Star Cursed - Page 10/73

“You wouldn’t be alone,” Sister Cora rushes to reassure me. “Sophia goes every week on a nursing mission. If there were any other way—I don’t relish the thought of you in that place. But Zara is very stubborn. She won’t speak to anyone else; she hasn’t forgiven us for her imprisonment.”

I sit on the slippery silk chair, which threatens to dump me onto the floor. “What makes you think she’ll talk to me?”

Sister Cora smiles. “You’re her goddaughter. She owes you that much.”

“And suppose I owe you, for seeing to it that Maura and Tess are safe.”

“I’ll send for Maura and Tess regardless. This new prophecy—it does cast some doubt on which of you is the prophesied witch. It seems that your magic is the strongest, but if—when—one of you begins to manifest visions—well, that ought to answer the question for certain.” Cora’s blue eyes meet mine. “It’s your choice, Cate, but I do think it would be wise to seek Zara’s counsel. She may be able to help you.”

I raise my chin, pushing past my fear. “You’re right. It’s past time I met my godmother.”

Chapter 3


Flames throw hideous shadows over the crowd in Richmond Square. People are gathered, thousands of them: working men in jeans and patched jackets and slouchy felt hats; businessmen in tweed suits and crisp cravats; children playing. Vendors sell drumsticks, paper cones of hot roasted chestnuts, and mugs of cider, as though we’re at a fair. Women cluster together and gossip as they bounce babies in their arms, or shout merrily at their children, or keep quiet and curl into their cloaks. The air has a bite to it now that the sun’s gone down.

There may be others moving in secret, as the Sisters do. But no one will stand up to denounce the Brotherhood tonight. Alice has been full of brave talk since she heard the new edicts, but she won’t perform magic in a crowd like this. Not with hundreds of Brothers and their guards filling the square. Not with the bonfire right here, ready and waiting for us.

This could too easily be a night in 1796, when bonfires were held all over New England. When they burnt women instead of books.

The thought is not new, but it sickens me just the same.

I’ve never seen so many Brothers gathered in one place. They crowd around the makeshift wooden stage like a flock of ravens. It sets my heart racing, fear tumbling through my veins, and I hate that they frighten me.

Sister Cora has positioned us in the middle of the crowd, among dozens of families. In front of me, a woman in a gray cloak croons a lullaby to a baby in a red woolen hat. Her little boy, dressed in a matching red scarf, darts away to join a friend. “Jimmy, don’t go far!” she calls after him.

I’ve turned to Rilla to suggest we buy some cider when I see him.


He’s at the edge of the crowd, standing next to Brother Ishida.

He looks just the same, but not.

His hair: impossible as ever, thick and unruly. His cheeks and nose, dusted with brown-sugar freckles. His full, cherry lips. His chocolate eyes, sad behind wire-rimmed spectacles.

The long black cloak that falls to his feet and covers his wrists. The silver ring of the Brotherhood that catches the firelight as he gestures. Guilt crushes me. He’s had too many responsibilities since his father’s death, but this new heaviness in his bearing—this is my fault. Whatever he’s done in the last few weeks, it weighs on him.

He joined the Brotherhood for me.

I drop my eyes to the dead grass at my feet. I’m suddenly warm, suffocating despite the brisk air; I claw at the ribbon that ties my hood, and it falls back, revealing blond hair wound in braids around my temples.

I want to cross the plaza and go to Finn, take his hand, and lead him far away from here. Take him somewhere private where I can tell him the truth: I love him, I will always love him, no matter what they force me to do.

Does he still love me? Can he ever forgive what I’ve done?

I raise my eyes again, and this time they collide with his. I stumble back, reaching, unthinking, for Rilla’s arm. My feelings must be written plainly across my face, but I cannot read him. Does he miss me, even a little? This terrible longing, this urge to run across the grass and hurl myself into his arms—that can’t be one-sided, can it?

“Finn,” I breathe. His name on my lips is a sigh, a love song, a plea for forgiveness.

And he turns away.

We are separated by twenty yards and hundreds of people, but it still feels like a rejection.

“Cate?” My roommate stares up at me, her hazel eyes full of concern. How many times has she said my name? “Cate, are you all right?”

“Yes.” The word breaks from my throat. I press my fingertips to the corners of my eyes, hiding the tears, holding my breath to try and keep them from coming.

A movement—a flash of pink—catches my eye. Sachi Ishida, my best friend from Chatham, and her half sister, Rory Elliott, are waving their handkerchiefs frantically to get my attention. I pull my hood back up to shadow my face, to hide the stupid traitorous tears that will come despite my best efforts. “Excuse me, Rilla. I see some girls I know.”

I weave through the crowd, dodging children playing tag. Sachi and Rory have a prime spot at the back of the crowd beneath a red maple. There are a few pigtailed girls playing near the tree but no adults within earshot. I launch myself at Sachi, almost knocking her down with the force of my hug. It’s not seemly, but I don’t care. She squeezes me tight, the gray fur of her hood tickling my nose, and then Rory air-kisses my cheeks with brash smacking noises. If anyone had told me two months ago that I would consider these girls trusted friends, that I would greet them with such blinding delight, I’d have insisted they were mad.

“I’m so glad to see you! What are you doing in New London?” I demand.

“We might ask you the same question, Sister,” Rory says.

Sachi’s dark eyes rest on my face. “What possessed you to join the Sisterhood, Cate?”

“I don’t know what you mean. I’m very happy here in New London,” I evade, glancing over my shoulder. A little blond girl gets her feet tangled in the hoop and tumbles to the ground. Her Indo friend helps her up, dusting off the back of her navy cape.

“Liar.” Rory isn’t one to mince words. “You’ve been crying, plain as day.”

“You don’t have to tell us now,” Sachi says, eyeing me sideways. “Father’s here for the duration of the council meeting. Finn, too. I take it you’ve seen him? Did he speak to you?”

I shake my head, unable to speak past the lump that’s reappeared in my throat.

“Oh, Cate, you look a mess.” She tosses me her bright pink lace handkerchief.

“Has he”—I wipe my eyes, battle my pride, and lose—“has he said anything about me?”

Sachi frowns. “To me? No. But I’m hardly his confidante. Father thinks he’s marvelous, you know. He’s always going on about Finn, what a brilliant mind he has, how he put his own mother out of business and so on. But there were moments in the carriage—when Father was asleep and he thought no one was looking—Finn seemed miserable. Just like you do now,” she says, touching my arm with her gloved hand. She’s got new pink satin gloves with mother-of-pearl buttons, and Rory has matching red ones. They’re utterly impractical in this cold, but pretty.