Posted by Julie at Mar 24, 2008 6:00 am
Hello, Plotmonkey readers! And to all the new readers linking here from the sites and blogs of my generous friends, WELCOME! It’s a party in the jungle!
This week starts something very exciting…every day, I will be posting a chapter from my book PHANTOM PLEASURES, which is officially released next week on April 1. That’s seven chapters! (Okay, six chapters and a prologue…but let’s not quibble.)
I wanted give everyone more than just a little excerpt…I want you to know, by the end of the week, if this is a book you will enjoy enough to buy–a book you’ll want to tell your friends about.
I’m also offering a chance for anyone who posts a comment or asks a question to win a $20 gift certificate from Amazon or Borders.com. I’ll pick a winner every day, but you’ll have to come back the next day to see if you’ve won. Regular jungle contest rules apply!
So today, I’m posting the Prologue. Don’t forget to click the “More” button to get the rest! Enjoy!
His hand shaking, as much from age as from fear, Paschal Rousseau, noted Romani scholar, shut the door to his study and said a silent prayer for more time. Heâ€™d once thought heâ€™d had more of that commodity than he could stand, but not any longer. His enemies were closing in on him. Of this, he was sure. He wouldnâ€™t go without a fight, of course, but despite his best efforts to remain in good shape, ninety years did take its toll on a man. In the meantime, he had to bolster his arsenal with as much information as he could gather in the quickest, if most draining, way he knew how.
To that end, he had to act. He had to push through the final barrier of his mind and connect with the past.
Not his past. He knew his own history, his own wild tale that had led him here to the States to seek the objects he needed to counter the gypsy curse. No, tonight he had to attempt something more dangerous. He had to seek a path into the distant past–into memories that were not his.
Flicking on the lamp on his desk, he stared at the oil painting heâ€™d propped onto the blotter, knowing it had been the artistâ€™s last work. The purplish clouds scuttling across the top of the canvas raged with rain. The white-capped waves beneath the listing schooner sparked with anger and turmoil. Paschal had searched for this stormy seascape for years, learning more about the intricacies of art dealing than heâ€™d ever intended. But heâ€™d found the piece and now, it was time to use his so-called gift to take the final step.
He sat. Clutching the curved armrest of his chair with one hand, he reached out with the other and gingerly, traced the name of the artist, rendered in bold strokes across the bottom of the canvas. Damon. He concentrated on everything he knew about the man, closed his eyes and painted his own picture of the artist in his mind. The only other rendering of the man existed in a place Pascal could no longer reach. Luckily, though heâ€™d lived a somewhat unnaturally long life, his memory remained strong and reliable.
Once he saw Damonâ€™s dark hair, steely eyes and rigid jaw in his mindâ€™s eye, Paschal spread his fingers and palm over the center of the painting. At first, he felt nothing but cool canvas and the stiff texture of dried enamels. But then, slowly, his hand seemed to meld into the painting. His flesh transparent. His mind transported.
The connection made, he pulled his mindâ€™s eye out of the schooner in the gyrating ocean and concentrated on the night, over two hundred and sixty years ago, when the artist and his entire band of brothers disappeared forever.
Tonight, the war began.
The war? No, the slaughter. And if Damon Forsyth and his brothers didnâ€™t reach the town of Umgeben before morning, their cherished sister would die in the impending massacre.
Damon kicked his heels hard into his mountâ€™s sweaty flank, pushing the animal onward despite the blinding rain and rocky terrain. Lightning flashed, briefly illuminating the distant cliffs. They were close to the cursed town. He could feel the vibrations beneath his horseâ€™s hooves. The electricity spiking through the sky connected with the magic that pulsed beneath the ground and surged through his soaked clothes.
Valoren, land of the lost, prison to the gypsies exiled out of England by the first King George, was tucked into a mostly uninhabited corner of land between Germany and Bohemia. For nearly thirty years, Damonâ€™s father, a British baron, governed over the land. But even he had been powerless against the magic–powerless against the enemy who had used sorcery to steal Sarina from her family.
Damon howled a curse and kicked the horse harder. A few lengths behind him, his brothers echoed his battle cry. The chorus of six pulsed with desperation, anger…fear. Fear for their sister. Fear for their exiled family. Fear for the very continuation of the Forsyth name.
At the sight of a rider charging toward them from the west, Damon yanked on the reins. He held up his hand and his brothers stopped alongside, their horses snorting heavily so that their hot breath created a gray mist in the frigid rain. The approaching horseman galloped above the crags and rocks in the road, the rider molded to the horseâ€™s back like an extension of its spine.
Damon immediately recognized his half brother, Rafe, who slid into their circle and tossed back the hood on his cloak. His long, raven black hair merged with the darkness, but his clear, blue eyes–so much like Sarinaâ€™s since they shared the same mother–were bright with fury.
