From This Moment – Elizabeth Camden

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS MARCH 1897 Romulus White stood motionless in the crowded ballroom, staring at a woman he’d once longed for more than his next breath of air. It was not a pleasant experience, especially since Laura stood alongside her doting husband. Even from a distance, her copper-red hair gleamed in the candlelight and made her stand out from the crowd. It had been several years since Romulus had last seen her. He braced himself for the blinding wall of anguish that was sure to clobber him, but surprisingly, it didn’t come. He waited, holding his breath, but the only emotion Laura’s presence summoned was a cloudy swirl of bittersweet memories, an almost-pleasing sort of ache. Wasn’t that strange? But perhaps that was the nature of a first great love. If such a profound experience didn’t leave the trace of a scar, it would be disappointing. “Are you going to say hello to her?” His cousin Evelyn drew up alongside him, pressing a glass of mulled cider into his hand. He took a sip before responding. “Who?” he asked casually, but Evelyn sent him a shrewd look. Evelyn was three years younger than his thirty-two years, but she’d already perfected a disapproving stare that could terrify lesser mortals. They’d grown up together, and she knew all about his epic fit of despair when Laura broke their engagement ten years ago. It was not his proudest moment. He’d rather think of anything—a plague of locusts, perhaps enduring a public execution—anything other than those ignominious few weeks following Laura’s rejection.

“You know who I’m talking about,” Evelyn said pointedly. “It might be nice to exchange a few words to let her know there are no hard feelings.” “I’m here on business, not to make pleasant chitchat with Laura Rittenhouse.” Tonight’s gala was in celebration of the next round of funding that had just come through for the greatest engineering project in Boston’s history. Hosted in the lavish country club overlooking one hundred acres of rolling woodland, this was an unprecedented gathering of the city’s leading politicians, engineers, bankers, and businessmen, all of whom had joined forces to create the nation’s first subway, which would soon be running beneath the streets of Boston. Romulus intended to shake as many hands as possible tonight. His career as the editor and publisher of Scientific World depended on his ability to capitalize on friendships with the engineers and scientists who were forging the new era of invention. He’d spent more than a decade cultivating these alliances, and he was good at it. “You haven’t stopped staring at her since she entered the ballroom,” Evelyn observed. “Laura no longer means anything to me,” he said, relieved there was no stirring of those turbulent emotions that had once knocked him flat.

In hindsight, Laura had been right to cut him loose. He would have been a terrible husband, and she was surely better off with Dr. Rittenhouse. Besides, it was quite possible that no man in Boston enjoyed bachelorhood more than Romulus M. White. He adored women and had cut a wide swath through their ranks over the past decade. Someday he would marry, but not anytime soon. The woman he married would be a good mother and suitable companion. His future wife would make him smile, but never roar with laughter. She would be capable of holding an intelligent conversation, but she would not hold him spellbound and entranced.

Nor would she have the ability to make him weep in despair or plunge him into melancholy merely because she withdrew her favor. He had already dipped his toe into that particular pond and had no desire to sample it again. Ever. He didn’t want to think about Laura tonight. A far more fascinating woman had just arrived in Boston and captured his professional interest. He had never even met Stella West, but his letter to her was burning a hole in his pocket. He leaned down to whisper in Evelyn’s ear. “After the speeches are concluded, I need a few minutes of your time to discuss business.” Evelyn was not only his cousin, she was his business partner and the managing editor of Scientific World. They shared ownership of the magazine on a fifty-fifty basis, so he was legally obligated to gain her consent before major decisions.

Although they usually worked smashingly well together, there had been tensions over the years, and the envelope in his pocket was not going to make Evelyn happy. “Dare I hope you are about to tell me you’ve approved the list of technical articles for the April issue?” “Completed just before I left and already on your desk. You can get everything on the production schedule first thing Monday morning. There is something else we need to discuss.” And it was going to have to be handled delicately. Evelyn ran a tight ship at the magazine, and she was likely to fight him tooth and nail over his suggestion. Scientific World would have crashed into insolvency years ago if Evelyn had not been there to reel him in from his more extravagant indulgences, but on this issue he intended to remain firm. “Are you wearing a pink vest?” The voice belonged to Michael Townsend, the attorney general of Massachusetts and Romulus’s weekly sparring partner in the boxing ring. With patrician features and prematurely gray hair, Michael was a handsome man despite his bland taste in fashion. “It’s coral,” Romulus corrected.

