Sunday, October 13, 2019

Paranormal Research Part 1: The Haunted Monroe House

The fact of the matter is that there’s a long string of peculiar accidents, hate crimes, tragedies, infidelity and violent domestic abuse associated with the house as far back as the early 1900s. Those events set the stage for the haunting today. And while we don’t have all the facts of the Monroe House and there are sizable gaps in our knowledge of who owned and lived in the residence, a pattern starts to emerge early that is worth evaluating.

The legends around the large, white-sided Victorian house and its extreme haunting are well-known in Blackford County, Indiana. The Monroe House, as the residence at 218 North Monroe Street in Hartford City is called, has been a mystery for decades. Neighbors have reported everything from fires to black smoky figures in the windows to loud arguments and lights coming on in the vacant home for years, but when the police show up no one is there and nothing is wrong. The ghost stories go back at least to the 1930s. When you combine the stories and legends with the historical records, a fascinating—and terrifying—timeline emerges, one that might explain the continued hauntings and escalated activity in the residence.

Psychics have claimed for years that the house is haunted as the result of horrific child abuse—a father who abused his small son and daughter so severely the event has been imprinted on the property, a literal trauma to the very foundations of the house. Investigations have uncovered Class A EVPs of small children screaming, disembodied voices interacting with investigators even through baby monitors, shadow people, the apparitions of two small children, a small blackened apparition in the upstairs windows, unexplained fires, physical attacks, and sever poltergeist activity.

But all of these are claims—allegations. What we have to do is to try to tie the current paranormal claims to the actual history of the house. That way, we can corroborate the evidence with documented fact. That's why paranormal researchers, who may not be the obsessive compulsive provokers that you find on most YouTube channel, are probably the most important members of their paranormal investigation groups. With a well-known haunt like the Monroe House, a lot of teams are content to accept the legend...the cover story of a location as absolute fact. They investigate a location and immediately defer to the legend to validate any evidence they may find.

But that's not investigation. That's intellectual laziness, and if you're part of a group who just accepts what the owner of a site has up on his website, then you're invalidating every single bit of evidence you may capture. You have to research the location honestly, and find the real history for yourself. The Monroe House is a location I investigated extensively, and the story I uncovered has little to no bearing on what the claimed history of the site is.

The house is now a triplex, divided during the tenure of the Berger family, who lived in the home from around 1900 to 1930. The Bergers were Belgian immigrants who began their life in Indiana by working in the Hartford City Glass Company as glass workers. John B. and Mary Berger had five children together, who all worked in the glass company from childhood on. John became an agent for Indianapolis Brewing and a major steamship line. He bought a tavern, invested his money in real estate, joined organizations like the Elks, the Rotary, and the Oddfellows, and became a leading citizen of the town.

In the late 1900s, two families lived in the Monroe Street house. The Bergers occupied the downstairs, but after the death of John in 1905 rented out the upstairs. Through searching newspaper archives, we discovered an article that may directly tie into the claims of the Monroe Street Haunting—and the family that lived upstairs.

On March 20, 1907, the Hartford City Telegram reported the following:
"Ulysses G. Miars, the well known bookkeeper and former paymaster at the Johnston factory, was Friday made the defendant in a divorce suit filed in the circuit court by. Mary Miars, who besides a divorce asks the custody of their three children, $500 alimony and $25 monthly for the support of the children. Mr, and Mrs. Miars were married in September, 1886, and lived together until March 1, 1907, when the plaintiff avers that she was cast upon the street to depend on the charity of strangers. Her allegations in part are: That the defendant has been guilty of cruel and inhuman treatment; that he possesses a violent and uncontrollable temper and at various times became enraged without cause, and on March 11 drove her from their home giving her no clothing other than, that she was wearing; that she was obliged to seek shelter at the home of a neighbor as it was late in the evening and she had no relatives that she could call upon for assistance; that plaintiff is weak, frail and in poor health and unable to perform hard labor although she was compelled to do so and then was not provided with suitable clothing. The family is comprised of three children—Earl, age 20; Edna, age 8, and Ernest, age 4. It is further alleged that the defendant is capable of earning $125 monthly and fully able to maintain the children by paying $25 monthly for their support. The parties named in the complaint have resided on north Monroe street and their troubles of the present week have afforded a great opportunity for the town gossips.”

