Gas lamps burned beneath a buttermilk sky. Mist lingered in the park and made golden halos of their light. Clara huddled against James as they walked past a long line of rowhouses, grateful for every bit of warmth that seeped into her. A tickle crept into the back of her throat and she coughed.
“You shouldn’t be out in this cold air,” said James.
Clara agreed, to be polite. But she knew the weather didn’t affect the sickness that had come over her in July. “I shouldn’t be out this late.”
Something dark stirred on one of the covered porches ahead. Clara tensed.
A long, low growl rumbled as they approached.
It’s just Old Jenkins, she realized with relief. Mrs. Thomason hadn’t let the big mastiff into the house for the night yet.
Clara felt foolish for jumping at shadows. Like most contemporary gentlemen, James carried a pistol. And even though he was drunk he knew how to use it. His wasn’t the typical Derringer that lurked in so many Baltimorean vest pockets, but a double-barreled howdah that he’d brought back from his expedition to India last year. Its walnut grip dug into Clara’s ribs when his uneven gait pressed them closer together. Clara ignored the discomfort and sighed, wishing she could be this close to him every night. Closer, even.
But she knew that could never be.
Near the street corner loomed the Haddings residence, its curved dormers and triple chimney limned in silver by the weak half moon. The house belonged to Professor Haddings. Clara called him uncle, though he was her grandfather’s cousin. The professor traveled because of his research, seldom lecturing at the nearby university anymore, leaving Clara the house’s sole occupant for weeks at a time.
“Why must you always leave early?” James teased, slurring a little.
The Gazing Club attended Madame Croisset’s séance parties each Wednesday night, but Clara bid her goodbyes before ten-thirty no matter what feats of mesmerism and palmistry had been promised for the witching hour. Usually when James offered to walk her home he’d had his fill of entertainment. But tonight had been different. The candles had wavered and sparked during a brief thunderstorm, and even James had been drawn into Madame’s occult theatrics. “I like being alone with you,” she whispered.
“Clara . . . you know it isn’t proper for you to say that to me.” His brow creased and he looked a little confused.
“Even if it’s true?” She hugged his arm and he laughed.
“Especially if it’s true.”
James Alistair Reynolds sometimes assisted Professor Haddings with ancient documents and Latin texts, but his true realm of interest centered around entomology. He was also smitten by any sort of puzzle. He had spent a good deal of the summer in the Haddings’ parlor, hunched over a metal box the professor had unearthed from a ruined abbey near Brussels, bandying theories back and forth as to how it might be opened. It was a conundrum – the timeworn strongbox bore no keyhole. Most of its rivets were cast in the shape of bees, each unique, and James and the professor believed their pattern to be a cipher. The secret proved to be as alluring as it was elusive, and it was during those long summer evenings that Clara had fallen for him.
They climbed the marble steps to the Haddings house as Clara fished in her pocket for the key. James peered through the window into darkness. “Where’s Mrs. Potiers?” he asked, referring to the professor’s housekeeper.
“She spends the night with her daughter, to help with the baby.”
James knew that, but Madame Croisset’s strong burgundy had helped him forget. Clara opened the door. She entered, and to her surprise, he followed. For a few moments the two of them stood silent in the shadowy hall. Light filtering through the window made tiny stars of the droplets covering his hat and coat. Clara resisted the urge to reach out to him. In her mind she recited the reasons that kept her affections bottled. It was a short list.
It started with sickness and secrets and ended with Mattie O’Donnell.
James stepped past her.
“I’ll light this for you.” He removed the globe from an oil lamp and dug around in the hall console’s top drawer. His nimble fingers were fuddled by drink as he tried to pry open a small match safe. “At least I think I will.” He grinned, amused by his lack of coordination.
The catch popped open and James shook out a single stick. The match refused his first attempts. When it caught, Clara leaned in and blew it out.
She put her arms around him. Then, knowing it was the worst thing she could possibly do, she pressed her lips against his in a soft kiss.
Matches spilled across the floor, followed by the plunk of the match safe.
Clara fled up the two flights of stairs to her bedroom.
