Excerpt: The Seer’s Choice

sccarouselChapter 1

Monday, 13 April 1903, The Golden City

Captain Rafael Pinheiro regarded the young woman sitting across from him, her hands clenched in her lap and her straight brows drawn together. She wore the uniform of the Special Police, although a version adapted for one of the body’s three female members: blue skirt, white shirtwaist, and dark blue jacket with brass buttons. Her cap rested on her lap.

“I came to ask for your help, Captain,” she said in her soft, cultured voice. “I’ve been having trouble with one of the officers.”

Suddenly her request to meet with him made sense. Miss Jardim was young and lovely, and his officers still weren’t accustomed to having women working in their midst. The other two women in this unit were married, and that gave them some immunity from the problem that Rafael suspected plagued her. “Medeiros?”

Her eyes lowered for a moment, and then lifted. “I’ve been quite frank in my refusal of his advances, sir, but he doesn’t seem to believe me. He pretends that I’m merely being…coy.”

Medeiros was one of his younger officers, a good man if a little vain about his handsome face. And although Medeiros worked for the police now, he had hopes of inheriting his bachelor uncle’s fortune one day and therefore thought himself an excellent prospect for any woman hunting a husband. Since Miss Jardim came from a higher level of society than most of the members in the unit, Medeiros saw himself as the only choice of husband for her.

Rafael had already been considering a conversation with the officer. He’d noted that Medeiros touched Miss Jardim every time he had the chance. Mostly innocent-looking actions like brushing against her in the hallway or holding her elbow when he opened a door for her, but Miss Jardim cringed when he did so. Perhaps she wasn’t accustomed to the familiarity; after all, she’d had a sheltered upbringing.

Ironically, Medeiros was a Truthsayer. The men who made up their division of the Special Police were all either witches or had special knowledge of witches. Medeiros should be able to recognize that Miss Jardim meant her refusal. Unfortunately, his gift was not a powerful one, and it needed skill to interpret that gift, making it easy for Medeiros to mentally discard his gift’s verdict if it didn’t serve his desires. “I’ll talk with him,” Rafael promised.

Miss Jardim swallowed, betraying nervousness. “Will he know I made a complaint?”

Medeiros wasn’t a stupid man. He would surely guess where the complaint had originated, and Rafael couldn’t lie to the man about it. Unless I can frame the discussion some other way. “I will be as discreet as I can, Miss Jardim, but I cannot promise he won’t make certain conclusions.”

The young woman set her blue cap atop her hair, looking very professional. “That’s all I can ask, Captain. You’ve been more than fair.”

With that statement, she rose and left his office. Rafael stared after her for a moment, then closed his eyes. The faint scent of vanilla lingered in her wake.

This was the first time he’d spoken to her in months other than a simple greeting exchanged while passing in the hallways or courtyard of the police station. That didn’t mean he hadn’t kept an eye on her. A little over six months ago she’d walked out of her family’s home to escape an ultimatum leveled by her father. Or rather, the man society believed to be her father. He’d offered her a choice between marriage to an old crony of his or the convent. She’d chosen a third path, and since that time had managed to survive mostly on her own.

Rafael admired her determination. It had taken courage to make the choice she had. And it had taken courage for her to ask him to talk to one of his men. He sat back in his chair, stretched out his legs, and pondered a way to handle this that wouldn’t cause trouble for her.

Half an hour later, he thought he had an answer. It was a lovely evening, the sun shining despite the hints of clouds moving in from the direction of the sea. Rafael went out, hunting for establishments near Boavista Avenue where police officers were known to stop for a drink on their way home. He was visiting his second café when he spotted Medeiros grabbing a vinho verde at the counter. He edged through the crowd and gestured for the waiter to serve him a glass as well. Medeiros had the brains not to sidle away. It saved Rafael from chasing him. Once he’d left his payment on the bar, he gestured for Medeiros to accompany him outside so they could speak in semi-privacy.

“Did Miss Jardim say something about me?” Medeiros asked right away.

So Medeiros knows she has grounds for complaint. “Miss Jardim? She did come to my office today, but she came to talk to me.”

“What does that mean?”

Rafael took a sip of his wine. “I’m trying to phrase this delicately, and without betraying any confidence. If someone needed several days off at once, say following a wedding, they would have to come to me to advise me in advance.”

All of that was strictly true.

Medeiros blinked quickly. “A wedding? Is she getting married?”

“I’m speaking hypothetically, Medeiros.” That should fool the man’s Truthsayer’s gift. Hypothetical statements were always hard for them to parse. “However, I’ve noted that you seem interested in her. You should know your interest won’t be reciprocated. I hoped to save you finding out in a more awkward manner. Remember, Miss Jardim is a healer and can harm others if provoked.”

They knew that all too well. Six months before, Miss Jardim’s father had killed several officers of the Special Police with no more than a touch, and she’d inherited her father’s gift. It didn’t hurt to remind Medeiros of that.

Medeiros set his glass down on a nearby table and scowled. “And who is this man she’s marrying. Is it Forsythe?” he asked, naming the only Englishman in their unit.

Rafael shook his head. “Officer Medeiros, I don’t have leave to discuss her affairs with you. Although if someone has money bet on Forsythe, they would likely lose it.”

Medeiros nodded slowly. There was almost always side-betting on this sort of thing. If there was, Rafael suspected Medeiros would be the current leader in the betting. “You’re a seer, sir. Why haven’t you bet on it?”

Rafael smiled. He never bet on anything, even if he knew who would win. That would be using his gift for personal gain, and went against principles ground into him by the Brothers of Mercy as a child. “I’m not a betting man, Medeiros. I just wanted to warn you before Miss Jardim becomes vexed and does something nasty to you. Remember, her touch can be dangerous.”

He drank down the last of his wine and left Medeiros there, sulking. The man would get over his imaginary loss quickly enough. Rafael had no doubt of that.