Connie Brockway
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So Enchanting

So Enchanting

EXCERPT

He frowned, astonished and disturbed. First, because she was another man's wife—though more likely she was his mistress—and second, because it was his self-appointed task to hunt her type, not to get them out of here.

She was a fake, a sham. Everything about her had been artfully orchestrated for the purpose of deceit. He'd witnessed similar performances hundreds of times. Why, during Madame Blavatsky's séances, the "apparition" of a bawdy harem girl bounced from one delighted gentleman's lap to the next—a conjuration for which Blavatsky was handsomely compensated.

There was nothing unique about Francesca Brown. Except how she looked, how she moved, the midnight hue of her hair and the limitless depths of her eyes, the fullness of her lips and the exquisite sheen of her flesh. His body tightened in response, his reaction primal and uncomfortable.

"Too bright! Too bright!" At the sound of Brown's groan, Grey's head snapped around.

The medium had taken his seat at the table and Grey hadn't even noticed, confirming his suspicions regarding Francesca's role as a diversion. Now Brown's eyes rolled back in his head. "The spirits cannot… find their way!"

The industrialist leapt to his feet and turned down the sconce, plunging the room into utter darkness.

Grey peered through the murk, trying to find Francesca, angered by his fascination, unable to help himself. He had just made her out, a slender shape dissolving into the darkness, when a sudden swirling pressure filled the room. He tried to pull his hands away, but the opera singer and the German held on with vise-like strength.

"Angel wings," Brown whispered reverentially and as quickly as the sound had arrived, it was gone.

Grey ground his teeth in frustration. He'd been caught off guard. Preoccupied with libidinous thoughts of Francesca Brown, he'd been unable to bring his full faculties to the task of identifying what sort of chicanery was going on. It was this specific effect that had won Brown his fame. Angel wings, the brush of a loved one's hand, the tug on a skirt— the witnesses Grey had interviewed claimed it could not have been possible for Brown or his wife to manufacture the effect from their positions at the table without the use of magic or the presence of a spirit.

Of course, they were wrong. There was no such thing as magic and the world wasn't harboring ghosts. There were no mysteries, simply answers that had yet to be discovered.

Another memory sprang forth unbidden. He'd been seventeen, forced to endure yet another séance. This one would be different, his father had promised. This woman was authentic.

He could still see his father's expression as he watched a face "materialize" above a table in a dimly lit backroom. It had been nothing but a plaster mask covered with luminescent paint and dropped from a box hidden in the ceiling. It was so pitiful and yet his father had whispered, "Johanna." His father, someone he had once so admired and loved, had been reduced in that moment to a gullible buffoon.

Grey wished they'd just come one night and taken everything from him, every bit of silver, every family treasure, every stick of furniture and deed of ownership, every penny, painting and promissory note, rather than take, as they had, that one thing no amount of effort on his part could every replace: his respect for his father.

Grimly, Grey focused his attention on Brown, determined not to be distracted again. There followed the usual round of thumps, raps, and sighs, after which began a series of ear-offending twangs and off-key peeps (why had no one ever wondered why the entire population of the hereafter did not count amongst their members one passable musician?)

Francesca did not speak. She did not move. She did not, as far as Grey could determine, add anything to the proceedings besides her presence which, he allowed, was addition enough.

Finally, after Brown had declared in a voice rife with wonder that the shriek of an ill-tuned violin was the spirit of Handel come to serenade them, Grey could stand it no more.

Jerking free his hands, he bounded to his feet and flung open the door to the séance parlor, flooding the room with light and exposing to view the five burly policemen he'd arranged to be waiting without. Then, as the séance party gaped, blinked, and gasped, he ripped the damask cloth from the table, revealing Brown's unclad right foot braced against a miniature violin, whilst the hoary toes of his left curled about a little bow. The trap door where he'd secreted his props still lay open beneath his chair.

"There's your spectral musician. No shade of Handel, just Mr. Brown's unwashed feet," he declared in disgust.

His pale mustache quivering like an albino rabbit's whiskers and his large, soulful eyes narrowing to not so soulful slits, Brown sprang up, upending his chair.

Chaos erupted in the room. The opera singer collapsed in terror and the other women screamed. Red face with outrage and, Grey hoped, chagrin, the gentlemen rose to aid the ladies and confront their deceiver.

Only Francesca remained motionless. Brown dove, seizing her by the shoulders and dragging her to her feet to use as a shield. She did not resist. She stood flinching in his bruising clasp, her expression contemptuous.

A red haze filled Grey's vision. He vaulted the table, jerking Francesca out of Brown's clutches, and thrust her behind him. Desperate, the spiritualist scuttled away, grabbing a nearby chair and flinging it. Grey knocked it aside, advancing relentlessly.

"Stay away! Stay away from me!" Brown shrieked, backing.

Grey's right arm shot out, his fist landing square on the bastard's chin, knocking him off his feet and sending him crashing into the wall. Except it wasn't a wall.

The sound of shattering glass filled the room and then Brown was swallowed by the velvet draperies and disappeared. The sound broke the paralysis holding the policeman and they rushed to join Grey at the newly revealed window, just in time to see Brown pick himself up off the pavement ten feet below and flee across the street.

"Son of a bitch!" Grey shouted. He was every sort of ass. He should have tackled Brown, let the police tackle Brown, let the others tackle Brown, but because of some misplaced compulsion to beat the bastard senseless he'd allowed him to escape.

He spun around to glare at Francesca and found she had fallen to the floor and knelt in a pool of delicate batiste, her dark hair falling across her pale face. His curse died on his lips. He wanted only to sweep her up in his arms and take her away from here.

Madness.

She wasn't even looking at him. Her eyelids fluttered like a dreamer coming awake from a fantastical nightmare and she gazed around her uncomprehendingly.

Then, slowly, she tipped back her head and laughed.