Iolanthe Evangeline reclined on the chaise by the fireplace in her boudoir and watched the flames dance in the hearth. She sighed loudly, causing Mala to pause in her clumsy tidying and glance at her mistress from the corner of her eye.
“Don’t look at me, Mala.” Iolanthe muttered. “I can’t bear to have you sap what little of my beauty remains with your hideous troll eyes.”
“Sorry, Miss.” Mala grunted. “I jus’ thought you might be sick.”
“I ain’t sick, Mala. I don’t want you thinkin’ I am.”
“Is it your hands hurtin’ ya?” Mala asked. “I can get more salve.”
“No, no.” Iolanthe shook her head. “My hands are just fine. I was only thinking.”
“Something you would never understand.” Iolanthe clucked her tongue. “Did you bring my letter to Big Ollie?”
“I did.” Mala spat. “I already done tol’ ya.”
“Of course.” Iolanthe nodded. “I’m sorry, Mala. I’m distracted.”
Mala’s eyes brightened. She was not accustomed to Iolanthe apologizing—ever.
“Ain’t nothin’, Miss.” Mala smiled—well, as close as she could get to an expression which resembled a smile.
“Don’t get all giddy.” Iolanthe frowned. “It doesn’t suit you. Yours is a face which was built for misery.”
“Yes, Miss.” Mala frowned.
“That’s more like it.” Iolanthe nodded.
“Leave now,” Iolanthe commanded. “I want to be alone with my thoughts.”
Without another word, Mala trudged from the room, leaving a trail of dirt and debris behind her.
“Pig,” Iolanthe muttered. She rose from the chaise and walked lightly across her silken room, stopping at one of the two ornate vitrines which flanked the farthest window. She carefully opened the sparkling glass door of one of the cabinets and slowly (and painfully—as her burnt palms still, in fact, did hurt) removed a small decoupaged, japanned box from the lowest shelf.
Returning to the chaise, she sat with the box on her lap, opening it gently.
From the box she removed a thin gold chain hung with a single pearl and held it between her gloved thumb and forefinger, raising it so that the metal flickered with the light of the fire.
She closed her eyes and remembered another hand—a thin, but masculine one which had once held that very necklace. Clenching her eyes tightly, she remembered the face of the man to whom the hand had belonged.
It was a kind face with soft, pale blue eyes which were framed with faint lines—the happy creased left from a decade of smiles. His light eyebrows were raised almost to his hairline—blond waves and curls kissed by the sun.
She could almost hear his voice saying, “I love you, Marguerite.” She had been called Marguerite once. It was one of the many names she tried before settling on “Iolanthe Evangeline.”
A knock on her door caused her eyes to flutter open. The face of the smiling, fair-haired man faded—probably forever—and she carefully placed the necklace back in the box. She rose and gently set the case on the mantel.
“Come in,” She said finally.
“Miss,” Mala croaked as she entered. “Big Ollie’s here.”
“Send him in.”
Ollie lumbered into the room, almost knocking Mala over.
Iolanthe—as accustomed as she was to all sorts of men, from the most glamorous to the most hideous—had trouble maintaining her usual control and shuddered slightly at the site of Ollie’s enormous body and crude features.
He extended one of his loaf-like hands to her and she took it, careful not to show her disgust.
“Get tired of them little fellas?” Ollie growled. “Want a big man?”
“You mistake my invitation.” Iolanthe responded cooly.
“Sure,” Ollie winked. “Don’t need ya anyway. I just had me a fine woman. A pretty one. English.”
“That’s what I hear.” Iolanthe nodded.
“Oh?” Ollie laughed.
“Surely you don’t think anything happens in New Orleans that I don’t know about?” Iolanthe smirked.
“Oh, Iolanthe,” Ollie belched. “I know you got your eyes on everything.”
“And, I don’t want you thinkin’ I don’t.”
“So what you want?”
“The Duke of Fallbridge is, just now, on a ship which has not yet departed.”
“You have something which once belonged to him.”
“Don’t waste your time, you big tree.” Iolanthe chuckled. “I know about the diamond.”
“Now, you ain’t sayin’ you want me to give it back to him?”
“Of course not.” Iolanthe howled.
“You want it?”
“Yes.” Iolanthe nodded. “It was meant to be mine in the first place.”
“I ain’t just gonna give it to ya.” Ollie scowled.
“No.” Iolanthe shook her head. “I’m willing to buy it. In fact, I’ll give you twice what you’re seeking for it.”
“I want you to do something for me.”
“What’s that?” Ollie asked.
“I have it on good authority that, along with the Duke, there are a good many people for whom I carry an intense dislike on that ship.”
“What’s that got to do with me?”
“I don’t want them to arrive in England.”
“What can I do ‘bout it?”
“Much.” Iolanthe grinned.
“Want me to get them off of the ship?”
“No.” Iolanthe laughed. “I don’t want them to touch the land again. Not here. Not anywhere.”
“What you have in mind?”
“Something historically English.”
“Huh?” Ollie grunted.
“Do you know your history, Ollie?”
“I ain’t got time for this, Iolanthe,” Ollie snarled.
“You do.” Iolanthe smiled. “You’ll make time. Do be seated, Ollie. Let me tell you how Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen defeated the Spanish.” She reached with a gloved hand for the fireplace poker and thrust it into the fire. “And, how this Creole Octoroon intends to defeat the English.”
Did you miss Chapters 1-461? If so, you can read them here.