmouthed in consternation,
and then there was a melee of flailing
arms and legs, a stifled shriek, and a dull thud.
She and Michael, who had somehow kept their
feet, stood staring down at a prostrate, motionless
"Holy Christ," said Michael sincerely. "Is she
The fallen woman didn't look very lively. Jean
had seen her in the library during the past few
weeks and had classified her, disinterestedly, as a
summer visitor--a teacher or scholar. She usually
wore neat tailored dresses and horn-rimmed
glasses, and her hair was pulled back into a severe
knot at the back of her neck.
In her present state of collapse she looked quite
different. Ahuge purse had gone flying at the impact,
and its contents littered the floor for yards around, like the debris left by a miniature tornado.
The demure knee-length skirt had been
disarranged, displaying legs that drew an admiring
whistle from Michael. A shaft of sunlight fell
across the woman's head and shoulders, spotlighting
a face whose features looked pallid and
austere--high cheekbones, a firm chin, long,
curved lips like the mouth of an archaic Greek
statue. The hair was spectacular. It had been loosened
by the fall, and lay about the peaceful face
like a pool of molten bronze, gleaming with
"Did we kill her?" Michael demanded.
"Don't be ridiculous. . . . I hope not!"
Suddenly, without preliminary fluttering or
blinking, the closed eyes opened. They were a
true, clear green, an unusual color for human
eyes. They looked translucent, like seawater, and
they focused on Jean with an expression of concentrated
malevolence made all the more alarming
by contrast with the placidity of the face in
which they were set.
The woman's compressed lips parted.
"Here, too, O Lord?" a plaintive voice inquired.
Jean, who had been thinking in terms of concussion,
revised her diagnosis. Clearly there was
some kind of brain damage. She dropped to her
"Don't try to talk," she said agitatedly. "Just
don't move. Did you break anything? Did you--"
"Did I break anything?" The implacable green
eyes moved on to examine Michael, who stirred
uneasily. "I have no intention of moving. I may
stay here for the rest of the day. It seems to be the
safest place. Unless you trample on helpless bodies
Jean sat back on her heels.
"I think you're all right."
"I am all right. Not good, but all right. No
worse than usual . . . I talk like this all the time.
Who are you?"
"Jean Suttman, Michael Casey," said Michael.
"Do you want me to help you up?"
"No," said his victim distinctly.
Michael sat down on the floor.
"Who are you?" he asked conversationally.
Excerpted from The Seventh Sinner
by Elizabeth Peters
Copyright © 2006 by Elizabeth Peters.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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