New Amsterdam, 1893

Our path is long, and lonely. That is as it should be. Savor the silence.

All in all, Geoffrey Salser thought, his father's words had been unsurprisingly prophetic.

He listened for a moment more. Nothing. The press building was empty. On the floor below, the monstrous printing machines stood quiet and unmoving in the shadows.

Geoff uncapped his pen and straightened the blank card on his desk.

He eschewed type and press for this, falling back to his oldest secrets, the ones mastered at the end of his adolescence. How appropriate. Unlike most of the things he composed these days, he did not intend this message for the world. It was not a command best conveyed through letters styled for maximum reach and broadest appeal.

This was a message for just one woman.


He raised a vial of liquid to test its color against the light. Red, like summer cherries. He unstoppered it, held its lip to the inkwell, and poured. The thin stream disappeared into the black, where the conscious eye would never notice. Perfect.

The pen, like the desk and the office, had once belonged to his father. It was an old design, but in this, as in so many things, progress had not yet improved upon perfection. Ink ran from the smooth tip like blood in the vein.

Geoff wrote the schedule of events first. His hand was sure, his gestures fluid and efficient. The ascenders, descenders, and bowls of his letters varied in weight as if they followed the swell of an invisible violin.

When the ink was dry, he turned the card over. Under his expert nib, a web of green-black trees spread over the borders of the paper.

He drew the manor house next. A few strokes rendered the imposing building elegant, its outline now a graceful part of the gardens around it. A blue tint formed the lake. Concentric lines of summer-grass-yellow teased the eye as they circled the absent greenhouse.

As he worked, he hid the letters of her name in the curve of the river, the intersection of the branches in the forest, the shaft of the redwoods at the edge of the property.


He finished, and studied the tiny map. Symbol—message—line—ink—even if by chance she saw a surprising shape or two hidden in the pen strokes, she would never know which ones held true significance.

They never did.

Chapter 1

The New Amsterdam Times is pleased to announce the engagement of Nicolas D. Salser to Miss Selene Hart, daughter of city alderman Thomas Hart, and sister to State Representative Lawrence Hart. In the light of the current financial crisis, much is expected of a union between these two excellent families. We join the city in showering the happy couple with felicitations.

Selene knew she was dreaming. In real life, her hands were not made of porcelain, and her jaw was not attached to her face with tiny metal pins. In real life, Nicky did not yet have the right to stand behind her in wordless anticipation. His breathing, heavy and deep, washed over her ear.

In the dream, she could not stop him from tracing his hand up her naked shoulder to the silver key that disappeared into her throat. With a greedy sigh, he began to turn it.

Tighter and tighter. The key wound the metal gears inside her automata's body, spreading ticking tension down her throat and into her torso, tightening her heart and lungs, twisting her stomach.

She resisted movement for as long as she could. The tension became a vibration in her muscles, and a sharp taste at the back of her mouth. When she was sure she would either have to come to life in his arms or shatter, she bolted upright, and out of sleep entirely.

To her terror, she did not immediately recognize either the massive feather bed or the opulent shadows around her. Very slowly, she turned her head. The thick quilts on either side of her lay flat to the mattress. Empty.

Selene shuddered once, from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet. Then she floundered through damp sheets to the modern gas lamp sitting over the rosewood side-table.

She sighed in relief as the golden light spread over her surroundings. Of course the luxuriously appointed guest room looked unfamiliar. Jordan Salser had built it, and the massive stone house around it, to commemorate his fifty-year ascent into New Amsterdam's social elite. Last night Selene, her family, and most of New Amsterdam's best blood had come to this lavish country property to celebrate the surprise return of Jordan's long-lost prodigal son, Geoffrey.

And of course the covers beside her lay flat, and empty. Jordan's eldest son—handsome, charming Nicolas—was not yet her husband. Selene wasn't sure she wanted to think about Nicky, not so soon after her ridiculous dream. Ever since her father had cast the deciding vote appointing Nicky to his current position as New Amsterdam's Commissioner of Public Works, Selene had heard about little else. In a moment of rare pragmatism, she had even allowed her father, brother, and two sisters to convince her of the many benefits associated with marriage to an intelligent man ten years into a meteoric political career.

She shook her head. Thus far, things had turned out exactly as everyone had predicted. In fact, the current financial turmoil, embodied most recently by the shocking bankruptcy of the Reading Railroad, had given Nicky all he needed to transform himself from a handsome printer's son into a tireless champion of the common people. For her part, Selene had become adept at cooing adoringly over blue ticket policies that she was not sure she actually agreed with.

