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from Spirit of Earth by Arline Chase

Chapter 1
A Premonition of Evil

Chapter One

A Premonition of Evil

Mid-August, 1901

Jillian Abercrombie stared across the morning room at her older brother, Jack, who whistled as he poured almost-cold coffee at the sideboard. Their parents’ newly purchased home on Eutaw Place was much larger than the old one, and boasted a ballroom upstairs, a music room with pocket doors that opened from the drawing room, a billiard room that did the same, and a two-story cast iron and glass conservatory at the back. With a big smile, Jonathan Abercrombie III came and sat at the table. Jill could see why everyone commented on their resemblance, for she and her brother had the same broad brow, straight nose, deep-set eyes, and brown hair, though Jill’s eyes were darker and her hair was tawny and streaked with gold highlights. But Jon’s chin was square and strong, though his cheeks were dimpled, a feature he shared with their father. Jill’s own chin was pointed, and gave her a heart-shaped face. Even so, people often asked if they were twins on first acquaintance. Jack was nearly six years her senior, though at twenty-three he didn’t look all that much older.

Mamá hadn’t come down that morning. Their lawyer father had already left and Jon had been very late to rise. But Jill had waited at the table, refusing to let the staff clear away the breakfast things. Her brother was a second-year law student at Temple, or would be when he returned in the fall. Jill shook off a feeling of dread that attached itself to Jack and school, and tried not to think about the young actress who was keeping him out nights. She had heard her brother come in at four in the morning. Again.

“You won’t forget the dinner party on Saturday, will you, Jack? Promise me. You have to be here. ”�

Jon smiled and took a seat. “I’ll be here for dinner, Jilly. I promised, didn’t I?”�

“Yes...”� Jill blinked. “But you’ve hardly spared a thought for anything but Miss Desmond since that dreadful night at the theater a few weeks ago...”� Jill got up and poured herself more coffee that she didn’t want. Acid rose in the back of her throat. “You do remember that Papá has invited the Bucklands and their son. And he’s having a musical open house, after dinner. Half the city will be dropping by for that. The Bucklands will stay, too, of course.”�

“Good Lord. That could go on half the night.”�

“Exactly.”�

“Dinner, yes.”� Jon rubbed a hand over his eyes. “The whole evening? I can’t promise...”�

“Jack! You have to.”� Jill knew Papá had been thinking of nothing but young John Buckland, Jr. for weeks. “I can’t face seeing Sonny Buckland again by myself. Papá keeps trying to set up social engagements between us, because there’s a big deal cooking between Buckland Shipping and the B&O. Papá wants to be sure Buckland won’t try to back out of it later. Jack, I don’t want to marry anyone just to help Papá cement a business deal. Anyway, I can’t marry— not with my illness...”�

“However ill you are, my being here won’t stop Papá, Jilly. You know that.”�

Ill? Crazy as a loon is more like it. Jill heard her brother’s thoughts as clearly as if he had spoken aloud. She blinked back tears and tried to pretend she didn’t hear the voice in her head that screamed in French that her brother was right. Her father would do as he wished and she had no way to stop him. Non. Non. Non!

“Jack, I’m not crazy! I’m just—not like other people.”� Jill got up and paced around the table. “Do you think I want to be this way? When I was a child, everyone pretended I was playing games. But the older I get, the harder it is to pretend nothing is happening. I’ll soon be eighteen. Papá wants me safely married and off his hands before my behavior becomes too much of an embarrassment to him. I don’t expect any more from him. But do you have any idea how uncomfortable it is to know that you think I’m ‘crazy as a loon?’”�

“I never said that, Jill.”�

“You thought it!”� Jill took a shaky breath. “And I heard you.”�

“That’s impossible!”� Jon looked put out. “No one can read another person’s thoughts.”� Jon bit into a piece of cold toast, ignoring the red-haired scullery maid who peeked from the hall to see if it was safe to clear the table. “Papá’s right. It’s time you got yourself under control.”...






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