Dark gleaming eyes watched her.
Black lips parted to show fearsome fangs.
Mesmerized, Theodora stared at the snarling leopard crouched and ready to spring.
Laughter erupted nearby. Paused on the threshold, Theo fought the answering smile that quivered at the edge of her lips. Instead, she pressed one hand to her heart, the other to her brow, and faux swooned against the doorjamb. “Save me. I will be devoured.”
“Save you from such a unique death?” Paul exclaimed. “Never!”
“Indeed, what poet would spare you such a devastatingly delicious experience?” Casimir inquired.
“Delicious for the leopard,” Theo scoffed, stepping into Deyrolle’s taxidermist shop. Underneath bowls of potpourri exuding rosemary, lemon, and lavender, she breathed a musty aroma of fur and feathers, a hint of chemicals. Kneeling in front of the leopard, she felt its sharp fangs and stroked its rough, spotted pelt. She wished she could feel the muscle ripple beneath the hide. How wonderful that would be—to stroke a live leopard.
Despite all the praises Theo had heard, this was her first visit to Deyrolle’s. She loved living animals and had had little desire to visit a shop full of dead ones, however unusual. Now that she was here, to her surprise, she felt caught in its spell. There was a strange blending of cruelty and in love the preservation of these creatures. Violation and honor. Still kneeling, she looked about her. Hovering above the crouching leopard, a crane soared on outstretched wings. A passageway opened to either side. In one, a baby elephant lifted its trunk as if sniffing the air. In the other, a huge king cobra rose, spreading his hood. Beside the winding staircase stood a mannequin in a dapper suit and striped cravat, topped with the head of a gazelle. Deyrolle’s managed to be at once charming, sad, and unnerving.
Theo stood and went to join the Revenants who had responded to Averill’s request to meet here. Casimir, Paul, Jules were gathered around a glass case near the elephant. They were dressed in descending degrees of elegance, aristocratic, professorial, and shabby country church mouse. Also present were les trois Traits—the three Hyphens, as Paul had dubbed them—three slim, dark-haired poets named Jean-Jacques, Pierre-Henri, and Louis-LeRoi, professor, student, and fledgling lawyer … There was a bucket with three bottles of iced champagne on the floor beside them, and a fancy basket held crystal flutes.
An attendant waiting behind the cash register had a towel draped over his arm, as if champagne were de rigueur on such occasions. Theo looked around for Averill and saw him descend the curving staircase that led to the next floor. Her heart trip-stepped at the sight of him. At first he seemed freshly scrubbed, almost boyish. His hair was smoothly pomaded, his linen gleaming white, and his suit neatly pressed. When he came close to greet her, she saw dark circles under his eyes. Too much studying—or too much absinthe?
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Genre – Historical Mystery
Rating – R