“I’m wearing it in honor of the marine life exhibit currently at the Smithsonian. We are featuring it in next month’s issue.” Michael looked skeptically at the vest, but his tone carried a glint of humor. “It looks pink to me.” Like most men in the ballroom, Michael wore a black swallowtail coat and vest, but Romulus had had an appreciation for style from the day he was old enough to understand the concept of complementary color schemes. Standing over six feet tall, with black hair and a face that turned heads, he never shied away from a dash of color or a sparkly gemstone to liven up his wardrobe. “Brace yourself, the speeches are coming,” Michael said, and a balding man with a walrus mustache stepped up to the podium in front of the orchestra. The music came to an end, and the clinking of forks on champagne glasses caused a hush to settle over the crowd. Henry Whitney was the improbable hero of the evening. A businessman with a lifelong interest in railroads, Henry was intrigued by the possibility of creating a railway that ran beneath the streets.

Two years ago, he had finally cobbled together the necessary financing, technical plans, and political clout to begin building America’s first subway. Traffic congestion had always been bad in Boston, with its narrow, twisting streets first laid out in the seventeenth century. More than half a million people now lived in a city whose streets were choked by lumbering streetcars, wagons, and pedestrians darting among the potholes and horse-drawn carriages. It had been even worse for the past year as streets had been torn up for the digging of the subway tunnels, but the first leg of the subway was due to open soon. As the applause settled down, Henry began speaking. “My friends, it is surely no coincidence that the first attempt at a project as technically challenging and politically risky as a subway should happen in Boston. Our city has been blazing trails into the unknown since the first settlers arrived in America. We carved a great society out of the raw wilderness, and now our factories, publishing houses, and universities are the envy of the world. Our colleges support the research that is fueling the innovation that will lead us into the twentieth century. Our ships sail to ports all over the world, and our buildings are rising high into the sky.

Soon we shall expand into an entirely new realm, deep beneath the city itself, to launch the first underground subway in America.” A hearty round of applause greeted the words. “London may have been the first city in the world to build a subway,” Henry continued, “but the London subway runs on steam, and ours shall be powered by the miracle of electricity. It shall be a clean, well-lit, and well-ventilated subway, a model for all future projects.” Mr. Whitney proceeded to introduce the mayor, the chief engineers, and the bankers who had pulled off the latest round of funding that would permit breaking ground on the Tremont link. If all went well, digging on the Tremont leg would happen within the month, and the subway would be ready for business by the end of the year. Henry continued introducing key players in the Boston subway while Romulus fought the temptation to let his gaze wander back to Laura Rittenhouse on the far side of the ballroom. Then Henry’s voice interrupted the struggle. “And I would be remiss if I did not recognize Mr.

Romulus White, whose magazine, Scientific World, has done so much to educate the public about the subway project.” Romulus felt pole-axed. This kind of recognition was unexpected and stunning, but not to be taken lightly. “Romulus? Where are you?” Mr. Whitney asked from the podium. “Here, sir!” he called out in a hearty voice. The crowd around him parted enough for the renowned financier to spot him. “Egad,” Mr. Whiney burst out. “A pink vest!” Romulus raised his glass.

“Only the best for a night like tonight!” Applause mingled with laughter as every face in the room swiveled in his direction. When the laughter settled, Mr. Whitney continued in a sober voice. “We could not have commenced this project without the support of the public. Scientific World has done more to ease fears about safety and stoke excitement for the coming subway than an army of politicians could have done. We are grateful, sir.” This time the applause was mingled with foot-stamping and some good-natured cheers. Michael clapped him on the back, and Evelyn beamed. He swallowed hard. Oh, this felt good.

Was Laura still in the ballroom to hear? Ah yes, there she was, standing by the ice sculpture and politely clapping. He bowed his head in acceptance, when what he really wanted to do was shout from a mountaintop. For a man who had barely graduated college, floundered with finding a career, and whose glittering wardrobe disguised a lifelong sense of insecurity, this was nice. For a few seconds, he had the esteem of every person in this room. But they didn’t really know him. Not like Laura did. He pushed away the thought. These misgivings rarely plagued him anymore, for he had launched a magazine with scientific influence that reached all four corners of the globe. By the time he managed to draw a breath, Mr. Whitney had moved on to congratulate the team of geologists whose work charting the terrain beneath the Charles River was a vital step for the next leg of the subway.

He turned to Evelyn and kissed her on the cheek. Evelyn was an attractive woman, with glossy black hair and a willowy figure that belied the backbone of pure steel that had propelled her into a field normally closed to women. “None of this would have happened without you,” he murmured, and Evelyn sent him a grateful smile. It wasn’t fair that he received all the acclaim for their magazine’s success, but he’d always been the public face of Scientific World, while Evelyn quietly labored behind the scenes to keep the operations humming like clockwork. The two of them had been inseparable since childhood, and what a miracle that they’d found a way to turn their unique talents into a profitable career for both of them. He only hoped the letter in his pocket would not throw a bomb into their sometimes contentious relationship. “Enough with the boring speeches,” Mr. Whitney intoned with a nod to the orchestra. “Let the dancing begin!” Romulus had no interest in dancing. He needed to win Evelyn’s consent regarding the letter in his pocket.

