Home > Caraval (Caraval #1)(3)

Caraval (Caraval #1)(3)
Author: Stephanie Garber

A beautiful, ridiculous fantasy.

And it was best to keep it that way. Wishes were about as real as unicorns. When she was younger Scarlett had believed her nana’s stories about Caraval’s magic, but as she’d grown, she’d left those fairy tales behind. She’d never seen any proof that magic existed. Now it seemed far more likely that her nana’s tales were the exaggerations of an old woman.

A part of Scarlett still desperately wanted to experience the splendor of Caraval, but she knew better than to believe its magic would change her life. The only person capable of giving Scarlett or her sister a brand-new life was Scarlett’s fiancé, the count.

Now that they were no longer held up to the lamplight, the script on the tickets had vanished and they looked almost ordinary again. “Tella, we can’t. It’s too risky; if we try to leave the isle—” Scarlett broke off as the stairs to the barrel room creaked. The heavy tread of boots followed. At least three sets.

Scarlett shot a panicked look at her sister.

Tella cursed and quickly made a motion for Julian to hide.

“Don’t disappear on my account.” Governor Dragna finished his descent, the sharp odor of his heavily perfumed suit spoiling the pungent scents of the barrel room.

Quickly, Scarlett shoved the letters into her dress pocket.

Behind her father, three guards followed his every step.

“I don’t believe we’ve met.” Ignoring his daughters, Governor Dragna reached a gloved hand toward Julian. He wore his plum-colored gloves, the shade of dark bruises and power.

But at least he still had the gloves on. The picture of civility, Governor Dragna liked to dress impeccably, in a tailored black frock coat and striped purple waistcoat. He was in his mid-forties but he’d not let his body turn to fat like other men. Keeping with the latest fashion, he kept his blond hair tied back with a neat black bow, showing off his manicured eyebrows and dark blond goatee.

Julian was taller, yet the governor still managed to look down upon him. Scarlett could see her father appraising the sailor’s patched brown coat, and his loose breeches tucked into scuffed, knee-high boots.

It said much about Julian’s confidence that he didn’t hesitate before offering the governor his own, ungloved hand. “Good to meet you, sir. Julian Marrero.”

“Governor Marcello Dragna.” The men shook hands. Julian attempted to pull away, but the governor held on tight. “Julian, you must not be from this isle?”

This time, Julian did hesitate. “No, sir, I’m a sailor. First mate of El Beso Dorado.”

“So, you’re only passing through.” The governor smiled. “We like sailors here. It helps our economy. People are willing to pay a lot to dock here, and they spend more money while they visit. Now, tell me, what did you think of my rum?” He waved his free hand around the barrel room. “I imagine that’s what you were down here tasting?”

When Julian didn’t answer right away the governor pressed harder. “Was it not to your liking?”

“No, sir. I mean, yes, sir,” Julian corrected. “Everything I’ve tried is very good.”

“Including my daughters?”

Scarlett tensed.

“I can smell from your breath you weren’t sipping any rum,” said Governor Dragna. “And I know you weren’t down here playing cards or saying prayers. So tell me, which of my daughters were you tasting?”

“Oh, no, sir. You have it wrong.” Julian shook his head, eyes widening as if he would never do something so dishonorable.

“It was Scarlett,” Tella broke in. “I came down here and caught them in the act.”

No. Scarlett cursed her foolish sister. “Father, she’s lying. It was Tella, not me. I’m the one who caught them.”

Tella’s face blazed red. “Scarlett, don’t lie. You’ll only make this worse.”

“I’m not lying! Father, it was Tella. Do you think I’d really do something like this, weeks before my wedding?”

“Father, don’t listen to her,” Tella interrupted. “I heard her whispering about how she thought it would help with her nerves before the wedding.”

“That’s another lie—”

“Enough!” The governor turned to Julian, whose brown hand was still firmly grasped in his perfumed plum glove. “My daughters have the bad habit of being dishonest, but I’m sure you’ll be more forthcoming. Now, tell me, young man, which of my daughters were you down here with?”

“I think there’s been some sort of mistake—”

“I don’t make mistakes,” Governor Dragna cut him off. “I’ll give you one more chance to tell me the truth, or—” The governor’s guards each took a step forward.

Julian’s eyes darted to Tella.

With a sharp shake of her head, Tella mouthed the name: Scarlett.

Scarlett tried to grab Julian’s attention, tried to tell him he was making a mistake, but she could see the resolve in the sailor’s face even before he answered. “It was Scarlett.”

Reckless boy. He no doubt believed he was doing Tella a favor, when he was doing quite the opposite.

The governor released Julian, and removed his perfumed plum gloves. “I warned you about this,” he said to Scarlett. “You know what happens when you disobey.”

“Father, please, it was only a very brief kiss.” Scarlett tried to step in front of Tella, but a guard pulled Scarlett back toward the barrels, grabbing her roughly by the elbows and yanking them behind her, as she fought to protect her sister. For it wasn’t Scarlett who would be punished for this crime. Every time Scarlett or her sister disobeyed, Governor Dragna did something awful to the other as punishment.

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