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They'd sent him here to save his life. At least that was the line his grandparents laid on him to explain why they'd decided to take him out of public school and send him instead to an all-boys Jesuit boarding school nestled in some of the most godforsaken terrain on the Maine-Canadian border. They should have let him die.
Hoisting his duffel bag onto his shoulder, he picked up his battered brown leather suitcase and headed toward what appeared to be the main building on the isolated campus. Everywhere he looked he saw churches, or at least buildings with pretensions of being one. A cross adorned every roof. Gothic iron bars grated every window. He'd been wrenched from civilization and dropped without apology in the middle of a medieval monk's wet dream.
He entered the building through a set of iron-and-wood doors, the ancient hinges of which screamed as if being tortured. He could sympathize. He rather felt like screaming himself. A fireplace piled high with logs cast light and warmth into the dismal gray foyer. Huddling close to it, he wrapped his arms about himself, wincing as he did so. His left wrist still ached from the beating he'd taken three weeks ago, the beating that had convinced his grandparents that he'd be safe only at an all-boys school.
"So this is our Frenchman?" The jovial voice came from behind him. He turned and saw a squat man all in black beaming from ear to ear. Not all black, he noted. Not quite. The man wore a white collar around his neck. The priest held out his hand to him, but he paused before shaking it. Celibacy seemed like a disease to himone that might be catching. "Welcome to Saint Ignatius. Come inside my office. This way."
He gave the priest a blank look, but followed nonetheless.
Inside the office, he took the chair closest to the fireplace, while the priest sat behind a wide oak desk.
"I'm Father Henry, by the way," the priest began. "Monsi-gnor here. I hear you've had some trouble at your old school. Something about a fight
some boys taking exception to your behavior with their girlfriends?"
Saying nothing, he merely blinked and shrugged.
"Good Lord. They told me you could speak some English." Father Henry sighed. "I suppose by 'some' they meant 'none.' Anglais?"
He shook his head. "Je ne parle pas I'anglais."
Father Henry sighed again.
"French. Of course. You would have to be French, wouldn't you? Not Italian. Not German. I could even handle a little ancient Greek. And poor Father Pierre dead for six months. Ah, c'est la vie," he said, and then laughed at his own joke. "Nothing for it. We'll make do." Father Henry rested both his chins on his hand and stared into the fireplace, clearly deep in deliberation.
He joined the priest in his staring. The heat from the fireplace seeped through his clothes, through his chilled skin and into the core of him. He wanted to sleep for days, for years even. Maybe when he woke up he would be a grown man and no one could send him away again. The day would come when he would take orders from no one, and that would be the best day of his life.
A soft knock on the door jarred him from his musings.
A boy about twelve years old, with dark red hair, entered, wearing the school uniform of black trousers, black vest, black jacket and tie, with a crisp white shirt underneath.
All his life he had taken great pride in his clothes, every detail of them, down to the shoes he wore. Now he, too, would be forced into the same dull attire as every other boy in this miserable place. He'd read a little Dante his last year at his lycee in Paris. If he remembered correctly, the centermost circle of hell was all ice. He glanced out the window in Father Henry's office. New snow had started to fall on the ice-packed ground. Perhaps his grandfather had been right about him. Perhaps he was a sinner. That would explain why, still alive and only sixteen years old, he'd been sent to hell on earth.
"Matthew, thank you. Come in, please." Father Henry motioned the boy into the office. The boy, Matthew, cast curious glances at him while standing at near attention in front of the priest's desk. "How much French did you have with Father Pierre before he passed?"
Matthew shifted his weight nervously from foot to foot. "Un annee?"
Father Henry smiled kindly. "It's not a quiz, Matthew. Just a question. You can speak English."
The boy sighed audibly with relief.
"One year, Father. And I wasn't very good at it."
"Matthew, this is Kingsley
" Father Henry paused and glanced down at a file in front of him "
Kingsley repeated his last name, trying not to grimace at how horribly Father Henry had butchered it. Stupid Americans.
"Yes, Kingsley Boissonneault. He's our new student. From Portland."
It took all of Kingsley's self-control not to correct Father Henry and remind him that he'd been living in Portland for only six months. Paris. Not Portland. He was from Paris. But to say that would be to reveal he not only understood English, but that he spoke it perfectly; he had no intention of gracing this horrible hellhole with a single word of his English.