It took some maneuvering, but he managed to lead her out to the enclosed patio overlooking the wide expanse of lawn. The March evening was chilly, and there were fewer people out here, but some had gathered amid the potted palms and flickering lanterns that cast circles of warm light into the evening. Soft laughter mingled with a violin sonata, and the air was perfumed by night-blooming jasmine. He guided Evelyn into a secluded corner, for he didn’t particularly care to be overheard. “Stella West is in Boston,” he said. “She is the final missing piece we need to make Scientific World soar.” It was hard to mask the excitement leaking into his voice, for Stella was an artist of extraordinary skill. He’d been trying to hire her for years. They had never met, but he could tell merely by looking at her illustrations that they were kindred spirits. Scientific World was the most prestigious science magazine in the country, but they’d never been able to produce full-color illustrations on the amazing topics they covered.

Developments in lithography now made high-speed reproductions of color artwork possible, but it required an artist of both technical and artistic mastery. Stella could do it. Her illustrations could capture the translucent quality of a butterfly wing or the breathtaking colors of the Grand Canyon. No grainy photograph could capture the wonders they covered, and Stella’s artwork hinted at an exuberant love of the natural world that had captivated Romulus from the moment he’d seen her fantastic lithographs. “I thought she lived in England,” Evelyn said. “And that she told us it would take a barbarian horde armed with pitchforks and a battering ram to pry her out of London.” He held up a letter. “This was my latest offer begging her to work for us. I sent it to her London apartment, but her landlord wrote a forwarding address to Stella here in Boston.” Evelyn’s brow wrinkled in confusion.

“So how did you get it?” Romulus grinned. “The post office made a mistake and returned it to me rather than Stella’s forwarding address. So now I know where she lives. I’ll need you to set aside eight thousand dollars to make her a tempting salary offer.” Evelyn nearly choked. “No, no, no,” she sputtered. “Noooo.” Her voice was a swirling mass of disapproval, but Romulus had anticipated resistance and kept his face a pleasant mask. “I’ve always admired how you can pack an entire kaleidoscope of disapproval into a single word. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s proceed with a salary offer for Miss West.

” “No. Absolutely not. We’ve got a perfectly adequate illustration team.” “We need better than adequate; we need the best.” Two spots of color appeared on her ivory skin. Ever since they’d been children, Evelyn’s porcelain complexion had betrayed her when she was upset, and there they were, the visible signs of agitation sneaking out from beneath Evelyn’s iron control. “We can’t afford her, and she’s already rejected every offer you’ve ever made to her. Quite colorfully and persistently.” It was true, but he wasn’t ready to give up yet. After he’d seen Stella’s work on display at a gallery, he’d instantly known she must be recruited to work at his magazine.

He sought out everything he could learn about her. She was an American, the daughter of a New York physician, and she had studied at Cornell University. She left before completing her degree when the London art world beckoned, and her reputation had been on the rise ever since. He and Stella West had enjoyed a lively correspondence over the years. She was blunt and funny and wisecracking, but one thing was always the same—she refused to leave London. Which made him exceedingly curious about what had lured her back to the United States. It didn’t matter, for the thrill of the hunt had seized him. Stella West had wandered into his city, and he’d go after her with the speed of a comet hurtling through space. “All I need to do is figure out what she wants, then offer it to her,” he said. “Pearls from the bottom of the ocean, rubies from the Far East, whatever it takes.

I want her onboard at the magazine.” “How long have you been trying to lure her to Scientific World?” Evelyn asked. “Three years. That means we have published thirty-six issues without the best illustrator gracing our pages. Don’t ask me to tolerate a thirty-seventh.” He snatched the envelope back from Evelyn. “Stella West is a luxury we can’t afford.” She was about to launch into a classic Evelyn tirade but stopped when a group of ladies wandered onto the patio to admire the jasmine. Evelyn nodded politely to the ladies, then turned her attention back to him and spoke in a calmer voice. “We can’t afford it,” she said.

“I’d rather finish paying for the office renovation first. We overspent shamelessly on the main office.” Evelyn was still prickly over the parquet floors he’d installed in the editorial wing of the building. He’d designed the oak parquet floor himself, modeled on the geometric pattern found in quartz crystal structures. Hardly anyone noticed the similarity, but their magazine was founded on the principles of scientific wonder, and if he wanted to spend a fortune on a parquet floor that mimicked the six-sided prism of a quartz crystal, he would do so. The same went for the artwork in the magazine. “Art can move people in a way no written words can do,” he said. “I want to inform and inspire anyone who has ever dreamed outside the limits of their own daily life. Don’t you see it, Evelyn? Our magazine is reaching people in sod houses in Kansas, in frozen villages along the Yukon River. We just got our first subscriber in Mongolia.

