Book: Restless Spirits

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Chapter 23

 

Henry checked the address one final time before entering the apartment building. As he’d committed it to memory days ago, the recheck was more a delaying tactic than anything. Even though he and Vincent had parted on civil terms, after everything that had happened at Reyhome Castle, he wasn’t certain of his reception.

A MONTH had passed since that dark night. Fortunately the blizzard had ceased the next day, and a spell of warm weather meant Jo and Lizzie had gone for help shortly thereafter. By then, Henry had grown feverish from the wound in his shoulder. The prodding of the doctors from town, the journey back to the railway station, had all passed in a haze.

The bullet had broken his collarbone, but fortunately missed the great artery. He still wore a sling to keep his shoulder as immobile as possible, and the journey to New York from Baltimore had left him with a dull, throbbing pain in the healing wound. But he hadn’t dared to put off the trip any longer.

Of course, he could have wired instead. Except he’d been too afraid of receiving only silence as an answer.

Taking a deep breath, he forced his feet to carry him into the apartment building. Although not one of the slum tenements, it was clear the building’s occupants weren’t precisely well-to-do, either. The scent of sauerkraut and boiled greens drifted from the communal kitchen, and a polyglot of accents and languages streamed through the thin walls.

Vincent’s apartment lay on the third floor, at least according to the information the detective had sent. Henry stopped outside the door, heart pounding from more than the climb.

What if Vincent had moved? What if he wasn’t in? What if he was in, but slammed the door in Henry’s face?

What if he was in, but had someone else with him?

“Go see him,” Jo had said two days ago when Henry had been dithering yet again as to whether he should buy a train ticket. “I’ll stay with my friend Millie for a few days. Her mother won’t mind. Anything to get you to stop moping.”

“I’m not moping.”

“Pining, then.” Jo had rolled her eyes. “You miss him. I’m sure he misses you. So stop being such a coward and go.”

“I’m not a coward,” Henry muttered to himself now. Except the fact that he was still standing in the hall, afraid of facing the worst, said otherwise.

Only one thing for it. Squaring his shoulders—and wincing at the resulting flash of pain in the left—Henry knocked sharply on the door.

For a long moment, he thought no one was home. Then the sound of footsteps approached from inside the apartment. The door swung open, and there stood Vincent, in his shirtsleeves and vest, looking just as he had when they’d parted a month ago.

“Henry?” Vincent asked in surprise. “What the devil are you doing here?”

Every suave answer he’d come up with on the train ride deserted him. “Please, don’t slam the door in my face,” Henry blurted out. “I have a proposal for you. Just—just hear me out.”

Vincent leaned against the doorframe, head cocked quizzically. Without a coat to hide his form, his trousers shaped his hips and thighs nicely. The pristine white of his shirt contrasted with his bronze skin, and his black hair glinted in the light. Every iota of desire Henry had felt over those long days at Reyhome Castle came rushing back.

But Vincent wasn’t inviting Henry inside. And his expression remained carefully neutral. Was Henry too late? Or had there ever been a chance to start with?

“I’ve found only one way to keep you from talking,” Vincent said. “And as it isn’t appropriate for a public hallway, I suppose I’ll have to hear you out.”

Henry flushed. Was Vincent only goading him, or did the sight of Henry affect him, as he did Henry? “Can we at least step inside?”

Vincent considered for what felt like an eternity. Then he stepped back and beckoned Henry to follow. As soon as Henry was inside, Vincent shut the door and leaned against the wall, blocking him from coming in any further. “We’re inside. So talk.”

Carelessly heaped clothes and piles of books made the tiny apartment seem even smaller. The scent of cooking food was muted by the walls, replaced by the smell of Vincent’s citrusy cologne. A lone door opened off onto what must have been a bedroom, and Henry noticed the large bag of salt sitting on the floor beside it.

“I didn’t realize Miss Prandle meant to send the entire prize to me,” Henry said. “When it showed up in my bank account, I wired her in protest. She said she had to respect her uncle’s wishes.”

“Congratulations,” Vincent said. “Our prize was to not be reported to the police, on the condition we closed the shop.”

“Oh.” Damn Miss Prandle. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It was only a place.” Vincent shrugged. “No matter what it meant to us...well. Dunne wouldn’t have wanted us to sacrifice everything to hold onto it. I’m only sorry it took us this long to realize it. At any rate, Lizzie and I are still in business together. I’ve even started channeling again.”

“Good,” Henry said. “I’m proud of you.”

Vincent looked surprised. “Oh?”

