Yesterday was Tuesday. Somewhere in my brain, I knew it was Tuesday, and yet another – much more optimistic – part of my mind kept trying to tell me it was already Friday. That I had already survived a week that had begun quite inauspiciously with a severe stomach bug (nothing like spending your Sunday night/Monday morning curled up in the fetal position on the living room floor), with my oldest daughter and then my husband catching the same bug (to lesser degrees than me, but of course I was hit the hardest because I’m awesome like that), and with the weather changing its mind every five minutes.
So because of that, this is going to feel a bit more like a weekly round-up type of post, when in reality… It’s Wednesday morning.
Now, to sum up. First, my next book, The Firstborn, has a release date! On May 5, it will be available in both ebook and paperback! I’m excited about seeing this story that began as a failed attempt at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) find its way out into the world.
So it will have its own shiny new cover (the only cover I currently have for it is a placeholder that was used for its time on Wattpad) and you’ll get to hear me expound on all things about it here over the coming weeks. (Yes, please. Contain your excitement.) And to start things off, I’ll give you the description of the story (like what you would read on the back or on the jacket of the book):
Sophia has sacrificed everything for her younger sister, Lucy. She has removed them from the only home they ever knew, taken on the care of Lucy’s illegitimate son, George, and even assumed the role of a widow and mother in order to erase all hint of scandal from the boy’s birth. But rumor continues to follow them like the darkest of clouds, and Sophia must adapt to her new existence as a false widow with no prospects beyond the doors of her small cottage.
Lord Finnian Haughton will stop at nothing to prevent the slightest hint of scandal from tainting his family’s name. When he learns of his younger brother’s latest indiscretion-one that leaves a bastard child in his wake-Haughton rushes across the country to offer the boy’s mother a comfortable living in exchange for her silence about the child’s true parentage. But he arrives only to have his generous offer thrown back in his face by Sophia Brixton, a sharp-tongued and sharper-witted woman who proceeds to toss him out of her house. But just because he is banished from her home does not mean he is so easily banished from her life.
Also, I wrote another short story since I last posted in here. This one also follows the adventures of Lady Drummond, when she encounters someone on the streets of London who may not be quite what she seems…
Sleet and Shadow
There is nothing for it. I am alone. In a city teeming with life, the mingled breath of thousands rising upwards as their waste drains away beneath my feet, there’s no one to protect me. I have only myself, a pitiful blade tucked within my sleeve, and a rapid prayer remembered from my childhood, the words falling from my lips with a greater speed than the strike of the sleet on the cobbles around me.
Water runs into my eyes, ice stinging my forehead and cheeks as I press my back against the wall behind me. There is no shelter from the weather, and so I can do little more than lower my chin to my chest, my breath coming out in brief, steaming gasps as I close my eyes and listen.
There are no carriages. I will wonder at that later, but for the moment, I cannot decide whether to praise or lament the lack of traffic. From a distance, the sound of a horn reaches my ears. From the river, I think. But it’s far to my left, if the weather and the cold and the abnormal absence of pedestrians haven’t disturbed my sense of direction. I breathe again, reveling in my renewed orientation, and on the exhale, there is a step.
It’s not far from where I stand, and that is what freezes the next breath in my throat. My hands seek out the wall behind me and I take a small step to the right. Hardly a step, only the balls of my feet touching the ground, my heels hovering just as my dance instructor taught me over a dozen years ago. My wet skirts drag against the edge of the wall, and I feel the fabric’s grab at the bricks rather than hear it. But it must be enough to reveal my poor hiding spot.
“Lady Drummond, why don’t you come out where I can see you?”
The voice is unknown to me, making it all the more galling that the speaker knows my name. But I recognize that it’s a woman’s voice, fluid and lilting, carrying the warmth of a languid day through the winter storm currently assailing us.
I take a moment to review my options. None of them are well-suited towards my coming out of this uninjured. Without taking another step, I peel off my gloves, one at a time, before letting them fall at my feet. I slide the blade out from inside my sleeve, glance down at its tip, and for the first time in my existence, feel the desire for a pistol in its place.
I walk into a deluge of sleet mixed with rain, heavier away from the scant protection of the building. The street before me is a morass of mud, horse manure, and uneven cobbles, what solid ground there is flanked by streams of slush and garbage running towards drains that threaten to clog beneath this torrent. On the other side of the street, standing almost primly on the edge of the pavement, is a woman. Even through the rain and ice, I can see her smile. Her stance, however, is what puts me on my guard. There’s nothing threatening in her pose, her bare hands clasped loosely in front of her, her plain shawl drooping over slim shoulders that barely fill out her gown.
She could be a governess, or some other form of subordinate, so adept is she at seeming to adhere to the background, despite the fact that she and I are the only people currently occupying this avenue. I take another step forward, choosing the placement of my feet with care in order to avoid slipping on the pavement. My gaze never leaves her, and yet somehow, there’s a shift in her posture I very nearly miss, a ripple of tension that rolls through those slender shoulders, until her chin tips up and a grotesque cracking sound signals the breaking of her jaw.
It’s not a beautiful thing, this change. Her shoulders round upwards while at the same time her head scoops forward, the smile that had decorated her mouth only moments ago transformed into a rictus of pain. And through the rush of rain and ice around us, there is the breaking of bone, the reforming of flesh, and all of it accented with the tearing of her too-large gown as it shreds to pieces to hang from her malformed figure like rags.
