Echoes in the Darkness The Jago Legacy Series, Book Two

Echoes in the Darkness 

The Jago Legacy Series, Book Two
In the artistic circles of 1860s Paris she is known as the Divine Dita, the
most sought-after nude model in Montmartre. But now she’s not so much striking a pose as playing a role, as fiancée to the next Earl of Athal. The charade is a favor to Dita’s best friend, Eddie Jago, a dissolute painter, and the aforementioned heir. As deceptions go, it is innocent compared with what is to 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 Jago family. There is Tynan, the kindly Earl, Lucia, his capable wife, handsome, volatile Eddie and sweet, sheltered sister Eleanor. Then there is Cad, the handsome second son whose reputation is impeccable in business, but scandalous in everything 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.
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Excerpt
Copyright © 2015 Jane Godman
All rights reserved

Paris 1868
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 exactly 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.

“You broke into a complete stranger’s apartment for a wager?”

“The bet was not to break in, but to persuade you to let me paint your portrait,” he explained. “Your face, I mean. You weren’t here, so I decided to wait for you.”

I had been bustling about in a diffident, housewifely manner, straightening chairs and hanging my hat and cloak on a peg, but I stopped at that and turned to look at him. “I pose for nudes,” I said quietly. But he knew that. I remembered the first time I’d seen him was in a class for which I’d modelled at the ateliers des arts. I remembered the appreciative look in his eyes when I took off my robe. “I don’t do portraits.”

“Why?” He made an impulsive movement as though he was about to stand up, but my raised hand and look of horror forestalled him. He collapsed back on the sofa with an apologetic grin. “You are the most incredible woman I have ever seen. That was how the wager started—we were discussing the perfect shape of your face, the drama of your colouring, the glory of your eyes. The Divine Dita. That’s what they call you. No one can understand why you’ll let them paint your tits but not your face.” He seemed to feel I might be offended by the comment and added, “Don’t get me wrong. Your tits are glorious, too! But you could earn a king’s ransom from portraits, you know.”

“No.” I shook my head firmly.

“Privately?” His tone was low, and very persuasive. “Just you and I, alone. The artist and his muse. A portrait no one else will ever see? I will pay you well.” He named a figure far in excess of anything I had ever earned.

I studied him thoughtfully. He really was quite alarmingly attractive and not remotely self-conscious, apparently, about his own nudity. “If it was just between us, how would you win your wager?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t, of course. But I would have the satisfaction—private satisfaction—of knowing that I had succeeded where others had failed.”

His smile was heartbreaking, but I couldn’t help noticing that, in contrast, his eyes were sad. It was a curiously irresistible combination. The offer was enticing, but I couldn’t risk it, even for the sum he had mentioned. To avoid any further temptation, I changed the subject. “How did your clothes get so wet?”

“Some of my so-called friends decided to throw me into the fountain before we parted company last night.” He frowned in an effort to remember. “I mean, this morning.”

“These things will take forever to dry. I can go to your apartment, if you wish, and bring you back something to change into. You’ll have to give me a key, of course. I’m not as skilled in the art of house-breaking as you.”

“Ah,” he said, as though another memory had just occurred to him. “When those clothes are dry, I’d better get out and start looking for somewhere to live.” He glanced around my neat, little apartment, taking in the two boxlike bedrooms, tiny bathroom and this comfortable parlour with its views across the rooftops and curtained-off kitchen area at one end. “Unless—you wouldn’t happen to be looking for a roommate, would you, sweetheart? I’m house-trained and harmless.”

I eyed him thoughtfully while my mind raced through a series of arguments. Against the dangers of allowing a dissolute, undeniably charismatic—but probably penniless, and almost certainly lecherous—artist into my home and my life, I weighed the previous day’s stern warning from my landlord: “Pay the arrears by Monday, or take up residence on the street corner.” And, of course, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have a man about the place. Another girl had been found dead just yards from my front door. My restless mind flitted back again to the arguments against the idea. The biggest of them all lurked in the shadows of my imagination. Thankfully, he had not yet appeared in the shadows of my reality. But I knew it was only a matter of time. I had made myself a promise that Sandor would never be allowed to hurt another person because of me. Could I keep that promise if I allowed myself to become close to this engaging rogue?

“The rent is due on Friday and I will need two weeks in advance,” I blurted out before I had time to apply either caution or sense to the situation. I could always throw him out if he proved to be a nuisance. He held out his hand with solemn courtesy. Averting my eyes as the cushion slipped slightly, I returned his warm grasp. His eyes twinkled, briefly dispelling the discordant air of sorrow that prevailed in their depths.

That was the day on which Eddie Jago and I became roommates. And best friends.

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