To report not only a divorce proceeding but allegations of domestic violence and child abuse is extremely rare in newspapers at the time, especially in a small Midwestern town. Ulysses Miars was a well-known businessman whose life fell apart in a matter of weeks. First the public claim of abuse, then the loss of his position, then reconciliation with his wife—only to desert her a few months later for (allegedly) another woman. On December 4, 1907, the following article appeared:
“UG Miars has filed a suit for divorce from his wife, Mrs. Mary Miars, alleging that she had a cruel disposition and frequently chastised their children with a buggy whip.”
By June of 1908, Ulysses Miars wasn’t paying support for his wife and children. He was newly married—already—to a woman who got a divorce at about the same time from her husband. The only reason he was able to pay the settlement of the divorce was because his mother sold her farm. But after that? He didn’t pay his former family a dime. Ulysses Miars and his new wife (they actually married illegally, as in her divorce she was forbidden from marrying for two years) ended up moving to Ohio, where in 1949, he died—in Toledo. The only child listed as a survivor from his first marriage was Edgar, the eldest son.

What’s extremely strange about this is that Mary Miars and all three children are in the 1910 census, now living on Jefferson Street. But none of them—not Mary, not Edna, not Ernest, not Edgar—can be found on any 1920 census.

So where did they go? The child abuse and domestic violence cited in the courts was extreme and severe. Did the Miars children die young? We know there were rumors about the family before the horrific divorce, because in 1903 there was gossip around their then four-year old daughter, Edna. No one had seen the child for a while, and word spread through the neighborhood that she had diphtheria. At the time, that would have required the entire household—this is before the Monroe Street house—to be quarantined. So the Miars inserted a strange notice in the paper that their daughter "has never been bedfast on account of sickness and is now able to be around the house most of the time."
Which if you think about it, is weird. She’s not sick, but she’s able to be around the house “most of the time”?

The Berger family, on the other hand, was socially prominent and well-respected. Their children lived at home as young adults and didn’t cause any trouble. The Berger daughters had large weddings, reported in the Telegram, and the sons went into business and did very well. But in 1905, John B. Berger was diagnosed with tuberculosis.  went to Silver City, New Mexico for treatment at the Sisters’ Hospital there. But upon arrival, his case was declared hopeless and he was dead eight days later. After his funeral, the Bergers rented the upstairs apartment—to the Miars. Although the two families shared the house for a very short period of time, the Bergers began to be plagued by a series of baffling and bizarre occurrences that traumatized the entire family.

To start off with, the Bergers’ barn caught on fire. Sparks from the blaze subsequently set the homes of two neighbors, Emil Loriaux and Joe Aucreman, on fire as well. Then, John Berger’s older brother, Marshall, was stranded outside and his feet were severely frostbitten in 1905. Then a horse stepped on his foot and gangrene set in. Marshall’s leg was amputated above the knee. He recovered, only to die of pneumonia two years after his brother, in 1907.

Later in 1905, John’s son George was the victim of a hate crime, and was shot by anti-Belgian assailants as he walked with friends after a dance. Witnesses reported that the two different groups of men hadn’t interacted at all as they passed each other on the street. George and his friends didn’t apparently know any of their attackers and according to witnesses didn’t say a word to the other group.

So when suddenly the group, led by three men from Kentucky, yelled, “You goddamned frogs won’t be running this town no more!” it was unexpected. The men unleashed a spray of bullets at George and his friends. George was shot in the chest, right above the heart, and was carried home to his mother’s house. Doctors expected him to die and the newspaper reported that he was for a time “pulseless”. But somehow, he rallied and survived the attack.

Interestingly, the three attackers went to a bar after shooting George Berger, where they told the bartender they had “fixed a group of frogs”, and then disappeared from the town entirely. The bar was owned by Frederick Nicaise—who had a tie to the Berger family as well.

The Bergers’ daughter, Mary, had married Belgian immigrant Frederick Nicaise, in 1894. After five children in fairly short order, she died after complications of diabetes and childbirth, along with her newborn son, in 1909. But by the 1910 census, the five children were living with their grandmother in the Monroe Street house. The children grew to adulthood in their grandmother’s home and there is no further mention of their father, alive or dead.

In 1911, the Bergers’ daughter-in-law Caroline, wife of their other son, Elmer, was in a inexplicable carriage accident. On a trip back from the Oddfellows Cemetery when John Berger is buried, she and a friend accepted a ride fro a gentleman passing by in a carriage. On the way home, the back wheel just fell off the carriage for no discernible reason, throwing her into the street where she was badly injured. This is the first bizarre incident involving transportation.