Enough. You know better than to ruminate to no purpose. Determinedly, Selene jumped out of bed and went to ring for breakfast.

* * *

The little map Selene found under a plate on her breakfast tray neatly finished the job of driving the last of her dream from her mind. Its delicate lines pleased her immediately—the long driveway culminating in the classically proportioned house, the kidney-shaped lake surrounded by little footbridges and planned copses of trees. Dark green game forests rolled away to the edges of the card, their branches stylistically extended to form an unbroken black wall around the property.

Her delight grew when she saw that on the back, in calligraphy elegant enough for a wedding invitation, her host had listed a schedule of the day's events. Meals at various indoor and outdoor locations. A guided tour of the exotic gardens. A small play, to be put on and presented in the gazebo by the lake.

Well, look at that. Everything I need to plan a day in complete isolation.

Selene slipped it into her sketchbook and left the house before any of her siblings—or her father—or Nicky—could rise and miss her.

* * *

Congenial crowds, private conferences, breakfast and business and courtesy—it was mid-afternoon before Geoffrey Salser broke unobtrusively away from his father's guests. He headed for the borders of the property. Laughter from the boating party had just faded into the cool air when he crested the hill and caught sight of the old greenhouse. Through the distorted glass, something white fluttered—the plume on the hat of a woman hard at work.

His quarry, at last.

Geoff walked up the gravel path and stepped into the doorway.

Selene Hart sat on a black iron bench. Discarded furniture and open troughs of dirt lay in haphazard piles around her. Sacks of fertilizer, their odors muted by their packaging, leaned against the far wall. She didn't seem to notice. All of her attention was on the portfolio sketchbook in her lap, the charcoal in her hands, and the tangle of tomato plants climbing determinedly out of the dirt at her feet.

In her cream silk walking dress and broad-brimmed hat—both of exquisite cut and craftsmanship—she should have looked terribly out of place surrounded by these broken and discarded things. But she didn't. Perhaps it was the subtle tension he could see in her neck and hands as she molded the scene in the paper before her. Perhaps it was because she had taken off her kid gloves, and her pale fingers were now covered in black dust. She was present in the greenhouse, Geoff thought, in a way most women of her age and class would never deign to be.

I find her beautiful.

His desire to stay in the doorway and watch her, for his aesthetic pleasure alone, was so strong that he found himself holding his breath.

Miss Hart's charms had not been at the forefront of his considerations when he had created the invitation that lured her here. He had assumed, of course, that Nicky's future wife would be a beautiful woman, because his half brother demanded excellence in everything: wine, horses, art. His betrothed would be no different.

As Avelinne discovered.

Still, Geoff hesitated. He had a little time. Nicky would still be searching the house. Surely, there was no harm in waiting till she noticed him. He leaned against the doorframe and allowed himself to enjoy her rapt incandescence.

* * *

Selene found the abandoned greenhouse by accident. It was not on the map, but an empty space beyond the farthest copse of woods had caught her attention. It was perfect. No casual guest would find her here. Nobody would badger her with questions about either Nicky's politics or her impending wedding.

Immersed in her charcoals and the way the passing hours changed the quality of the light on the plants, she almost dropped her sketchbook when she looked up and saw the dark figure standing in the doorway.

Light from the meadow outside obscured his features, and Selene's first, startled thought was that Nicky had somehow found her. Again. Before she could decide whether to be pleased or aggrieved, her eyes adjusted. Differences rippled to the fore. This man was not Nicky. He leaned against the doorframe with a lithe, casual grace. Nicky was all volume and power. This man's hair gleamed dark and straight: outdated but practical. Nicky wore the first cut of fashion as if it were a second skin. This man's country jacket was perfectly tailored, but unmemorable in its understated authority.

"Oh," Selene said out loud. "We were introduced last night. You are Nicky's younger brother. Geoff."

The man blinked, seeming, for a moment, almost as surprised to be seen as she was to see him. A moment later, he straightened and bowed with exacting politeness. "Miss Hart. I am flattered you remember me."

Selene flushed, and her fingers tightened on the protective shield of her book. "Mr. Salser," she said reprovingly, "I could hardly forget last night's guest of honor."

