I’m hoping to have the first draft of one of my novels completed by the end of January. I have about 25,000 words but I’ve been working on it for about a year and a half so I really feel that a complete first draft is over-due.
The plotline for this piece has not fluctuated as much as with other projects I have taken on, and I feel pretty confident about completing this. So for those of you who enjoy my writing, here is a preview of the prologue and the first chapter and I would love to hear back on what you have to say.
This is not a single story. In fact, most stories are rarely single stories, but more a muddle of broken tales patched together in the image of a singularity.
This story is more broken than most.
This story is the witch who dies only to live, the lord whose manor was at the heart of it all and a husband bound to the will of another.
This story is more broken than most and all I can give you are the pieces to read.
Do not fear the dragon’s claws,
For what can they do but scratch?
And what is hidden by the maw,
But hot air and tinder match?
For the fairy tales have taught us well,
Shown us glimpses of magik’s realm,
Let us know Dragons shall be thwart!
But failed to school us on—
Failed us mortals weak—
To fear not the dragon or the fey
Fear instead the eyes of Hardgraves.
A Fragment of the Past – 20th December 1914
If children should be taught one lesson, it is that monsters exist. I’m not talking about the ones who hide in the shadows beneath the bed, waiting for the lights to go out, ready to snatch young children from their sleep. The monsters that exist in this story are the ones who wear the faces of men, and slip un-noticed through the crowds, stalking through life invisible in their appearance. The greatest of monsters are not hulking, hideous beasts, but beautiful, elegant and alluring. With slender hands and polished nails to snap necks and gouge the flesh and—
Using the toe of his dress-shoe Philip ground his cigarette butt into the gravel drive. Before him was the residence of the late Margaret Thistlethorn, now under the ownership of her enigmatic nephew Lord Henry Granger.
Philip glared at the manor and tapped his tongue against the inside of his teeth, considering the building for a moment. The new owner was rarely seen, preferring to keep himself away from the gaze of American society. There were rumours that he’d left the house to return to his birthplace in England, leaving the last fragments of his Aunt’s legacy to sit empty.
However, the house and grounds remained well cared for, the rose bushes in full bloom and the carefully trimmed ivy clambering over the red slate roof.
The last lingering curls of smoke dissipated and Philip moved forward, striding purposefully towards the front doors.
There were few who had met Philip Hardgraves and found themselves disliking the young man. He was stunningly attractive with mahogany coloured hair and eyes of the same rich shade. At parties his slender fingers would tap gently against the glass of his drink, or drift across to brush away a stray hair from a beautiful female’s face, conducting the room as if it were his own private orchestra. He wrote the music to dictates the lives of everyone around him, and he revelled in the performance.
Rapping against the wood he drew back, smiling seductively as the door opened and the maid answering seemed to freeze at the sight of him. He stood dressed in a charcoal grey suit, expertly fitted to his slender frame and unbuttoned to reveal the black satin waistcoat beneath. The maid’s eyes travelled across Philip’s body, lifting up to trail across the sharp line of his jaw before she finally remembering her position. Her eyes snapped downwards, fixing on the floor by her feet as she retreated neatly out of the way to allow Philip in.
“Does my Lord know that you are visiting, Sir?” she asked timidly, bunching her apron in her hands as her cheeks turned a shade of pale rose. “He hasn’t mentioned we were to expect guests you see.” She stumbled over her words slightly, trailing off and dropping her head with burning cheeks to watch for Philip’s reaction through pale eyelashes.
Standing in the marbled entrance hall Philip remained silent, enjoying the girl’s blustering. She was pretty in a common sort of way, nothing exceptional about her, but nothing to make her undesirable either.
Philip leant forward, his voice a whisper against the maid’s cheek.
‘Now I don’t suppose a—’
Philip rolled his eyes. It seemed that young Henry had retained his Aunt’s household staff and a greying Arthur Cook was hurrying forward, supporting the same impeccable uniform he had always worn. He stopped just short of Philip and the maid, eyeing the young girl cautiously as she twisted her apron more fiercely between her hands.
