The Ruby TearSuzy McKee Charnas
The Ruby Tear
by Suzy McKee Charnas
writing as Rebecca Brand
The Ruby Tear
by Suzy McKee Charnas
writing as Rebecca Brand
Recovered from a devastating car wreck, Jessamyn Croft finds her professional comeback blocked by Nic Griffin, who has broken off their engagement. Now he even tries to deny her a part in his new play, "The Jewel". She wins the part anyway, pinning her comeback hopes on a stage success. But as she struggles to regain her confidence and revive her stage skills, other “accidents” haunt the theater, threatening the production's survival. A European gem dealer, Ivo Craggen, attaches himself to the project as a consultant, but Jessamyn seems to be his real interest. She finds herself unwittingly entangled in an ages-old feud between the Griffin family and this mysterious and magnetic foreigner, a battle focused on a gem called the Ruby Tear. Is she a just a pawn in Craggen's scheme for revenge and the recovery of a lost family treasure, or is she something more? And can Nic escape the curse that afflicts every generation of Griffin men?
THE RUBY TEAR
Copyright © 1997-2013 by Suzy McKee Charnas. All rights reserved.
Original Publication: Forge, 1997.
Ebook edition of The Vampire Tapestry copyright © 2013 by ElectricStory.com, Inc.
ePub ISBN: 978-1-59729-104-0
Kindle ISBN: 978-1-59729-105-7
ElectricStory.com and the ES design are registered trademarks of ElectricStory.com, Inc.
This novella is a work of fiction. All characters, events, organizations, and locales are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously to convey a sense of realism.
Cover art by and copyright © 2013 Pati Nagle. Graphic design by Michaela Eaves.
Original Ebook conversion by ElectricStory.com, Inc.
For the full ElectricStory catalog, visit www.electricstory.com.
Baen Ebooks electronic version by Baen Books
This ebook is protected by U.S. and International copyright laws, which provide severe civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized duplication of copyrighted material. Please do not make illegal copies of this book. If you obtained this book without purchasing it from an authorized retailer, please go and purchase it from a legitimate source now and delete this copy. Know that if you obtained this book from a fileshare, it was copied illegally, and if you purchased it from an online auction site, you bought it from a crook who cheated you, the author, and the publisher.
A young man in a woolen coat of a European cut slipped inside the stately doors of St. Patrick’s. Stepping quietly into the shadows of a side chapel, he surveyed the rows of benches and the few, huddled worshipers seated here and there. Some, he knew, were homeless men and women who had come inside for refuge from the cold. But some, he could see—heads bowed, clasped hands to their faces—were here to pray.
He had hoped for a soothing touch of familiarity, but the great space of the cathedral was filled with these rows of dark, wooden pews, instead of an open floor where worshippers could stand bowed in prayer for as long as they wished, and come and go without disturbing others. No chanter sang the liturgy, and no unseen choir filled the holy space with sonorities as deep as thunder. The images on the walls looked cheap and foolish to him, with none of the sternly glowing authority of jewel-toned icons he had grown up with.
Not, he reflected wryly, that he had any right to criticize or even to be disappointed. No Church of the faith of his youth would knowingly take him in these days. No church of the heretics of the slavic east, either, or mosque of the Ottomans.
The allegiance he had sworn was to something much older and more cruel than anything to be reached through a place like this. For him, the personal fervor that he remembered was less than a ghost now, less than a trace of incense or a whisper of prayer.
He had stood in churches built on still older sacred sites on which the Christians’ houses of worship stood like gravestones set there to hold down more ancient, darker spirits. He had listened to the voices of tourists growing hushed in such buildings, but for him nothing lived there; nothing resonated any more.
Still, he supposed that a few of the people sitting in this cathedral held in their hearts some color of the relentless flame of devotion that had burned in his kinsmen of that older day. He didn’t feel quite so alien amid these worshipers as he did among most modern people.
Which didn’t mean he couldn’t find his prey here today.
The mission that had brought him so far for so long was merciless by its nature. He’d learned to be merciless, himself, to pursue it as he had sworn to do.
He was close now, at long last. He felt no great urgency any more, and allowed himself no thoughts of what would happen after—when the last revenge was taken, and the treasure of his line finally reclaimed.
He drifted down the side aisle of the cathedral, pausing to study the paintings and statues and the rows of flickering white candles, while he listened for the rhythm of a strong, clean heart.
“I don’t believe it,” Jessamyn said. Her voice rose, threatening to break out of her control. “Walter, what are you telling me? I don’t believe it!”
Walter Steinhart, looking not just rumpled (as always) and harried (likewise) but deeply uncomfortable, held up both hands in a placating gesture.
“Jess, you’ve got to realize that if things don’t work out—”
“If you give the part to Anita MacNeil, you mean,” Jess said bitterly. “Even though I’m twice as good, and you know I’m twice as good, and—and I need this job, Walter. You know I do, and you know why.”
