Star Cursed - Page 64/73

One by one, I open the bottles and dump the opium powder down into the privy hole, thankful for its existence even as I shiver at the sound of claws scrabbling far below. I set the satchel onto a low shelf and carefully unwrap the white linen. Inside are the bottles filled with Sister Sophia’s concoction.

“Cate,” Mei says from outside the door. “Everything all right?”

“Just another minute!” I mutter.

I pour Sophia’s mixture into each of the bottles. When I’m finished, I restopper all of them and put them back. I try to mask the rose scent and re-create the bitter smell of the opium with a glamour. With luck the matron or cook or whoever mixes the laudanum for the girls’ tea won’t taste it herself.

In three swift movements, I shove Sophia’s empty bottles back into their linen nest, pull the satchel onto my shoulder, and blow out the candle.

Mei is pacing outside the door. I almost collide with her. Her nose is red from the cold, and her hands are shoved into her fur muff.

“Oh, thank heavens,” she says, just as the door at the opposite end of the hall begins to open.

I drag her across the hallway in one giant leap, pushing through the billowing white sheet that hangs over the construction entrance. We huddle together in the cold of the courtyard, our boots sinking into a snowdrift. Above us, wooden beams sketch out the roof of the covered walkway that will lead to the new laundries. Head cocked, I listen to the maid’s boots clomp down the hall and the kitchen door swing shut.

“That was close,” Mei whispers, her breath warm on my ear.

I peek around the sheet to find the hallway empty again. “Tell Sister Sophia we’re ready to leave. I’ll fetch Tess.”

A few moments later, I push into Zara’s room, keeping one foot wedged behind me in the doorway. Tess is still sitting on the bed, her knees touching Zara’s, their curly heads bent close together.

“Time to go,” I announce.

“Already?” Tess’s eyes are rimmed in red as though she’s been crying.

It seems an age instead of only two hours since we arrived. Personally, I cannot leave the place soon enough. “Did you have a good talk?” What has Zara said to upset her?

“Oh, yes.” Tess holds up two folded pieces of paper, which she quickly transforms into a pair of hairpins. “Zara drew us maps to all three safe houses and gave me the passwords.”

“That’s brilliant.” I give Zara a quick smile. “Come on, Tess. We mustn’t keep the others waiting. You’ll have all the time in the world soon.”

Tess throws her arms around Zara’s neck, squeezing her tight. “I am very glad I got to meet you.”

“Good-bye, Tess. Thank you. For everything,” Zara says, patting her back. There are tears in her brown eyes, too. “I’ll see you soon, Cate.”

I shiver into my cloak. Between Mother’s secrets, Brenna’s creepy chatter, and sneaking into the storage room, it’s already been a very long, fraught day. And the most dangerous part is yet to come.

• • •

“Cate? Are you awake?” Rilla whispers across our moonlit bedroom later that night.

There’s no point in lying to her; I’ve been tossing and turning for the last hour, waiting impatiently for my meeting with Finn. “Yes. I’m sorry if I’m keeping you up.”

I can see Rilla prop herself up on her elbows. “It’s all right. Are you sneaking out again?” She hesitates. “I noticed you missing the other night, but I didn’t say anything to anyone this time. I didn’t want to get you in any trouble. But I do worry. It’s not safe for you to be wandering around alone at night.”

“I haven’t been alone.” It’s past time I told her the truth. I lean over and light the candle on the dressing table. “I’m sorry for worrying you. I’ve been meeting someone. My beau—the one Alice mentioned in class the other day? His name’s Finn.”

Rilla sits against her brass headboard, pert nose wrinkling as she yawns, looking for all the world like a sleepy kitten. “But—I thought Alice said he was a Brother? And that he jilted you?”

I sit cross-legged, wrapping my soft blue quilt around my shoulders. “We were engaged before the Sisterhood forced me to come here. I suppose I jilted him, really, though I never wanted to. He’s amazing, Rilla. He knows I’m a witch; he knows everything, and joined the Brotherhood to protect me.” I give her an impulsive grin. “I wish you could meet him.”

“Me, too.” Rilla grins back, scratching her nose with one gloved hand. Alice has been tormenting her about how “common” freckles are, so she’s been trying to lighten them with lemon juice, and she’s taken to wearing gloves and hand cream to bed every night. “So you’ve been meeting for secret midnight rendezvous? How scandalous!”

“Well, there’s more than just kissing involved,” I point out, blushing. “Tonight we’re going to sneak into the Archives and look at the records of the girls at Harwood.”

I explain the Harwood plan to her, and Rilla listens. For all her chatter and bounce, she can be very attentive. “That sounds brilliant, Cate,” she says when I’m finished. “Only—you said yourself that Sister Sophia does her nursing missions in the afternoons, not the evenings. What if the matron gets suspicious, or the guard won’t let you inside in the first place?”

I frown. “Elena and I will compel them.”

“It seems like an unnecessary risk.” Rilla shivers, pulling her yellow quilt up to her chin. “Why don’t you glamour yourselves as Brothers? Then the first hint that something is wrong will be when you pull the alarm. It would be a cinch to pull off. Far easier than mind-magic.”

“Not for me,” I sigh. Outside, the wind whistles through the bare trees. “I can’t seem to get the hang of it.”

Rilla squints at me through the shadows. “I could manage glamours for both of us. And they would only need to last until we’ve got the nurses locked up, right?”

“Right. But if something goes wrong, it will be awfully dangerous,” I point out. I don’t want her thinking this is one of her novels. “We could use a witch of your caliber, though. Are you sure?”

“Cate. As far as I’m concerned, we’re not just roommates. You’re my sister.” She gives me her sunny smile, but her hazel eyes are serious. “Now, tell me more about the marvelous Finn. How did you meet him?”

I laugh. “Well, I’ve known him forever, but I didn’t really notice him until a few months ago, when we quite literally ran into each other in my garden. You see, Father hired him as our gardener . . .”

• • •

“You want to do what?” Finn yelps an hour later. His glasses are fogged from the steam of his breath, but I can imagine the disapproval in his eyes.

I shove through the wrought-iron gate that leads from the convent garden into the street behind it. “I suspect you heard me properly the first time.”

“If I did, you’re mad.” He swipes a hand through his messy hair. “Why can’t you just ask the girls if they’re capable of mind-magic?”

“Because it’s bound to be bedlam during the jailbreak. And who knows what they’re aware of, what state they’re in, after being drugged for such a long time? They may not trust us. Please don’t argue with me on this.” I lay my hand, covered in a black satin glove, on his arm.