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The Mysticke Krewe of Theseus: Midnight Blue

Novel By: Priscilla Darcy
Romance



Tinsley Stewart has abruptly decided that she can't get married. Although it would have been better to make the decision earlier than an hour or so before her wedding. Fleeing a life she's decided she doesn't want, Tinsley goes in search of a better one, and, as a restaurant critic, lands in the mecca of food-writing: New Orleans.

Tucker Trenier, stumbling home to New Orleans after a long absence, is startled to find a woman living in his house. And even more startled when the air between them is immediately electric. And a bit more startled to discover that she possesses a ring that matches the one-of-a-kind family heirloom that he wears.

As Tinsley and Tucker, in the midst of Carnival season, try to figure each other out, they have no idea that, a century earlier, the original owners of their matching rings played out a tragedy that Tinsley and Tucker are fated to fix.

The first of a planned trilogy, this split-setting novel is completely self-contained. View table of contents...


Chapters:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Submitted:Mar 31, 2007    Reads: 266    Comments: 1    Likes: 0   


� Two

Tinsley didn't stop until she got to New Jersey. And then she pulled Trey's Lamborghini off the road to a random department store, where she walked in and bought clothes. She almost enjoyed the stares she got in her wedding dress. She had never felt so liberated before in her life.

����������� She stopped at a motel for the night, another liberating experience, and bought fast food for dinner. She had been supposed to have quail and caviar at her wedding. She had never enjoyed French fries so much.

����������� She perused the map she had purchased, laying across the motel bed, as she called Savannah and Trey to assure them she was okay. Then she shut the phone back off, ignoring the messages that were piling up. She didn't really want to talk to anyone. Trey had told her to seize this opportunity, and she was determined to do just that.

����������� South, she thought. She would go south. Away from the onslaught of the winter. Heat. Tropical heat. Sounded lovely.

����������� But where south? Tinsley's eyes roved, and landed on New Orleans. She had never been to New Orleans, but she had always wanted to go. Tinsley made her living as a restaurant critic. Or used to, at least. New Orleans was the mecca of restaurant critics. Tinsley dug a pen out of her purse and highlighted her route toward the Gulf of Mexico.

����������� When she finally arrived in New Orleans, she went straight to the French Quarter, coaxing the Lamborghini through the narrow, crowded streets. And she was charmed. The personality of the city hung heavily over the place, relaxed and welcoming. Tinsley uncoiled behind the wheel of the Lamborghini, cracked the window, enjoyed the spicy scents of the Cajun cooking all around.

����������� She found a bed-and-breakfast, steps off of Royal Street's arts and antiques. She spent hours in and out of the stores, sending gifts home to her family, who had remained so valuably supportive throughout the ordeal.

����������� The room was small and closely furnished with Southern antiques. The bed had a canopy. The room's front windows looked over the street, and Tinsley listened to the walking tours pass below, telling the story of a poor, ill-fated pregnant woman who had plunged to her death off the balcony in the nineteenth century. The back of the room opened onto the back gallery of the bed and breakfast, and Tinsley spent hours there, eating beignets and sipping caf�s au lait that she brought back from Caf� du Monde, and trying to decide what she wanted to do with her life.

����������� She was enjoying being in New Orleans. She was enjoying not being in New York. She liked who she was. She liked how there was no pressure to be somebody else. If she could find a job, she thought, she could live here. For a little while. Just until she got her feet under her, and figured out who, exactly, she was.

New Orleans, 1872.

This is, without a doubt, the dullest party of the year." Charles Robichaux, standing on the edge of the dimly lit back garden of the American District house, regarded the gathering disapprovingly.

����������� "This is not a 'party,'" Jean-Marc Trenier replied, casually lighting his cheroot.

����������� "Where is du Reine?" Robichaux asked. "Would he even notice if we left?"

����������� Trenier puffed on his cheroot, considering. Du Reine had disappeared after his current flirtation as soon as they had arrived. That was the whole reason they were wasting the evening at this dull event to begin with, because du Reine fancied himself in love again.