Those people will never see the Grand Canyon or the inside of a museum, but they see our magazine and it opens the entire world to them.” He couldn’t afford to pay for a new artist unless Evelyn loosened the purse string, so he chose his words carefully. “Stella West is one of us,” he said, barely able to control the undercurrent of passion in his voice. “I can tell merely by looking at her artwork. She captures the radiance and the immensity of God’s creation. She can immortalize it in brilliant color. If we can get her on our team, our subscription rates will soar.” Evelyn still looked skeptical. She rarely made a decision without triple-checking every conceivable angle, but on this move he knew he was right. “I’ll see what I can do,” she said grudgingly, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

The magazine was the most important thing in the world to him. On his deathbed he suspected he would still be strategizing ways to polish its content, recruit better writers, improve their circulation rates— “Hello, Romulus,” a soft voice murmured. He stiffened. Laura must be standing directly behind him, for he’d recognize that honeyed voice anywhere. In front of him, Evelyn winced in understanding and sent him a sympathetic smile. This wasn’t going to be too horrible, was it? In any event, it seemed there was no escaping it. He plastered an agreeable expression on his face and turned to greet Laura. “Mrs. Rittenhouse,” he said with a slight bow. “You look as lovely as ever.

” She made a polite reply and introduced her husband. He’d met Dr. Rittenhouse many times before, of course. Romulus made it his business to attend the conferences of scientific organizations throughout New England to keep abreast of developments in the field. Dr. Rittenhouse owned a pharmaceutical company that produced a drug for immunity against tetanus. It was real work. Not like what Romulus did . Laura proceeded to chat with Evelyn about her new house in Beacon Hill. Apparently people paid handsomely for the doctor’s tetanus drug, for no house in Beacon Hill could be purchased cheaply.

She probably wouldn’t think much of the hotel room where he lived, but why did he need a house when all he did at home was sleep? The hotel suited him perfectly fine. Evelyn elbowed him, and he realized Laura had asked him a direct question. “My apologies. Could you repeat that, please?” “There is a gaggle of young ladies near the punch bowl who wondered where you disappeared to,” Laura said. “I gather they were hoping for a dance. Greta Fitch was particularly interested in securing a waltz with you.” Was Laura trying to play matchmaker? It was totally unnecessary, as he tended to enjoy women’s company far too much as it was. And Greta Fitch was becoming a problem. They’d enjoyed a brief flirtation last summer, but she was reading far too much in to it, and he’d been trying to avoid her. She was a nice lady, probably too good for him, but her pursuit was becoming a little awkward.

“I’d prefer to remain out here and enjoy the night air,” he said. “Why?” Evelyn asked. “Greta is remarkably intelligent and has a genuine interest in natural science. I think the two of you might make a go of it.” “And you consider yourself an expert on matrimonial bliss?” Evelyn raised her chin and shot him an icy glare. “Don’t be small,” she warned. But on this particular issue he was small. And annoyed and disappointed in Evelyn. Evelyn was his best friend in the world. They were only first cousins but had always been as close as any brother and sister.

They’d been through difficult times together, they’d built a world-class magazine together, and their friendship was the bedrock that grounded his entire world. With one notable exception. Ten years ago, Evelyn had married Clyde Brixton, the best friend Romulus had ever had, but the marriage had collapsed after only a few years. Evelyn had even reverted to using her maiden name on the masthead of the magazine, which Romulus thought was both petty and inaccurate, but he could hardly dictate to Evelyn on this point. Evelyn and Clyde had been separated for the past six years, and he doubted they’d ever mend the chasm between them. Which was a problem, since rumor had it that Clyde was back in Boston. Whatever happened, Romulus intended to stay out of the line of fire should Clyde be preparing for another go at winning Evelyn back. There had been a time when Romulus had tried to be a coolheaded mediator between the two of them, but he had finally given up in despair. The collapse of Clyde and Evelyn’s marriage only confirmed every one of Romulus’s misgivings about romantic love. He wanted nothing to do with it.

“I enjoy women’s company far too much to settle down with just one,” he said. “Greta is perfectly charming and intelligent, but if I married her, she’d soon be a millstone around my neck. I’m simply not cut out for marriage—” “Thank you, Romulus. You certainly have a way with words.” Greta Fitch stood at the far end of the patio, hands on hips, fire in her eyes. He froze, horrified at what she’d just overheard. “My apologies, Greta. I truly didn’t mean—” “You certainly did mean it!” Greta called out, her voice full of artillery fire. She advanced toward them with measured steps. Laura and her husband both politely stepped a few feet away, but everyone on the patio had noticed.

