Chapter 09 sneak preview of my current work-in-progress:
Luca – Book 1 of the Demon Born Series (paranormal romance).
Pre-edit version. May change before publication.
How was the week?
I always look for light-hearted stories to smile to, and my favourite distraction these past days have been pictures of little Prince Louis.
For those of you who may not be checking in on England-centric news, he’s the newest addition to our royal family. Anyway, he’s a total cutie-pie. (All babies tend to be, don’t they?)
Funnily enough, as I was browsing the royal baby news, I also came upon this interesting tidbit. Did you know that Prince William (little Louis’s father) once paid £200 ($320) for (his now wife) Kate Middleton during a “slave auction” at a Harry Potter-themed party?
Some of you are probably light years ahead of me and already know this. What can I say? I live in a cave. But still, it’s interesting gossip and it’s giving me story ideas. A royal slave auction, hmmm… Sound good?
Enjoy the next chapter of ‘Luca’ 🙂
The bus rolled to a stop past a sign that was just a dirty white board stuck atop a rusted pole beside the forest edge. A peeling image of an old-fashioned bus decorated the board, and beneath it, the words merely read ‘Fairfall’.
“I don’t think I’ve ever stopped here before,” the bus driver said as Belle slowly got up from her seat and made her reluctant way to the doors. He peered out into the darkening forest. “You sure this the right place, lass? There’s Botley Town a little further on. I’d have thought it’d be a safer bet for someone like you. It’s got a nice fish and chippy too, warm you up now that it’s getting on into the evening.”
“This is the place.” Belle managed a half-hearted smile just to allay his fears. He was right though. That forest looked ominously like it would chomp her up and swallow her whole.
The driver gave a resigned shake of his head and thumbed the button that opened the doors.
Belle braced herself as the cold evening air blasted into the warmth of the bus. Her white flowery dress and light autumn jacket no longer felt like enough protection against the elements. She bit her lip. Hopefully, she wouldn’t be stranded in this wretched forest for the night. But then the thought that Aunt Dee might already be stranded out there turned her stomach. And with a quick thanks for the driver, she stepped off the bus.
The doors closed behind her. The engine rumbled to life and then faded away as the bus left her all alone. Belle faced the gloomy path leading into the thick of the forest. The sun was only three-quarters set, but already the forest loomed dark and menacing.
A torch would have been useful… a knife too, maybe even a gun or two if only she knew how to fire one. Ah well, wishing wouldn’t find Aunt Dee. And squaring her shoulders, she headed into the forest.
It seemed a miracle when she reached the end of the narrow path just a short walk later. The path had skirted the edges of the forest and now opened into a large but pretty town.
It was easily double the size of Whimple village and utterly eye-catching. Double-storey houses with bay windows and black-and-white beamed walls lined the cobblestone lanes. Here and there, pink flowers and green ivy grew up the white walls and reached the red roofs. And the golden light shining from the windows and porches threw a welcoming glow into the dusk.
Awed, Belle walked down a cobblestone lane, taking in her fill of the lovely sight. But it was a good few steps before a nagging feeling struck her. Where was everybody?
She glanced around. Lights flared from windows but not a soul stirred inside the houses. And the streets looked like someone had imposed a curfew. She turned a corner and breathed a sigh of relief on spotting two men standing and talking beneath a pub sign. And quickening her steps, she hurried to them.
They were both tall and middle-aged with broad shoulders and bodies that looked to be built on heavy work. Maybe they were farmers? But it was only when she was within metres of them that it seeped into her mind that they might not be human at all. Her steps automatically slowed, but by then both men had seen her.
They stopped their talk and watched her with unblinking eyes that glowed an eerie yellow in the light from the pub.
“Hello,” She hid her nervousness behind a smile. “Can you help? I’m looking for someone… She’s called Dee. Um… Diana Meed? I think she came here earlier today.”
Total silence. The men stared at her like she was a ghost, and then finally, one spoke. “Did you come through the forest?”
“The forest path, yes,” Belle said. What this had to do with her aunt, she didn’t know.
The second man curled back his lips as if in disbelief, and Belle got a striking glimpse of his rather pointy fangs. Oh dear God, they were supernaturals. No doubt about it. Daemon, vampire, or werewolf? Her knowledge of them was minuscule enough that she had no idea what she was facing here.
“It’s impossible,” the second man was muttering to his companion. “How’d she break those wards?”
Belle glanced up at the purple dusk sky. The sun hadn’t fully set, so it was technically still daytime. Stories said that vampires hated daylight, but she knew those stories were wrong. So these men could very well be bloodsuckers. She furtively hoicked up her jacket collar and wished she’d worn a nice thick scarf around her neck.
The first man shook his head. “Alpha’s orders. Best not to question.”
Alpha? So they were werewolves. But didn’t werewolves live in tight-knit packs? So she was in a town of werewolves? Belle only just stopped herself from taking a step back.
The men turned back to her. “You’ll need to ask at the big house,” the first man said. He pointed down the lane. “Keep walking, and you’ll come to a stone bridge. It’s past that.”
“I see…” Belle murmured, not at all keen to head off into the unknown depths of werewolf territory. “And… um… what exactly will I be finding at this big house?”
The men grinned, showing the full glory of their strong white teeth. “The perfect welcome,” the second man said.
Belle gulped. Just wonderful. Well, if that hadn’t sounded terrifying enough… But she’d come this far, and there was no way she was leaving without Aunt Dee. And with a terse nod for the men, she walked on past them with her head held high.
Her bravado didn’t last long though.
The distinct sound of a rushing river came from up ahead, and the closer she came to it, the more she panicked at the sense of the evening darkness folding in around her. The houses with their golden lights thinned on either side of her, and tall sinister trees took their place. From the looks of it, she was once again heading into the deep dark forest.
