A Lesson in Thorns (Thornchapel #1)(10)

“It’s not scheduled or anything, so I could,” Auden says, with a strange note to his voice, like he himself has just realized he’s committing some kind of blasphemy. “But I don’t know yet. I don’t have any plans to at the moment.”

Relief seeps through me. “And then Delphine? Why is she here too?”

“Well, we’re engaged,” he murmurs. “So it just seemed natural she’d come live with me.”

The relief stops; all other feelings stop. I’m suddenly very, very still. And numb.

“Pardon?” I ask.

“We’re engaged to be married,” he repeats, slightly louder, as if he thinks I asked pardon because I didn’t hear him. “I proposed last year.”

“Oh,” I say. My voice sounds dull, and I try to brighten it. “I didn’t know.”

“We haven’t formally announced it; you know, in the papers or anything like that. My father didn’t approve, and then after he died, Delphine wanted to wait until it was more . . . seemly, I suppose. Only her parents and our close friends know; she hasn’t even posted about it online, I don’t think.”

I know she hasn’t posted about it online because she’d also been a victim of my Drunk Librarian research.

“Congratulations,” I say, with a fake-jolly expression that makes me wince, but Auden doesn’t see because he’s turned back to the trees.

“Yes,” he says to the glass.


Not thank you, not any expression of excitement or endearments of his future bride. It’s strange, but I take less notice of it than I should because I’m still fighting against that awful numb feeling.

Auden and Delphine.


It makes a terrible kind of sense—of all of us, their worlds are the closest aligned, and even downstairs they looked like a matched set—her with her Peter Pan-collared blouse and skirt, him in his trousers and clinging sweater—offhandedly rich without being flashy about it.

I have to change the subject, and I cast around desperately for something, anything, that will move the conversation away from the idea of Auden and Delphine getting married.

“And St. Sebastian?” I ask quickly. “Is he staying here? I saw him working . . .”

“He moonlights for the local building team I hired,” Auden says tightly. “He is not living here.”

I wonder what possible reason he could have to be so hostile about St. Sebastian. “Oh.”

“I think he’s still living in his mother’s old house in Thorncombe,” Auden says after a mutual pause.

“Her old house? Did she move?”

“She died.”


“Yes. Seems to be a theme with us.” Auden’s voice is flat, and he’s still looking out the window, his hands in his pockets.

I don’t know what to say next; my brain is completely wrung dry from the travel and the time change and seeing everyone and I just can’t think.

I need a nap, I think with the fervor of an addict. Just a small one.

Luckily, I’m saved from having to speak by the cheerful clicking of paws on the hallway floor outside, and then by the appearance of a very handsome dog who noses a snout into the crack of the door and then pushes his body inside.

I drop to a crouch and invite him over for pets. “Hi there, good boy,” I croon as he trots toward me, tail and ears up. He plops down to sit after a cursory snuffle around my hands and feet, and when he opens his mouth to pant, his tongue falls out of the side. I’m in love immediately, and prove it by scratching behind his ears, which earns me a lick on the face.

Auden turns again, and when he does, both the angry vulnerability and the indifferent mask are gone. He gives me and the dog a real smile, with that damn crook in his upper lip, and I have to look quickly away or I know I’ll blush and he’ll see.

They always see when I blush.

“That’s Sir James Frazer,” Auden says, seeming pleased to see me and his dog getting along. “I hope you’re not allergic . . . ?”

“Not at all. My dad has three dogs at home, and I’ve always planned on adopting one once I got my own place.”

“Then I hope you’ll consider Sir James a surrogate while you’re staying here,” Auden says. “Not that he’ll give you any peace anyway. He gets very snuggly with everyone he meets.”

Sir James Frazer licks me again on the face, as if to agree.

Auden seems to come to some kind of realization and shakes his head at himself. “I’m so sorry. I’ve been keeping you occupied up here—I’m not sure what’s gotten into me.” His mouth slants ruefully. “You’re very easy to talk to, you know.”

It’s something I’ve heard all my life, and I’m used to it, even if it sometimes makes me feel a little lonely. The person that everyone talks to, but who never gets that comfort in return.

Oh, stop it, Poe. I’m not melancholy by nature, and I don’t intend to start, even if I’m basically on the set of the underrated 1994 adaptation of The Secret Garden, and even if I am sharing a room with an expert brooder.

I give Auden a smile. “I promise I’m usually a bit better at keeping up my end of a conversation, I just—” another dizzying yawn interrupts my words.

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