We’ll get to the other one, which happens thirty years later, in part 2 of this article.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Paranormal Parasites Overview--The Fringe Element of the Paranormal World

In the 1920s, the most famous man in the world was arguably Harry Houdini, stage magician and escape artist. While normally this sort of entertainer would have concentrated on making his audiences believe that he possessed some supernatural power, Houdini was different. Not only did he claim the direct opposite, he went a step further. He claimed that no one had arcane abilities of magic or spirit communication, and he put his money where his mouth was.  After his mother died, Houdini tried to contact her through various psychic mediums, but none of them were legitimate. He began to give lectures on fake mediums. In 1924, he wrote and published a book: A Magician Among The Spirits. All year on his 1925 tour, he offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who proved to him that their purported abilities were real. 

No one ever claimed that money.

At the time, the spiritualist movement was huge internationally. Less than a decade after World War I, too many families in Europe, Asia, and the Americas were still dealing with the deaths of their fathers, husbands, and sons. Europe was still in the throes of severe political upheaval, just a few years after the deposition of Tsar Nicholas and his subsequent execution along with his wife and children and only a few years before fascism took hold of a turbulent post-war Germany. If there were people with the ability to contact the dead, their talents and skill had never been more needed. 

And as with so many issues of faith, that terrible fact attracted the worst kinds of snake oil salesmen and exploitative opportunists. Houdini maintained a one-man war against them and was remarkably successful in his pursuit of frauds. After all, who was better situated to know all the tricks of the trade than a man who'd gotten rich from using those tricks to entertain sold-out theaters every night for months? 

Houdini was a magician, yes. But he was also an honest man, who couldn't bear the dishonesty that was coming between people struggling to survive during the Great Depression and their money--money that should have been used to feed and clothe their children instead of rewarding the lies a fake medium concocted. And Harry is perhaps the forefather of the awareness that around any paranormal community, there's a fringe element. I call the inhabitants of that element paranormal parasites, and they're far more common than you think.

As a paranormal researcher, I've encountered these parasites in all sorts of locations and playing all sorts of roles. So for the purposes of this blog mini-series, I'm going to break these down into several groups of paranormal parasites: fakers or false victims; ghost hunters; paranormal clergy; psychics/mediums; demonology; paranormal tourism; haunted objects and paranormal equipment; and paranormal television.

Yeah. I know what you're thinking. "But...but Celina! Are you saying that ALL paranormal stuff is some kind of scam?"

No. What I'm saying is that paranormal parasites can be found at any level of involvement, and skepticism is necessary not only to understand what's happening around you but to protect yourself from something far  more terrifying than cryptids and poltergeists.

Doesn't matter what you believe in, there's nothing scarier than man.

Each identified area will get its own blog post, along with signs of what to look for so that you won't end up becoming the victim of a parasite.

The only way to verify legitimate paranormal activity is to eliminate any other potential explanations. Any long-time investigator (or Sherlock Holmes fan, for that matter) will inherently understand and agree with this. It's a fact. The only way you can conclusively determine if something is paranormal or supernatural is to eliminate every other possibility. In the paranormal world right now there are too many people desperate to prove that what they believe is a universal fact when in actuality, that's the direct opposite approach to what investigators should be doing.

What we should be doing is trying to prove that what we witness, capture, or believe has a logical, non-paranormal provenance. Anything else is just a subjective experience--an allegation or a claim. And I'm not immune to that rule. All over the paranormal section of this blog are stories of events that I've experienced, documented, or researched. But those stories aren't evidence. You can't consider them proof of anything. BUT my subjective experiences. These observations do serve a purpose from an investigatory standpoint. They can be road maps, perhaps, to help investigators find evidence.

For example, I tell the story of my experiences with the Bell Witch Cave and my earliest paranormal research in the post What A Real Night Investigating in Adams Is Like. A significant portion of that post deals with how the rocks in the Bell Witch Cave should *never* be taken home as souvenirs. Heck, I didn't even TAKE a rock; they just showed up in my car. When I took one I missed back to the cave the next day, this is what happened:

The next morning on my way to class, I noticed that we'd forgotten one of the rocks we'd found piled up in the seats. I skipped my afternoon art history class to drive that rock back to Adams and give it back to Mr. Bims. When I got there, he was sitting outside on his lawnmower, and as I got out with the rock he smiled at me. 
Bims Edens was one of those slow-speaking, polite Southern gentlemen. He was so very kind, but he also had a devilish gleam in his eyes sometimes when he smiled. As I told him what had happened, his eyes got that little twinkle in them and he smiled slowly. "I knew something happened," he said. "You've never left before without telling us goodbye and thank you." 
"The rocks were what freaked me out," I confessed. "That's why I thought I'd better make sure to bring this straight back.""Last night the dead men's lanterns were glowing in the woods," he said, looking in the direction of the Bells' old graveyard. "Things was restless last night. Probably one of those stupid kids on the hayride got things riled up. But she gave you a warning, Celina. Better be careful, girl--she let you know that she knows who you are." 
Mr. Bims took the rock, said goodbye, and headed toward the trail. I knew he was going to put the rock back in the cave--like he always put those rocks that came back in the mail from all over. I should have taken it myself and spared the old man the trip, but I knew he wouldn't let me. He believed Kate had given me a warning, and so he'd given me one too.
That's a pretty scary story but one that's ultimately just a subjective experience. There's no proof that the rocks from the Bell Witch Cave are cursed, right? The post was written in October, 2015 about events that happened in October, 1990. But two days ago, on October 6, 2019, the Fourman brothers released a new investigation on their paranormal channel called Paranormal Nightmares: The Haunting of Jackie Bell. And a significant element of that story has to do with the severe haunting of a family after they visited the Bell Witch Cave and brought back rocks as souvenirs.

Here again--this isn't evidence the proves those rocks are cursed. There isn't any scientific method that will verify the existence of a curse. But these two stories corroborate each other. Two events that occurred decades apart to people with no known connection or association but that have similar results. And what makes all this even more interesting is that the Fourman brothers take an EVP meter to one of the rocks from the Bell Witch Cave at the clients' house, and document extremely high EVP readings.

And that is proof--not of the paranormal, necessarily, but of something unusual and different about that rock that marks it as unusual. Paired with both my story and Katharine Bell's story, the meter readings do seem to indicate that there's some kind of evidential trail that stretches from the Bell Witch Cave to subsequent paranormal activity. So there may be some way to learn more about the Bell Witch haunting as a result, and that's why I hope to investigate the cave again soon. Now that there's a concrete link, I can hopefully build off my subjective experience and look for additional evidence that can lead to proof of paranormal activity on the old Bell family land.

There's a trail to follow. Sure, it'd be really easy for me (if I was a paranormal parasite) to sit here and say, "See? That's PROOF." But it's not enough to establish the legitimacy of the paranormal on its own. What is DOES do is give me a direction as an investigator, and that I can pursue.

So I will.

Oh and by the way, if you've never watched any of the Fourman Brothers' investigations, you've been missing out on what is one of the best paranormal research groups out there. Go check out this video, and I'm almost positive you'll be hooked. Seem to be great guys, strong investigators, and outstanding storytellers.  Check out their YouTube channel or the first season of their new Paranormal Nightmares show on Amazon Prime.

So settle down, buckle in, and get ready. We're about to take a cold, hard look at the world of paranormal parasites. Hopefully, this will help any of you who are dealing with any sort of paranormal issues to make your own determinations about things impacting you and your life.

First up, probably the most controversial of the paranormal parasite topics: the clergy. 

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Theater of Power--A Harlequinade Prequel: Check Out The Excerpt Right Here

Before you learn the ending of an epic story, you need to hear its beginning. In Theater of Power, the prequel to the bestselling Harlequinade series you finally get the real story...the real history of the Chevigny, the Montesquieu, the Duc d'Orleans, and the Harlequin~!

Odette de Chevigny hadn't expected to interrupt a confrontation between her stand-offish neighbor, Charles, Marquis de Montesquieu, and a mysterious character who calls himself the Harlequin when she went to her father's grave one cold autumn night, but for some reason, she's immediately intrigued. After her debut at Versailles a few weeks later, she finally figures out why.


The court of Louis XV is accustomed to both social and political power being brokered in those endless corridors and stunning salons. The Marquis's longtime enemy, the Duc d'Orleans, is secretly wielding magical power in his quest for the French throne. When she is betrothed to the Marquis, Odette is drawn into their battle...but she's also drawn further into the Harlequin's sphere of influence.

Can Charles and Odette find a way to stop the Duc and protect the King? Or will the Duc prevail, thanks to the mysterious Harlequin? And what is the Harlequin's true goal? When the Marquise de Pompadour said, "After us, the deluge." she couldn't have known she'd just uttered a prophecy. In the theater of power, anything is possible...even changing the course of Time itself.