Never, never in her life in theater had she stooped to begging. She bit her lips to prevent the escape of any more self-demeaning words.
Walter Steinhart sat folded into the chair behind his paper-strewn desk, his scarred leather flight jacket gapping open over his belly. A balding, stocky man with some resemblance to a slightly mangy gorilla, he rubbed his palm repeatedly over his balding scalp as if trying to coax some new and better ideas out of the brain below.
She automatically noted his clothes, his mannerisms, everything about him that expressed his discomfort. It was her job to notice such things so that she could use them onstage to express the same interior conditions in a character.
It was her job now, again, after more than two years of recovery from the accident (my god, was it really that long?)—or it would be, if she could just get to do her work!
“Believe me, I know how you feel,” Walter said. “Anita is definitely a second choice for Eva. She might grow into the part, but she’ll never bring to it what you’d bring. Because of the accident, your fight to get it all back—I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say that.”
Walter lived on words, as a director, but sometimes words failed him. This could be an endearing quality, and he knew it and wasn’t above using it in a tight spot. But Jess was not susceptible to endearing qualities today.
Her anger must have shown in her face; he hurried on earnestly, forestalling an outburst from her.
“It shows, Jess—in a good way. The trauma, the despair, the resolution to rebuild your life—that all makes you better for this part.”
Rebellion prompted Jess to make some snide reply to the effect that then maybe all actors should get bashed up in car wrecks as part of their training. But this was not something to say to Walter Steinhart, not even when she was steaming with frustration.
He was one of the best directors in New York. If anyone could help her over the last long hill of her recovery and back into her career, he was that person. The things he said to actors were meant to
strengthen them and improve their work, and his instincts were of legendary brilliance.
So she folded her arms across her chest and paced the narrow room in angry silence.
“If it were solely up to me,” he added, “there’d be no contest between you and Anita. You know that. And things may still work out in your favor.”
“How?” she demanded. “If Nick says he doesn’t want me—” Her voice broke. “Walter, I can’t believe he’s doing this to me. Honest to flipping God, am I crazy, or what? He owes me this part! He was driving the damned car!”
She stopped at the grimy window and leaned her forehead against the cold glass. In the alley below, a couple of prop-shop workers hustled in through the stage door, post lunch break. On it went, come sun or storm: normal theater life, the life that she was dying to get back to.
“I can’t believe I said that,” she muttered.
“Well, why not?” Walter sighed. “It’s true.”
“Okay, then!” She turned, glaring at him. “Nick was going to marry me. That can’t be news to you; I’m sure everybody knew our little secret. So what’s happening now?”
“Everything’s different, Jess. Like it or not, the accident changed things. For whatever reason, he doesn’t want you in his play.”
“In the play?” she cried. “My God, not even as—as what’s her name, the old woman—not playing any part at all? Jesus, Walter, what has he got against me? He’s been avoiding me ever since the crash, because I’m not good enough to be in his play?”
“That’s not what he said,” Steinhart corrected gently. “He just doesn’t want you involved. I’ve told him you’re the best Eva we’ve seen. Maybe—maybe it’s concern that people might think he was trying to make it up to you by giving you the starring part in this show. You know, the part as—as—a kind of reparation.”
She thought about it. “I did just kind of say that myself, didn’t I,” she said flatly. “Shit.”
Walter responded gamely. “Yeah. Out of guilt, not because you’re great at your work.”
“Did he say that?”
“I get the feeling he’s trying to protect you.”
“I don’t know, it’s just a feeling,” Walter said uncomfortably. “I knew Nick when he was a playboy type at school. I knew him when he got serious and set out to accomplish something. But I barely know him now. He’s all closed down since the accident. I don’t think it’s any use trying to understand his present behavior according to what he used to be, let alone judge it.”
“I don’t,” Jess said. “Anybody would know he’s grown tremendously, just by reading the new script. It’s a much better play than the old version, maybe a great play. But he refuses to let me in on it. Just like that, go away and drop dead! It’s horrible.”
“It’s not settled yet,” he reminded her. “I’ve been talking to the theater Board and to a couple of the big contributors. The playwright doesn’t get the last word on casting. I want you as Eva, and I’m doing my best to get you.”
Simmer down, she thought; simmer down. That was what it felt like, too: jamming the lid down on a pot that was boiling over. Walter’s on your side, he wants to help. Don’t kick him in the chops because you’re furious with Nick. Helplessly furious, without a chance in hell of fixing the situation, since nobody seems to know what the goddamned situation actually is.
Better to bow as graciously as possible to the inevitable. But I will never forgive Nick for this.
“If that’s how things are, maybe you should just leave it alone. How can I take the role against Nick’s will? The show could suffer because of it.”
Walter fished out his pipe and began packing it with sweet smelling tobacco. “Don’t go all noble and silly on me, Jess. Wait for the final word to come in.”