‘We were not expecting any visitors Sir; you must forgive young Constance’s behaviour.’
There was wariness in the butler’s words, causing Philip’s lips to curl into a smile. The maid edged backwards, distancing herself from Philip.
‘I trust that dear Henry is about here somewhere?’ Philip asked, boredom dripping from his words.
Distrust flickered across Arthur’s features but it was covered quickly.
‘I shall see if he is free to receive you.’ Arthur replied, clasping his hand in front of himself, the knuckles turning white as the pressure of his grip increased. He was taken with the desire to throw the young man from the house, toss him into the driveway and bar the door against his re-entry. Despite his aging bones, Arthur still thought he could get a good length if it was called for.
‘No need.’ Philip smiled; his lips peeling back to reveal glistening white teeth. ‘I believe that I can find my own way.’
Philip was past the butler before anything could be done, marching down the hallway towards the drawing room doors and throwing them open. He swept into the brightly lit room and despotised himself on a crème settee, kicking his feet up onto a side-table brought back from Turkey. Arthur could only watch from the doorway as Henry turned away from the windows, frowning at the sudden intrusion.
‘Arthur?’ Henry prompted, seeking an explanation.
‘I’m sorry my Lord,’ Arthur said, ‘but Mr Hardgraves did not wish to wait for an introduction, it seems he was rather impatient to see you immediately.’
‘Its fine Arthur, there was no real harm done.’ Henry reassured the butler, waving off the incident. ‘I shall call if I have any need of you.’
Nodding once, Arthur left the room, drawing the doors closed behind him and leaving the two young men alone in the dusty afternoon sunlight. Before the interruption, Henry had been staring out across the gardens and wondering what England was like. With no actual memory of the country he was forced to create an image from the snippets that others had given him. Second hand memories of damp grey skies, smoky cities where factories belched sickly black clouds and the mud churned fields spread across the gaps between. The overall picture was not the most pleasing, but it still drew Henry in, creating a need to see for himself if the country of his birth was really as miserable as he was led to believe.
‘I see that nothing has changed?’ Philip commented, his gaze flickering over the carefully decorated room. Despite Margaret Thistlethorn’s death some two years previously, her possessions still littered the surfaces and cluttered the rooms, reminding anyone who walked through the house’s doorway that this had been her home and always would be. It had been her last cruel revenge, and try as he might, Henry was unable to remove his Aunt’s lingering essence.
‘I do not understand why you spend your time shut away in this place.’ Philip sighed, choosing to examine the ceiling instead of the direction in which his words were aimed. ‘People such as you and I should never be found indoors, especially not within the doors of our own homes. That is unless—’ Philip broke off.
‘Unless what?’ Henry asked, leaning against the window ledge.
‘Unless there are beautiful woman involved and a glass of very fine brandy in my hand.’
Henry smiled softly.
“Oh?” he said, ‘Well I’m hardily in short supply of fine brandies but I’m afraid that beautiful women gravitate more towards you than myself.’
‘Surely the magnificent Lord Granger is swamped with invitations from all of the great and good of America. Simply begging for him to attend just one of their pretentious little dinner parties so they can claim they have socialised with British nobility.’ Philip drawled, waving his hand in mocking circles as he spoke. ‘Beautiful young ladies should be throwing themselves at you, and if not then their parents should be throwing them instead. Is it not the way of parents to steer their offspring towards the most profitable matches?’
‘You overestimate the prestige I carry,’ Henry chuckled, ‘I have long since realised that neither I, nor America’s ‘great and good’ as you put it, have any desire for me to stumble my way into the social scenes.’
Philip chuckled softly; ‘I suppose the accent does present itself as somewhat of a disappointment.’ Drawing himself up he crossed the room towards the liquor cabinet and pulled one of the crystal decanters from the near the back.
‘Arthur tells me I shall sound as if I never left British shores once I have been back a few months.’ Henry said, moving to join Philip.