I do not know how long I stand there, watching as she drops forward onto all four limbs. For a moment, I am mesmerized by her hands as they clutch at the stones beneath her, her fingers retracting until I am watching paws scrape at the filth embedded in the street. There is nothing like this, nothing with which I can compare it in order to better hold it in the realm of the believable. My thoughts reel back towards my own memories of childbirth, of the pain I endured as my body contorted in order to bring new life into the world. A miracle, so many people called it. A miracle tinged with a horror that clung to me for years afterwards.
I cannot be ill. I tell myself this as I tighten my hand around my dagger, as my knees threaten to buckle beneath me. This creature, with its growl that still sounds human enough to unnerve me, will kill me should I give it the chance. And so I breathe, and I shift my weight forward again, and I wait for it to attack.
She moves nearer to the light of a streetlamp, the moisture glistening on her dark fur. She yips at me, the only warning I’m given before she races forward, a spray of moisture sent up behind her rangy form. I won’t outpace her if I turn and run, and so I brace myself, my right arm raised as she leaps up towards my throat. Teeth snag the fabric of my sleeve, and there is a brief shock of pain on my forearm as I slash the dagger out and away from me, my knuckles brushing against dripping wet fur.
My feet slip out from under me at the impact, but the creature fares no better, paws seeking for purchase on the slushy ground. A shake of its head fluffs out the thicker fur around its neck and shoulders, though the rest of it is lean and sodden, every joint and muscle on display beneath its wet coat. On the same side of the street now, we face each other, both of us breathing rapidly, though I realize now that her new figure is made for such activity, while mine has been fashioned for corsets and warm cups of chocolate in painted porcelain cups and little else.
When I take a step back, the creature simply watches me. I’ve no idea if she is merely assessing me as a bit of sport, or if she regards me as a well-matched opponent. I roll the handle of the dagger in my hand to fight off the numbness invading my fingers, but the small movement is enough to draw her in for another attack.
This time, I crouch, ducking down as far as my skirts and the sliding of my boots will allow. Before I can draw in another breath, the creature is on top of me, jaws snapping near my ear as I struggle to keep her teeth from my neck. My arms are pinned against me, but I still hold the dagger, my wrist twisting as I attempt to shove the blade upwards and into the animal’s flesh. A yelp and a lurch backwards from my opponent tells me I’ve hit my mark, though how deep the wound is or if I’ve done nothing but anger her further, I cannot tell.
I scrabble backwards, half on my knees, my skirts dragging through the stream of rain and refuse that spills from a nearby downspout and across the pavement. My hair has fallen free of its pins, the ends of it tangling around my neck and across my face. I sweep it back with a brush of my upper arm, stagger to my feet, and begin to contemplate a means of escape.
The creature circles me, though limping on her right front leg. Through the water soaking its coat and with nothing but the yellow glow from the streetlamps, I cannot see if I’ve drawn blood. While each step draws another whine from her, I grit my teeth against the pain in my arm and where my knees struck hard on the ground.
Now is the time to turn and run. I point myself in the direction of the Thames, towards Southwark, and speed away. My hands and feet are cold and slower to respond than I’d wish, while every breath burns in my lungs. Behind me, the creature gives chase, the uneven slap of its paws on the pavement alerting me to its pace. Even injured, I fear it will catch me, and so I barrel down another street, praying that I will encounter someone else on this heinous night.
A nip of sharp teeth at the hem of my gown throws me off balance, but I regain my stride quickly enough as my pursuer snaps at my heels. A new thought pierces through the veil of desperation in my head, that this will be the end of me. I will die out here, alone and bleeding in a gutter, and wholly ignorant of the identity of my murderer. An ignominious way to lose one’s life, and I wonder at myself for not taking on the role assigned to me, as wife and mother and nothing more.
Another tug at my skirts, and I cannot correct myself. I tumble forward, a hard landing that knocks the breath from me as my chin bounces off the cobbles. My hands search for the dagger, lost in the fall, but come up with nothing more than layers of filth scraped up in my fingernails. I bring my arms up to protect my head as I twist onto my back, my legs ready to kick out in defense, but the assault doesn’t come. With my arms still crossed in front of my face, the broken stones of the street digging into my back, I hear a growl, deeper than before, followed by a heavy, wet thud of something slamming into the ground beside me.
Once I bring myself to open my eyes, I peer between my wet sleeves, my gaze struggling to focus on a dark shape to my right, near enough that I could reach out and grasp it. Another growl, and the shadow jerks violently from side to side, the creature whose wounds I bear dangling limp from its maw.
There’s no visible blood as her carcass lands on the pavement beside me. Her head is twisted back, her neck broken, and in that moment, I see how small and inoffensive she appears, as if she were no more than a pet belonging to a local child. But before I can marvel at the body of my would-be killer, the dark shape turns around, catching the glimmer of a streetlamp in its eyes and on the gleam of its sharp teeth.
It pads towards me, tongue lolling out of its mouth as it pants, sides heaving beneath its thick, dripping coat. If I expect a greeting, or some form of recognition, I am left disappointed. A shake of its body from head to hip, sending a spray of water in all directions, and the animal bounds away, leaving me still sprawled across the alley, a dead wolf in the gutter beside me.
But I am not alone, as I had previously feared. Bruised and bloodied, my dress torn beyond repair, but I am most certainly not alone.