Saturday, October 29, 2011

What Scares ME! How About YOU?

Happy Halloween weekend, all!

I adore Halloween. Slipping into a costume, becoming someone – or something! – else for a night…parties…games…free candy…what’s not to love? On the other hand, now that I’m all grown up (well, mostly, anyway ;), not much about Halloween truly scares me anymore. Nursing a nostalgic trip back to my childhood, when all things that went bump in the night whispered of terrifying possibilities (not in that fun adult way!) of madness and mayhem, it occurred to me to consider: what scares me now? Hmmm….Like most of us adults, I like to believe I am in control of my own destiny, captain of my own ship, so to speak. So how would I feel if I woke up in a different place, a different time – a different era? Would I feel like Esme in Bending Tyme? Read on to learn how she reacts when she finds herself transported from contemporary Boston, Massachusetts to Regency England!

Enjoy the following excerpt from Bending Tyme:

* * * * *

An acrid stench of unwashed bodies mingled with low-grade tobacco and even cheaper alcohol assaulted Esme’s nostrils. The smell, wafting through the open window, carried on the cacophony of voices rising from two storeys below.

“Party moved to the street, huh?” Esme mumbled, wincing, pain shooting through her muddled brain. She lifted the first item of clothing she reached—his ruffled shirt—and slipped its voluminous length over her head. She sat up, willing the room to stop its riotous spinning, and walked unsteadily to poke her head out of the window and watch her friends below. The effort proved too much—Esme vomited, the contents of her stomach splattering a couple of party-goers below.

“Watch yerself, you stupid tart!” the woman yelled, shaking her fist. Her hair, a rat’s nest of tangled knots twisting around her lined face, a perfect frame for the dirt streaking her coarse features. Esme’s eyes widened—the woman sported several missing front teeth. Esme noted the few she still had displayed various states of decay, evident even in the dim light from the windows below.

Busy groping her breasts, the woman’s companion paid no heed to the mess even as his left boot landed square in the centre of a small puddle. Esme was uncertain if that puddle was her vomit or someone else’s muck, filling the dips and holes in the cobblestones paving each side of the filthy street.

“When I get slapped with a citation for disturbing the peace, heads will roll,” Esme muttered, collapsing onto the tufted stool in front of the vanity, wondering what this ‘authentic’ masked ball would cost her.

She tipped her head to one side. Was the poor lighting playing tricks? She ran her fingers along the ornate scroll-work. The familiar lip of the vanity she used in her own bedroom was out of place here. With a practised eye, Esme examined the item further—the condition of the wood, almost pristine, belied its age. She pulled open the lone thin drawer, rubbing her finger across its bottom surface, searching for the scorched indentation left by a curling iron someone had left plugged in prior to Esme acquiring the piece. Nothing.

Esme, nauseous again, looked at her reflection. The slight distortions in the visage staring back at her were characteristic of the original glass in the heirloom vanity. Esme spread her fingers across the surface, recalling how she and Timone had removed the few remaining pieces of the original, broken glass, deciding—with great reluctance—to upgrade it with contemporary materials, meshing the heirloom with modern utility.

Esme stood up, shaking, that vertigo overwhelming her again.

He caught her before she hit the floor.

* * * *

“So, Logan, here you sit with a delectable piece at long last. I tip my hat.” Byron lifted his devil-horns mask. Conscious of the prostitute he had left just outside the door—which was standing ajar—he switched to French. “I rather assumed I would find you again sitting in the dark, fondling that locket you carry, mooning over the fair portrait within.”

“Look at her, George,” Logan murmured in the same language, his voice soft, not wishing to disturb the slumber of the woman resting in his arms.

Byron responded in his typical, booming voice, paying no heed to the dark scowl Logan shot him as Esme stirred. “The woman in the portrait!” he exclaimed. He rubbed his chin, considering what the night’s mad festivities had summoned—and from where?

Esme half-opened one eye. “Who are you?” she asked Byron, her perfect French an effortless flow from her lips. She turned her face sleepily into the warmth and breadth of Logan’s chest, continuing to murmur. He tightened his embrace, scowling at his friend again.

Byron raised one eyebrow at the scene. “What’s that she says?” He leaned closer, straining to hear Esme’s faint mutterings.

Logan shrugged, rubbing the slight crease furrowing his brows. “She speaks of the twenty-first century, as one familiar. And there are these.” He slipped a couple of the Möbius bracelets from Esme’s wrist, handing one to Byron. Then he passed him the locket. “And there is this as well.”