Grab your copy today on Amazon~ But first, check out the beginning of the story right here! And get ready for the explosive end of the Harlequinade series. After all: 

The theatre, when all is said and done, is not life in miniature, but life enormously magnified, lifehideously exaggerated. --H. L. Mencken

Theater of Power
A Harlequinade Prequel


Montesquieu, near Meaux, France—October, 1756

The wind swirled down from the hilltop in the center of the cemetery, stirring the grasses that grew high on the forgotten graves of long-dead people. Farmers, servants, tradesmen, and soldiers all lay beneath those tangled weeds, sleeping in an endless night. While their tombstones crumbled, their bones moldered and lichen obscured the few pitiful dates that were the final proof those lost souls had ever existed. Only the more-recently dead had well-tended graves, with the grass trimmed closely and flowers heaped against pristine white stones.

I had a pair of scissors in the deep pocket of my cloak. I was here to attend to my father’s grave, alone in the middle of the night. I couldn’t bear to be accompanied or to be found sitting by his tomb during the still-warm autumnal sunlight, so I frequently came well after dark. I only felt close to him here, where he slept beneath the same sheltering angel as my mother.  I could sit beside him, and confide my hopes and fears as I always had, without worrying that some passing traveler would think me mad.

I stood alone over his silent earthen bed until another whirr of wind raised gooseflesh on the back of my neck. I slipped into the shadow of the grieving angel, letting the darkness of her wings conceal me as I glanced uneasily at the ornate mausoleum atop the hill.

My face warmed as fear flashed through my veins, and my nerves began to sing uncomfortably against my skin.

Something was wrong here…threatening.

Usually, my father’s grave was a place of refuge, of safety against a world that too often seemed to crowd ugliness into my life. Usually when I entered the graveyard, my father’s love surrounded me like a cloak, protecting me from all the other emotions a cemetery contained. I had been coming now for over a year—at least once a week since my father’s death. I hadn’t met anyone in the graveyard at midnight, which was why I liked it—and I had never felt anything here other than peace.

Until now.

Aside from the brisk wind that carried the first scent of snow on its fingers, the graveyard was silent and still. The path that stretched in front of my parents’ graves continued up the sole hill in the cemetery, until it reached a veritable palace for the dead perched on its summit. A strained glow of light illuminated the pale columns and pediments of the huge mausoleum—the final resting place of the powerful Montesquieu family—as the moon peeked from behind the scudding clouds overhead. The polished marble gleamed silver as the moonlight strengthened, casting deep shadows beneath the tomb’s wall but illuminating the small plateau before the scrolled iron doors. That glow grew, subtly, and a figure slipped from the inky shadows to stand before the doors.

Surely I wasn’t seeing what I thought I was seeing. A mime stood in front of the mausoleum door, apparently regarding the engraved names there with his head cocked to one side.

No, not a mime. A harlequin.

The red, green, and blue triangular patches of his costume had reminded me of the character’s name. A harlequin was usually funny. I’d loved harlequins as a child in Paris, for their capers were as colorful as their costumes.

But this harlequin was different. As I stared up at him from where I was tucked into the protective curve of the angel’s wing, he turned as if he saw me watching. He wore a half-mask of black, revealing a strong jaw and a sensual mouth. Fear traced a white-hot prickle down the back of my neck.

No, this was not a harlequin. This was the Harlequin. For this fiend, the word Harlequin was a title, not a name. All at once I remembered that despite all his handsprings and jauntiness, the Harlequin was always the character that escorted wrongdoers to hell. His antics were just a disguise for his sinister nature.

“What a little beauty.”

The words were purred suggestively right behind me, the speaker’s breath stirring the tiny hairs on my nape. I spun around to find the Harlequin standing just a foot away. He pirouetted and when he faced me again, his lips were quirked into a triumphant half-smile.

“Welcome to the garden of death, sweet mortal. Welcome to the arena where the Harlequin reigns supreme and humanity stands trial. Welcome to the theater of power.” With a stylized flourish of his hands that I could recognize from any two-sou pantomime in Paris, he bowed, making the obeisance at once a mockery and a threat. When he straightened, his eyes narrowed behind his mask.

Involuntarily, I took a step back from his piercing glare, and the tips of the feathers on the angel’s carved wings dug cruelly into the base of my spine.

“Leave the girl alone.”

