More Than Words
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My heart leapt, and I suppressed the grin that wanted to break over my face, giving him what I hoped was a controlled, professional smile instead. “I accept, Dr. Moreau.”
* * *
I bounded up the stairs to my apartment as quickly as I could in a pencil skirt, resisting the urge to squeal. I threw the door open, and Frankie, who was on the couch eating a bowl of cereal, started, milk sloshing down her tank top. “Good Lord, what’s wrong with you?”
I closed the door, grinning at her. “I got a job.”
She set the bowl of cereal down on the coffee table and jumped up. “Oh my God! What is it?”
After tossing my portfolio onto the table by the door, I gave her a quick, excited hug and sat down in the chair across from the couch. She sat back down as well, looking at me expectantly. “Well, recently, some writings were found in a cave in the Loire Valley and they’re thought to be connected to Joan of Arc.”
“Holy cow! They need a translator?”
“Yes. They’ve already read through a few of the writings, but they’re very old, most likely from the fifteenth century, and some of the words and phrases are difficult to understand. It’s my specialty. They need to have every word carefully translated to ensure we keep the authenticity of the writing, but in a readable prose, and saved to a secure computer server. They’ve formed a team to confirm the dates and determine whether they’re actually connected to Joan of Arc.”
“Oh my God. That sounds really important.”
“It sounds … amazing. They’ve put a whole group together to study these writings—paper experts and archaeologists who are still digging in the caves to see if they can find anything more that might carbon-date the pieces. I’m going to be working with another translator with a different specialty and under one of the leading language historians in France.”
“Holy shit. This is huge. Why didn’t you call me at work?”
“It’s been a whirlwind. I haven’t had a second. It’s a temporary job, though, and it doesn’t pay a lot, but Dr. Moreau told me if I impress the team, there might be further opportunities.”
Frankie let out a shriek and covered her mouth. “This is so exciting. But when you say temporary, how temporary?”
“They’ve assigned a month.” I sat back in the chair, stretching my legs out in front of me. “This is my dream job, Frankie. Just to get a chance to read those writings up close and personal. I’m so excited and nervous I could scream.”
“Well, scream your way into your room and put on something fancy. I’m taking you out tonight to celebrate.”
I grinned at her. “We’ll go dutch. I can afford it now. Sort of.” My smile slipped. “There’s only one other thing.”
“The job is in the Loire Valley.”
Frankie’s eyes widened. “The Loire Valley? Quoi? Tu plaisantes?”
What the hell was right. I sat up, leaning forward. “I know. But that’s where the writings were found, and they want the team to come to them, see the spot where they were uncovered, et cetera. The writings are being kept in a museum in the Loire Valley for now, and they’re putting our team up in this beautiful château nearby that’s provided a work space as well.”
“A château? Well, damn, girl. You’ve hit the jackpot.”
“Project-wise, yes. Monetarily, no. Still, Frankie, if I do a good job on this, make some connections, this could be a career starter.” A quiver of excitement moved through me, quickly followed by a flash of insecurity. Paris, this apartment, Frankie, they were my comfort zone, my safe haven, and I was going to have to separate myself from them, even if only for a short time.
“We’re ordering the good champagne tonight, and you’re wearing the backless Clémence Maillard.”
“Oh, I couldn’t, Frankie.” The backless dress was a swath of drapey, silken material with cape sleeves and a sheath skirt that, when on a hanger, barely looked like a dress. But something magical happened when it was put on a woman’s body that transformed it into one of the most gorgeous items of clothing I’d ever seen. It was ridiculously expensive, but Frankie was lucky enough to get samples of fabulous clothing from her employer, and that was one of them.
“Why not? You look fantastic in it, and this is a special occasion.”
“That’s your favorite dress.”
“And you’re my favorite newly employed friend.”
I smiled at her, my heart overflowing with gratitude for her friendship. “I’m so lucky to have you.”
She grinned. “I know. Now get your butt in there and start getting ready. We have some major celebrating to do.”
I laughed. “Okay, fine. But I need an hour. Dr. Moreau gave me a copy of one of the writings so I could familiarize myself with the style and the voice of the writer. I can’t wait to look it over and get to know her a little bit.” I shot Frankie a grin.
“All right, all right. Go meet your new friend and then—”
“I know. And then the backless Clémence!”
In the year of our Lord 1429, on the tenth day of April
I am no longer myself. Now I am Philippe, dressed as a common boy of seventeen who will assist the Maid of Orléans as she prepares for battle and report back that of which I see and hear. She wears white armor, I am told, and rides a white steed as she forces the Anglo-Burgundians to retreat across the Loire Valley. I travel there now, sent off with great fanfare as though I myself am heading to war. And perhaps that is exactly what I should consider it, as the choice was not mine, and I sense a battle in my own future, though I know not why I should feel this way. After all, my place will only be at camp as I serve the girl they call a saint and wait in safety for her return. And yet, despite the assurances given by my father and by Charles VII of my well-being, both excitement and unease reside in my heart. The feather on my quill flutters in the breeze coming through the window of my carriage as I begin my journey. And likewise, I feel destiny swirling around me, a churning gale, and I know not if the winds of fate are benevolent or merciless.
All battles are first won or lost, in the mind.
—Joan of Arc
The French countryside zipped by, and I stared out at it morosely. “You look like you’re marching to the gallows,” Nick said from the limo seat across from me. “Vacation isn’t supposed to be a death sentence, you know. Almonds?” He held up a tray of snacks.
I pushed my sunglasses to the top of my head and squinted at him. “No.” I resisted the urge to open the minibar and see what they had to offer drink-wise. I was laying off alcohol on this trip. Or at least, I was cutting down. Before five anyway. Or at least noon. I checked my watch. Ten forty-five. Damn.
Nick must have somehow been following the subject of my thoughts because he said, “You had enough last night.” He ripped open a package of almonds and threw back a handful. “You’ve gotta get some work done, Cal, or you’ll be in breach of contract. You told me to remind you of that.”
“I didn’t realize you’d start lecturing me five minutes into our trip,” I snapped, more hostility in my tone than I’d intended. Maybe I had brought him along to lecture me. Maybe I knew in some part of my brain that was still reasonable that I needed all the help I could get.
Nick shrugged, obviously unaffected by my sour mood. “I take my job as the only responsible person in your life seriously.” He winked, and I looked away. I knew I’d been avoiding him for just this reason. I’d known what he would say to me, and I hadn’t wanted to hear it. Still don’t. Who ever wanted to truly have their faults dissected, especially when they didn’t know what the fuck to do to change them?
After a minute I sighed. It wasn’t just that I had the weight of the world on my shoulders because of the compositions I owed the studio, but I was hungover and frustrated. We’d flown into Paris the day before and had gone to the bar where I’d met the cocktail waitress I couldn’t stop thinking about. Hell, I hadn’t really met her; I didn’t even know her name. But I’d kissed her. And for some crazy reason that made no sense at all, she kept popping into my mind. So I’d gone back to the bar to find her, and when I’d described her to the manager, he’d informed me the girl no longer worked there. I’d asked for her name, but the manager had said he wasn’t allowed to give out personal information—even of ex-employees—but that he’d take mine and pass it along. I’d declined. I was only in Paris for a day, I had no idea when I’d be back, and it was very possible the effect the girl had on me that night was a result of far too much alcohol.