����������� "He won't notice," Robichaux decided, answering his own question. He pulled his pocket watch out of his waistcoat, tipped it toward the Japanese lanterns.

����������� Trenier knocked some ash off of his cheroot idly, and then abruptly stilled. A woman had walked out onto the terrace. Dressed entirely in white. She stood out sharply, distinctly, compellingly.

����������� "Let's go." Beside him, he vaguely heard Robichaux snap his watch shut. "If we hurry, we can still get to Storyville at a decent hour."

����������� Trenier did not reply. He could not reply. He really wasn't comprehending the words. He was watching the woman in white on the terrace. Who was that woman? He was quite sure he'd never seen this particular woman before. He surely would have remembered such a...such a...

����������� Robichaux frowned at his suddenly unresponsive friend. "Trenier."

����������� "Who is that woman?" Trenier asked, without taking his eyes off her. "Do you know?"

����������� "Which woman?" Robichaux looked off toward the terrace, trying to seek what had caught Trenier's eye.

����������� "The one all in white."

����������� Robichaux picked her out, shrugged. "I don't know who she is."

����������� "Find du Reine," said Trenier.

����������� Robichaux looked at him in disbelief. "What?"

����������� "Find du Reine. He knows the American women. He'll know this one."

����������� Robichaux, momentarily robbed of the ability to speak, looked from Trenier to the woman in white and back again. "What?" he exclaimed, because this was extraordinarily unlike Trenier. Very like du Reine, to become fixated by a silhouette. Very unlike Trenier, who had had the same mistress since Robichaux had known him. Who had never even courted any woman.

����������� Trenier finally tore his eyes away from the woman, looking impatiently at Robichaux, remembering the cheroot that had been burning uselessly in his hand and lifting it up to puff at it. "I need an introduction. Who is it that we know here who could get me an introduction?"

����������� "Come." Raoul du Reine came walking up quickly, adjusting his collar as he came.

����������� "Du Reine," said Robichaux, in obvious relief. Maybe du Reine would talk some sense into Trenier.

����������� "Let's go," said du Reine. "I was very nearly just caught in a compromising situation, and I think my assignation's father is considering throwing me out by the scruff of my neck. So let's-"

����������� "Who is that woman, du Reine?" Trenier cut him off, impatiently.

����������� "Who?" du Reine asked, blankly. "Who are you talking about?"

����������� "The woman in white. On the terrace."

����������� Du Reine turned, looked. "Oh. Clara Tucker," he answered, nonchalantly.

����������� Clara Tucker. The name resonated through his head as if someone had just rung a deep bell inside of him. "Do you know her?" he asked, focused on her figure again. "Can you introduce me?"

����������� Du Reine looked from Trenier to Clara Tucker. "Oh, bad luck, Trenier. She's betrothed. To Randolph Perkins."

����������� "Perkins?" Trenier echoed. "She is betrothed to Perkins? Are her parents mad? He's killed three wives already."

����������� "His wives died of yellow fever."

����������� "Yes, his plantation is a veritable trap. Where has she come from? Why have I never seen her before?"

����������� "She's from New York. Perkins went to New York wife-hunting and came back with that. Makes you think we should all be going to New York wife-hunting, doesn't it?"

����������� Trenier didn't answer. Trenier didn't hear him. The woman in white had turned her head toward him. All the meager light in the garden seemed to have collected in her eyes. They gleamed at him, and she stood stark still for a long moment, looking at him across the garden.

����������� Then another woman walked over to her, between them, breaking their gaze, leading her away. She cast another glance at him over her shoulder, before disappearing into the house.

����������� "Trenier?" du Reine asked, curiously, glancing at Robichaux, who shook his head helplessly.

����������� "Perkins," Trenier muttered, and shook his head in disbelief. There really was no accounting for a woman's taste, he decided.

This is in your price range," the realtor told her, beaming happily.

����������� Tinsley, clutching the caf� au lait she'd picked up on her way to St. Charles, stared out the car window at the house the realtor indicated. "That?" she said.

����������� The house was large. In fact, it was enormously impressive. But it was falling down. It was tilted horribly. The front porch looked as if it would pitch over at any moment. A couple of the windows were boarded up.

