Read an Excerpt
The Grand Tour Series
By Lisa T. Bergren
David C. CookCopyright © 2013 Lisa T. Bergren
All rights reserved.
A shiver of fear ran down my back as I looked to the busy train platform outside my window. It's only your imagination, Cora. Silently, I counted to thirty, watching businessmen shake hands before parting. A young husband tenderly bussed his wife on the cheek as she anxiously wound a handkerchief in her hands. A man caught my eye in passing. He smiled and tipped his hat in my direction and I hurriedly glanced back to my lap. But when I lifted my eyes, the blue eyes of the dapper blond gent inside the train car with me were locked on me again. He was clearly watching me over the top edge of his newspaper.
I sighed and glanced at Nell, beside me.
"Cora?" she asked, studying my face. "What is it?"
"That man three rows up," I whispered, careful not to look his way. "Don't look right away. Wait until I look back to the window. Then see if he isn't studying us."
"All right," she said, a bit wan. Our near escape from kidnappers in Paris had left us all on edge. Even now, on this train bound for Provence, we had no idea if a telegram from our fathers, demanding we purchase passage on a steamship bound for home, would soon turn us right back around.
I looked back to the platform. The train whistle blew, and those few remaining boarded or departed. Our car lurched and then slowly began rolling forward. A man came up outside my window, keeping pace with us. It took me a moment to realize who it was.
"Pierre!" I whispered in sweet surprise, knowing he couldn't hear me. He smiled and tucked a red rose in the crevice just outside the window, then kissed his fingers and placed them against the glass.
I smiled as Nell and Lil both giggled in excitement beside me and Vivian shushed them. I put my fingers to the glass and stared into his green eyes, mouthing the word good-bye. He was practically running now, and neared the end of the train platform. He mouthed the word adieu and stopped, lifting a hand. A wave of sorrow washed through me, surprising me as I craned my neck to see him as long as I could. I wouldn't see him for a while, and this was the first time we'd been apart since I met him. His gesture had been undeniably moving. I knew for a fact he'd had several appointments this morning. Whom had he ignored in order to see me off?
"That might have been the most romantic thing I've ever seen," Lil said with a dreamy sigh, settling back in her seat once all we could see were city buildings and streets with countless people going about their days.
"I would quite agree," said a man, suddenly at the edge of our row. All four of us looked up at him—the blond man I thought had been watching me earlier. Will and Antonio rose behind him, concerned since he'd approached us without introduction. "That was Lord de Richelieu, wasn't it?"
"It was," I said before I'd thought it through. "Do you know Pierre?"
He gave me an odd smile. "Indeed. We have spoken on a number of occasions."
Will and Antonio eased back a half step with this revelation. But they did not leave. The man glanced over either shoulder at them, smiled again, and resettled his hat in the crook of his arm. "Gentlemen, ladies," he said to us all with a smart nod, and with that, he made his way down the aisle of the car, presumably heading toward the water closet.
"I told you we should have arranged for a private car," Vivian grumbled toward Will.
"And as I said," he returned benignly, "there were none to be had." His eyes followed the man. "Did you catch his name?"
I shook my head. "He didn't introduce himself. But if he knows Pierre, he can't be all bad, right?"
Will's eyes narrowed and flicked toward the window, where the petals of my rose were fluttering in the gathering breeze. "I would imagine Lord de Richelieu knows a great number of people," he said, almost to himself, then looked down the empty aisle.
"If we're to continue this journey," I said lowly, "we can't be looking over our shoulders the entire time, worried the kidnappers have returned."
"And he hardly seems the type," Viv added, equally as quiet. She lifted a hand and waved toward the end of the train. "So boldly approaching us."
"Quite," Will said, turning away then. But I could tell by the gingerly way he took his seat—as if poised to spring back up—that he didn't entirely agree.
I watched Will out of the corner of my eye as he leaned forward, arms on knees, to speak with his uncle, our tour guide, or "bear," who sat beside Antonio Lombardi, his fellow guide and guardian for our group. They had risked much, taking us to our next destination before we received the blessing of our fathers to do so after the attack at Pierre's chateau. As if he sensed that my gaze was still on him, Will glanced my way. I hurriedly turned my attention to the view outside my window, thinking of how he had saved me during the attack—and how that seemed to make Pierre jealous....
I shifted uneasily as I stared at Pierre's rose stubbornly clinging to the crevice in the window. It was actually timely, this parting. I needed some days to sort out just what I felt for Pierre de Richelieu. Or didn't feel. Accepting his sister's hospitality by staying in her Provençal chateau in Tarascon made me feel further ... entwined. And yet the promise that we would literally be staying in a defensible fortress might very well be the only thing that would keep our fathers from sending an armed horde to collect us and cart us back to America. We were willing to do anything to continue this tour across Europe. Whatever it took.
