We’d come through a side entrance to the museum and made it halfway up this hall, ducking into galleries along the way.
The Louvre was all ours for the night. No guards. No alarms. For as much time as we’d spent in Paris, and even in this complex, the only time I’d actually been inside the museum was when Jack and I were looking for Napoleon’s diary. And then we were being chased, dodging tour groups and blending into crowds. I tried not to think about the fact that this time here could be my last.
“This one”—Luc spun, his dress shoes clicking across the checkerboard floor to a statue of a cherub reaching to the heavens—“this is Felipe. Doomed from an early age to go into politics because of his family name, but his real love is opera.”
He cut off when the wail of a siren started up nearby, and then another, and another, a mechanical chorus. We all glanced at each other.
“Felipe sings in the shower,” Luc continued defiantly, his candle spotlighting the cherub’s cheeks, “and one day, he was discovered by a famous singer walking by his window, and now he’s onstage every night in Vienna.”
My arm brushed Stellan’s. We were standing close enough that I could feel the warmth coming off his body.
Luc ran across the room, his candle flickering dangerously. “Here!” he said. Elodie grabbed Colette’s hand and twirled her in the moonlight. Colette’s hair clip fell out, letting her strawberry-blond curls loose. They’d both already ditched their shoes, and were barefoot in their formalwear.
“One of my favorites!” Luc’s voice echoed off the stone arches. “Sven, the butcher.”
Stellan took my arm lightly in his hand. As Luc rushed ahead, he whispered, “Can I show you something?”
I glanced after the rest of the group and followed him into a dark gallery. “My favorite in this wing,” he whispered.
The statue was of a man, larger than life, his torso twisted, emerging from a block of stone.
“The Rebellious Slave,” Stellan said, setting his candle at its feet. “No one knows why it’s not complete. Some people say it’s on purpose, the juxtaposition of beauty and roughness. Some say Michelangelo abandoned it when he couldn’t achieve the perfection he wanted.”
From the next room, music started up, something jazzy and old and scratchy. Stellan reached out and touched the rough chisel marks at the statue’s side, thrown into greater relief by the small, flickering light at its base. I couldn’t help touching it, too, the marble cold under my fingers.
“I like it because it’s unfinished,” Stellan said. “I like that you can see the chisel marks. See where it came from. It makes it so much more.”
The music had been getting farther away, and now there was a shriek. We jumped, and Stellan picked up his candle. But the shriek was followed by a burst of laughter.
Stellan’s face relaxed, and he held up his candle. It bathed me in soft light, his eyes tracing over my dress, the little buttons, the lace. The flowers in my hair, fragrant enough that I could smell them every time I moved my head. Especially by candlelight, I must have looked like a Jane Austen heroine. The sultrier version—the one where lace and buttons weren’t quite so prim and proper. If I had been trying to wear something he’d like, I could tell I’d gotten it right.
“You clean up okay,” he said huskily. “Not that covered in blood isn’t a good look for you . . .”
I smiled down at my flickering candle, then brushed a tiny piece of lint from his jacket. “You don’t look terrible, either. I guess.”
I tried not to think about how, whether I died tomorrow or he left the next day, this might be the last time he looked at me like this. It might be the last time I teased him. It was so unfair, and it was the way it had to be.
“I almost forgot,” I said. My voice was surprisingly level. “I got you something.”
“You got me something? It’s your birthday.”
I felt around in the tiny bag over my shoulder and handed it to him.
He set down the candle and twisted the top off the little pot. A tangy, medicinal smell wafted out. “Lotion?” he said.
“I asked Nisha to try this while they were doing their other experiments. It’s for your scars. To make them not hurt anymore. And if you don’t want it, for Anya.”
Stellan raised his brows.
“I only told Nisha. I know she won’t tell anyone.”
He stared at the little pot of cream. Then he put one finger in it and spread it over the scars on his opposite hand. After a second, a surprised smile came over his face. “It feels—” He shivered. “Strange. Tingly.” He pushed experimentally on the scars and looked even more surprised. “Different. I think it might be working.”
He put the cap back on the cream and stuck it in his pocket, then looked up at me with the same tormented look he’d had on his face a few times over the last day.
“Birthday girl! Where are you?” Luc called.
Stellan smiled ruefully down at his candle. “Shall we?”
We followed the tinny music and the laughter into a new gallery. Stellan’s hand brushed mine. I looked down at it. So did he. Our fingers slid together.
I let out a low breath. This was not just secret kissing. This was a declaration that, at least for tonight, it was more. And that neither of us was making a secret of wanting that.
Still, I glanced self-consciously at our hands, then in the direction of our friends. One, specifically.
“Jack knows,” Stellan said.
I wasn’t even surprised that he’d understood. “Are you sure?”
He shrugged. “I told him. It would have been bad manners not to.”
I couldn’t help a small, desperate laugh at that. “You told him what?”