The Musketeer's Seamstress

The Impossibility of Murder; Where Aramis Questions His Sanity; A Naked Fugitive

THE Chevalier Rene D’Herblay—better known for some time now as the musketeer Aramis—was sure that no one could have murdered his mistress.

A tall, slim man whose long blond hair and normally elaborate attire made people underestimate the very solid muscles now on display, Aramis stood naked in the doorway of her room. His numb hands gripped the wooden frame for support, because his knees had gone unaccountably lax. He looked out, unbelieving, at the huge bed that took up a quarter of the bedroom.

The bed was high and heavy and massive—a solid construction of Spanish oak that had probably come in Violette’s dowry when she’d married a French duke. Upon the oak, soft draperies had been heaped, to make the bed suitable for someone of Violette’s soft skin and softer habits— there was lace and velvet and a profusion of pillows of all shapes and sizes.

Aramis knew that bed better than he knew his own. He had been Violette’s lover for two years and he’d spent considerably more time in her bed than his. At least time awake.

He grasped the doorway hard, for support, and blinked dumbly at the bed. Because on the bed, Violette lay. Violette who, only minutes ago had been lively, full of fire, eager for his embraces and inventive with her own.

Now she lay . . . He felt sweat start at his hairline, a cold sweat of fear and disbelief. And blinking didn’t seem to change the scene his eyes showed him.

Because Violette could not be dead. And yet she lay on the bed, motionless, her normally pink body gone the color of cheap candle tallow, her mouth open and her eyes staring fixedly at the canopy of pink satin over her.

Between her perfect, rounded breasts that his hands and lips knew as well as his eyes did, an intrusion—an ivory handle—protruded. And around her breasts, there was blood, dripping into the lace and pillows, the satin and frills.

Aramis swallowed hard, fighting back nausea and a primal scream of grief that wanted to tear through his lips.

His mind, still in control, feverishly went over and over the reasons why this was impossible.

First, he’d left her alive when he’d gone into the small room next to her room where—out of modesty or high breeding—she kept the chaise percée used for calls of nature. Second, he’d taken no more than a moment there. He was sure of it. And he’d heard no doors close or open anywhere. Third, the door to the room was locked—had been locked when they first lay down together. He’d turned the large key himself, heard it click home. Fourth, they were three floors up in the royal palace, with sentinels and guards all around and thick walls encircling the whole structure. And there was only one small window in the room—too small to admit anyone—and a door to a narrow balcony well away from other walls and trees. The balcony was large enough, only, for two people to stand close together. The bed was too low to the floor to conceal anyone beneath it.

No one could have come into the room. And Violette was not the sort to commit suicide. Or to commit it with a knife to the heart. No woman was. This Aramis—who knew many women—knew. They were more inclined to the poison that would pluck them from life while they slept. Not that he’d ever had any of his mistresses die this way. But he’d heard about it. He’d . . . read.

He struggled to stand on his own,