The exertion doubled her over in a fit of wheezing. Resisting the sharp prickle at the back of her throat, she took measured breaths to regain control. Clara shut the door and pulled open the drapes at the bay window. Regretting what she’s done, she let her head tip forward against the cold pane. The street below was empty. He’s probably running all the way home. Clara sat down on her bed and put her head in her hands. The embers in the corner grate cast an orange glow over the room, softening the heavy lines of the furniture. Her throat itched again and she tried to clear it. Her lungs ached.
A glance at the mantle clock told her it was almost eleven. She’d played it too close this evening, stayed out too late, all because she’d wanted James to walk her home. James . . . who would forever remain a daydream. The feel of her first kiss ebbed too quickly as she sat in the dark, quiet house, and loneliness settled in its place. Sleep crowded in on her thoughts as they drifted. But she couldn’t slip into bed before visiting the basement.
Clara stripped out of her evening finery and pulled on a robe.
The stairs were dark, but a familiarity borne of living on the top floor for twelve years lent speed to her feet. When she whipped around the second landing, she ran smack into James and yelped with fright.
“Oh, thank God!” she said. “I thought you were a ghos—”
James eased her against the wall. His lips found hers. Fire swept through her body and she welcomed him into her arms. I shouldn’t do this. I shouldn’t . . . But she couldn’t stop. He’d removed his coat and hat and Clara ran her fingers through his dark hair. Even after the long evening at Madame’s, he still smelled of the graphite and Canada balsam used in his work. His hands moved over her arms and hips and found the tie to her robe. He stopped and looked down, confused by her change in dress. Then it registered and he pulled the ribbon. The silk knot fell apart.
“I love you, Clara.”
Clara winced as the words needled their way into her heart. They sounded so sincere. “No, you don’t. You’re drunk.”
He opened her robe and slid his fingertips over her skin.
Clara gasped. “Stop.” He kissed her again and she turned away. “Stop it, James! You’re engaged to Mattie.”
The name sobered him like a slap. “You’re in love with me.”
A denial formed on her lips, but it wouldn’t come out.
“You love me, even though the professor denied it.”
“I asked him for you at the end of August. He refused me, and he wouldn’t give a reason . . . beyond your lack of interest.”
Clara closed her eyes and fumbled for words. The attraction hadn’t been her imagination after all. “Is that why you stopped coming to the house?”
“He didn’t even tell you, did he?”
Not a word . . . but I know why he told you no.
James rubbed his hand over his face. “I don’t believe it. Why would he – no, it doesn’t matter. For God’s sake, you’re barely related to him. I don’t need his consent. Look, Clara—”
She pulled her robe closed and forced her feelings back into a bottle. “I’m sick.”
There was something he wanted to say, but didn’t. He touched her sleeve and his manner softened. “I know you’re sick. And I don’t care. Besides, the professor said it isn’t catching.”
Not in the way you’d think. “You don’t understand. I’m sick and I’m never going to get better. My uncle’s right – I couldn’t have accepted your offer.”
“I’ll never marry anyone.”
The grandfather clock in the parlor tolled the hour. One. Two.
The words stung and his jaw flexed.
Clara followed him downstairs. The spilled matches had been gathered up and returned to the console drawer. Five. Six. He shrugged into his coat and she handed him his hat. Cold air rushed in when he opened the door. He turned and looked at her. Nine. Ten.
“Goodbye, James.” She hoped he was drunk enough to forget what had just happened, but she doubted it.
James walked out into the night and Clara locked the door. Then she sprinted down the last flight of stairs to the basement.
Over the next several days James sent three letters to the house. Clara wished she had the cynicism to toss them in the fire unread, but she pored over his every word . . . behavior . . . forgiveness . . . regret. When he called, she had Mrs. Potiers tell him she was out. So it was late in the afternoon a week after their quarrel when he surprised her while she was volunteering at the infirmary. He begged her to mend their friendship, if only out of consideration for his professional ties to the professor, and she agreed to join James and the rest of the Gazing Club at Madame Croisset’s séance that evening.
Clara had no intention of going. But an hour after she should have made an appearance, the bell rang. Madame had sent a carriage to collect her, along with a kind and lengthy invitation that she couldn’t politely refuse.
Madame Croisset’s mansion sprawled like a great stone spider in a thicket nest, set off from the road and surrounded by a wide lawn of twisted elms and oaks. The mansard roof boasted an astounding number of chimneys. Eight of its dormers faced the gravel drive. The house was said to be a smaller replica of Madame’s childhood home in Yvelines, and was out of keeping with the Italianate style that had been in vogue during its construction. Clara smiled. That was something she admired about Madame Croisset – one never felt in doubt of her character. Madame was a woman of ample girth, wealth and rouge, but little humor. And above all else, she was French.