����������� "The second floor is an apartment," the realtor said, cheerfully, getting out of the car.

����������� Tinsley sat for a second longer, staring at the house. "What's the bottom floor? A halfway house?" she wondered aloud, before getting out of the car herself.

����������� "Oops," said the realtor, as the rusting wrought-iron gate leading to the front walk fell entirely off its hinges, clattering to the cracked, sunken sidewalk with a dusty clatter. "I'll get the owner to fix that," she assured Tinsley.

����������� "Great." Tinsley tried to manage a smile, as if this would fix everything.

����������� "You said you wanted to be on the parade route for Mardi Gras." The realtor gestured upward. The enormous oak in the front yard was dripping with colorful beads, like exotic foliage. "This is it. And it's in your price range. For your price range, you're not going to get better than this."

����������� "But it's..." Tinsley gestured to it in chagrin.

����������� "It's charming inside. Wait until you see it. This way. Around the back."

����������� "Well, at least the driveway's paved," commented Tinsley, following the realtor as they tripped over the uneven terrain of the yard.

����������� "That's one of the advantages of this place. You have a nice car. So does the owner. He spent a lot of time making sure it was safe for his car. That garage over there has state of the art protections." The realtor gestured.

����������� "And I'd be allowed to use it?" This raised the place considerably in Tinsley's estimation. She was eternally worried about Trey's Lamborghini.

����������� "Mm-hmm." The realtor nodded, as she inserted a key into a door in the back of the house.

����������� "The owner doesn't need it?"

����������� "The owner's not here. He's abroad. Indefinitely. The first floor of the house is kept empty for him, but the second floor is to be rented. And it's cheap because he'd prefer to have someone watching the house." The realtor swung the door open. It faced another door, and a staircase leading upward. "That door leads to the main part of the house." The realtor pointed. "The apartment is upstairs, on the second floor."

����������� Tinsley headed upstairs gamely, surprised when the stairs held her weight solidly. The staircase opened onto a large, square room with a gorgeous tray ceiling and a cupola in the middle of it casting buckets of sunlight into the room. It was decorated entirely in antiques, and the walls were covered in paintings in elaborate frames: watercolor street scenes of New Orleans, with horse-drawn carriages in the roads and splashes of pastel-colored ladies' dresses, dense oil paintings, of a handsome, dark-eyed man with dark, tousled hair and a richly tied lace cravat, of a little boy with the same unruly dark hair, the same dark eyes, only bright with youth and laughter, clutching a small puppy, of a beautiful woman in elaborate Victorian dress, with heavy, honey-colored hair and wide blue eyes.

����������� The room was large, generously proportioned, as was the kitchen that led off it. The kitchen could have been a little newer, but it didn't look bad. The dining room was also very large. Clearly both had once been bedrooms, because they each had bathrooms attached. Unusual, but kind of charming. The master bedroom was incredibly enormous. A large bed was set on a dais, built into elaborate scrollwork and curtains, with gilt and murals. It was over-the-top, but it was great. The windows lining the wall were all French doors, and Tinsley walked over to one and opened it. It led onto a small gallery that Tinsley wasn't sure she would trust. But it was over the top of the oak tree.

����������� "You can see the parades perfectly from here," gushed the realtor. "And I'll have the landlord fix the gallery before Mardi Gras. The master bathroom is this way."

����������� Tinsley followed the realtor to the master bathroom. This room was plainly also a converted bedroom, because it was the largest bathroom she'd ever seen. It was also a bit outdated, but it had a large bathtub positioned directly below a skylight. How beautiful, Tinsley thought, to lay in a bath and look up at the stars.

����������� And the history in the house was palpable. People had lived and loved there. Possibly the people in the portraits on the walls. Maybe the little boy had grown up there, playing. And there was something comforting about this place with its history. It felt like New Orleans. It felt like the exact opposite of her home in New York.

����������� She looked at the realtor. And she thought she was crazy. But she smiled broadly and said, "I'll take it."