Comforting herself with the hope that if there was a river, there had to be a bridge, so she was on the right track, she walked on. The sensation of being followed was overwhelming though. She could swear invisible footsteps were keeping pace with her past the trees. But no matter how much she peered into the gloom, she saw nothing. A shiver ran through her, and she sped up.
An arched stone bridge soon came into sight. It looked old, but rugged and wide enough for a large car to cross comfortably. And it was a good thing the bridge was there, because the furious river it spanned looked ready to swallow anyone foolish enough to wade into its raging waters.
Belle stepped onto the bridge’s narrow walkway, and with a nervous glance at the swirling river below, hurried to the other side.
The trees crowded thicker here, but a clear path cut through their midst. Suddenly though, she felt alone as she walked. Whoever or whatever had been following her had stayed on the town side of the bridge. She glanced back, unsure whether or not to feel relieved about that.
Then a little ahead, the trees cleared to reveal the most imposing set of black gates she’d ever seen. They were nearly double her height and ornate and heavy-looking, and their dull menacing sheen silently radiated the fierce message ‘Keep Out’. It wasn’t even a surprise to find they were locked tight.
But it was the view of the big house through the gates’ metal swirls that had Belle staring.
House? It wasn’t a house. It was a damn gothic castle.
The building stood grey and weathered like a ghost’s cloak, three to four storeys high. Its jumble of wings and extensions sprawled across its unkempt grounds, and its pointy spires and rows of chimneys rose high into the darkening sky. It looked like the resting place of countless murdered souls and the last place on earth any sane person would willingly enter.
Which made it even more strange when a homely feeling that was entirely out of place swept over her. It was as if her Uncle Carl was suddenly standing beside her. With a frown, Belle looked around. But she was still very much alone. Unease had her wrapping her arms around herself. She hadn’t felt her uncle this strongly since the day he died. Was she feeling his presence because Aunt Dee was somewhere in that house? Maybe being kept prisoner? The thought had her panicking, and she tested the black gates again. They didn’t budge an inch.
Belle glanced around. The high wall surrounding the house seemed to stretch forever on either side of the gates. Whoever owned this place really didn’t like visitors.
She set off around one side, hoping there might be another entrance somewhere. But all she came to was a curtain of red ivy that reached from the ground to the top of the grey wall.
Well, it was better than nothing. And throwing out a hopeful prayer that her magic would work even just a smidgen, she flattened her palms against the ivy and concentrated. ‘Hold me, okay? I’m not asking for much. Just don’t break.’ The familiar warmth flowed from the plant into her hands. And feeling somewhat reassured, Belle took firm hold of the ivy stalk and pulled herself up onto the dense weave of leaves and stems.
The ivy held, and after a couple of experimental tugs, she clambered up further. Her soft flat shoe slipped once, but the ivy leaves curled up and cupped her foot so she wouldn’t fall. Belle smiled with relief and climbed on.
Now that her mind was free from the worry of falling, other thoughts rushed in. Lilah hadn’t been sure just whose soulmate they’d found in this place. What if it wasn’t Aunt Dee’s? What if it was hers?
Equal amounts of curiosity and trepidation flared in Belle. If her soulmate was here, then there was an awfully good chance he was a werewolf. Oh dear, pointy teeth and claws. She grimaced. Fate just couldn’t give her an easy life. But then again, maybe it was a good thing. Because no way was she risking getting entangled in a mate bond, so if the guy turned out to be a werewolf, then it would be a breeze to avoid falling for him.
And she reached the top of the wall feeling so much better.
Luckily, the ivy continued down the other side of the wall, though it looked thinner here. Belle swung her legs over and made to climb down. But maybe overconfidence had her moving a bit too fast because the plant buckled beneath her. Her stomach plunged, and her body followed. She yelped and grabbed fistfuls of ivy as she dropped. At the same time, her dress caught on a stalk and swung up, baring her flailing legs to the cold air.
But then suddenly, something stopped the ivy’s fall.
Belle hung there, clinging on for dear life and thanking all her lucky stars that the ivy seemed to have remembered her magic again.
“Cherries,” a man’s voice drawled beneath her. “And a sexy bounty of them too. It’s my lucky day.”
Belle’s face blazed hot. He was talking about her cherry-print panties, and with half her dress hooked up above her head, they were no doubt on wild show for the entire world to see.
“You know, you could help me down,” she snapped, unable to see him with the skirt of her dress in the way.
He laughed, low and deep. “Where’s the fun in that? Maybe I’ll just stand here and look to my heart’s content. It isn’t every day I get thieves breaking in and waving their sexy asses about.”
Jeez! Belle gritted her teeth. The ivy seemed to be holding firm, but she didn’t trust it enough to let go and reach up to unhook her dress. She was well and truly stuck.
“I’m not a thief,” she said.
“But you’re breaking in.”
“Only because you didn’t have the good sense to leave those damn gates of yours unlocked.”
He chuckled. “Well now, there’s some fantastic logic.”
Belle huffed. Her arms were tiring from gripping on, and bit by bit the ivy was weakening. She’d drop soon. “Look, I shouldn’t have to teach you this,” she raged down. “But if you had any gentlemanly manners, you’d help me instead of standing there ogling.”
“Oh, is that what I’m supposed to do?” he asked. “All right then, jump.”
“I’ll catch you.”
“No bloody way!”
“Trust me, cherries.”
Hah! Like that would happen. He sounded smooth, but he was probably some razor-fanged werewolf who’d likely let her crash to the ground and then make a feast of her mangled body. She gripped the ivy tighter. But the plant had taken all it could, and with a sad sag, it bid the wall goodbye and dropped with her.
To be continued next week…