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Lady Ellesmore left the dancefloor at the end of the second waltz, leaving her husband to mingle with their guests and make polite conversation. He looked nervous, and nobody was surprised.

His wife had gone upstairs to make ready for her grand entrance. When she returned, she would be wearing the Elysian Diamond, said to be the single most valuable gem in the entire Empire.

“Second only, of course, to my dear wife herself,” he said to a group of prominent gentlemen.

“How did you get your hands on a diamond like that, anyway? That sort of thing is usually the reserve of kings and queens, isn’t it?”

Lord Ellesmore smiled thinly. “Foreign ambassador gave it to me. For services rendered, so he said. Thought it was a scam, to be honest, that he’d turn around and accuse me of stealing it as soon as I brought it over here, but he popped his clogs shortly after. Anyway, since we have it, dear Gloria thought we ought to show it off, so here we are.”

Baron Alderney looked at him and shook his head. “”You’re not worried about the Fox? I hear tell that he’s in town,” he said. “On the prowl. I put all my wife’s jewellery in the bank yesterday. She’s wearing paste imitations, not that you can tell.”

Lord Ellesmore laughed nervously. “We can all tell if you tell us, Alderney. I doubt she’ll thank you for that. As for the Fox, well I don’t believe he truly exists. Inflated rumour and poppycock, I say.”

Sir Willikin laughed. “Try telling that to my cousin! The Fox stole her sapphire necklace right out of her hotel room in Paris last month.”

Baron Alderney nodded. “My wife’s aunt lost half her damn collection to the fellow, a few months before that. Are you implying something, Ellesmore?”

“I, ah, I don’t mean to say that there are no jewellery thefts, of course,” Lord Ellesmore said, “Only that I don’t believe they’re all the work of one man. Besides, we have taken all due precautions. We have the gem insured, naturally.”

At that moment the butler struck a gong to announce the return of Lady Ellesmore. She paused at the top of the stairs as her guests turned as one to marvel at the size and beauty of the Elysian Diamond. It hung from a delicate chain, resting on the black velvet of her evening gown – chosen deliberately to accentuate the diamond. She caught her husband’s eye and smiled before descending the stairs.

She had barely taken two steps when the lights went out. Chaos descended upon the room. One of the waitresses dropped a tray with a horrific crash and a woman screamed.

The lights came back on as abruptly as they had gone out. Lady Ellesmore lay at the bottom of the stairs, bruised but otherwise unhurt. She called for her husband.

“I’m here, darling,” he said, rushing to her side to help her sit up.

One of the women screamed again, pointing at Lady Ellesmore. “The diamond’s gone!”

“Call the police,” somebody shouted. “Shut the doors, he can’t have got far!”

“Don’t be silly,” Lady Ellesmore said as she stood up. “Strike up the music and fetch me a drink. This is supposed to be a party.”

The guests turned to stare. There was silence for a moment, then everyone started to speak at once.

“Please,” she said, quieting them with one raised hand. “Everything has gone perfectly to plan. The Fox can have the Elysian Diamond and be welcome to it.”

A shocked silence fell across the room. She laughed. “Oh come along, darlings! We’ve freed ourselves of the cursed diamond, now we can celebrate!”

The band struck up a lively tune and some of the younger guests took to the dancefloor.

Baron Alderney stood next to Lord Ellesmore and scratched his head. “Cursed diamond, Ellesmore?”

He nodded and laughed. “Death within days to anyone who sells it or gives it away. Poverty to anyone who tries to keep it. The foreign chap who gave it to me told me before he died.”

“Didn’t like you much, then, I suppose.”

Ellesmore laughed. “Hah, I suppose not! Still, last laugh’s on him, eh?”

“Not really,” Alderney said, patting his host on the back. “Considering I can see the chain hanging out of your jacket pocket.”

© Kari Fay

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