Except that was not quite true. Last night, as they cut to the head of the long receiving line, Nicky had painted his brother into a portrait of the archetypal prodigal son--irresponsible and flighty, with an excess of interest in romantic poetry. "We never mentioned him to you because he left the family ten years ago," Nicky had said, shaking his head in general condemnation of not just Geoff, but flighty, ungrounded youths everywhere. "He was just nineteen. The row hurt my father quite a bit, though of course the Colonel would never let on."

Selene had seen nothing flighty, however, in the sober man who had eventually turned to greet her. Like Nicky, Geoffrey was tall, with dark hair and a fair complexion. Both brothers shared their father's aristocratic nose and well-formed jaw. What had stood out to her most, however, was the ripple of suspicion that crossed Geoffrey's face as he inclined his head in their direction. A moment later the wariness disappeared, replaced by such a still and complete absence of anything that Selene was abruptly hard pressed to see him, even though he stood right in front of her. Between his autocratic father and his dynamic brother, Selene judged, Geoffrey Salser would disappear entirely.

"I apologize if I startled you," Geoffrey said now. "I was merely taken aback to find one of my father's guests in an old kitchen greenhouse."

Selene felt her flush deepen. "Yes, well..." she glanced around at the mossy windows and sacks of fertilizer. No convenient excuse hid among their unrelenting commonplaceness.

He held up a hand. "It's perfectly alright." A understanding expression lifted the corner of his mouth. "Sometimes, a person just feels the need to get away." He took a step back. "I've intruded on your valuable solitude. Please excuse me."

"Oh no," Selene said automatically. "Don't go on my account." After the words left her lips, she realized she meant them. "Was this perhaps, a favorite quiet place of yours? Um... Before?"

His brows rose as his eyes self-consciously touched the abandoned furniture and tangle of haphazard plants. "Yes," he said at last. "Though I admit, this greenhouse has fallen into some disrepair, since I was last here." He looked up. "Its bones are still good, though. Perfectly proportional. And something about the quality of light... warms."

Pleased to have guessed why the party's guest of honor would also appear in this corner of discarded things, Selene shifted over on the bench.

"I would not be the one to displace you from a childhood sanctuary, however it might appear now," she said. "Stay. We can share the solitude together."

He watched her a moment, weighing the sincerity of her words. In this light, his brown eyes became amber. Liquid and warm.

"Please," she said again.

"Thank you." Noiselessly, he closed the distance between them. When he sat down, she saw that there was more than enough room for two. Unlike his brother, Geoff did not expand to fill all the available space around him.

They sat together for some time in companionable silence. It was as easy, Selene thought in surprise, as silence was usually awkward. After a few moments, she felt comfortable enough to lower her sketchbook to her lap and continue her work. She knew he would watch her, as people usually did when she sketched in company, but somehow with him, she knew she would not mind.

* * *

When she finished, she initialed the bottom of the paper in microscopic letters. Charcoal made this difficult, but she preferred the look to the messy signature other artists used to fill their work with their identity.

"The tomatoes should be flattered," Geoff said quietly. "You have a very precise technique."

"I have a low taste for common subjects, I'm afraid."

He gestured towards the sketchbook. "May I?"

"It will get your hands dirty."

"I don't mind."


He looked at her. "Truly."

His sincerity pleased her. Careful to touch only the edges, Selene passed the portfolio to him and reached for a towel to clean her fingertips. "I've lost track of the time," she said ruefully, so she would not have to see his first reaction to her work. "Is it time for dinner?"

"No." He sounded distracted. "Though I believe my brother was looking for you. He claims not to have seen hide nor hair of you since you disappeared upstairs early last night."

Selene shifted in her seat. "Well, your family's country estate is so large, I was beside myself with eagerness to go exploring."

"I see. And did you discover anything interesting?"

"The lake is lovely," she said quickly. "I also enjoyed the view of the duck pond from the stone bridge behind your stables. And your grove of California redwoods. They were quite inspiring."

"Did you sketch them as well?" He looked to her for confirmation and turned the page.

She had not been truly able, Selene thought, to capture the height of the trees, but she had done a fair job on the perspective of the scene. In the paper, large trunks circled her, their tips creating a border around a tiny ceiling of sky.

"You need not feign modesty," Geoff said, after a minute of examining the piece. "This is a difficult composition, mathematically executed. Many people draw what they know to be present, not what is actually visible."

His matter-of-fact praise created warmth under her breastbone. "In the case of the redwoods, that would be a true pity. I imagine they were imported at great expense?"