Clara glanced back at the driver as a servant welcomed her through the front door and took her coat, but the carriage was already pulling away. She’d asked him to take her home at ten o’clock, hoping the early hour would prevent James from offering to walk her home. She hoped the driver would remember.
Gilt candelabra illuminated a mélange of settees and divans scattered around the centerpiece of Madame’s drawing room, a crystal ball perched atop a round walnut table. Indigo drapes had been drawn to trap the heat, but still the room felt cold. Members of the Gazing Club lounged about. Most occupied themselves in conversations of twos and threes. Of the forty or so members, Clara was acquainted with perhaps a dozen. Spotting Madame across the room, she waved. Madame winked.
“Good evening, Clara,” said a feminine voice from over her shoulder.
Clara turned and faced Mattie O’Donnell’s smug smile. The twist of her lips hung at odds with spring of her curls. What she lacked in loveliness she made up for with expensive fashion. And sarcasm.
“Good evening, Mattie.”
“Wine?” Mattie offered her a crystal goblet.
“What do you think? It’s spiced.”
Clara took a sip. Warmth and rank bitterness warred with cinnamon and citrus.
“Madame’s own recipe . . . I think she’s rather partial to the idea of serving it to us the whole season.” Mattie rolled her eyes and grinned.
Clara always had the sense that Mattie was laughing at her in a behind-the-back sort of way, but right in her face. “Interesting. I’ve never had anything like it.”
“I bet. You look like maybe you could use something a little stronger?” Mattie surveyed Clara’s pallor. A blue tinge had settled into her skin over the last several weeks.
“No, thank you. This is wonderful.” Clara took another sip. “Especially with the chill in the air.” That secret laughter again. The warmth was nice, even if it tasted like Madame thought quinine and chicory belonged in her wine.
“Did James tell you?”
Clara nearly dropped her glass. “Tell me what?”
“Madame’s going to hypnotize him later.” Mattie’s smile tightened into a sneer. “You should stick around.” With a heartless giggle, she sauntered off to join Colonel Brennard by the fire.
Clara took a deep drink of the terrible wine. It was scarcely nine o’clock, and she couldn’t imagine how she was going to make it through the next hour. Then she saw James.
Across the room near the spinet, he was speaking with Madame’s sister and two men she didn’t know. His fingers skittered through the air as he engrossed them with a description of some insect or another. James glanced in her direction and she smiled at him. A look of relief crossed his face. He smiled back at her before returning to his conversation.
Clara sighed. The Reynolds and O’Donnells had been after James and Mattie to marry for years. The families were well-acquainted and of like status. Most people hailed them as a suitable match.
She couldn’t disagree more.
Mattie scattered her affections wide, with little shame and no apologies. Nothing about Mattie’s habits had changed since the announcement of her engagement to James last month.
James, on the other hand, preferred puzzles to people and his own studies to parties. The thought of him sitting at home by himself pinning beetles to boards and making careful drawings, while Mattie was off seducing admirers with her sly pout and scant virtue made Clara’s blood burn.
The spirit hit her without warning.
Velvet and crystal whirled as Madame’s opulent room spun around. Chatter warped and jumbled. Clara wobbled to a nearby table and set down the goblet. Ecstasy and bliss slammed through her veins with a cold shock. Her knuckles turned white as she clutched her head against the onslaught. In an instant, James was beside her.
“Clareaaarreaa? Awaweryoooareeriiiggtht?” He pulled her hands away from her ears. “Clara?”
“The . . . that wine . . . it’s too strong for me.” Clara had always found James attractive, but the lens of intoxication made his strong shoulders and firm mouth godlike. There was a hard cast about his face. Cruelty lurked there. How could she have not seen it before? Fear crept into her heart and she pushed him away.
Mattie’s face sailed past hers as the world spun on the wrong axis. One eye drooped and sank down into Mattie’s cheek as if she were a wax figurine left out in the sun. “What’s the matter, Clara? Poor thing, I’d heard you were sick . . . but I had no idea it was so bad.” Giggle.
Mattie’s smile stretched and drooped until the bottom of her face gaped wide, a dark hollow full of broken teeth.