The decanted hung in the air for a moment, Philip’s grip loosening as he heard what Henry had said. Henry leapt back, skittering away from the broken glass as the brandy splashed across the polish floorboards.
‘You intend to return to England?’ Philip’s forehead crumpled into a frown, seemingly unaware of the puddle of alcohol and broken glass he was now standing in.
Henry reached out and manoeuvred him away from the cabinet, snatching up two glasses and a fresh decanter as he went. He sat Philip down and placed the two glasses on the Turkish table, sloshing a liberal measurement of brandy into both.
He pressed the one glass into Philip’s hand and left the other where it was.
‘I leave within the week.’ Henry explained, watching his friend as Philip brought the brandy to his lips. The glass emptied in one go and Henry swapped it for the full one.
‘You will be attending the Carters’ New Year’s Eve party won’t you?’ Philip’s demanded, the second glass lingering in his grasp.
‘I was invited,’ Henry replied steadily, thinking about the crumpled invitation in the pocket of a jacket somewhere. He had received it a week or so before and after make no effort to decline or accept the invitation he had stuffed it into his pocket. No doubt Arthur would know where it was.
‘They hold the same party every year,’ Philip drawled, recovering a little. ‘Such a dreary affair, it’s a wonder that anyone still attends the bloody thing.’
Nodding, Henry swallowed, waiting for whatever it was that Philip would say next.
‘Their daughter has returned from Paris though, an event that promises to be entertaining.’
A hard lump formed in Henry’s throat as he saw the predatory smile playing across Philip’s lips. There was a dangerous glint in his eyes and shadows seemed to have fallen across his face, darkening his features.
‘You know Eveline well then?’ asked Henry, a hint of nervousness creeping into his voice.
‘I make it my business to know every beautiful woman available,’ Philip chuckled, bringing the glass of brandy to his lips and draining it. It clinked as he set it down on the table. ‘I hear she is an old friend of yours.’
Henry didn’t return Philip’s grin.
‘We know each other, yes.’ he replied.
Philip bobbed his head before drawing a shaking hand across his forehead. He was sweating and his eyes had glazed over.
‘Philip…’ Henry’s hand hovered over Philip’s shoulder. ‘Philip, are you feeling quite well.’
The young man jerked back, flinching away from the outstretched hand.
‘No! Wait I—’
Philip blinked; the glazed look receding as he managed to focus on Henry’s features.
‘I need to leave.’ he said suddenly, jumping to his feet and catching the edge of the Turkish table. The glass fell, shattering on the floor just as the decanter had done.
‘Philip!’ Henry called, rushing to catch up with his friend as he raced down the corridor. ‘Hold on! At least let me call you a cab.’
He could just see Philip shaking his head as the young man wrenched the front doors open, leaving them agape as he disappeared down the drive.
Henry slowed to a spot, resting his hand against the doorframe as he watched Philip leave the grounds.
‘Are you alright my lord?’ Arthur asked, appearing from one of the servants’ quarters. ‘There were raised voices?’
The sun was starting to blur along horizon, streaking the sky with red and amber.
‘I did as I was asked.’ Henry replied, shutting the front doors and turning away from them. He sagged backward, blowing out a long breath and closing his eyes as his head fell against the wood. ‘I don’t have a clue what I have gotten myself into Arthur.’
‘I’m not sure anyone in this mess has my lord.’ Arthur replied. ‘You have chosen to play a game where all the players we know of our blind, and the ones hidden from us have the entire board beneath their finger tips.’
Opening his eyes Henry turned to look at the butler.
‘Call me when Eveline arrived.’ he said. ‘I will be in the study.’
Arthur bowed and Henry made his way towards the stairs, aiming for the study on the second floor. He glanced back at the doors.
The butler had been about to return to the servants’ quarters but paused.
‘Yes my lord.’
‘What do you think of Philip?’
The butler hesitated.
‘Why do you ask my lord?’
‘I’m not sure he’s the monster we have to fear, that’s all.’