“Well, yes.” Henry shuffled his feet. “I know how much your gifts mean to you. Even I could tell you weren’t happy not using them. So yes. I’m proud.”

“Thank you.” Vincent shifted his weight. “So why did you come? Or did you have other business in the city and decided to visit me in hopes of spending the night?”

“Of course not.” Henry wasn’t certain if he was more angered or hurt by the words. “I can’t speak for you, but our time together meant more to me than that.”

Vincent had the grace to look embarrassed. “Forgive me. You said you had a proposition...?”

Now came the hard part. Henry drew in a deep breath. “I want to make an offer to you and Miss Devereaux. I decided to come to you alone, at least to begin with, because frankly I fear what Miss Devereaux might do to me should I dare darken her doorstep.”

“Wise man.” Vincent’s expression eased into a cautious smile. “I don’t think she’s forgiven you yet. What is this offer of yours?”

“We can split the prize money three ways,” Henry said. “No strings attached. Or...or we can pool the money and use it to open a new business. One combining the best of all our talents.”

He’d managed to catch Vincent by surprise yet again. “Go into business?” Vincent repeated. “Together? I thought your fondest wish was to replace mediums, not work with them.”

Henry shrugged awkwardly, remembering to only use his right shoulder this time. “The events at Reyhome Castle showed me the error of my ways. When we worked separately, we both obtained some results. But when we worked together, science and spiritualism, we were far more effective.”

Vincent still stared at Henry as if he thought it some elaborate prank. “But what about your plans to start production on the Electro-Séance? The phantom fence and all the rest of it?”

“I still have hope my inventions can be of use to others. But given our experiences, I think they’re best used in tangent with a medium. Someday I—we—might be able to move beyond the prototypes, but as for now, I’ve given up on the idea of mass production.” Henry bit his lip. “So...what do you think? You believe my inventions might have some value, don’t you? I understand you and Miss Devereaux may wish to remain in New York—Jo and I can relocate. Or we can all cut ties with the past and start anew somewhere else.”

Vincent’s lip twitched in a grin. “You’ve thought all this through, haven’t you?”

“Of course.” Henry swallowed nervously. “I made mistakes at Reyhome. I was too proud, too quick to assume deliberate injury when I found out about your past. I was a blind fool at times. And if you can’t forgive me, I’ll happily split the money, and—”

“Yes,” Vincent said.

Henry’s heart sank. “Of course. I’ll have the bank draw up a check tomorrow.”

Vincent snorted. “Not yes to the money, you fool. Yes to you. To working together.”

“Oh?” Henry couldn’t seem to catch his breath. “Do you mean it? And what about Miss Devereaux?”

“Yes, I mean it.” Vincent reached out and took Henry’s good hand. “If we’d had your ghost grounder last summer, perhaps Dunne wouldn’t have died. Without the grounder and your quick thinking atop the tower, I’d certainly be just another spirit trapped in Reyhome Castle.”

“You’re the one who realized there was more than one spirit in the first place,” Henry said, tightening his grip on Vincent’s hand. “Or that one of them was dangerous. Your ability to channel, Miss Devereaux’s automatic writing, and my instruments—”

“Are a powerful combination we can’t achieve separately,” Vincent agreed. “As for Lizzie, let me explain things to her. I’m sure she’ll come around.”

“I’m prepared to grovel,” Henry assured him.

“That will help.” Vincent’s expression turned serious, his dark eyes gazing solemnly down at Henry. “The night on the tower, you could have left the phantom fence up. Stayed safe behind it. Instead, you risked everything to save me.”

“You’re the one who put me inside the fence and then went out to face the ghosts by yourself,” Henry countered. He swallowed thickly. “It was one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen anyone do.”

“Desperate, perhaps.”

“Brave,” Henry insisted. “Just as it took courage to come there in the first place, to guard Miss Devereaux from what you feared awaited. To remain even when I’d given you every cause to leave me to my fate.” He looked down at their joined fingers, a latticework of copper and ivory. “A man like you doesn’t come along every day. Even if you hadn’t agreed to go into business together, I would have wanted to find some way of-of remaining friends. Lovers, if you’ll have me.”

Vincent’s grin turned wicked. “Hmm...you’ve convinced me of the business part of your proposition. I think I still need persuading as to the rest.” He stepped back in the direction of the bedroom, drawing Henry after. “I think you’ll have to make your case again, at least once. Possibly more.”

Henry’s face felt as if it couldn’t contain his smile. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m willing to dedicate all night to the task.”

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