That’s not real. Pain crushed Clara’s lungs. She took a deep breath and wheezed. Oh, my God. I’m not going to make it until eleven. I need to go home. Now.
Madame Croisset engulfed her like mother hen. “Come along, ma choux,” she said, guiding Clara toward the stairs that led up to the family rooms. “A leetle too much, eh?” Clara let Madame pull her along, but looked back over her shoulder at James. And past him, to the front door.
James picked up her wine glass and sniffed it. “Laudanum,” he said with surprise. Then he took a sip and spat it out. “A lot of it. And something else . . . I’m not sure what.”
Madame Croisset halted and looked down at Clara doubtfully. “You use eet, Clara? Zee laudanum?”
Clara shook her head, trying to ignore the swishing trails of light that seeped up from the candles. “No.”
“It’s . . .” murmured James, still trying to place the strange taste. He smelled the wine again. “Oh, God. It’s belladonna.” James turned to Mattie. “You did this!”
Mattie snatched away the goblet and hurled it at him, sloshing them both with poisoned wine. The glass bounced off his shoulder and shattered when it hit the floor. “Break our engagement, fine,” she hissed. “But I’ll be damned if I’ll be dumped for moon-eyed, sop-witted Clara Haddings!”
“How much did you give her?” James demanded. “How much?”
Madame Croisset cursed in her native tongue. She left Clara at the banister and instructed her to wait.
Mattie grinned like a viper. “Well, let’s see . . . How much do you think she drank?” Everyone looked at the wine puddled on the floor as if it could tell them. “Probably enough,” she snickered.
“How could you?”
Mattie affected an air of innocence. “Me? Really, James, don’t jump to conclusions. Clara’s the one who frivols away her afternoons nursing lost souls at the infirmary.”
“Are you suggesting she poisoned herself?” James was incredulous.
“Maybe she got tired of being shut up in that old goat’s house with nothing but dust and shadows for company,” her smirk deepened, “pining for a man she couldn’t have.”
James stared at Mattie. “If Clara dies—”
Colonel Brennard stepped forward just as Madame Croisset reached them.
Clara pulled herself together, steadying the world and her wits. She’d seen the effects of belladonna and opium before at the infirmary, and knew the visions were no more than waking dreams. But her mind resisted reason. Reality bent and skewed. Statuary turned their heads and regarded her with dead moon stares. Rugs became pools of quicksand. Gentlemen’s coattails hid folded wings, and the men were not men at all, but tall black birds with a hint of murder about their eyes.
The front entrance towered wide and impassable, its ornamental grilles swollen into a rusted portcullis. Clara took a steady breath and ignored the trick of her mind and the metallic rasp in her lungs. I’ve been here a dozen times. It’s just a door. When she approached, the servant opened the battered gate. Hinges screeched as he bid her good evening.
Cold, soot-laden air rushed over her as she fled down the stairs. Madame’s drive crunched beneath every step with the snap of brittle bones. Clara sprinted the thirty yards to the bustling street and darted across. Nine o’clock was an early hour for the coal-choked city. Passersby in dark capes and hats flocked around street vendors hawking everything from ginger-beer to meat puddings. The coaches smelled of blood and the people burned like angels. Clara wove through them, keeping her eyes down.
Bright faces swiveled toward her in a chorus of “Are you alright, miss?” Clara realized she’d left her coat at Madame’s and was dashing through the frigid air in her evening dress. Her bare shoulders, trailing skirt and lack of escort caused a ruckus. Breaking through a knot of theater-goers beneath a grimy, ramshackle overhang, she entered the park. Broad oaks and elms coiled in a tangle overhead. As she approached a gas lamp near the old spring, the flame inside whipped around and spit copper flashes against its shade. Two of the embers lingered. A face formed.
Clara halted, transfixed. For the moment she forgot where she was going and why.
“What in the name of God do you think you’re doing?” asked James as he caught up to her and spun her around. The cruelty she’d perceived at Madame’s was gone. She realized it had never really been there.
“Going home.” Her breath whistled as she wheezed. Oh, God. I have to get home right now.
“Come on,” he said, pulling his coat off and wrapping it around her shoulders. He led her through the park gate and away from observers. “I’ve sent for Dr. Eckhart.”
Clara went rigid. “No!”