"Whole young trees, roots and all," Geoff said. "My father is quite proud of them." He paused. "I like them as well. They remind me... of home, I suppose."


He glanced at her as if he evaluated the quality of her curiosity. Then he turned back to the page. "After I left New Amsterdam, I moved north and west. Very far west. Eventually, I settled in a mountain town. Arcadia."

"Oh." She blinked, reevaluating his practical hairstyle and neutral clothing. His hands, she saw now, were not cased in gentlemanly gloves. The fingers, though long and elegant, had a roughness to them, as if he actually used them.

Selene knew almost nothing about the far west. "Are—there many redwoods there?" she tried gamely.

"In Arcadia? No. Redwoods grow further west still. It will be long before the logging industrialists set their sights on them. The ancient forests near the great lakes are almost completely exhausted—replaced, I suppose, by a landscape of new timber houses."

She smiled as the conversation turned to something she recognized; something that seemed less like prying. "Are you a natural preservationist? I thought that all frontier towns seek a thriving lumber business."

"You are right, but in my view, lumber is an egregiously short sighted industry. Where will the business go when the forests are depleted? It takes hundreds of years to grow a tree with the heartwood that is best desired by men."

"What does Arcadia export?"

He flipped the page again, revealing a rather lackadaisical sketch of the pond and its family of ducks. Inset into the page, however, sat a detailed rendition of a stone column holding up a footbridge.

"Arcadia strives for self-containedness," Geoff said. "Fairness and honesty between all people. And this is very well done." Selene glanced down at the page under his hand. "What, the pond?"

"No. The column on the bridge. The strength of your lines mirrors the places where the supports hold weight. Have you studied architecture?"

"A little. Informally. The bridge caught my eye."

"My father imported the stone from France—pieces of a demolished church in the Rococo style. Most people consider the period a trifle overdone. But it is now fashionable to line the walls of our houses in patterned red velvet, so who are we to judge?"

"Oh, that is the end of the sketches from this morning," Selene interrupted, reaching for the book as he began to turn the page. Her heartbeat accelerated. "Really, you don't—"

But he had already flipped the paper over.

Immediately, she saw the lines of his neck and hands change. Tension flowed into them.

Her face flamed.

"It's not—not, well... not a display piece," she finished lamely, as she stared at him, staring down into the field of square boxes that occupied the majority of the page.

Each inch-square box contained a sketch of a tiny shoe. Not charcoal this time—too messy—but ink, fine and heavy lines carefully chosen to accentuate detail. These were ladies' shoes—over a hundred of them, with scalloped lace embellishments, profusions of bows, and delicately turned heels. Some of the shoes glowed with colored inks—faint greens and blues, but never enough to detract from the descriptive black lines.

She watched Geoff blink, his eyelashes long and dark on the pale skin of his cheeks.

"This is—" He paused, formed a word with his lips, and then turned to her. "This is exquisite. I am... amazed."

And he was, she saw with disbelief. At this distance, she could see his pupils dilate. He looked at her as if he had not actually seen her until this moment. Surely, she thought a little dazedly, no man had ever looked at her work—her true work, and then looked at her with such admiration.

"Um," she said, pressing a hand lightly to her lips. "It's nothing. A hobby. My hobby. My only hobby, actually."

He smiled then—a real smile. The warmth of it turned his eyes golden and made all of his other small smiles look polite by comparison. "I understand. The rest of it—the other kind of sketching, the observing—is all just practice... a means to an end. To this."

It was as if he had read her mind.

Yes. A thousand times yes.

"It's a very... silly hobby," she said, in an attempt to hide how vulnerable she felt, blasted by this naked approval. "You can't display this sort of thing in a drawing room."

The smile remained on his face as he returned his gaze to the portfolio, and gently turned another page. One hundred tiny houses, this time—all the houses easily visible from her favorite bench in New Amsterdam's central park. Another page—forty perfectly rendered earbobs, of different metals, gems, and weights. The page after that had sixty-four different types of insects: beetles, flies, and bees, mostly, rendered in black, and delicate lines of orange and blue.

"Have you shown these to a journal of entomology? Or natural history?"

Selene shook her head. "My sister Felicia said I should burn that page. That I was asking for my rooms to be invaded by creepy crawlies."

"Where did you get the beetles?"

"I... caught and pinned most of them. Myself. Some came from some quick sketches on a trip to the Museum of Natural History." Mercifully, he made no comment.

