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When Blood Lies (Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery Book 17) by [C. S. Harris]

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When Blood Lies (Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery Book 17) Kindle Edition

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

C. S. Harris is the USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty-five novels, including the Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries; as C. S. Graham, a thriller series coauthored by former intelligence officer Steven Harris; and seven award-winning historical romances written under the name Candice Proctor. --This text refers to the hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

 

Paris, France

 

Thursday, 2 March 1815

 

O

ne more day, he thought; one more day, perhaps two, and then . . .

 

And then what?

 

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, walked the dark, misty banks of the Seine. He was a tall man in his early thirties, lean and dark haired, with the carriage of the cavalry captain he'd once been. For two weeks now he'd been renting a narrow house on the Place Dauphine in Paris, near the tip of the ële de la CitŽ. He was here on a personal quest, awaiting the return to the city of his mother, who had abandoned her family more than twenty years before.

 

Waiting to ask for answers he wasn't sure he was ready to hear.

 

The night air felt cold against his face, and he thrust his hands deeper into the pockets of his caped greatcoat, his gaze on the row of fog-shrouded lanternes that ran along the quai des Tuileries before him. The great ancient city of Paris stretched out around him in a sea of winking candles and the dull yellow glow of countless oil lamps. He could hear the river slapping against the stones of the embankment beside him and the creak of an oar somewhere in the night, but much was hidden by the mist.

 

Ironic, he thought, how a man could strive for years to achieve a goal and then, once it was almost within his grasp, find himself shaken by misgivings and doubts and something else. Something he suspected was fear.

 

He turned away from the dark, silent waters of the river and climbed the steps to what had been called the Place Louis XV before it was renamed the Place de la RŽvolution. It was here that the guillotine had done some of its deadliest work, whacking off well over a thousand heads in a matter of months. The blood had run so thick and noisome that in the heat of summer the people who lived nearby complained of the smell. Not about the roaring crowds or the haunting pall of death that even today seemed to hang over the enormous open space, but about the smell.

 

Pausing at the top of the steps, he stared across the vast lantern-lit intersection, still surrounded by the stone facades of its once-grand prerevolutionary buildings. Even at this hour the place was crowded, the air ringing with the clatter of iron-rimmed wheels on damp paving stones, the clip-clop of horses' hooves, the shouts of frustrated drivers mingling with the cries of street vendors selling everything from sweet-smelling pastries to pungent medical potions. The guillotine was no longer here, of course. At the end of the Reign of Terror, they'd rechristened the space the Place de la Concorde-the place of harmony and peace. But with the fall of NapolŽon and the return of the Bourbon dynasty, the sign plaques had been changed back to "Place Louis XV." He'd heard there was talk of renaming it once more, this time to Place Louis XVI in honor of the king who'd lost his head here.

 

So much for harmony and reconciliation.

 

It was a drift of thought that brought him back, inevitably, to his mother. She had lived in this city off and on for over ten years-the estranged wife of an English earl turned mistress to one of NapolŽon's most trusted generals. Why? It was one of the many questions he wanted to ask her.

 

Why, why, why?

 

The church bells of the city-those that hadn't been melted down to forge cannons-began to chime the hour, and he turned his steps back toward the Pont Neuf. It wasn't a stylish place to stay, the ële de la CitŽ. The British aristocrats who'd flocked to Paris since the restoration of the Bourbons tended to take houses in the Marais district or the newer neighborhoods such as the Faubourgs Saint-Germain and Saint-HonorŽ. But it was on this elongated ancient island in the middle of the Seine that Paris had begun, and it called to his wife, Hero, for reasons she couldn't quite define but he thought he understood.

 

He could feel the cold wind picking up as he stepped out onto the historic bridge that cut across the western tip of the island. It was still called the Pont Neuf, the New Bridge, even though it dated back to the sixteenth century and there were now much newer bridges over the river. Built of a deep golden stone with rows of semicircular bastions, it consisted of two separate spans: a longer series of seven arches leading from the Right Bank to the island, and another five arches that joined the island to the Left Bank. In the center, where the bridge touched the ële de la CitŽ, stood a large square platform that had once featured a bronze equestrian statue of Henri IV but now held only an empty pedestal.

 

Earlier in the evening he'd noticed a painfully thin fille publique soliciting customers beside the old statue base. But the ragged young prostitute was gone now, the platform deserted, and he paused there to look out over the ill-kept stretch of sand, grass, and overgrown plane trees that formed the end of the island. The gusting wind shifted the mist to show, here and there, a patch of black water, a weedy gravel path, the bare skeletal outlines of branches just beginning to come into leaf. Something caught his attention, a quick glimpse of what looked like an outflung arm and delicately curled, still fingers that were there and then gone, lost in the swirling fog.