“Listen to me,” James said as he put his arm around her. They turned down Clara’s street. “You’ve been poisoned. Mattie put laudanum and belladonna in your wine. I don’t know how much, but I know it was more than you should have in your . . . condition.”
“Don’t say it like that,” she laughed in embarrassment. “You’ll have people thinking I’m pregnant.” She looked around, but there were fewer people on the side street and no one seemed to have heard.
He looked at her with concern. “Are you?”
Clara’s mouth dropped open. “We didn’t have sex!” she blurted in a hoarse whisper. “Great God, James. You must have been drunker than I thought.”
“I know if you are, it isn’t mine.” He sighed. “Look Clara, I only gave into mother about Mattie because I was bitter over your refusal. I broke our engagement a few days ago. If you’re carrying someone’s child, I think I deserve to know.”
“Well, I’m not!”
“Then what’s been wrong with you these past few months?” He stopped and turned on her. “You’re sick, but you don’t get any better or worse. You lost your color. You’re weak. The professor swears you’re not dying . . . what am I supposed to think? I don’t understand!”
A prickle crept along the roof of her mouth. It pushed at her lips. She pressed them together, willing herself not to cough. But she couldn’t hold it in. Blood spattered into her hand, along with a tiny golden bee.
“What the . . . ?” James watched in revulsion as the metallic creature briefly took flight before landing on Clara’s sleeve. Tiny red tracks trailed behind the insect as it crawled over the silk.
Clara’s throat tightened at the surge of a hundred pins.
She turned and bolted toward her house.
Before she reached it, a shadow flowed out and stretched across her path. The giant hound bristled and growled. “Not now, Jenkins!” she hissed as she swept past the mastiff. But the dog caught the scent of blood and gave chase.
Clara fumbled with the lock, trying to control the spasms in her chest. She glanced over her shoulder. Seven feet of horned, spiked shadow crowded in on her, eyes afire. Clara summoned all her will, telling herself that Jenkins was just an old watchdog and not some hellhound of lore. It worked. The phantom darkness receded, leaving a grizzled mastiff. She was thankful she hadn’t drunk much of the tainted wine. “Go home!” she commanded through her teeth. The big black brute gave a grumbling whine and sat on his haunches. Clara unlocked the door and entered the hall. The oil lamp on the console burned bright, along with several others in the house. She hadn’t wanted to come home to darkness. Clara slammed the door.
James threw it open.
“Get out!” she rasped at him.
“What the hell is going on?”
The writhing and the stinging nips grew unbearable. Clara planted both hands over her mouth as she convulsed. Dozens of bloody bees spewed forth, wheedling and squirming their way through her fingers. The flickering light of the oil lamp played across burnished bodies. Several took flight. Others clung, crawling over her face and shoulders, leaving red trails in their wake.
“Mother of God!” shouted James. He drew his pistol and took aim at Clara.
The twin black maws of the howdah’s double barrel turned every last drop of her blood to smoke. Clara screamed. Bees sprang to into the air and swirled in a glinting swarm.
Dr. Eckhart pushed through the front door, accompanied by a dark-haired stranger Clara had seen at Madame’s. “Devil’s whiskers!” he gasped.
The swarm surged over the men. Stingers plunged into flesh.
“No!” shouted Clara. Dr. Eckhart and his companion fled in a sea of curses. Clara grabbed the oil lamp and ran for the basement, praying James wouldn’t shoot her in the back.
The swarm abandoned their attack and sped after her.
Narrow stairs circled down into a damp, low-ceilinged room. An alcove in the far stone wall held several travel trunks, as well as the ancient strongbox the professor had brought back from Belgium. Clara opened it as James came down the stairs.
Seventy-two bees swooped in and alighted on the artificial comb fixed beneath the lid. Clara folded down the box’s hinged front panel, revealing small vials within. Twenty-two of the thirty held a reddish amber liquid. Clara removed one and twisted out the cork. She glanced up at James.
The howdah still pointed in her direction, but James was staring at the box. Golden bees clambered over the honeycomb, busy about their work. They clicked and buzzed as they cleaned each other and filled the comb. Clara’s poisoned mind briefly turned them to birds, and then beetles, but she pushed the thoughts away and hoped the illusions were nearing an end.
“If you pull the trigger,” said Clara, “this will all become your problem.”