Behind Vivian sat her beau, Andrew, reading a newspaper, sitting next to his younger brother, Hugh, who was already in the midst of a hand of gin rummy with Felix, my half brother. The rest of the car was filled with twelve others. Two of them—Yves and Claude—were private detectives our bear had hired to ensure our safety, the remaining number a mix of Parisians and tourists. The blond man had not yet returned. Thoughts of him made me wish for the private car, as Viv did. Not that it mattered all that much in terms of finery or comfort when comparing it with our first-class cabin. Deeply burnished mahogany graced the tables and trim. Rich, autumn-hued toile covered the cushions. Matching drapes were tied back beside each window. At the bar at the far end of the car were crystal decanters and goblets rattling and clinking as we crossed rough patches.
All in all, it was much finer than anything I'd ever experienced in my former life. It caught me ... that odd sense of experience, understanding. A year ago, I would have been wide-eyed in wonder at such lavish surroundings. Now it felt more like I belonged within it. I wasn't sure whether or not I liked it, that I felt that way. What would happen to me when I returned to my normal, simple life? To school? A small town? Much of it beckoned to me. But never had it felt more distant than it did to me now.
Over the next hour, we slipped away from the last vestiges of the city and eased into hills ruled by French vintners and farmers. There were rows upon rows of spindly grapevines stubbornly making their way out of rocky soil; orchards of silvery-green olive trees; fields full of sunflowers not yet giving way to their heavy, yellow hats. The sun, rising hot and shoulder high, shone across my lap like a brilliant, golden blanket. Overcome by sudden weariness, I unpinned my hat, leaned my head against the window, and gradually succumbed to sleep even as Lillian and Nell, the youngest of both families, giggled beside me.
I cared not whether they laughed, nor whether there was any impropriety in my head rolling to one side or my mouth hanging open. As long as I did not end up snoring like a drunken sod, I figured a rest was warranted. Given the events of the day before, none of us had slept much, and we were all tired. Besides, the long train ride south was to take all day. If I could sleep away an hour or two of it, all the better.
When I awakened from my nap to find the girls now fighting sleep beside me, I smiled, stretched my neck a bit, and then picked my way past Lil to make my own visit to the WC. There were private water closets, or "WCs,"—one for men, one for women—on either end of the car. Vivian smiled at me, her green-brown eyes shifting to the girls. I was almost past the young gentlemen in our company when Hugh grabbed my wrist. I frowned down at him in irritation. "What's this?" he said, dropping my hand and shrugging as if unfairly accused by my look alone. "Come now. I only wanted a word." He flipped his brown hair out of his eyes.
I sighed. "What is it, Hugh?" I asked, schooling my tone into something civil. I seemed to be on a new, fairly even path with my half siblings and their friends, and I didn't wish to ruin it.
He smiled, catlike, and folded his arms, glancing at Felix, then back to me. "I only wished to know what our Parisian host meant by his grand gesture as we departed." He pointed toward where the rose had been, now long since blown away with the wind.
"I don't see how that's any of your affair."
"Oh, but it is, actually. As you dozed away the morning," he said, gesturing toward my seat, "I was thinking of a new import business Pierre may be interested in discussing. When shall we expect him to next join us?"
I eyed my brother, and Felix gave me a little shrug as if to say a joint venture wasn't impossible. I straightened. "Pierre was going to do his best to see us before we finished our week in Provence and moved northward. He does intend, however, to meet up with us in Venice, if not before."
"Ahh, yes. Venezia." Hugh picked up his hand of cards again. "A fine place for romantic trysts."
"Hugh," Felix warned.
"Forgive me," Hugh said, arching a brow, but with no trace of apology behind the words.
I sighed, rolled my eyes, and moved on toward the WC. As I reached the end of the car, the thick-necked, barrel-chested private detective, Yves, set aside his paper and rose, pulling aside the curtain that led to the tiny alcove. Feeling the heat of a blush rise up my neck, I looked into his small eyes. I knew he was only there to look after us, but did he intend to stand outside the WC door? What possible trouble could I encounter there? I ignored my impulse to protest, knowing this was a necessary evil if we were to continue on the Grand Tour. And after the events at Chateau Richelieu, I supposed it would be better to find comfort in the detectives' presence rather than protest it.
Yves rapped on the WC door before me, paused, and then turned the knob. Two steps away, the train steward's eyes widened. Yves glanced inside and, apparently mollified that no kidnapper lurked atop the sink, gestured inward. I entered and closed the door behind me, knowing before I saw myself in the mirror that a mortified blush now covered my face. But as I stared at my reflection I giggled. "Well, now you can say you've been escorted into a restroom, Cora," I muttered to myself before beginning the complicated process of seeing to my business in frightfully tight quarters. I shuddered to think what the second-class cars' WC might be like. While they could not be any smaller, they were likely more rustic.
