Home > The Wish Collector(7)

The Wish Collector(7)
Author: Mia Sheridan

"See you then."

She pulled out her phone and began calling an Uber, smiling as she walked away from Windisle, up the empty, tree-lined street. She wondered if Jonah stood on the other side of the wall peeking through the cracks, catching small glimpses of her as she moved away.

CHAPTER THREE

June, 1860

Her sister Astrid’s eighteenth birthday party was in full swing, the laughter and chatter of guests underlying the music floating dreamily from the windows and pouring off the balconies of Windisle Manor.

“Ouch,” Angelina hissed as a thorn pierced the soft pad of her thumb. She put the tiny wound to her mouth for a moment and then, unheeded, continued to climb the rose trellis, which was dripping with fragrant pink and white blooms. And thorns, she reminded herself. Take care with the thorns.

She peeked over the railing of the balcony, her eyes growing round as she watched the guests dance and mingle in the lavish surroundings. A table laden with desserts had been set out—desserts she knew well as she’d helped bake them all morning and afternoon, and on the other side of the room sat a pyramid of champagne flutes, the bubbly, golden liquid sparkling in the candlelight.

She would never be part of any of this, but oh she wanted to see.

Her gaze snagged on the tall form of a man in uniform as he picked up a glass flute, bringing it to his mouth and taking a drink.

From across the room, she saw the lady of the manor, Delphia Chamberlain, grab her daughter—and Angelina’s half-sister—Astrid’s arm and begin leading her toward the champagne fountain, or perhaps the soldier. When Angelina looked back at him, he was watching the women’s approach as well and caught Angelina off guard when he suddenly turned, his eyes locking on hers. She sucked in a startled breath, pulling her head to the side and out of view.

For a moment she was utterly still, only pulling very small inhales of rose-scented air into her lungs, before letting out one large gust of breath. Surely she had imagined their eyes meeting. The house was bright, sparkling with light, and the garden dim.

Her heart calming, she slowly looked over the side of the balcony, her eyes focusing directly on the champagne pyramid. The man was gone. And when she looked to the place Mrs. Chamberlain and Astrid had been, she saw that they had been stopped by a party guest, who was laughing and gesturing while Mrs. Chamberlain looked annoyed and Astrid smiled politely.

Angelina glanced around the party for a few more minutes, drinking in the splendor of the birthday decorations: extravagant bouquets of flowers on every surface, tables piled high with brightly wrapped gifts. Her father had spared no expense for his firstborn daughter. She watched as the women’s brightly colored dresses twirled to the music and the men—

“That doesn’t seem like the safest place to be.”

Angelina drew in a sharp breath, her hands grasping the wood of the trellis, another thorn piercing her palm.

The man moved quickly, coming to stand beneath her as she stared at him, wide-eyed. Angelina swallowed, descending the trellis as the man stood back, allowing her room to lower her feet to the ground, his arms raised to his waist as if prepared to catch her should she slip and fall.

She smoothed her dress, heat infusing her face as her heart raced madly beneath her breast. “I was just . . . ah, reaching for—”

“A star?”

A rose for my mother, she’d been about to say, but his words caused her to pause in surprise. She blinked as his lip quirked minutely. “A star, yes,” she said hesitantly. She glanced up, the stars like scattered diamonds on the black velvet of the nighttime sky. “Why, there are so many of them. I hardly thought anyone would miss a mere handful.”

“Ah. And do you do this often? Snag stars directly from the sky?”

Angelina tilted her head, her courage gathering. This man was teasing her and something about the way his eyes danced—even as his expression remained serious—caused a warm flush of something tingly to spread under her skin. “Of course. Several now.”

The man reached forward suddenly, and Angelina drew in a breath, leaning away. Their eyes met as he plucked something from her hair, bringing his hand back so she could see that it was only a rose petal that had been ensnared in her unruly curls.

“And what do you do with them? The stars?” He tilted his head. “Wear them as jewels perchance?”

Angelina let out a small laugh, stepping away from the handsome soldier. His closeness was causing her to feel quite funny—flushed and dizzy, yet energized simultaneously. And her heart, it was beating as if it might leap from her chest.

“Oh no, I have no use for jewels.” She began walking, trailing the back of her hand along the petals of a velvety red rose. The soldier followed, linking his hands behind his back. “No, I squeeze the magic right out of them and bottle it up.” She shot him a quick glance, nerves scuttling along her spine.

She was used to talking to white people. She’d been sitting on her daddy’s knee and telling him stories since she could remember. And she often played with her half-brother, and one of her half-sisters, but this was the first time she’d spoken for longer than a minute or two to a white person who wasn’t part of her family, and she felt apprehensive.

The man’s lips tipped into a smile and despite her nervousness, Angelina noticed he had a small dimple in his left cheek. “I see. And what do you use this bottled stardust for exactly?”

“Well, I . . . haven’t decided yet.” She glanced at him. “What would you propose?”

The soldier appeared to consider it for a moment. “Well, you could drink it up and provide light for an entire city.”

Angelina laughed, a small, somewhat uncertain sound. But the soldier was smiling too, so she exhaled, looking at him shyly. Their eyes met again, and they both stopped walking.

“What is your name?” he asked, as though it were the most important question he’d ever posed.

Angelina glanced at the house where someone let out a loud shriek of laughter. “Angelina Loreaux.”

The soldier held out his hand. “John Whitfield.”

She took his hand in hers tentatively. She’d never been offered anyone’s hand before, most especially not a white man’s. It was big and warm. Strong. “Nice to meet you, sir.”

“Please”—he dipped his head—“call me John.”

Their gazes caught and she looked away, letting go of his hand, but the pull was too strong for her not to look back, straight into his blue gray eyes. “John,” she whispered, his name ghosting over her lips and lingering in the space between them.

She heard the back door open and her name being called and glanced toward it, although the garden hedges concealed them. “Coming, Mama,” she called back. She looked at John. “I have to go.”

She lifted her skirts and turned away, but her name said in John’s deep voice stopped her. She paused, looking over her shoulder.

“I think you already drank some of that stardust, Angelina Loreaux.”

She blinked. The look on his face was so earnest that it caused her breath to halt. His eyes moved to her parted mouth and then immediately returned to her eyes. She saw his throat move as he swallowed. “Goodnight, John Whitfield,” she said, backing away, and then she turned and ran, the scent of roses falling behind her, her heart beating to the cadence of her footfalls on the stone garden path.

Above her, the stars glittered, and she felt as if she had drunk them up, felt as if they glittered inside of her too. She laughed, the wondrous sound swallowed by the boisterous noise from the party beyond.

CHAPTER FOUR

What the hell was I thinking?

Jonah slowed to a jog, then came to a halt under the shade of the bald cypress. His chest rose and fell rapidly as he bent over, placing his hands on his knees as he worked to steady his heart rate.

He’d pushed himself too hard and felt mildly nauseated, but the doubts in his head continued unabated nonetheless.

Clara. He’d surprised himself by talking to her—despite that she’d heard him breathing. Others had heard him behind the wall before, had even called out a questioning, “Who’s there?” But he’d just ignored them, listening in amusement as they giggled and whispered that it must be Angelina they’d detected.

   
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