Castle Rouge (Irene Adler #6) by Carole Douglas

Prelude I often have this strange and moving dream Of an unknown woman…. —PAUL VERLAINE, MON RÊVE FAMILIER, 1866 FROM A YELLOW BOOK She cleaves the night like a sailing ship. The ruffled wake of her trailing skirts leaves a silvered moon path on the greasy black cobblestones. Water and dirt have crept up her ragged hems for a foot or more, swelling her skirts into anchors instead of sails. They momentarily sweep up the damp and slime before it flows shut like sludge behind her. She has long since lost the will to lift them from the muck. She does not so much walk as stagger deliberately, like a noblewoman in a state procession. She is unaccompanied, alone, but each step she takes is emphatic. Each pauses. No marcher to some stately processional, she. The only music the night makes are bursts of raucous song from the public-house doors she passes by. Each feverishly lit portal exhales a hot, bright breath of ale, laughter, and sour sweat. The spring night is chill. Mist steams off the cobblestones in the scrofulous patches of gaslight that fail to illuminate the poorer quarter. Drinking songs—robust, merry, deluded&
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