Clara Tucker frowned, as Eleanor prattled on about the rumor that a duke making a tour of America would be at the Landerses' garden party next week. Eleanor specialized in rumors. Eleanor had been going over her list of rumors for twenty minutes now. And Clara had been trying to figure out how to turn the subject to what she was really interested in. And she didn't quite know how to do it.

����������� Clara fingered the diamond ring on her finger, twisting it nervously, and then she ventured, "Eleanor, about your garden party."

����������� Eleanor stopped one subject and then launched immediately into this new topic that Clara had suggested. "Oh!" she gushed. "I have been dying to discuss my garden party but I didn't want to seem self-centered. Did you have a good time?" Eleanor leaned forward eagerly, her garish pink hat slipping a bit as she did so.

����������� "I had a lovely time," Clara said, dismissively, although trying not to sound that way. "There was a man at the garden party."

����������� Eleanor smiled kittenishly. "Now, now, Clara. You are not supposed to be noticing men. Unless they are Randolph." Eleanor laughed merrily, in that silly, hollow, flirtatious style she'd perfected.

����������� Clara tried to smile demurely for a second, then gave it up. "I didn't know him."

����������� "Yes." Eleanor fluttered her fan in front of her face, all coquette. "I was wondering if you'd notice him."

����������� Wonder if she'd notice him? Clara could not believe that she would ever have not noticed him. She had felt him as soon as she had stepped outside, felt him like a rush of scalding water that her head had been ducked into, felt him like a sudden wind that had swooped over her and knocked her sideways. It had taken her a moment-a feverish, light-headed moment-before she figured out that it was his gaze. Just his gaze-that had been what had collided into her in a hard, physical crash. And there he had been, across the garden, gleaming darkly in the moonlight, his eyes steady on her, and Clara, standing there and meeting his gaze, had felt...had felt...well, there was no way to describe it. Except that it would be lovely to feel it again. And again and again.

����������� "His name is Raoul du Reine," Eleanor indulged, eagerly.

����������� Clara realized that she had been thoroughly caught up in reconstructing her one thrilling moment on the terrace. The announcement of his name slapped her into the present. "Raoul du Reine?" she repeated, frowning. It seemed, somehow, a foppish, absurd name for such a man.

����������� "He is pursuing me quite shamelessly," Eleanor confessed, proudly.�

����������� Clara was momentarily thunderstruck. "Is he?" she forced herself to say, politely, while her mind raced. He was pursuing Eleanor? This seemed as inappropriate as his name to Clara. Eleanor was so empty-headed and giggly. She was, granted, considered extremely pretty and clever at flirtation, but had that all really blinded him to her nonsense?

����������� "Papa is so appalled. It is so wonderful." Eleanor smiled, pleased with herself. "Papa is so concerned I am going to compromise myself and ruin my chance at a good marriage. Which, of course, I would never do. It's just that Raoul would be so very nice to be compromised by, don't you think?"

����������� "Yes," Clara murmured, staring off the terrace at nothing in particular, thinking hard. "Raoul du Reine," she repeated. "He's French?"

����������� "Yes. Which is why he is so inappropriate. Papa would die if I was forced to marry beneath me in such a way. And, of course, I would never let myself get put into such a position. But it is nice to daydream about, wouldn't you say? Raoul's a doctor. A doctor's wife isn't so bad, really. If only he wasn't French."

����������� "A doctor?" Clara repeated, and frowned briefly. Raoul du Reine. The French doctor. Shouldn't be very difficult to locate, she thought.

Genoa Savannah Parker sighed heavily, as if she already found this life a trying experience. Tinsley smiled down at her, absolutely enchanted, running a finger over the dimples of her tiny fist.

����������� "She's beautiful, Savvy."

����������� Savannah, sprawled out on the couch with a stuffed bunny rabbit on her stomach, smiled across at her. "That's the seventeenth time you've told me that."

����������� "Well, she is. You are a beautiful little girl. And your mother has given you such a hideous name."

����������� "It's tradition in the family. You know that. First daughters get the name of the city they were conceived in."

