A Lesson in Thorns (Thornchapel #1)(8)

“She’s a librarian, she can’t work in the car. What is she going to do, shelve books in the back seat?”

“All right, all right,” Auden hushes them. “Poe is probably dying to rest for a minute—”

“Poe?” Delphine demands. “What kind of name is that?”

“What kind of name is Delphine?” Rebecca counters, and Delphine scowls.

“I like it,” Becket tells me in a warm voice. “It suits you. Very literary.”

“And easier to spell,” I explain, which earns me a little laugh. I relax the tiniest bit, which makes me realize how nervous I was to be around them, how nervous I still am. They seem so glamorous right now, even chattering and squabbling in a muddy hallway. They seem so seductive and so chosen, like a little club, a little society of the five of them.

No, not five, I think, taking in the scene with fresh eyes. Four.

St. Sebastian is not part of the group.

It’s not only his T-shirt and jeans compared with the careless sophistication of everyone else, but it’s also the way he’s standing with boots planted and arms crossed, almost as if he’s waiting for someone to tell him to leave. My chest pinches at that, both in sympathy and empathy.

I feel apart too. Young and poor and cheaply dressed. And indecently fascinated with the interesting people in front of me.

I turn to say something to St. Sebastian—I’m not sure what, but I don’t like this weird fault line running through the hallway, this fault line I don’t understand—and that’s when I catch Auden looking at me and St. Sebastian.

No, not looking . . . devouring.

A high flush dusts his cheeks, and his wide, boyish mouth is set in the same hungry, tortured line it was twelve years ago, right before he pulled us into a searing wedding kiss. His hands flex at his sides, as if they’re itching at the memory of pulling us close. As if they ache to make us ache.

My blood is flooded with something hot, something urgent, and I hear St. Sebastian inhale.

Auden’s eyes close ever so briefly as he lets out a breath, like he’s searching for control, and when he opens them again, he’s back to how he was. Indifferent and the tiniest bit scornful.

You are not going to be stupid. Spoiled rich boy, remember?

No one seems to notice what’s happening between the three of us. Becket, Rebecca, and Delphine are still talking over one another, and anyway, the moment is so short that I think it’s only lasted a handful of breaths. Then St. Sebastian is back to scowling and Auden is back to that crooked smile, and I’m grabbing for my suitcases and making excuses about needing to change.

“Yes, yes, really,” Auden says in exasperation to the others, “there’s going to be plenty of time to catch up later; you’re making me out to be a terrible host.” He does a very good job of not looking at St. Sebastian as he takes a suitcase handle and shoulders a bag for me.

I turn again to St. Sebastian, knowing I should say goodbye . . . and what? That I want to see him again? That I’d like to grab coffee? As soon as I think it, I feel flushed and girlish. It would be easier if St. Sebastian weren’t so himself, maybe, if he weren’t exactly the kind of person I’ve always been attracted to. Broody and pierced and a little angry. The diametric opposite to my dreamy tweediness.

But St. Sebastian is already backing outside, one fist against the doorway as if he needed to hit something or someone, and then he’s fully turned and disappearing into a fresh spate of winter drizzle.

It’s the exhaustion and adrenaline of travel that makes my stomach twist so hard at him leaving without a word, I’m sure of it. He’ll be around the house, and I’ll find him, and we’ll talk and it will be . . . fine. Probably.

With a smile I summon up from somewhere, I swivel away from the sight of St. Sebastian vanishing into the rain. I take my other suitcase in hand and gesture to Auden. “Ready when you are.”

My room is winsomely old.

A few large rugs are scattered over wide wood planks, and there’s a canopied bed piled thick with blankets and snowy pillows. A small stone fireplace has a wood-burning stove fitted in, and there’s a low bench before a row of arched, mullioned windows. A small desk, large dresser, and end table complete the furnishings, along with two small tapestries covering the stone and plaster walls.

“I’m sorry it’s so primitive,” Auden apologizes as we wheel my things in. We’re alone for the moment—the others having bustled off to get tea ready for me—and it feels quiet. Too quiet.

“I don’t think I stayed here last time,” I say, looking around. “I must have stayed in a different room.”

“You would have stayed in the south wing, I’m sure. It’s the most ‘modern,’ although modern is a very generous use of the word. It’s what’s currently being renovated and extended. But this wing will have its turn too, and in a few months, we’ll all have to decamp to the new section.”

“‘We’ll all’—so everyone is really staying here?”

“Just like old times, right?” Auden says, moving my suitcase against a wall and carefully setting my bag beside it.

“Just like old times,” I echo. It’s what I’ve wanted for so long—and thought myself ridiculous for wanting. Who wants to see the people from their childhood so badly? Like really?

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