 

His fists clenched on the stone parapet before him as he sucked in a quick breath of cold air heavily tinged with woodsmoke and damp earth and the smell of the river. His imagination?

 

No, there it was again.

 

He bolted down the flight of old stone steps that led to the water's edge. A tall, slim woman lay motionless on her side in the grass near the northern span's heavy stone abutment. This was no wretched prostitute. Her exquisitely cut pelisse was of a rich sapphire blue wool accented with dark velvet at the cuffs and collar; her blood-soaked hat was of the same velvet, trimmed with a jaunty plume; the gloves on her motionless hands were of the finest leather. Her face was turned away from him, her cheek pale in the dim light and smeared with more blood.

 

Then she moaned, her head shifting, her eyes opening briefly to look up into his. She sucked in a jagged breath. "Sebastian," she whispered, her eyes widening before sliding closed again.

 

Recognition slammed into him. He fell to his knees beside her, his hands trembling as he reached out to her, his aching gaze drifting over the familiar planes of her face-the straight patrician nose, the high cheekbones, the strong jaw. Features subtly changed by the passage of years but still recognizable, still so beloved.

 

It was his mother, Sophia, the errant Countess of Hendon.

 

Chapter 2

 

I

n Sebastian's happiest memories, his mother was always laughing.

 

A beautiful woman with golden hair, sparkling blue-green eyes, and a brilliant smile, Sophia Hendon-Sophie to her friends and loved ones-had charmed everyone who knew her . . . everyone except her own husband, Alistair St. Cyr, the Fifth Earl of Hendon.

 

Even as a young child, Sebastian had been painfully aware of the tensions between his mother and the man he'd believed to be his father. As he grew, the brittle silences became longer, the inevitable scenes uglier. Those were the memories he tried to forget: Sophie's tearful pleadings; the Earl's angry voice echoing along the ancient paneled corridors of Hendon Hall; the clatter of galloping hooves as Hendon drove off to London while Sophie wept someplace alone and out of sight.

 

Four children had been born to that troubled marriage: first a girl, Amanda, followed by three healthy sons. But then the eldest son, Richard, drowned in a rocky Cornish cove. And four years later, in the blistering heat of a brutally hot summer when their mother had defied the Earl and taken them to Brighton, the second son, Cecil, died of fever.

 

The marriage ruptured. Sebastian could remember his eleven-year-old self sitting on the floor in a corner of his room, his legs drawn up to his chest, his arms wrapped around his head as he tried not to listen to the furious accusations and threats the grieving parents hurled at each other. But afterward, he wished he had listened. For just a few days later his mother sailed away with friends for what was supposed to be a pleasant day's outing.

 

She'd kissed him that morning, the day she sailed away, and laughed when he ducked her embrace in that way of all eleven-year-old boys. But the pain in her eyes had been there for him to see, even if he hadn't understood it.

 

Lost at sea, they'd said.

 

He'd refused to believe it. Every day of what was left of that miserable hot summer he'd spent standing on the cliffs outside of Brighton, his nostrils filled with the smell of brine and sun-blasted rocks, his eyes painfully dry as he stared out to sea, watching for her, waiting for her to come sailing back. Steadfastly, he continued to insist that she must be alive, refused to believe he'd never see her again. But eventually acceptance had come.

 

He didn't discover it was all a lie for another twenty years.

 

Chapter 3

 

A

  single branch of candles lit the small old-fashioned room, its golden light flickering over the pale face of the woman who lay motionless in the bed, her eyes closed.

 

Hero Devlin sat beside her, a bowl of water on a nearby chest, a bloodstained cloth in her hand, her gaze on the motionless features of her husband's infamous mother. Until today, Hero had never met-had never even seen-this woman. This woman who had caused her son the kind of damage that was difficult to forgive.

 

Hero had seen portraits of the Countess in her youth. She'd been so beautiful, her smile wide and infectious, her eyes thickly lashed and sultry. She was still beautiful even in her sixties, with classical bone structure, smooth skin, and an aura of gentle vulnerability that might or might not be deceptive. But Hero was having a hard time tamping down the anger she'd long nourished toward the notorious Countess, for she knew only too well what Devlin's discovery of his mother's betrayal had done to him. How does any man recover from the knowledge that his mother played her husband false, then staged her own death to run off with her latest lover, never to return?