����������� "That's fine, when you get to be Savannah and your mother gets to be Florence. But Genoa?"

����������� "I'm blaming Matt. He couldn't wait until Paris. That was the plan."

����������� "You couldn't fib it a little bit?"

����������� Savannah looked shocked. "Obviously not. The tradition brings good luck. Besides, it's not so bad. We're calling her Gen. Gen Parker. I think it sounds like a bold-faced name, don't you think?"

����������� "Gen Parker. If she turns out to be anything like Savannah Parker, this world is in trouble."

����������� Savannah scoffed, then regarded Tinsley closely. "So tell me about New Orleans."

����������� Tinsley shrugged a bit. "Not much to tell. At least not yet. I mean, so far I love it. It's just what I needed. Someplace totally new. And it's so charming. The history just drips off of everything. It's just so beautiful. You would love it."

����������� "I've been."

����������� "I didn't know that."

����������� "Matt and I went on our honeymoon."

����������� "Oh, God. I never could keep track of all the cities you went on your honeymoon. Thank God you weren't conceived there, Genoa."

����������� "Nawlins Parker," commented Savannah, lazily. "Got a nice ring to it. I've missed you up here."

����������� "I've missed you down there."

����������� "I had to go and have this one here three weeks early, just to get you back up here."

����������� "I've been trying to get settled."

����������� "How's the new job going?"

����������� "I love the new job. I've never had such out-of-this-world food. I just wish it paid more."

����������� Savannah shook her head, tossing the bunny up in the air and catching it. "You were a food critic for the New York Times. And now you're writing for some free, weekly paper."

����������� "But it's a job. And it's a good job. I like the people, for a change. As I said, I like the food. I like what I do. I like everything I'm doing. And I've never lived like this before."

����������� Savannah stopped tossing the bunny. She caught it and held it and looked seriously at Tinsley. "I know you haven't. And that's awful. And I call myself a best friend. You look happy, Tins. So much happier than I've ever seen you."

����������� "I am. Well, except for my landlord."

����������� "Your landlord?"

����������� "My oven doesn't work. He doesn't seem to think that requires fixing. I guess he thinks it's part of the quaint charm of the place. He probably does think that, come to think of it. The whole house is falling down, and it's probably because he thinks it's perfect that way. Very old New Orleans."

����������� "The house is falling down? Why are you living in it?"

����������� "Because it is kind of quaint and charming," Tinsley admitted, sheepishly. "He might be a little bit right. But I still want my oven, dammit."

����������� "Well, what does he say?"

����������� "I never get to talk to him. He's 'abroad.' That's all I ever hear about him. I always talk to some Dr. du Reine. That's who I give my rent to, and that's who I complain about the oven to. I tell Dr. du Reine. Because I can't get ahold of James T. Trenier III."

����������� "James T. Trenier III, huh? Think they call him Trey like your brother?"

����������� "Who?" Tinsley asked, sarcastically. "I'm sure he doesn't have any friends."

����������� Savannah chuckled. "What about Dr. du Reine?"

����������� "I'm sure he's blackmailing Dr. du Reine," Tinsley grumbled.

����������� "You don't even like to cook," Savannah reminded her, amused, just as Matt stumbled through the front door, sending a pile of prettily-wrapped boxes flying out of his arms. "More?" Savannah exclaimed.

����������� Matt cast her a baleful look, kicking the boxes into a negligent pile. "You know more people than is strictly decent, you know."

����������� "Not like your billion and one business associates didn't send along baby gifts of their own," Savannah rejoined.

����������� Matt kissed the tip of Savannah's nose and collapsed on the floor beside her couch, glancing over at Gen, still solidly in Tinsley's arms. "She's sleeping."

����������� "Just about," Tinsley affirmed.

����������� "When do you think we'll stop getting baby gifts?" Savannah asked, combing her hands absently through her husband's hair.

����������� "When we die," Matt answered, sourly. "It's ridiculous. They're taking over the house."

����������� Tinsley had to admit that was true. Savannah and Matt's place was a decent size, but there were mountains of gifts, both wrapped and unwrapped, in every spare corner. Tinsley glanced at the new pile of gifts, and then looked back down at Gen. "And to think that I felt bad that I haven't bought you anything yet."