Byron’s eyebrows met his hairline this time. “Your mother did predict your heart’s desire would come from afar,” he mused. Byron studied the second item Logan had handed to him, staring at the likeness of his friend nestled inside, then spied the second locket still hanging open around Esme’s neck. “God’s teeth, Logan.” He goggled at the likeness of his friend nestled inside. “She wears the twin of your mother’s locket.”

Logan nodded. “I was sleeping in that chair, deep in my cups, waiting for you to finish your sport. I woke to find her here. I thought I was dreaming, the drink still clouding my mind.” He fell silent, at a loss to further clarify the night’s strange events.

Watching the confusion shadowing his friend’s face, Byron sprang to action. “I will call for a carriage, unless you plan to return to the house carrying her on horseback.” Byron always took charge, and he was right—whatever secrets this woman harboured were best explored in the relative privacy of Logan’s country estate, not here in the local brothel.

* * * *

Esme woke in unfamiliar clothes to the lurch of a carriage. Two men watched her. She caught her breath, searching Logan’s face now he had removed his mask…the face she had woken to every day for the past two months. Her ‘Lord of the Locket’.

Several minutes passed in silence.

Esme’s gaze lingered on the tall figure seated across from her, sweeping across Logan’s face; she recognized the incredulous disbelief she felt rising from the pit of her churning belly reflected in the questions clouding his aquamarine eyes.

“Impossible,” she muttered.

The silence stretched on, neither man uttering a word.

“Wh—wh—what year is this?” she finally managed, her voice raspy.

Byron tipped his head. “Allow me to introduce myself. George Gordon, Lord Byron. I believe you made the…acquaintance…of Lord Davenport last night. Those of us who are more…familiar…address him as Logan.”

Esme blushed, watching a knowing smile lift Byron’s lips as a scowl twisted Logan’s, his scent and hers unmistakable on each other’s skin in the close seating. “What year?” Esme held on to a thin shred of reason—surely Charisse had carried this ruse too far.

Byron reached out one gloved hand. “1814.”

“Stop the carriage.” Esme stumbled out, not waiting for either man, retching.

When she had finished, Logan handed her a handkerchief to wipe her mouth, both men studiously ignoring the mess she had left by the side of the road.

“Not…not possible.”

“Yet here you are,” Byron said, his voice low, soothing.

“How did you acquire your necklace?” Logan demanded, the jab to his ribs from Byron reminding Esme of a couple of prepubescent schoolboys.

Esme scowled at both men. “From a chest buried in the cellar of my Boston offices. The foundations required some structural work. One of the workers found it.”

“Boston, Massachusetts,” Byron stated, meeting Logan’s gaze.

“Yes. About two hundred years from now,” Esme replied.

Esme leant back in her seat, crossing her arms, her chin jutting out. Damn this dress, she thought, kicking at the skirts with one foot. Staring out of the carriage window, she ignored the men sitting across from her, thoughts of her hands around Charisse’s throat affording Esme some welcome comfort.

When the carriage halted for a short break, Esme flung open the door, ignoring Logan’s outstretched hand and walking away from the two men.

Byron shook his head, watching Esme wrestle with her skirts while she distanced herself from the carriage. “What will you tell her of your mother’s locket?”

Logan shook his head. “Nothing, yet.”

Byron perked up. “Perhaps these final days in the countryside with your guests will prove less tiresome than I envisioned.”

* * * * *

Have a fun -- and safe -- Halloween!


Making Love from Payne...because, sometimes...Love Hurts

Unstrung Available from Pink Petal Books

Bending Tyme Available from Total-E-Bound


Jean P said...

Such an exciting excerpt, all the questions that are there. Enjoy reading these stories.

skpetal AT hotmail DOT com

Maria-Claire Payne said...

Hi, Jean! Stop on by at Whipped Cream at and look me up to read my character interviews, written through Lord Byron's eyes :) I'd love to hear what you think!


Na said...

I like Esme. She's more shocked and out of it than actually scared. Now, eme I would freak out if I was transported in time, then I'd enjoy myself and satisfy my curiousity.

Maria-Claire Payne said...

Me too, Na (or, at least, I'd like to think so!)

Pop back over to where I chat about...whips ;) -- and read another excerpt from Bending Tyme.