The low-growled words came from just behind me and I jumped. For a second time, I turned sharply to find a man in this…garden of death, as the Harlequin had called it. His face was obscured by the shadows cast by the hovering angel.

The newcomer’s voice was both tense and disgusted. “She is too young to play your vicious games. Satisfy your malice by contending with me, not her.”

“You are very concerned for this girl’s safety. What of your brother? Would you be willing to wager your care of him to keep this pretty young morsel protected from my…interest?” The Harlequin cocked his head to the side in an exaggerated gesture of inquiry. “Would you forfeit his soul in exchange for this girl’s safety?”

“Your enmity is for me. Are you too much of a coward to face a grown man and so must slake your thirst for cruelty upon a child?”

Before I could protest that I wasn’t a child, my unknown defender stepped between me and the Harlequin, so that I was pinned in place by the weeping angel on one side and protected by his broad, cloaked back on the other. I peeked around his arm to stare as the Harlequin abandoned his languid pose.

“Take care, mortal. Take great care in how you speak to me.”

“Advice you should probably follow yourself,” the man retorted pointedly, resting his hand upon the hilt of his sword. His other arm he extended, shielding me from the fiend confronting us, and said over his shoulder, “You can go now, mademoiselle. Do not stay in the cemetery. Do not tarry; just run as fast as you can and get away home.”

“Will you flee, Odette?” the Harlequin murmured, his eyes glinting through his mask. “Beautiful Odette, young Odette de Chevigny—will you run from this garden of death to your virginal bed in your grandfather’s chateau? Fly now, sweet Odette—”

“How did you—oh! I don’t care how you know my name!” I sputtered at last, freed from the convulsive fear that had kept me silent so far. “I am here to tend my father’s grave and you are keeping me from doing that, both of you. Now get out of my way and leave me alone.”

The Harlequin danced around my protector, his eyes gleaming as his lips stretched into a nasty smile.
“Odette! What a lovely name. Will you not run as your guard bids you?”

“Run? Why should I run?”

The fiend watched me curiously from behind his mask and the man turned to regard me. As the moonlight struck the high-boned features of his face, I recognized him instantly. My defender was Charles, the young Marquis de Montesquieu, the hero of the Battle of Minorca, home after being wounded as he led our troops in the capture of Port Mahon from the British. Especially favored by our King, Louis XV, the Marquis was my grandfather’s nearest neighbor, a decorated officer, and a practiced courtier. He took my elbow in a strong hand and pulled me down the hillside path.

“You need to go home, child. Run! This thing is not what he seems.”

“I am not a child,” I protested even as his fingers tightened warningly on my arm. “Besides, I can’t leave you here alone—with that. Who is this man dressed up like a pantomime performer? And why—”

“Yes, why don’t you tell the child who I am?” the Harlequin asked mockingly. “Not such a child is she, Monsieur le Marquis—not when she’s nineteen and ripe for a man’s hand, this daughter of Reynard, Vicomte de Chevigny?” He ran a hand lovingly along the letters of my father’s name on the tombstone as he pronounced each word, and my blood chilled within my veins.

The Marquis looked down into my face for the first time, and his eyes were shadowed. “Go home, mademoiselle. I will call upon you tomorrow and explain what I can, but you must leave. I cannot protect us both.”

I regarded him thoughtfully. Charles de Montesquieu was supposed to be a stern, almost forbidding man. Almost everyone who lived in the county or associated with him was afraid of angering him. But his laborers loved him, for he was fair and protective of those who depended upon him, and my grandfather, who’d been a close friend and political ally of his father, respected him greatly—something I could say about few men. Even now, his expression was carefully neutral, but I could see the tiniest hints of strain pulling the muscles of his hard-planed face tight with repressed emotion.

“Very well, I shall expect you tomorrow,” I said at last.

“How easily you fall into the trap so blatantly set,” the Harlequin crooned. “Yes, Monsieur le Marquis, go along to see young Odette tomorrow, and explain to her what the Harlequin means. For now she, too, is playing my game, and it would be well for her to understand the stakes—”

“Go now,” the Marquis urged, ignoring the capering villain behind him as he lifted my hand formally to his lips. As soon as he released me, I went around the angel lamenting over my parents’ graves and returned to the path that would lead me to the home of my grandfather and safety. A burst of maniacal laughter rose behind me as I lifted my skirts and ran.

That was the beginning—of everything. At that moment, I had no idea how much that chance meeting in the graveyard would loom over my life.