����������� "Oh, don't buy her anything at all," Savannah yawned. "I mean, except the christening gown, of course."

����������� Matt made a small sound.

����������� Tinsley looked up in confusion. "The christening gown? Why would I buy the christening gown?"

����������� Matt was looking at Savannah with disapproval.

����������� "Oh, I forgot," Savannah realized. "I forgot we hadn't asked you yet."

����������� "Asked me what?" said Tinsley.

����������� "We want you to be Gen's godmother," Matt told her. "And naturally we were going to ask you nicely. But I suppose telling you that you're responsible for the christening gown is good enough."

����������� "Oh," said Tinsley, feeling distinctly teary-eyed at the honor. "Really? You really would like me to be her godmother?"

����������� "Tinsley." Savannah looked at her seriously. "Who else would I ask?"

It was hot. And boring. And Raoul du Reine lay collapsed on the settee in his small front office, one forearm over his eyes, and listened to the sluggish street sounds outside. Why was it still so hot? It was miserable. And why were there no patients? That was also miserable. Robichaux and Trenier had found themselves a poker game, but du Reine had insisted on keeping his office hours. What if someone got sick, and he was not immediately available?

����������� Well, now he was bored to death. And surely any patient who came along would know to find the nearest poker game in order to locate Dr. du Reine. Du Reine twisted an ironic smile up at his ceiling. What a lovely reputation. That was Trenier and Robichaux's fault.

����������� Du Reine would have gotten up to find the poker game, except he felt it was presently too hot to move. He must have been dozing, because when the bell rang he nearly startled himself off the couch. Then, blinking, he just managed to sit up as a woman walked through the door.

����������� "Sorry," he muttered, in a bit of shock, because women did not usually come calling at his door. He tried desperately to locate his coat, as he also attempted to do up his collar.

����������� "I have come at an inopportune time," remarked the woman, sounding inordinately calm.

����������� "Not at all, not at all," he said, hastily, finding his coat and shrugging into it.

����������� "You needn't go to so much trouble," she continued, as he walked toward her. "I am looking for Dr. du Reine."

����������� She was pretty, he saw. Striking, memorable features. Wide blue eyes. Dark blonde hair the color of honey, caught up under a wide-brimmed straw hat. The dress she was wearing was a pale blue, paler than her eyes, and it was well-cut but seemed a bit dusty and bedraggled. And du Reine, looking at her, suddenly recognized her. Clara Tucker. What the devil was Clara Tucker doing looking for him in his office? Du Reine hoped fervently that it was nothing to do with Eleanor. He had grown very tired of Eleanor.

����������� "I am Dr. du Reine," he told her, and was startled when she looked momentarily alarmed by this revelation.

����������� "You are Dr. du Reine?"

����������� Yes, she seemed genuinely confused to discover this. Who had she thought Dr. du Reine was? du Reine wondered with a trace of annoyance. "I am."

����������� "I..." Clara looked up at this man, his golden hair gleaming like a halo around his face, and tried to swallow her disappointment. It wasn't him. There was no mistaking sunny Dr. du Reine with the man who had stood in darkness and looked at her and made her breathless with anticipation of something she couldn't even name. Eleanor had sent her on a wild goose chase after the wrong man. "I apologize," she managed, finally, gathering a semblance of herself. "I was mistaken. I should go."

����������� Du Reine had a pair of sharp blue eyes that were presently narrowed on her. "Not quite yet. You're looking a bit faint."

����������� "I am not faint," Clara assured him.

����������� Du Reine believed her. She did not look faint. But she certainly looked a bit uncertain, and he did not think it wise to send her out into the heat of the French Quarter at present. "Nevertheless. You must have some water. This way, please." He took firm hold of her elbow and nudged her over to the settee, where he gently pushed her down upon it.

����������� "You are prone to fussing," she said, severely.

����������� Du Reine chuckled as he poured her a glass of water. "Most women find that quite charming, you know." He handed her the glass.

