More Than Words
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“Everyone hates critics, Callen. But they’re a necessary evil. And you might have been an asshole before, but you knew enough not to insult people who will go out of their way to post scathing reviews of every piece you write from now until kingdom come. You might not like that guy, but people listen to him. You’re going to end up losing us both a lot of money. What’s going on?”
I shut my eyes, sighing. He was right. The guy was a dick, but I hadn’t done anyone any favors by insulting him. I’d just made an enemy. An enemy in a flowered bow tie and no socks, but an enemy nonetheless. I placed my drink on the bar and turned toward Larry. “The truth is, I haven’t written as much of the Discovering Hart score as I said.”
Larry frowned. “How much have you written?”
“Not much. Not as much as I hoped I would by this point.” None.
Larry pressed his lips together and then sighed before taking a long sip of his drink. “Listen, Callen, why don’t you take a vacation? Go somewhere tropical and sit on a beach and get your head on straight. When you’re feeling relaxed and destressed, that’s when the writer’s block will disappear.”
I wanted to believe him. I really did. But I was afraid to hope. Still … “Somewhere tropical?” I murmured.
“Sure. Or better yet, go back to France. We were only there for three days for the Poirier Award ceremony, and you complained you didn’t get to see anything. Take a trip to the Riviera. It’s beautiful and very luxurious. It’s where all the jet-setters vacation. We could join you for a weekend after you’ve taken a couple of weeks to yourself. Annette and I have been there before, but we never get tired of it.”
“I’ve never been on vacation alone.”
Larry sighed. “Then take a friend with you, as long as it’s not a woman and as long as it’s not someone who’ll distract you.”
A friend. The only person I considered a real friend was Nick, and I hadn’t touched base with him in two months. But maybe he’d forgive me if I invited him on an all-expenses-paid trip to France.
How long had it been since I’d taken a vacation? I figured most people thought of my life as a constant celebration, a never-ending slew of late-night parties, late sleep-ins, do-whatever-caught-my-fancy days. Problem was, it had lost its allure. What had once felt like fun now brought nothing but emptiness and depression. I fucking hated pretending. Was sick of all of it. And, Jesus. I sure as hell didn’t want Larry and his been-there-won’t-be-going-there-again wife joining me.
A starlit deck.
Innocent eyes and angel kisses.
Maybe a quick stop in Paris, too.
It wasn’t a bad idea. I nodded. “I think I’ll take your advice, Larry.”
“It’s about damn time.”
The office was windowless, small, and stuffy, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves crammed with books lining three of the walls. Dusty-looking hardbacks littered every available flat surface, including several piles on the floor. I sat in the rickety chair in front of the desk, my knees pressed together and my hands laced in my lap, trying to take up as little room as possible lest I topple one of the many piles.
The door squeaked open, and I glanced behind me, smiling as I stood. The older gentleman gestured for me to sit back down, stepping over several stacks on the floor and making his way around the large wood-carved desk. “Madame Creswell”—he reached out his hand and we shook—“it’s very nice to meet you. I’m Dr. Moreau. I appreciate that you could come on such short notice.”
“Of course, Dr. Moreau. I appreciate the opportunity. I can’t thank you enough.” My heart thumped in my chest and I willed it to slow down, not to get too excited. Getting this job was a long shot. The listing had advertised for an assistant to Dr. Christophe Moreau, the director of romance languages at the Louvre, for a project translating recently found documents thought to be from the Middle Ages. From what I’d heard, the list of applicants was a mile long.
Dr. Moreau moved a few stacks of papers aside and riffled through a folder, taking out what I assumed to be my résumé. He lowered his glasses, glancing at it with raised brows. “Your list of workplaces is very impressive, although I see you’ve only held unpaid internships to this point. Why is that?”
“Well, Dr. Moreau, the truth is, I found that the internships provided more for me than the paid positions I was offered when I first graduated college.”
“Except in a salary.”
I laughed softly. “Yes, except for that.” I paused. “There are always ways to earn enough money to live. I want to do work that challenges me and uses my strengths to make a difference.”
Dr. Moreau sat back in his chair, finally giving me his full attention. “Lofty ambitions, especially for a language scholar.” He eyed me. “Tell me what you know about Jeanne d’Arc.”
Joan of Arc? “I … Well, I know a great deal, actually. In addition to French language studies in college, I focused on medieval French history.” When he kept watching me, I sat straighter and went on. “Jeanne d’Arc was a martyr and a saint, a military leader acting under divine guidance who led the French army to defeat the English during the Hundred Years’ War.”
“And do you believe?”
“Believe she acted under divine guidance?”
“Oui. Do you believe God spoke to her and gave her a mission?”
I bit at my lip for a moment. “I don’t know. I believe she believed so.”
His lip quirked. “Ah, a good answer. Intellectuals who pretend everything can be known are the very worst sort of scholars. Those are the people who have stopped learning.” He opened a bottom drawer and took out something enclosed in a clear plastic sleeve. “Six weeks ago, some writings—they seem to be a diary of sorts—were found in a cave in the Loire Valley. We believe they were written by someone close to Jeanne d’Arc, and though it is largely this individual’s personal account of their own journey, they detail the military battles, speak of the saint’s expressed thoughts, and recount conversations between the two. Unfortunately, not all the entries were preserved, but many were.” He handed the clear sleeve to me, and I saw that there was a very old piece of parchment inside. “That is one of the writings, Madame Creswell.”
I held it up to the light, studying it and reading the old French. My brow furrowed as I read, and after a moment I set it down on my lap and looked at Dr. Moreau. “Dr. Moreau, I’m sorry, but this can’t possibly be from the fifteenth century.”
He raised a brow. “Non? Pourquoi?”
“Well …” I pointed at one of the words on the document. “This description—baroque—wouldn’t have been used in France until a hundred years after Jeanne d’Arc’s death. It was an artistic style that didn’t begin until the sixteen hundreds. These were written well after anyone who would have known Jeanne d’Arc personally was already dead as well.”
Dr. Moreau smiled. “Indeed.” He reached in his drawer again and brought out another clear plastic sleeve and handed it to me. “That is a copy of one of the real documents.”
I blinked at Dr. Moreau and then examined the document he’d handed me, reading the text slowly.
“What can you tell me about the person who wrote that, Madame Creswell?”
I took another moment to study it before answering. “The author is a woman. The language is feminine.”
“Oui. I agree.”
“And she’s of the upper class. It would have been rare, though not unheard of, for a commoner to read and write. Especially this well. It’s lovely.” I took a moment to read a paragraph, and as I read I envisioned the feather at the end of a quill wafting gently with the motion of the girl’s moving hand. “Yes, definitely of the upper class. She makes a joke here comparing one of the generals to a swan and says the last time she saw such a bird was on her dinner table and she’d like to see him carved up similarly.” I looked up at Dr. Moreau, whose lips tilted upward along with one brow. I let out a short breath. “Only the very rich ate a delicacy like swan in the Middle Ages.” I paused, reading a few more lines. “And this headpiece she speaks of here, a fronteau, which is a tiara of beads, would only have been worn by a young girl of high birth.”