Everyone was listening. More than a dozen pairs of eyes watched as Greta marched toward him, and she did not bother to lower her voice as she flung the barbs at him. “I think you are so terrified of genuine emotion that you flee any woman who gets too close,” she said. “You’d rather set yourself up as king of your precious magazine because it lets you hide behind your subscription lists and sycophants begging to be profiled. That magazine is nothing but a stack of papers! And you sacrifice your entire life to it.” He tried again. “Greta, I said I was—” “Sorry? Yes, you are! Don’t worry, Romulus, I won’t impinge on your time or the sanctity of your precious magazine. I know how much those pages stoke your over-inflated vanity. I hope that someday a woman trounces your heart so hard you’ll have a little taste of what you’ve been dishing out all these years. I hope she rips away every artifice and illusion you hide behind, because underneath it all, I don’t think she’ll find very much.

” Greta whirled away before he could speak another word. The door to the ballroom slammed so hard it made everyone on the patio startle. Excruciating silence hung in the night air. Well, he supposed he deserved that kick in the teeth. He’d been honest with Greta from the outset, but she’d simply ignored all his warnings. After a few moments, the clusters of people who’d stopped to stare in drop-jawed amazement turned back to resume stilted conversations, but he sensed their surreptitious attention. He looked at Evelyn, who did not have much sympathy in her eyes. Which was ironic. She’d survived a miserable marriage, so why should she nudge him toward the same matrimonial inferno? Romulus asked, “So when can I expect you to come up with an appropriate salary offer for Stella West?” “Romulus! Aren’t we going to discuss what just happened?” “I think Greta was quite thorough in her assessment.” Not too far off base, either.

He moved closer and lowered his voice so no one could overhear. “I’m not going to rush to the altar just because Greta Fitch has a nesting urge. The only woman I’m interested in courting right now is Stella West. Frankly, I hope she has the face of a barnyard door and the personality of a python, because I don’t need any more trouble with overly emotional females.” It really didn’t matter what Stella looked like. He’d been dazzled by her from the instant he’d seen her artwork, and he would move mountains to get her onboard at Scientific World. 2 Until four months ago, Stella West had enjoyed a charmed life. As an infant she had been delivered by her own father, a physician who adored his wife and showered his two daughters with an endless supply of love and opportunities. Stella was also blessed with beauty, artistic talent, and a quick mind. Her parents provided her with a childhood anchored in sunshine, butterfly hunts, piano lessons, a world of good books, and most importantly, the blessing of a happy family she loved with all her heart.

Stella’s parents were forward-thinking people who had sent both their daughters to college. She and her sister, Gwendolyn, had shared the same dormitory room at Cornell University, flirted with the same set of young men, and laughed in the same sun-dappled meadows. Stella had inherited her father’s love of science, just as she’d inherited his Scandinavian blond hair, blue eyes, and soaring Viking confidence to go forth and conquer the world. It was at Cornell that Stella had mastered the art of lithography, a complicated process that required artistic talent, an eye for detail, and an aptitude for technology. The full-color lithographic prints she made had been sent to competitions all over the world. Her real last name, Westergaard, was hard to spell, so she’d signed her lithographs simply West. The name Stella West had flare and was easy to remember, so she’d adopted it for all her professional work. Soon she had an international reputation and contracts with famous publishing houses. Those things made her life interesting, but not truly charmed. What made her life extraordinary was the string of events that capitalized on her love of art and science, sending her to London and the pinnacle of artistic success.

How many American-born girls could claim to have been toasted by the Prince of Wales? Had seen their artwork on display at the Louvre? Been courted by the world’s most prestigious publishers to license her illustrations in the pages of their books and magazines? Until four months ago, Stella had all that and more. Perhaps it was only fitting that those who flew so close to the sun were most in danger of getting scorched, but she’d never realized how badly it would hurt until it happened. Her world had collapsed on a cold December morning when a telegram arrived at her London apartment. The only thing Stella could now be certain of was that life would never be quite as golden as it had been before that telegram arrived. Stella pushed away the memories as she trudged down the steps of Boston’s City Hall. Her neck ached from leaning over a stenotype machine all day, her eyes were bleary from transcribing text, and she felt frumpy in this plain dress. It was important to blend in with all the other clerks at City Hall, so immediately after arriving in Boston, she’d bought simple dresses in shades of brown, beige, and bland. She strode the half mile to her rooming house, sighing in relief as circulation returned to her cramped limbs. Her appearance and the tedium of her new job were irrelevant. She’d come to Boston for a single purpose, and the only way she could accomplish it was to blend in.