â€œThe mercenary army advances at dawn,â€ he reported.
Damon nodded, though his mind reeled. How had the confrontation escalated so quickly? From his trips to court, heâ€™d known that the second King George often grumbled about reclaiming his land from the wanderers. Over the years, rumors flew that troops comprised of British and German mercenaries were being gathered to cleanse the enclave of the Romani. But Damon had never believed troops would arrive. Or that the offensive would put his family–good British citizens save his gypsy stepmother, youngest brother and only sister–in such grave peril.
â€œThen we have time to find Sarina,â€ Damon declared.
His brother, Aiden, next in line to inherit, drew his sword. â€œNot if Rogan has spirited her away. Heâ€™s brought this danger on her. On us. He must pay for his betrayal!â€
Rogan. Damonâ€™s blood froze. He had brought Lord Rogan here to Valoren from London, introduced him to his family–and to his starry-eyed, trusting, barely seventeen-year-old sister–never guessing the wealthy traveler had designs on taking the gypsy land for his own. Roganâ€™s machinations had likely stirred the jealous king to action. Damon had unleashed the lion into the coliseum and now, everyone in the gypsy colony would pay with their lives.
Damon held his hand against Aidenâ€™s weapon, which glittered white when another bolt of lightning streaked across the sky. â€œRemember, we must find Sarina before we kill Rogan. He cannot die until we know where she is.â€
The brothers said nothing, but their faces darkened, their jaws tightened and their eyes burned with hatred.
â€œWe must ride!â€ Damon declared.
Once again, their band took off toward the cliffs. Between the rocky jags they narrowed their line, entering through the pass one rider at a time. By the time all six of them emerged in the valley, a thud of icy cold dropped in Damonâ€™s stomach.
The village of Umgeben appeared untouched. Still. Had the gypsies not received the warning sent a few hours before? Fires flickered in the windows. Smoke curled from the hearths of the common houses and music echoed from a faraway vardo, an elaborately decorated wagon the gypsies had been forbidden by English law to move. But John Forsyth, their governor, had rescinded the order hours ago to help the Romani escape the incoming hoard. Why werenâ€™t they uprooted? Hitched to mules in advance of the exodus that could possibly spare their lives?
Colin, the third brother, rode up silently, his voice only slightly louder than his usual whisper. â€œWhere is everyone?â€
Damon urged his mount through the townâ€™s open gates and from his saddle, tore open the curtains of the nearest cottage with his blade. He smelled meat stewing in the hearth, yet no one tended the fire. He rode around to the back and saw the animal pens unlocked and empty. He heard his brothers behind him as their horsesâ€™ hooves sucked into the slick clay, each one riding to nearby houses and announcing the same results.
The Romani had disappeared. The entire population of Umgeben was gone.
â€œWhat sort of magic spirits away an entire town?â€ the elder twin, Logan, shouted to Rafe, whoâ€™d dismounted. â€œThey had but an hourâ€™s warning. They could not have abandoned their homes without our meeting them on the road.â€
Rafe, the only brother with gypsy blood, looked as confused as the others and shook his head wildly. Damonâ€™s anger surged. If his youngest brother, so adept at maneuvering through the gypsy world was shocked by these events, what chance did they have at saving Sarina?
Aiden raised his sword, pointing east. â€œColin, search the chapel in case the citizens have simply taken refuge. Rafe, find the Chovihano,â€ he ordered, directing their youngest brother to the gypsy elder. â€œSee if heâ€™s remained and if so, what he knows. You two,â€ he barked, indicating the twins, Logan and Paxton, â€œCheck the storerooms. See if the tinker is about. He alone is allowed to travel. He might have known of this attack long before we heard the news and warned the others away before our message arrived.â€
The brothers dispersed, leaving only Damon and Aiden behind. Aiden had just returned home from fighting with the Kingâ€™s army, scarred but alive. Now, betrayal hardened his features. Damon reached out and placed a calming hand on his shoulder.
â€œWe shall find her,â€ he said.
â€œIâ€™ll seek out Rogan,â€ Aiden replied.
Damon shook his head. â€œI brought that viper into our midst. It is my right to slay him. But only after Sarina is back in our care.â€ Damon sat straighter on his mount. Heâ€™d allowed his brother to take the reins a moment ago, but now, he had to act. He was the eldest. He bore the responsibility of justice.
â€œCheck the armory,â€ he ordered. â€œSee if the gypsies armed themselves to fight before they left.â€
Aiden opened his mouth to protest, but then quickly deferred. He sheathed his weapon and rode west.