“I’m sorry, Clara.” James gave the pistol a blank look and tucked it into his jacket. “I don’t know what I was . . . I just . . . I didn’t expect this. At all. When did the professor solve the cipher?”
“I solved it. In July.”
“July? But . . . why didn’t you tell us?”
“Because of what happened when I opened the box.” She set the cork aside. The look on James’ face was equal parts worry, fascination and disgust. “I’m only thankful that it wasn’t you. Or the professor.”
“Does the professor know?”
“I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone yet, but he walked in on me doing this a few weeks ago.”
James swallowed and rubbed the swelling sting on his hand. “Is he dead?”
“Heavens, no. He’s gone to Gaeta to see the Pope. But in a few hours that sting will get the best of you. Come here.”
James hesitated. Then he approached the box and knelt beside her.
Clara took his hand. She tipped the vial and waited for the viscous fluid to drip onto the mound of the sting. Then she rubbed it in. “Are there any more?”
“Just the one. Poisonous, are they?” he asked, watching the bees.
“Yes . . . very. I need to ask a favor.”
“Will you take this vial and find Dr. Eckhart and his companion? I’m afraid they might have been stung.”
“Alright. But I’m not sure who the other gentleman was. Do you know him?”
“No, I don’t.”
“I think his name might’ve been Edwin. Or Edgar.” James bit his lip and she could see his thoughts race. He was a riddle solver, and he was good at it. “What happens if I close the box, right now? Just lock them all inside?”
“The queen lets me know she doesn’t like being separated from the others.”
“Oh.” James frowned. “Is it . . . inside of you? It doesn’t come out with the others?”
“It won’t come out. Not until I die.” Clara handed him the stoppered vial.
“What is this, anyway?”
James looked at the box again. His nose wrinkled as he realized what the honey was made from. “They don’t gather nectar or pollen, do they?”
Clara couldn’t meet his eyes. “You’d better hurry.”
“I’ll be back soon.”
“You don’t have to come back.”
James pulled his out his handkerchief and wiped at the bees’ trails on her cheek. “I want to.” He put his arm around her, but she pulled away. “It’s going to be alright.”
“No, really. I like bees. Even small demonic ones.” He grinned and Clara laughed.
“They’re not demonic.”
“No? But they’re not alive, are they? I mean, they’re metal.”
She smiled at him, but despite her efforts she couldn’t make it last. James’s eyes went from Clara to the box. He had a keen mind and she liked that about him.
“What aren’t you telling me?”
Lie and say ‘nothing’.
“What is it? Come on, what could be worse than a box full of creepy gold bees sucking out your blood and turning it into a condiment?”
“James, that isn’t nice!”
He nudged her in a teasing way. “If you think I’m not going to rib you a little after you let me puzzle over that box for so long after you solved it, you’re quite mistaken.” He grew serious, with that inquisitive focus about him that had snared her heart months ago. “I want to know.”
Clara hesitated, but she realized that if anyone might understand, it was James. “I worry it’s my imagination,” she admitted. “I’m afraid I’m going mad. Maybe I hope I’m going mad. Nothing happened when I tried to show the professor. At least that’s what he claimed.”
“And then he ran off to seek His Holiness?”
She rubbed her forehead. She couldn’t decide if she hoped it would work on James or that it wouldn’t. Taking back the vial, she dabbed some of the honey onto her finger and then slid it across his bottom lip. James licked it. Then he bent his head down and grunted.
Clara put her hand on his shoulder. She knew the imagery bombarding his mind because it was the same every time. Burning cities. Flying machines. Golden soldiers carrying needles and guns and lights. A violet sky over lush fields. Signs written in foreign symbols that were unlike any language she’d ever seen. People kneeling. Others dying.
“What . . . what is that?” James asked.
“I’m not sure,” Clara whispered as some of the bees finished their work and crawled into her mouth. “What do you see?”
James shook his head to clear it. “Some sort of war . . . with machines. Here, and in Paris, and a dozen other cities. It’s a warning, whatever it is.”
Clara agreed. “The queen wants me to distribute this batch of honey as soon as the last vial is filled.”
“They’ll start a new batch, with a new message.”
James took Clara’s hand in his. From the little crease that had formed between his brows, she knew they were thinking the same thing. Fear settled like ice on her shoulders.
“They’re coming, aren’t they?”