Matthew gave him an apprehensive smile. Kingsley didn't smile back.
"Well, Matthew, if your French is twice as good as mine, we're out of options." Father Henry lost his grin for the first time in their whole conversation. Suddenly he seemed tense, concerned, as nervous as young Matthew. "You'll just have to go to Mr. Stearns and ask him to come here."
At the mention of Mr. Stearns, Matthew's eyes widened so hugely they nearly eclipsed his face. Kingsley almost laughed at the sight. But when Father Henry didn't seem to find the boy's look of fear equally funny, Kingsley started to grow concerned himself.
"Do I have to?"
Father Henry exhaled heavily. "He's not going to bite you," the priest said, but didn't sound quite convinced of that. "But
" Matthew began "
it's 4:27." Father Henry winced.
"It is, isn't it? Well, we can't interrupt the music of the spheres, can we? Then I suppose you'll just have to make do. Perhaps we can persuade Mr. Stearns into talking to our new student later. Show Kingsley around. Do your best."
Matthew nodded and motioned for him to follow. In the foyer they paused as the boy wrapped a scarf around his neck and shoved his hands into gloves. Then, glancing around, he curled up his nose in concentration.
"I don't know the French word for foyer."
Kingsley repressed a smile. The French for "foyer" was foyer.
Outside in the snow, Matthew turned and faced the building they'd just left. "This is where all the Fathers have their offices. Le peres
"Bureaux, oui," Kingsley repeated, and Matthew beamed, clearly pleased to have elicited any kind of encouragement or understanding from him.
Kingsley followed the younger boy into the library, where Matthew desperately sought out the French word for the place, apparently not realizing that the rows upon rows of bookcases spoke for themselves.
" Matthew said. "Trois
" Clearly, he wanted to explain that the building stood three stories high. He didn't know the word for stories any more than he knew library, so instead he stacked his hands on top of each other. Kingsley nodded as if he understood, although it actually appeared as if Matthew was describing a particularly large sandwich.
A few students in armchairs studied Kingsley with unconcealed interest. His grandfather had said only forty or fifty students resided at Saint Ignatius. Some were the sons of wealthy Catholic families who wanted a traditional Jesuit education, while the rest were troubled young men the court ordered here to undergo reformation. In their school uniforms, with their similar shaggy haircuts, Kingsley couldn't tell the fortunate sons from the wards of the court.
Matthew led him from the library. The next building over was the church, and the boy paused on the threshold before reaching out for the door handle. Raising his fingers to his lips, he mimed the universal sign for silence. Then, as carefully as if it were made of glass, he opened the door and slipped inside. Kingsley's ears perked up immediately as he heard the sound of a piano being played with unmistakable virtuosity.
He watched as Matthew tiptoed into the church and crept up to the sanctuary door. Much less circumspectly, Kingsley followed him and peered inside.
At the piano sat a young man
lean, angular, with pale blond hair cut in a style far more conservative than Kingsley's own shoulder-length mane.
Kingsley watched as the blond pianist's hands danced across the keys, evoking the most magnificent sounds he'd ever heard.
"Ravel." he whispered to himself. Ravel, the greatest of all French composers.
Matthew looked up with panic in his eyes and shushed him again. Kingsley shook his head in contempt. Such a little coward. No one should be cowardly in the presence of Ravel.
Ravel had been his father's favorite composer and had become Kingsley's, too. Even through the scratches on his father's vinyl records, he had heard the passion and the need that throbbed in every note. Part of Kingsley wanted to close his eyes and let the music wash over him.
But another part of him couldn't bring himself to look away from the young man at the piano who played the piecethe Piano Concerto in G Major. He recognized it instantly. In concert, the piece began with the sound of a whip crack.
But he'd never heard it played like this
so close to him Kingsley felt he could reach up and snatch notes out of the air, pop them in his mouth and swallow them whole. So beautiful
the music and the young man who played it. Kings-ley listened to the piece, studied the pianist. He couldn't decide which moved him more.
