A Lesson in Thorns (Thornchapel #1)(6)

“That’s very kind,” I say with an answering smile, which seems to reassure him. He gets in the car and leaves as I try to shove my wallet and things into my backpack, and after the car is swallowed by the trees and hedges on the way out, I pull out my phone and use the camera to make sure I don’t have mascara smeared on my face or anything. I took a flight from Kansas City to Minneapolis, from Minneapolis to London, then I took a train to Newton Abbot and battled carsickness for nearly an hour on the twisting roads—and all of that sitting on a welted ass because I couldn’t bear to face Thornchapel without one last kink scene with my ex-girlfriend.

I haven’t properly slept in thirty-three hours, nor have I washed or changed my clothes, and the last thing I ate was a lukewarm sausage roll washed down with black coffee. I feel stale and strung-out, and I can’t even imagine how I look. Certainly not fit to meet Mr. Cremer, the Guest family’s lawyer.

The front camera on my phone is never flattering, but it’s worse than usual today. My hair—dark, dark brown and falling past my breasts—needs a brush, and there is indeed mascara under my eyes from napping against my wadded-up cardigan. My complexion, which is the kind of translucent ivory-pink that shows every mark, bruise, and blush, betrays my exhaustion with bluish smudges under my eyes and cheeks splotchy from intermittent napping and the nipping wind. A glance down at my wrinkled dress confirms there’s no part of me that looks professional.

I run a hand down the back of my thigh and suck in a breath as each welt and bruise sings a little song to me.

I’m awake and alive, those songs remind me. I’m awake and everything is possible.

Maybe I can slip in unnoticed and find a place to change.

If I recall correctly, there was a bathroom off the main hallway on the ground floor, and if I went in through the same door all the workers are using . . .

Mind made up, I slip my phone into my coat pocket, take hold of my suitcase handles, and start wheeling them through the side door—where I nearly run right into the firm chest of one of the workers.

His hands fly to my shoulders in an instinctive gesture to steady me, and the automatic apology spills out of my mouth before I even fully realize what’s just happened. As a chronic daydreamer, I’m used to running into people . . . and doorways and light poles and walls . . . and so the hurried sorry! that spills out of me is one I’ve been practicing my entire life.

“No, no, it was my fault,” the worker says in an accent that’s almost American, and I glance up at him, surprised at the sudden pang of homesickness I feel hearing it. Especially because it’s only been a day and a half since I left home.

He looks down at me with ink-black eyes. Longish sable hair frames his angular face, and dark eyebrows, long eyelashes, and high cheekbones give way to a stubbled jaw and an oh-so-slightly cleft chin. And when his mouth parts again, I catch the glint of a silver bead on his lower lip. A barbell. It pierces the middle of his lip, emphasizing the softness of his mouth, the lush but firm lines of it.

I shiver, even though I’m out of the wind.

“Are you okay?” he asks, searching my face to make sure, and it’s as he’s examining me that I realize I’ve seen him before, that I know him somehow. It only takes me a second, and in that second, two things happen. Firstly, a cloud shifts ever so slightly outside and allows a patch of meager sunshine into the doorway, which means that I can see his eyes are actually a dark, dark brown, as is his hair. His skin is tinted bronze but paler than it was when we were children, like he’s known several rain-soaked years here in England since then.

The second thing that happens is that he says my name. “Proserpina?” he whispers, his eyebrows drawn together.

I bite my lip. “St. Sebastian?”

St. Sebastian nods, looking a little stunned.

“He goes by Saint now,” comes a long, elegant drawl from behind me.

I shiver again because somehow I know, I just know, even though he wasn’t supposed to be here, even though I thought I’d never see him again.

I turn, and I see the boy I’ve hated myself for loving for the last twelve years.

Chapter 2

Auden Guest is tall, like I guessed he would be, and handsome, like I knew he was. There’s the high cheeks and the square jaw hewn out of the promise of his boyhood prettiness, and a mouth that’s still a bit too exquisite for a grown man. There’s light brown hair that flops just so over his pale forehead, and hazel eyes that promise . . . well, that promise everything. Money and mystery and cruelty and all the pouty rich-boy things I’ve spent years armoring myself against.

And when he sees me, really sees me, he gives a wide, dimpled smile with white teeth and this fatally charming lift on one side of his upper lip—a human dash of asymmetry on an otherwise flawless face. Those hazel eyes make their lying promises under long eyelashes, and for a moment, I forget all my own promises, all the vows I made to myself back home before I came here.

After all, it’s stupid enough that I never stopped thinking about the day we kissed, and it’s stupid enough that I spent the early part of my teenage years convinced we were soul mates. It’s stupid enough that my first stirring dreams and urges weren’t about celebrities or even boys in my own school, but about Auden . . . and St. Sebastian. And Rebecca and Delphine and Becket. I must have been the only one of us six who missed that summer, who wished we were all together again. Who wished for something more than friendship. Something profane.

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