Alone, Damon cantered through the village, his destination looming just beyond the ramshackle cottages and immobile vardos parked along the main path. Lightning ignited the flecks of glass embedded in the stone of Roganâ€™s castle and shimmered up the tall spires that rose into the sky like snakes about to strike. The stone structure was pretentious and intimidating, just as the architect had intended. But Damon wouldnâ€™t hesitate to enter. Not when he guessed this castle would be the most likely place for Rogan to hide Sarina, if theyâ€™d stayed behind.
Which Damon suspected they had. He could smell the stench of Roganâ€™s power even through the falling rain. On missions of their own, his brothers would be safe from the battle to come. And when his combat with Rogan ended, they would reunite in victory.
At the entrance to the castle, Damon dismounted, unsheathed his sword and smacked his horse on its rump so it shot into the darkness, out of the storm. Out of danger. He climbed the steps boldly and kicked open the heavy door. Pain shot up his thigh. He cared not. He removed his cloak and balanced his blade in his hands. Rogan would die tonight.
With a grunt, Damon pushed away his guilt yet again and strode through the echoing great hall to the grand staircase.
Not a single servant peeked out from behind a tapestry or scurried to greet him. Damon heard no sound from Roganâ€™s normally vicious collection of dogs. Even the blackguardâ€™s infernal, ever-present feline remained out of sight. Damonâ€™s footfalls reverberated on the stone floors until the sound was muffled by one of the many rich carpets. The only light came from two torches ensconced at the top of the stairs.
From there, Rogan smiled down on him.
Damon smirked. Not the man, but the portrait, hung with conceit as the centerpiece of the grand staircase. The oil on canvas portrayed the villain with perfect accuracy.
â€œRogan!â€ he shouted.
Damon stomped up the stairs.
â€œRogan! Release my sister and face me.â€
His voice shook the atmosphere, but there was no response.
Only silence. Deadly silence.
The absence of sound was ripe with magic. Damon could taste the metallic flavor on his tongue.
At the portrait, he stopped and stared into the eyes of the traitor, fighting off a chill spiking from the black irises. In the dancing light from the flickering torch flame, Damon spied the makings of a sneer on the manâ€™s slim lips, even while he petted the beloved cat curled in his lap. Cursed beast. Black. Longhaired. Amber-eyed. Mean as a devil. A five-pointed star dangling from a gold collar. The perfect personification of dark and dangerous magic.
Why hadnâ€™t Damon seen the evil in his so-called friend before? Damon had once prided himself on his ability to judge people. What kind of charm had Rogan employed to make Damon believe him to be a noble companion? To convince all the Romani exiled to Valoren that Rogan had their best interests at heart?
Pushed by a surge of wind, the manor door behind him banged closed. The torches faltered, then flamed, but in the seconds between light and dark, Damon glimpsed a figure move within the painting.
Not Rogan. In a doorway curved over Roganâ€™s left shoulder.
Damonâ€™s stomach dropped.
â€œSarina?â€ he whispered.
He stepped closer, sheathed his sword and yanked the heavy portrait off the wall. Startled at the weight of the carved and gilded frame, he took care not to damage the canvas. Even the gypsy Chovihano, the shaman Damonâ€™s father had consulted when Roganâ€™s dark intentions had started to manifest, feared that Rogan had mastered the blackest of magical arts. Could the sorcerer have tucked his sister away in a place from which no mortal man could release her–even someplace as inconceivable as inside a painting?
Damon dragged the portrait closer to the torch and stared hard into the shadowy doorway painted in the corner. Again, he caught sight of a woman. But her hair wasnâ€™t dark like his sisterâ€™s. This womanâ€™s tresses caught and reflected the light from the flames.
In a flash of thought, he remembered his wife back in England. Flame haired and filled with ice. If he died in the battle with Rogan tonight or with the Kingâ€™s mercenaries at dawn, sheâ€™d care not. But his mistress…at least sheâ€™d weep for his loss, even if only for the absence of his generous purse. For his part, heâ€™d miss her bold lovemaking, her insatiable, curvaceous body and the sound of her pleasured cries bursting in his eardrum. Suddenly, he could hear her laughter, raucous and loud, burbling from the painting. His body instantly responded with needs that had no place here, needs that made him forget–momentarily–his missing sister.
He shook his head until his brain cleared.
â€œDamn you, Rogan!â€
Damon lifted his sword high, and then plunged the blade down into the canvas, precisely at Roganâ€™s black heart. He heard the rip and then pain shot through him. He screamed as a thousand shards of light stripped his body bare to the bone.
Want to read Chapter One? Click here!
So, it’s a little bit contemporary, a little bit historical…a little bit paranormal. Okay, a LOT a bit paranormal. But you haven’t even met the heroine yet! But you will…if you come back tomorrow.
Don’t forget to comment…and come back tomorrow to see if you’ve won the $20 gift card!