 

Since learning the truth, Devlin had been quietly searching for her across Europe. As long as the war between France and Britain raged, it hadn't been easy. But the coming of peace brought reports that the Countess lived here, in Paris, although she traveled frequently-sometimes to Vienna, sometimes to other destinations that proved surprisingly difficult to uncover. In the end they'd decided simply to join the horde of British aristocrats flocking to Paris and wait there for her to return. She had been expected back sometime in the coming week, but not today. Not yet.

 

"I don't understand what she's doing here," said Hero, leaning forward to gently wipe away a trickle of blood that rolled down the side of Sophia's temple. She kept her voice low, although she was afraid Sophie Hendon was beyond hearing anything. "She wasn't supposed to be in Paris."

 

Devlin stood with his back pressed against the nearest wall, his gaze on the pale woman in the bed, his face a mask of control that carefully hid every emotion, every thought, every betraying trace of pain. A streak of his mother's blood showed on one lean cheek; more of her blood stained his waistcoat and the cuffs of his shirt. Uncertain of the extent of her injuries and afraid to move her himself, he'd found a couple of street porters with a board to carry her up the stairs and across the bridge to the house on the Place Dauphine. They'd sent for a physician, but the man hadn't arrived yet and Hero was afraid there wasn't much he'd be able to do anyway.

 

"I don't know," said Devlin, his voice carrying a strange inflection that Hero had never heard in their nearly three years of marriage. Then he swung his head away to stare at the blackness beyond the window, his nostrils flaring as he sucked in a deep breath. "Where is that damned doctor?"

 

Hero set aside the bloodstained cloth and reached to take one of the Countess's limp hands in her own. It was a strong hand, aged and fine boned but not delicate. Beneath her fingertips Hero could feel the woman's pulse, erratic and faint. So faint. She lifted her gaze to study again that pale still face, tracing there the ways Sophie was like her son and the ways in which they differed. "Do you think she fell from the bridge?"

 

Sebastian shook his head. "How do you fall from a bridge with a high stone parapet?"

 

"Was thrown, then. If she fell from that height, there could be other injuries. Internal injuries we can't see . . ."

 

Hero's voice trailed off, for the wounds they could see on the Countess's head were bad enough. Her breathing was becoming as erratic as her pulse. Please, thought Hero, her throat so tight it hurt. Please don't die. He's fought so hard to find you. Please, please, please . . .

 

But the pulse beneath Hero's fingers grew ever fainter, then skipped, skipped, and was no more. The Countess's shallow, ragged breath stilled.

 

Hero leaned forward. Breathe! she was silently screaming, her fist tightening around that limp hand. Please breathe!

 

Then she heard Devlin say, his voice sounding as if it came from a long way off, "She's gone."

 

Chapter 4

 

T

he physician arrived some ten minutes later.

 

They were still seated beside the Countess's deathbed when a housemaid brought word of Dr. Pelletan's arrival. A small fire crackled on the hearth, but the bedroom was in heavy shadow, and for one long moment, Sebastian could only stare at the servant. He felt numb inside, so numb he wondered if he'd ever feel anything again. A part of him knew that somewhere beneath the numbness must, surely, lie pain and grief.

 

Surely?

 

He felt Hero's hand touch his arm, heard her say to him quietly, "Would you like me to go down to thank him and tell him he's no longer needed?"

 

"No." Sebastian pushed to his feet. He had the strangest sensation, as if he were moving through someone else's life, or as if he were outside of himself, watching his own actions with a wooden sense of detachment. "No. I'll see him."

--This text refers to the hardcover edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B098PWYHZR
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Berkley (April 5, 2022)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ April 5, 2022
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 4980 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 367 pages
  • Lending ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.6 out of 5 stars 1,704 ratings

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C. S. Harris, aka Candice Proctor, is the USA TODAY bestselling author of the Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series, the C. S. Graham contemporary thriller series, seven historical romances,, and the standalone Civil War historical GOOD TIME COMING. An Air Force brat who grew up exploring castles in Spain and fishing in the mountains of Oregon and Idaho, Candy later worked as an archaeologist and earned a PhD in European history. A former academic who has lived all over the world, she now makes her home in New Orleans with her husband, former intelligence officer Steven Harris. Visit her website at www.csharris.net.

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Mrs Anne Westbrook
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking history and an all absorbing storyline
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another Excellent St Cyr Book
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