She wore dowdy clothes and averted her gaze from anyone who tried to make conversation with her. She had become quite good at pretending introverted modesty. But through it all, she never stopped listening, watching, and observing. The entire scope of her world had narrowed to a single task, and she fixated on it with all pistons firing. Each morning, she awoke with a sense of urgency propelling her as she silently gathered information on a steadfast quest to discover who had killed her sister. There was no longer room in her world for art, flirtation, or fashion. The tree-lined streets of Boston were lovely, and the city was vibrant and engaging, but she allowed none of it to penetrate the hard shell she’d built around herself. Stella trudged up the steps to her boardinghouse on tired legs. She’d been fortunate to find a respectable room so close to City Hall, even though it meant climbing to the fourth floor each day. The rooms were leased mostly by single men, but Mr.

Zhekova had allowed her to board because she was willing to pay three months of rent in advance. She walked to the row of brass mail compartments at the end of the dimly lit hall on the first floor. She checked her mailbox daily, always eager for news from home. Her mother’s fragile mental stability was deteriorating again, and if it got any worse, Stella would feel compelled to return home despite her father’s pleas to stay away. Both her parents were floundering, and she couldn’t be certain letting them handle this on their own was the right thing to do. She inserted the tiny key into the lock and opened her box to see a single letter propped inside. She reached for it. “Ouch!” she shrieked, jerking her hand back and dropping the letter on the tile floor. A low buzz came from the mailbox, and to her horror, a bee careened out of the opening. A second dart of pain pierced her thumb.

Bees crawled all over her hand! More poured from the mailbox before she could fling the door shut. She shook her hand, running down the hall in panic. A cluster of bees still followed her, and another sting pierced her wrist. She snatched a newspaper from the dining table and tried to swat them away. A slew of foreign words sounded from behind her, and Mr. Zhekova came stomping into the room, surprise on his round, bearded face. She twisted and shrieked as a pair of bees buzzed about her. Mr. Zhekova grabbed another section of newspaper and batted at the bees, as well. She doubled over in relief as her landlord beat another bee into immobility, then crushed it beneath his boot.

“Thank you,” she gasped out. Four stings made her entire hand ache and throb. “They were in my mailbox,” she said as soon as she could catch her breath. “Why did you put bees in your mailbox?” Mr. Zhekova demanded. If she wasn’t so upset, she would have laughed. “I didn’t put them there. I don’t know where they came from, but we’d better check the other boxes. Where there’s one, there’s usually more.” She followed her landlord down the hallway.

Mr. Zhekova was a mountain of a man, at least six feet tall, and he ate very well, so he waddled from side to side as he headed to the row of brass mail compartments. Her letter lay on the floor where she’d dropped it, and a single bee still circled the room. Mr. Zhekova used the newspaper to swat the single remaining bee to the ground, then stomped on it. He headed around to the narrow room behind the mailboxes to examine them from the other side. “Ha!” he shouted. “There is a bee’s nest in your box. Not in the others.” She ought to be relieved that none of the other people living here would be confronted with such a rude shock, but Mr.

Zhekova was angry as he returned to the front room. “What did you put in your box to attract bees?” he demanded in his thickly accented Bulgarian voice. “Have you been storing food in there?” “Of course not!” Who stored food in a mailbox? But her landlord was not finished. “You are a woman,” he grumbled. “You wear perfume?” “Sometimes.” Actually, she wore perfume every day. Before leaving London, she’d stocked up on three bottles of her favorite orange blossom perfume, imported from Paris and sold for shocking prices. Indulging in the appallingly overpriced fragrance was one of the few luxuries she still allowed herself. “Well then, your perfume caused the bees,” Mr. Zhekova concluded.

It was the most ridiculous statement she’d ever heard. She visited the mailbox once per day, with her hand inside it for no more than a second or two. It was hardly enough time to infect the mailbox with a flowery scent destined to attract bees from outside the building, down the hallway, and directly into her mailbox. But this wasn’t the first time something odd had happened to her. Two nights ago, a baseball had been hurled through her window. It was ten o’clock at night, and surely no children were still playing in the street. She lived on the fourth floor, so it would have taken a strong arm to get to her window, and thus it was hard to believe the baseball was a random accident. She’d told Mr. Zhekova about the baseball the next morning, and by the time she’d returned from work that day, the glass had been replaced. He’d been quite decent about fixing her window, but now he looked at her with clear disapproval.

“Well, stop wearing perfume and maybe we’ll stop having bees in the building.” “Fine,” she mumbled. Her hand hurt too much to argue, and her legs were unsteady as she reached down to pick up her letter. She had done nothing to cause the bees—or the baseball, either. Perhaps someone in this boardinghouse did not like a woman rooming amid all the men? She hoped so, for the only other explanation was too frightening to contemplate. She was walking a dangerous tightrope in Boston, and the longer she could go about her business without attracting attention, the safer she would be. A glance at the letter showed that it was not from her parents, so it wasn’t urgent. She tucked it inside her bag and trudged up the stairs to her room. It was a plain room, with only a bed and a wardrobe in which to store her dresses. The single window overlooked an alley and had a depressing view of a brick building directly across the street.