“I’ve been waiting,” she said. She sat down on the broad sill of the window, clasping her hands to keep from waving them around in wild gestures. “I waited to get out of the damned hospital, I waited through a ton of physical therapy, I waited for my eye socket to heal so I don’t look like the bride of Frankenstein, and I waited to get my nerve back, which was the hardest part of all. I’m through waiting. I’m ready, Walter. I’m ready now.”
“I know you are. You look great,” he said, glancing up from his pipe with an appreciative glint in his eyes. She could have kissed him for that slightly lecherous look. “The doctors did a wonderful job. You did a wonderful job.”
“Don’t say I look better than before or I’ll throw something.”
He grunted and concentrated on sucking flame down into the packed bowl of the pipe.
“There’s nothing else still casting in New York and you know it,” Jess added. “Too bad for me, I guess. Maybe I should walk away from the whole situation, before everything I’ve been working for unravels.”
Walter sat back emitting a stream of aromatic smoke from his nostrils. “I’ll do what I can and we’ll see where we come out, okay? But if you turn your back on us now, all my efforts go down the drain.”
She grabbed her coat off the back of a scarred oak armchair from some long dead high school office. Ah, the glamour of the theater!
“Low blow, Walter.”
“I hit wherever I can,” the director said with a grin, “when winning is important.” He pointed at her with the stem of the pipe. “Go home, cool down, and don’t toss the script, all right? Work on those lines. You may be needing them.”
On the way out she stopped in the rest room to splash cold water on her face. In the mirror her face was pale, her eyelids puffy, and her short dark hair clung in sweaty curls to her forehead and the sides of her cheeks. The only visible scar left from the accident slanted through her right eyebrow, giving her a faintly quizzical expression. The silver streak in her hair seemed deliberate, an affected gesture, look at me, how I’ve suffered.
Maybe she should have it dyed to match the rest.
To the world she was the lucky one, thrown clear of the wreck while Nick, trapped inside, was left partially crippled. She’d come out of the crash with her looks changed, marked with a distinctive shadowing of melancholy that some seemed to find attractive (as she’d happily discovered). She found this a little creepy, but if it worked to get her the part of Eva in the play, so be it.
Or not. Damn Nick!
She pulled on her outdoor boots, stowed her shoes in her tote bag, and went downstairs with her coat over her arm, too tired and depressed to think. Anita MacNeil was in the second stairwell, talking intensely to one of the contenders for leading man; too young, too bad.
He had a classic profile; promising.
“—with lots of projection,” she was saying. “Marko has to give out a sense of authority and stability so that when he breaks down in Act Two it means something.”
“Hello, Anita,” Jess said as she approached.
“Hey,” Anita said. She gave Jess a quick up-and-down study, and offered a rueful smile. “Damn; you’re looking great! I hope I have a chance in there.”
Jess smiled back, hoping the effort didn’t show. “There’s always a chance.”
It was a cold afternoon, another freezing day in a freezing winter of blustery gray days and paralyzing snow storms. She wrapped her scarf around her head, tugged on her fur-lined gloves, and walked uptown, shoulders hunched against the wind.
Her thoughts kept veering back to Nick. On a day like this four years ago, with just this damp edge to the wind (and she had been wearing these same gloves then, too), the two of them had taken the Staten Island Ferry, just for the hell of it.
She’d leaned at the rail, drinking in the wind fast because if she paused to think about it, the air would be too painfully cold to breathe. Behind her, Nick pressed close and enfolded her in his arms, heating her like a furnace. He whispered into her hair and hugged her tighter when she burst into helpless groans and giggles at the things he was saying. He had specialized in collecting and memorizing really terrible lines from failed
When she laughed, he’d kissed her till she melted, and she’d barely felt the headwind off the Hudson razoring the exposed skin of her neck and cheek.
In her apartment that night with the playful silliness and half-drunken hysteria of a whole day together, they’d leaned into a ferocious embrace with the apartment door still open. She had managed to kick it shut behind her before out and out indecency took over.
They had curled together in the tumbled bed all night, drowsing but too happy to give in to mere sleep. They’d kept each other awake whispering tag lines about love from Shakespeare. She remembered lying against his back in the morning with her face pressed to the flat of his shoulder blade, and inhaling the heady scent of his skin, hoping he wouldn’t wake and start real time moving again.
Jess veered out of the pedestrian stream and stood at the showcase window of a boutique. She leaned against the cold granite wall and breathed gulps of knifelike air, while her eyes prickled with tears.
It was a foregone conclusion by then, and they both knew it: they would be together for good.
Now he refused her everything: his vitality, his shameless sensuality, his playful company, and even a part in his play!
She wouldn’t let him do this to her.
Inside the store a salesgirl was refolding a sweater and furtively watching her through the window, probably considering a call for an ambulance for the lady collapsed or run mad outside on the sidewalk.
Jess pushed away from the wall and turned her course toward Grand Central Station. She hadn’t been to Nick’s family home outside Rhinebeck since the accident.
It was time she went.