Home > Grim Lovelies

Grim Lovelies
Author: Megan Shepherd


Chapter 1

 

 

From the front-turret window of Mada Vittora’s Paris townhouse, Anouk couldn’t see the fountain at the far end of Rue des Amants. She could see, however, the hopeful souls who made their way down the sidewalk, tourists and Parisians alike, some with their noses in guidebooks and others who knew the route by heart, in search of the granted wishes that, according to an obscure fifteenth-century legend (and more recently made famous in a movie from the summer before), they’d receive in exchange for touching a lucky part of the fountain. What lucky part, Anouk wasn’t sure. No one would tell her exactly what it was a statue of. No books in the house made reference to the legend, and Mada Vittora wouldn’t allow a computer or television inside. Perhaps the fountain was a statue of a bubbling mermaid, or a prancing horse or a little peeing boy; maybe wishers were supposed to touch a special hoof or rub a lucky fin or a lucky . . . boy part. Anouk could hardly go outside and look for herself. Mada Vittora strictly forbade her to leave. Her whole life—​twelve months and eight days, though she looked closer to seventeen years old—​she’d never set as much as her big toe beyond the front door.

A couple made their way down the sidewalk opposite the townhouse, and Anouk settled into the window seat, cradling her chin in her hands, and watched. Tourists, doubtless. Americans. Their too-white sneakers gave them away. They were holding hands, which made Anouk smile, but their faces were anxious. It was a look she saw too often. Wishers focused on the one thing they wanted so badly that they took this detour into the outskirts of the Sixteenth Arrondissement, to an area of Paris that had no other draw, no famous patisseries or cafés or landmarks except for the obscure fountain, in hopes that by some chance, the legend was real.

Anouk knew the fountain’s magic was only a story, but sometimes, secretly, she wasn’t so certain. It was the wishers’ faces. Always strained on the way to the fountain but lighter on the return, as though the simple act of wishing had given them part of what they so desperately needed. She’d seen Mada Vittora create incredible things, floating cakes and poison earrings and mirrors that showed far-off places, but she’d never once conjured a look of joy on anyone’s face.

She watched the Americans disappear beyond the window, pressing against the glass until she couldn’t see them anymore, and then she sighed. A Greek god? Yes, maybe the statue was of a Greek god. Now the view beyond the turret window was the same as always: The row of matching townhouses across the street. The line of parked cars, most of them black and expensive. The sad little tree in the front garden that no one ever remembered to water.

A sleek car slid into the empty space in front of the townhouse, and Anouk sat up. Mada Vittora was back. Anouk quickly checked her hair, her nails, the floors for any rogue specks of dust she might have missed. The driver’s-side door opened and Beau appeared, tall and good-looking, in his black suit with his chauffeur’s hat shading his eyes, and strode around to the back. He paused to stifle a yawn before opening the rear door.

Mada Vittora climbed out, glaring up at the sun through thick sunglasses. She wore the fox-fur coat that had been delivered last week from Galeries Lafayette. As soon as it came, she’d ripped open the package and clapped her hands together and told Anouk that she simply must try it on, just for fun, and they had giggled together as she had curled Anouk’s hair and rubbed blush into her cheeks and paraded her around the house in tottering high heels and the coat.

My pretty girl, Mada Vittora had said, looking over Anouk’s shoulder in the mirror. My pretty little beastie.

Anouk jumped up to open the front door. Two more figures slid out of the car’s back seat, catching her eye, and her good mood soured. Both of them were tall, one with hair the color of sunlight that matched his mother’s, the other with hair a dirty shade of charcoal. What were Viggo and Hunter Black doing in the city? Mada Vittora had sent them to handle business in London just last Tuesday. Surely they hadn’t arranged everything so soon.

Anouk stepped back silently as Mada Vittora swept up the front steps.

“We’re going to have company, my sweet.” Mada Vittora ran her nails down Anouk’s cheek as she breezed into the foyer, tossing her coat on the entry table. The fox fur smelled of leather and perfume. Anouk smoothed its wrinkles and hung it in the hall closet. “Tomorrow night. A dinner party, and dancing too. You’ll have to air out the ballroom. It still smells of sulfur.”

“Who’s coming?”

“The Royals.”

A secretive smile played at the witch’s lips, and no wonder. The Shadow Royals were the elite rulers of the magical realm that, within French borders, was called the Haute—​and they had never dined at the Rue des Amants townhouse. It had only ever hosted the occasional Goblin tea party, the guests with their dusty top hats and garish makeup, even on the men. (Especially on the men.) Goblins might look perfectly human, save the almost imperceptible point of their ears, but they were just as likely to gnaw on the table as on Anouk’s fruit tarts.

She’d need to order better wine.

“How many?” she asked.

“Six all together,” Mada Vittora said, unpinning her hat. “Now, be a dear and fetch us some tea and a drop of whiskey for Hunter Black—poor thing, he’s had a devil of a day. We’ll take it in the salon. And here. Put this away. Carefully.”

She handed Anouk her bag, parting with it as though lending a treasured book. Today it was a black Hermès purse, ostrich leather soft as a newborn’s skin, gleaming gold hardware. Yesterday the same bag had been a crystal-studded clutch. The day before that, a crocodile Gadino. The witch’s oubliette: Mercurial and magically vast, it held the deepest of secrets.

Viggo strode into the hall next, tossing his hat to Anouk without a glance, but Hunter Black paused long enough to look her up and down with those dark eyes that always made her anxious.

“You’ve never worn that necklace before,” he said.

Anouk’s hand flew to her throat, to the small token tucked just beneath the collar of her dress. Leave it to Hunter Black to spot the peek of gold that no one else had. Guiltily, she fished out the charm and worried it between her fingers: an old franc coin, worthless now, with a hole punched in it. She’d strung it on a chain.

“It’s . . . it’s from Luc,” she stammered. “I mean, I found it in his room. He wouldn’t mind me taking it.”

And he wouldn’t. She knew that if Luc had been there and seen her show even the slightest interest in it, he would have tossed it to her with a wink. She’d found it that morning, caught in the crack between two floorboards when she’d gone to his attic to fetch a vial of vervain. His rooms had felt suspended in time without him. The lingering smell of summer on his garden shears, the still-rumpled sheets on his bed, the desiccated herbs tied up in the rafters, English thyme and rosemary and rue, awaiting his hand at the mortar and pestle. It had been a week since he’d disappeared.

She toyed with the franc coin, working her worries into the etchings. It still smelled of thyme; of him.

Hunter Black’s gaze went to Mada Vittora in the hall.

“She wouldn’t mind either,” Anouk said quickly. She tucked the necklace back under her dress collar and cleared her throat. “I’ll hang up your coat, if you like.” She set down the oubliette and held out her hands.

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