����������� "I am sure." She tipped her nose up at him a bit, as she sipped the water. He watched her in silence, vaguely amused, much more intrigued. What was she doing in his office? What had she been mistaken about? Who had she been looking for? "I am Miss Tucker," she said, finally, after a very long moment of silence.

����������� "It is a delight to make your acquaintance, Miss Tucker. But you are a long way from the American District, are you not?"

����������� "I was..." Clara seemed to decide that she had no reasonable way to finish the sentence, so she merely took another sip of water.

����������� "Who were you looking for?"

����������� "I do not know." That was truth enough. "A man. It does not matter." Clara looked down at the glass of water. Du Reine was a handsome man. Du Reine, after all, would do just as well as the next man for her little plan. Surely he would. Clara looked up, opened her mouth to speak. Du Reine looked down at her expectantly, apparently very interested in whatever she had to say. And Clara closed her mouth. She couldn't do it. She had wanted the man in the garden. The plan would only work with the man in the garden. Oh, drat. "I must go now." She stood, handing him the water. "You've been very kind, Dr. du Reine. Thank you."

����������� Du Reine accepted the glass, placed it negligently on his desk. "Please allow me to walk you to your carriage-"

����������� "Oh, I haven't a carriage," she said, adjusting the hat ribbon tied gaily under her chin.

����������� "You rode?" du Reine asked, in surprise, glancing out at the glaring sun. Although, he supposed, that would explain her rather wilted look.

����������� "I walked," she answered, simply.

����������� Du Reine turned back to her abruptly. "You walked? From the American District? In this heat?"

����������� Clara Tucker sniffed at him in disapproval. "I am not an invalid. It was a healthy walk."

����������� Du Reine gaped at her, unable to comprehend this revelation. The girl was insane, he thought. Perhaps that was it. Perhaps she was besieged with a fever. The reason why she was in his office, looking for strange men whose names she apparently did not know, walking great distances in the noonday heat.

����������� Robichaux walked familiarly into the office, saying, "Trenier sent me to look for you. He's-Oh." Robichaux had caught sight of the girl in the office, so unprecedented an event that Robichaux could not think how to react to it.

����������� Clara Tucker, for her part, was giving Robichaux as strange a look as du Reine had ever seen. Perhaps she did have a fever, he thought.

����������� She moved toward Robichaux, who looked as if he, too, feared for the girl's health, and said, "Who sent you here?"

����������� "What?" said Robichaux, blankly.

����������� "Who did you say sent you here?"

����������� There was a purposeful look to Clara Tucker. The name Trenier had rung its way through her with a force that had startled her. She felt as if someone had rung her, honestly. Had struck her smartly. She was shivering with the vibrations of it.

����������� Robichaux looked helplessly at du Reine, who shook his head to indicate that he had no idea what was going on.

����������� Robichaux looked back at Clara Tucker, and, feeling ridiculous, answered her. "Trenier sent me here." Robichaux looked back at du Reine. "He's winning lots of money, typically, and he says you're missing the fun. But I'll go tell him that you're, well, with a patient." Robichaux looked frankly as if he doubted that this strange woman was merely du Reine's patient.

����������� "Where is Mr. Trenier?" asked Clara Tucker, with single-mindedness.

����������� Du Reine gave her a curious look. Clara Tucker's sudden fixation with Trenier was as stange as...well, as strange as Trenier's sudden fixation with her at the garden party. Had Clara Tucker really tramped down to the French Quarter in search of Trenier? It seemed too remarkable to be true.

����������� Robichaux looked as if he had had enough of this madwoman. "I'm afraid I have not made your acquaintance. I am Robichaux," he said, impatiently.

����������� "Of course," she agreed, dazedly, offering her hand. "I am Miss Tucker."

����������� Robichaux took her hand and bowed over it automatically. Then he looked up sharply. "Miss Tucker?"

����������� Blast, had he really placed her name? thought du Reine.

����������� "Excuse me a moment, Miss Tucker," said Robichaux, eyes fastened disapprovingly on du Reine. "There is something I need to say to Dr. du Reine."





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