Echoes in the Darkness

By: Jane Godman

Not betrothed, but beguiled

In artistic circles she is the Divine Dita, Paris’s most sought-after nude model. But now she’s not so much posing as playing a role: fiancée to the next earl of Athal. The charade is a favor to Dita’s friend, Eddie Jago, a dissolute painter…and the aforementioned heir. As deceptions go, it is innocent compared to what will come.

On the grim Cornish coast, from the ashes of a ruined castle rises the Jagos’ sumptuous new manor house. The fresh-hewn stone, however, cannot absorb the blood of centuries or quiet the echoes of past crimes. Dita struggles to decipher the family: the infirm earl and his inscrutable wife; resentful Eddie; sheltered sister Eleanor. And Cad: the handsome second son whose reputation is spotless in business—scandalous everywhere else.

Drawn by friendship, ensnared by lust, Dita uncovers a sordid tangle of murder, desire and madness. It will lay her bare as no portraitist has done before.




Prologue

My journey to Tenebris started many months before I actually crossed the channel to England. I suppose it really began on the day I found a very beautiful, very naked man asleep in my apartment.

It was one of those pure, perfect April days when the Parisian sky was endlessly blue, skylarks sang and sunlight glinted on the crowded rooftops. The scent of just-baked bread and freshly poured coffee lingered in the still air. An accordion player provided a wailing accompaniment to the chatter of café goers as they sipped cloudy Pernod or rolled aromatic cigarettes. A group of young men, clad in the studied bohemian garb affected by poets and artists, hailed me by name as I ran lightly past them. I waved a hand and hurried on. The tiny attic rooms I rented were close to the Élysée Theatre in the Montmartre district. The cobbled streets were steep and, panting, I burst in through my door, casting my hat and cloak aside. I had lived here since I first arrived in Paris, almost a year ago. It was beginning to feel like home, and the thought was bittersweet.

I must have let out a squeal, or made another sound of surprise, because the stark-naked man lying full-length on my sofa awakened. I had time to notice the striking blue of his eyes and that his bare limbs were long and well muscled, before he abruptly sat up, managing to cover his exposed groin with an embroidered cushion. The thought that it was hardly the action of a dangerous attacker alleviated my shock slightly. We regarded each other warily before he burst out laughing.

“How did you get in here?” I demanded. Later, I would look back and wonder why it didn’t occur to me to be afraid.

“You should lock your door,” he said, yawning to show very white teeth.

“I always do! And I know I did just that before I left here this morning,” I informed him. It was true. No one had more cause than I to be meticulous about security.

He laughed again, a little sheepishly this time. My memory processed the fact that I had seen him before. He was one of the group of younger, wilder artists who frequented the theatres and bars of Montmartre. I had noticed him because of his height and remarkable good looks. “Very well, perhaps I should have said ‘You should make sure your door can’t be unlocked by anyone with half a brain and a penknife.’” The subtle trace of an English accent caught my ears.

Those words should, of course, have been my cue to run screaming to the gendarmes. But, bizarrely, I didn’t feel at risk from my unclothed intruder, and I like to think I have a well-honed sense of danger. So, instead of fleeing, I asked the most incongruous of the many questions that were racing around my head. “Why have you taken all your clothes off?”

“They’re wet,” he pointed out. And he was right; every item was soaked through. He had flung all of his discarded garments haphazardly onto a chair, and a puddle was forming on the floorboards beneath. I clicked my tongue disapprovingly and busied myself arranging his jacket, shirt and trousers so that they might actually begin to dry out. He lay back again, still holding the strategically placed cushion, and watched me.

“And, if it’s not an impertinent question,” I said, with an attempt at sarcasm, “might I also ask what you are doing here?”

“It was a wager,” he said, as though that explained everything. And, in a way, it did. The group I had seen him with were heavy drinkers, wild to a fault and legendary gamblers.

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