“Not all the time,” I cut her off, then realized I’d just dug myself in deeper. I would be blushing for the next ten years.

   Colette giggled. “We’re just teasing,” she said, surveying me like I was a doll to dress. “We won’t talk about it anymore unless you want to. And if you do want to talk about it, we will always be here. We just want you to have fun.”

   “Oh, she will—” Elodie said.

   Colette kicked her.

   “What are you wearing?” I said to Elodie, but they were completely, embarrassingly right. Ever since Stellan and I had talked on the couch downstairs, I’d been thinking about how tonight was very possibly all we had, in one way or another. And I was thinking about what I wanted that to mean.

   Colette stole the vase of flowers off the dressing table. They looked like miniature roses, white with a hint of blush pink, and woven between them were a navy-blue thistle. She broke off stems one by one and hummed while she stuck them into my hair, then kissed me on the forehead. “Très belle,” she proclaimed, then swept her own hair up and ran out of the room to tell the boys we’d be just a minute more.

   Elodie tried to give my hair a sarcastic eyebrow raise, but it turned into a smile. “Very Colette,” she said, and thrust her makeup bag at me and hurried into the closet.

   I put on mascara in the mirror. Colette had given me a subtle flower crown, tucking the tiny roses and the thistles and a few lush leaves into it so they stood out against my dark hair, and pulled a few strands of pink out around my face. During my time with the Circle, I’d worn lots of fancy clothes. I’d looked cute, or sophisticated, but I’d hardly ever worn anything that was as pretty as this whole look was. It felt a little unlike me, but in a way that I liked.

   Elodie still hadn’t come out, so I picked up her makeup bag and peeked into the closet.

   She was standing in front of the full-length mirror. She wore a strapless, shimmering gunmetal gray top that hugged her torso to the waist, and a pair of slim-fitting trousers that stopped just above her ankles.

   She was holding her platinum wig in her hands.

   Elodie had always been gorgeous, but the blond hair pulled a lot of focus. Without it, her delicate features took center stage. I’d seen it when she’d had it off before, but it was even more obvious now.

   “You look beautiful,” I said.

   Elodie jumped, and I remembered that I was trespassing on a moment that wasn’t mine. She scowled at me in the mirror. “Beautiful and badass,” I said, backing away. “Definitely badass. I’ll see you downstairs.”

   She studied herself in the mirror again, and I tried to slip away, but she called, “Makeup bag, please.”

   I handed it to her. She gestured for me to sit on a stool and swiped eye shadow across my lids, then turned to herself. I couldn’t help but look at her back, now that I was closer. It was not as scarred as Stellan’s, but now that she was wearing something more revealing than usual, I could see obvious scars there. And in the center of her back, vertically down from the Dauphin tattoo on her neck, was a small rendition of the Order tattoo I remembered seeing on the men at Prada so long ago. “How has no one ever noticed the scars or the tattoo?” I said, and then, nodding downstairs, because if I wasn’t mistaken, both Jack and Stellan would have seen her with no shirt on, “How did they not notice?”

   She shrugged. “I kept it covered. Always. Literally always.” She finished putting on lipstick so dark it was almost black, smacked her lips together, and smiled at herself in the mirror.

   She picked her wig up from the dresser where she’d set it, stared at it for a moment—then put it back down. “Ready?”

   When we got downstairs, almost everyone did a double take at Elodie’s hair. Stellan’s gaze, however, skipped straight to me. He was dressed in a classic tux, leaning against a wall with his hands in his pockets, one foot propped over the other, like he had been the very first time I’d met him, at the prom in Minnesota. Just like that time, he met my eyes and smiled. Unlike that time, the smile was so warm I couldn’t help but smile back.

   I didn’t notice Nisha until we got to the bottom of the stairs. That warmth cooled to ice.

   “Nisha’s going to hang out with us,” Colette said. I breathed again. “She needs a break, and the others are taking over for a few hours.”

   Nisha had her arms crossed uncomfortably, looking around the Dauphins’ formal living room. “Are you sure?”

   Jack, of all people, said, “Of course. Stay.”

   Nisha was about to answer when the lights fuzzed, then blinked out entirely.

   There were a few curses, and some scrambling, and then phone screens were turning on.

   “Electricity out. That can’t be good,” Elodie muttered.

   “Merde,” Luc whined. “My birthday present.”

   “It’ll still be fun,” Colette assured him. “Maybe more fun. Do you have candles?”

   While we all went in search of light, Elodie took Nisha upstairs to find a dress. Then Luc led us through his family’s apartments, into a passageway that looked like it should be for mail deliveries, and onto an elevator. And when we got out—

   “Bon anniversaire!” Luc said, and it echoed through a hall the size of a football field. Moonlight filtered in through frosted glass, but other than that and the candles we all held, throwing erratic shadows over our faces, everything was completely dark and silent. I could still tell exactly where we were, and a smile crept onto my face as Luc said, “I got you the Louvre!”

 

 

CHAPTER 24

 

This is Julien,” said Luc. “It might appear that he’s trying to kill that goose, but they’re best friends. They are having dancing lessons.”

   We were standing in front of a gleaming marble statue nearly as tall as me, of a little boy and a bird. Luc had stories he’d made up as a child about every piece of art in here, and he was giving us a personal tour.

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