Another page—penholders and inkwells—another—the screw tops of four dozen jars of jam. Then: lace handkerchiefs. Small dogs. Children's bonnets. Close ups on the buttons on gloves. The last page, the first of the sketchbook, contained one hundred and fifty different salt and pepper shakers.

After a moment that lasted a hundred years, Selene heard Geoff exhale. He closed the book and leaned back on the bench, his eyes closed, as if to burn the details into his mind.

"Miss Hart," he said, eyes still shut, "have you ever thought about illustrating goods for a catalogue?"

* * *

Her delight, Geoff thought, radiated outwards like a tangible heat on his skin. Sophisticated Selene Hart wriggled in the seat beside him.

"I... I love catalogues," she said. "That is how I started, actually. Copying prints out of the Bloomingdale Brother's Household Goods Catalog. But... but a lady must never draw mundane things. Ladies must draw flowers." She wrinkled her nose. "I've done flowers. But nobody seems to want them an inch tall. And in inks. Everyone wants watercolors." Her expression of distaste grew. "So sloppy."

He felt like laughing in wonder and irony. Sometimes, when he was alone with his Art, the type case and proofs before him, he had this feeling, as if some invisible hand had circled parts of the page in vibrating red, calling his attention to undiscovered wonders and intricacies. Not until today had something similar ever happened away from his drafting table.

Nicky did not know. He did not have the eyes to see.

The wonderful, buoyant feeling started in his chest, and lent him the brief impression that he floated just above the bench.

Selene, watching in him flattered, puzzled curiosity, glowed in the late afternoon light.

"I am very fond of inks myself," Geoff said, when his voice recovered. Her portfolio book sat warm in his hands. "Though letters and fonts are my true interest."

"Fonts? As in, the way letters are formed in pr—"

A clatter of hoofbeats and loud crunch of gravel, as from under expensive boots, interrupted her sentence.

"There you are at last my dear," came Nicky's rich, urbane voice. It filled the whole greenhouse, flooding out out the companionable silence. He paused. "And with Geoffrey, no less."

Geoff wondered if he was the only one who heard the vibration of aggrieved malice in Nicky's voice. Slowly, he rose to his feet, half shielding Selene from view as she scrambled to close her portfolio and gather her charcoals back into their case. As she yanked her gloves back on, Geoff gave his half-brother a perfunctory bow. Nicky, resplendent in a white linen, did not nod back. Instead, he ran a dismissive hand through his artfully dressed dark hair, and fixed his eyes on Selene. Behind his massive shoulders, Geoff could just make out a small crowd of his brother's politician and philanthropist friends milling around the meadow.

One of the young men came into the doorway. He was slim, with guileless gray eyes and windblown auburn hair. Geoff recognized him immediately. Lawrence Hart, Selene's brother, had only recently won his appointment to the state assembly.

"Good grief, Selene," Lawrence said around Nicky's torso. "Is this where you've been hiding all day? Madeline was in a state when she rose this morning and couldn't find you."

"Hello Lawrence." In Selene's tone, Geoff heard carefully practiced tranquility. "It's good to see you too. As for Madeline, I left a note."

"Well she didn't find it. Anyway, come along. Nicky drove a buggy to the end of the lane. We would have left for our ride along the property an hour ago, but your affianced insisted on finding you first." The young man glanced around the greenhouse, his eyes lighting on the broken furniture in evident bewilderment. "Honestly, only you would choose to spend your time in a place like this. The Colonel had amusements planned all day, you know. I say, Nicky, I hope you can get used to they way she disappears like a rabbit in hunting season."

Nicky smiled genially at his admirer. "Your sister knows exactly what she's about. By denying us her company, she makes it even more exquisite when we are blessed with her presence." He held out an imperious hand, and flicked a glance at Geoff. "Come my dear. Surely you have spent enough time with the ordinary to appreciate something more elevating."

Selene hesitated and glanced at Geoff. "Are you coming also, Mr. Salser?"

"My brother does not ride for pleasure," Nicky said.

"I can return your basket to the house, if you fear losing it," Geoff said, ignoring Nicky's knowing smile. "Perhaps we shall meet again there later."

"Very well," Selene said to Nicky. Only because Geoff was so close to her did he see the resigned tightening in her shoulders. When she turned back, it was with a smile and the basket outstretched. "I'll leave this with you with this then, Mr. Salser."

"Don't worry," Geoff said softly. "I take care of the things entrusted to me."