Afterward, I filled the basin with a bit of water, splashing my face. I'd become accustomed to the noise and sway of the train, much as I'd found my sea legs aboard ship, but here in the WC, the clack of the wheels crossing sections of rails was much louder than anything upon the sea.
A knock at the door startled me. "Mademoiselle?"
"Oui?" I said, leaning close, using some of the little French I knew.
Was he inquiring after me? Heavens! One would think I'd been in here for hours! Was there a time limit in French train bathrooms? "Oui, oui!" I called, hoping my tone said, Leave me be.
I wiped my face with a soft, Egyptian cotton towel and set it to one side, knowing the steward would replace it after I left. Then I straightened my traveling suit's periwinkle jacket and exited, barely glancing at Yves as I passed him. It was one thing to keep an eye on someone and another to invade their privacy. I'd have to speak to Will about just what was appropriate.
I made my way to my seat just as another steward flicked out a white linen cloth across the table I shared with Lil and Nell. They'd awakened and stretched luxuriously, blinking with wide-eyed anticipation for the pot of tea and delicate pastries awaiting us on the cart.
"That suit complements your eyes, Cora," Lillian said, greedily reaching for the first pastry, a luscious-looking croissant filled with a berry jam.
"Thank you," I said, as I took my seat. Again, I marveled at the idea of having more than a couple of dresses. Now I had trunks full of them.
Without asking, the steward poured each of us a cup of tea before moving on to the next table. I stirred a spoonful of sugar and some milk into mine and waited for Nell to choose her pastry before taking my own. I tore off a bite and slid it into my mouth, the delicate layers practically melting on my tongue. If there was one thing the French knew how to do exceedingly well, it was baking. Never in my life had I had such delicacies.
"So," I said, taking a sip of my tea. "Pierre told me of his sister's chateau. Would you like to hear about it?"
"Oh," Lillian breathed. Then she clapped excitedly. "Yes, please."
Nell nodded enthusiastically, her coils of hair bouncing.
"Apparently, the chateau sits directly upon the Rhône River, on the site of an ancient Roman castle. Its presence has long taunted its enemies across the water in Beaucaire, but, reportedly, people of both cities shared a fear of the Tarasque."
Both girls stared at me with rounded eyes. "What is the Tarasque?" Nell asked, as if half afraid to know the answer.
I shook my head and pursed my lips as if vacillating in my decision about whether to tell them. I glanced at Vivian, and she gave me a small smile, already well versed in the game of older siblings.
"Please, Cora, tell us," Lil pleaded.
"All right, then. I know you two are quite grown-up ladies. So promise me, if we go for a swim, you mustn't fear the monster."
Nell narrowed her eyes at me. "Monster," she said flatly.
"Indeed. For many, many years, both those in Beaucaire and Tarascon feared the Tarasque, a river monster that ate both cattle and children."
"Well, fortunately for us, we are neither cattle nor children," Lil said primly.
"I'm sure you're quite right," I said, nodding and taking another sip of tea. The blond stranger passed by us then, and Vivian's eyes met mine. How odd that he had been gone, all this time. Or had he slipped back in while I slept and left again? I consciously kept my gaze on my tea and croissant, never looking his way.
"Perhaps the old monster's eyesight isn't what it once was," Felix said over his shoulder as he played a card.
"Yes," Hugh said, joining in as he studied his hand. "I've heard tell that his teeth have fallen out and he simply gums his victims, breaking their bones until they're a mushy mass he can swallow."
"Ewww," Nell said, wrinkling up her pert little nose. Then her eyebrows lifted. "Do either of you want that last pastry?"
I shook my head, as did Lil, and the round-faced girl eagerly scooped the pastry onto her plate.
"What else do you know of the chateau?" Lillian asked, tilting her head.
"It's lovely and has survived through the ages, mostly as a prison. Pierre's brother-in-law purchased it some time ago and restored it for his new bride. There is even a moat and drawbridge on the side that isn't guarded by the river herself."
"And both square and circular towers," Will said, across the aisle. He gave me a gentle smile, nodding in obvious appreciation for my knowledge. "My uncle and I have admired it from afar in previous years but have never been inside. We very much look forward to the opportunity."
"As do I," I said, meeting his intense gaze.
His look made my breath catch in surprise. Because if I wasn't mistaken, he wasn't just talking about architecture and history.
Excerpted from Grave Consequences by Lisa T. Bergren. Copyright © 2013 Lisa T. Bergren. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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