But she hadn’t come to Boston for a view. She’d come to salvage what was left of her family, but with each passing day, those golden, halcyon memories seemed farther away. The mattress creaked as she sat down. It was hard to open the letter with only one hand, but the blistering stings on her right hand hurt too badly to flex. Anchoring the envelope to her lap with her elbow, she tore the flap with her clumsy left hand and extracted the note inside, her brow lowering as she recognized the signature. How had Romulus White learned she was in Boston? This wasn’t good. She’d never even met the man, but he’d been pursuing her for years, and he was relentless. Once again he was offering to hire her at Scientific World. There had been a time when she’d been amused by his impassioned letters to her, so full of enthusiasm it had been hard to turn him down. She admired people who had a passion for their work, and his letters sparkled with intelligence and the sheer love of sharing the wonders of science and technology with the wider world.

His letters were untethered by reason or restraint, and she always found them amusing. Their correspondence brimmed with delightful barbs and a professional rivalry that sizzled despite the three thousand miles separating them. She enjoyed his letters but was never tempted to move, for the great publishing houses of London beckoned. She dared not tempt fate by leaving her idyllic life in England to work for a man whose unbridled passion rivaled her own. They would either get along smashingly well or be tempted to kill each other on sight. All that was over now. She no longer had a career in art; she was merely a clerk at City Hall. Even doodling in the margins of her papers made Stella feel guilty. It would be best to not even respond to this latest missive from Romulus, for it would only confirm that she had relocated to Boston, and the fewer people who knew she was here, the better. Her heart sank a little deeper as she folded his note and returned it to the envelope. Romulus White and his dazzling offers belonged to her past, and there was no room for him in her new, darker world. She dropped his note into the trashcan. She would not think of him again. By the next morning, Stella’s hand hurt even worse. It was awkward to type with her right hand swollen from the stings, and she hoped no one in the office watched as she painfully pecked out keys on the typewriter. Stella shared the office with six other stenographers, and their desks were only a few feet apart, meaning she had no privacy. “How did you hurt your hand?” Nellie Carlyle asked from the neighboring desk. “Bee sting,” Stella replied but did not look up from her work or offer more information. She had no desire to make friends with her fellow stenographers. She didn’t trust anyone in City Hall, and the more anonymous she was, the easier it would be to gather information as she sneaked around the building. All the stenographers here had known her sister, and Stella could not afford to let anything slip that might reveal her connection to Gwendolyn Westergaard. Poor tragically murdered Gwendolyn. Of course, no one in Boston believed Gwendolyn had been murdered. Everyone from the police department to the medical examiner’s office insisted it was a simple accident, but Stella suspected otherwise. And she was here to find proof. When she applied for this job, she used her professional name, Stella West. She was grateful for the name, for it meant no one would suspect an association between Stella West and the tragic Gwendolyn Westergaard. “That must have been a lot of bees,” Nellie said. “I imagine you’ll be even slower than normal in typing up your notes.” “I can handle it,” Stella said, although it was no secret that she was the worst stenographer here, barely able to keep up with the rapid-fire discussions at the meetings. While in college, she and Gwendolyn both had studied stenography, the art of typing shorthand notes during important meetings, but that was eight years ago, and her skills were rusty. As soon as she’d arrived in Boston, she’d bought her own stenotype machine and practiced for two solid weeks in the privacy of her room. Summoning up her old training from college, Stella worked hard to resurrect her dormant stenotype and typewriting skills. She bought training books, exercise manuals, and studied by lamplight into the early hours of the morning. She used a blindfold to force herself to learn the keys without looking. By the time she applied for the vacant position at City Hall, she was adequate to the task. She sat at the same desk where Gwendolyn had once worked. She was meeting the same people Gwendolyn had once known. And in the course of this tedious, mind-numbing work, she expected to learn who had killed her sister. She had been on the job for six weeks, but even on her best days she struggled to keep pace with the deluge of notes she needed to type, and now the bee stings slowed her even more. She couldn’t afford to lose this job, for it provided a front-row seat to everything and everyone Gwendolyn had known during those final months before she’d died under such mysterious circumstances. “Well, if you don’t hurry up, I think you should be reported to management,” Nellie said. “We have a professional reputation to maintain.” The clattering from the typewriters trickled off as other stenographers sitting nearby eavesdropped. In an office where women were measured by the speed at which they could type, Stella wasn’t surprised she was the object of derision. “Don’t be catty,” Janet Davis said. Janet was the youngest and the only friendly stenographer here. “I’m sure Stella is trying her best.” “She should try harder,” Nellie said. “I could type faster than Stella after only a week on the job.” “You’re right,” Stella said agreeably. “I wish I could be as good as you, Nellie. I could practice for years, decades . oh heck, I could practice for an entire geologic epoch, but I doubt I’d be close to how famously good you are.” She flashed Nellie a wink no one else in the office could see, and Nellie’s mouth twisted in fury. She turned her attention back to her typewriter. She didn’t care what her coworkers thought of her. They had no power over her job—but the men at her next meeting did. The officers of the Boston Transit Commission held their meetings in a large auditorium so members of the public could attend, for the subway project attracted a lot of spectators. Hundreds of people usually attended the meetings to argue over funding, traffic disruptions, and subway routes. She didn’t spare Nellie another glance as she headed out the door to her next meeting. Members of the Transit Commission sat at a conference table at the foot of City Hall’s raked auditorium. Stella took her seat at a small table off to the side, where she would dutifully use the stenotype keys to make a shorthand transcript of every word spoken. The auditorium’s seats were already packed, and it seemed to be a rowdy bunch today. Boston was the first city in America to attempt the construction of an underground subway, and it had profound implications for property owners throughout the city. As streets were excavated for the subway, the city’s water, sewer, and gas lines all needed to be pulled up and re-plumbed. Streets would be excavated, traffic diverted, and businesses would struggle to survive during the months their customers could not reach their stores. Despite the political and economic quagmire, construction of the subway was careening ahead at an astonishing pace. Not long ago, recording these meetings had been Gwendolyn’s job. Now it was Stella’s. Gwendolyn had learned something dangerous while working here. Throughout Stella’s years in London, she and Gwendolyn had carried on a lively correspondence, and in the months before her death, Gwendolyn wrote that the subway project was drenched in graft and corruption. Gwendolyn wrote that she practically had to hold her nose to sit in the same room with certain corrupt officials during their meetings. Stella suspected it was one of those crooked government officials who’d ordered Gwendolyn’s death. At each meeting, she scrutinized every person who attended. Was it possible to spot corruption on a man’s face? The great artists had always been able to endow the villains of history with signs of wickedness. Perhaps it was a dissipated expression or a beady gaze. She only wished life were as easy to interpret as great art, for the businessmen and engineers who attended these meetings seemed competent and professional, with no glaring signs of corruption. The meeting commenced, and her fingers moved across the keys of the stenograph machine, tapping out the phonetic code to produce a transcript of every word spoken. The bee stings made each keystroke hurt, but she couldn’t stumble, couldn’t slow down. These meetings were always loud, boisterous, and fast, but they were her best chance of spotting the corruption Gwendolyn had discovered. The transit commissioner stood to deliver his report of growing discontent about the “sandhogs” hired to excavate the tunnels. Many of the sandhogs were Italians, and members of the Irish unions were snapping mad. When the commissioner insisted the Italians would continue to be employed, a tomato came hurtling through the air from somewhere deep in the auditorium. The commissioner ducked in time, and the tomato splatted on the blackboard behind him, leaving a wet, seedy stain. The tomato sparked a chorus of hoots and jeers as various Italian and Irish observers rose to their feet. These meetings were always contentious, but this was the first time Stella had seen flying vegetables. “Officers, clear the room of protesters,” the chairman ordered. More than a dozen policemen swarmed the room. It took a while to clear the rowdy spectators, as some refused to leave and needed to be hauled away. Stella took advantage of the time to rest her aching hand. It throbbed from the past half hour of vigorous typing, and she savored the lull. About a dozen spectators remained after the rabble-rousers had been cleared, but only one man caught her attention. He stared straight at her. Tall, dark-haired, with a firm jaw and a beautifully sculpted face, he was an outrageously handsome man. And the way he lounged in his seat, with one arm casually draped across the back of the neighboring chair, suggested the easy confidence of a man born to power. Beneath his fine black suit he wore a vest of lavender silk shot with threads of gold. Only a man of immense confidence could wear such a color and still appear to be the most masculine man in the room. The half smile on his mouth as he stared at her was disconcerting. Stella was accustomed to male appreciation, but this sort of scrutiny was uncomfortable. The way he watched her . was it possible he knew her from London? She’d always accepted that these public meetings were putting her at risk of exposure, but the artistic set she’d mixed with in London were unlikely to appear at a municipal government meeting in Boston. And the frumpy dress she wore looked nothing like the spectacular ensembles she’d flaunted in London. She risked a second glance at the man. He still stared at her. They had never met, she was sure of it. She would remember a man with such a flair for style. A gavel banged, and the meeting was recalled to order. The transit commissioner resumed his position at the podium, looking a little haggard after the hectoring. “If there are no more concerns about employing Italians on the project . ” The commissioner let the sentence dangle, hope in his eyes. A single hand rose, and the commissioner reluctantly acknowledged him. It was the man in the lavender vest. “Your name, sir?”

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