The pianist was easily the most handsome young man Kingsley had ever seen in all his sixteen years. Vain as he was, Kingsley couldn't deny he'd for once met his match there. But more than handsome, the pianist was also, in a way, as beautiful as the music he played. He wore the school uniform, but had abandoned the jacket, no doubt needing the freedom of unencumbered arm movement. And although he was dressed like all the other boys, he looked nothing like them. To Kingsley he appeared like a sculpture some magician had turned to life. His pale skin was smooth and flawless, his nose aquiline and elegant, his face perfectly composed even as he wrung glorious noise out of the black box in front of him.
if only Kingsley's father could be with him now to hear this music. If only his sister, Marie-Laure, were here to dance to it. For a moment, Kingsley allowed himself to mourn his father and miss his sister. The music smoothed the rough edges of his grief, however, and Kingsley caught himself smiling.
He had to thank the young man, the beautiful blond pianist, for giving him this music and the chance to remember his father for once without pain. Kingsley started to step into the sanctuary, but Matthew grabbed his arm and shook his head in a warning to go no farther.
The music ceased. The blond pianist lowered his arms and stared at the keys as if in prayer before shutting the fallboard and standing up. For the first time Kingsley noted his heighthe was six feet tall if he was an inch. Maybe even more.
Kingsley glanced at Matthew, who seemed to be paralyzed with fear. The blond young man pulled on his black suit jacket and strode down the center of the sanctuary toward them. Up close, he appeared not only more handsome than before, but strangely inscrutable. He seemed like a book, shut tight and locked in a glass box, and Kingsley would have done anything for the key. He met the young man's eyes and saw no kindness in those steely gray depths. No kindness, but no cruelty, either. He inhaled in nervousness as the pianist passed him, and smelled the unmistakable scent of winter.
Without a word to either him or Matthew, the young man left the church without looking back.
"Stearns," Matthew breathed, once the pianist had gone.
So that was the mysterious Mr. Stearns who inspired both fear and respect from the students and Father Henry. Fascinating
Kingsley had never been in the presence of someone that immediately intimidating. No teacher, no parent, no grandparent, no policeman, no priest had even made him feel what standing in the same room with the piano player, with Mr. Stearns, had made him feel.
Kingsley looked down and saw his hand had developed a subtle tremor. Matthew saw it, too.
"Don't feel bad." The boy nodded with the wisdom of a sage. "He does that to everybody."
The fear had been his favorite part. The fear that followed him like the footsteps through the woods where he'd fled for sanctuary and found something better than safety. The footsteps
how his heart had raced as they grew louder, drew nearer. He'd been too afraid to run anymore, afraid that if he ran he would get away. He ran to be caught. That was the only reason.
Kingsley remembered his sudden intake of air as a viciously strong hand clamped down onto his neck
the bark of the tree trunk burning his back
the smell of the evergreens around him, so potent that even thirty years later he still grew aroused whenever he inhaled the scent of pine. And after, when he woke up on the forest floor, a new scent graced his skinblood, his own
Three decades later he could never uncouple sex from fear. The two were linked inextricably, eternally and unrepen-tantly in his heart. He'd learned the potency of fear that day, the power of it, even the pleasure, and now thirty years later, fear had become Kingsley's forte.
Unfortunately, at this moment his Juliette was not afraid. He could change that.
Kingsley watched her out of the corner of his eye while he sipped his wine. Standing next to Griffin and young Michael, she smiled in turns at each of them while they bent her exquisite ears with the tale of how Nora Sutherlin had brought them together. For one single solitary day without hearing about the amazing Nora Sutherlin, he would cash out half his fortune, lay it on a pyre in the middle of Fifth Avenue, set it afire and watch it turn to ashes. If only it were that easy to kill the monster he'd created.
No, he corrected himself. The monster they had created.
Juliette glanced his way and gave him a secret smile, a smile that needed no translation. But he would wait, bide his time, let her think he wasn't in the mood tonight. He'd let her anticipation build first before replacing it with fear. How beautifully Juliette wore fear, how it shimmered in her bistre eyes, how it shivered across her ebony skin, how it caught in her throat like the scream he'd hold inside her mouth with his hand____
Kingsley's groin tightened; his heart began to race. Setting his wineglass down, he strode from the bar through the back room and into the hallways of The 8th Circle. Right outside the door to the bar, his foot connected with something lying on the floor. Curious, he bent down. Shoes. A pair of shoes. He picked them up. White patent-leather stilettos
Shoes last seen on the feet of Nora Sutherlin.