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Here’s an excerpt from my contemporary fantasy romance RULING EDEN out at Crescent Moon Press. It is available both in e-format at Barnes & Noble and in print format from Amazon. I’ve posted excerpts before and I thought I’d give you another taste of the novel. To put it in context, here’s the blurb:
What if a modern woman suddenly learns she is heir to the throne of a magical realm hidden in our world and is the most powerful magical being on the planet? Growing up an orphan, Rachel always assumed she’d be going it alone, until the night before her twenty-fifth birthday when she was thrust into the realm of Eden’s Court.
Her new job description? Unite seven contentious magical races in order to prevent the destruction of earth. But learning to rule is easier than facing her attraction to Gabriel, half-angel, half-demon. Born of a forbidden love between mortal enemies, Gabriel is convinced he is a political liability to Rachel. Once Rachel stops denying their chemistry, she must convince him to pursue their love. Although Gabriel is willing to help her solve a murder, avert a war, and learn to use her overwhelming magic, accepting their destiny together is another matter.
And here’s my excerpt from the opening chapter of the book:
It was April freakin’ thirtieth of the year when my life took a nose dive into the bizarre, and I pulled my jacket tighter against the chill New England wind. The air smelled of ozone, and I sensed a storm threatening to deluge the area. I trudged the last couple blocks home after the bus dumped me on the corner. Relieved to have made it out of the rush hour push of Boston and onto the streets of Watertown’s family neighborhoods, my commute home always felt like a desperate race toward a safe haven.
“Don’t dwell on the ‘what ifs’, Rachel,” I mumbled, feet slapping the pavement as it bore the brunt of my irritation. “Life’s about the here and now, and you get what you get.” I gave myself roughly the same speech every year on my birthday. Sometimes it even worked.
I tried again to dismiss the unshakable knot in my gut I’d carried around today. I’d rather ignore whatever it was trying to tell me. Got me into less trouble that way. At least most of the time.
I walked faster, a jay walk away from my apartment in a two-family, and cursed the fool part of me that hoped for more from life. Distracted by my whirling thoughts, I never saw the speeding car until my foot left the curb. My body kept moving forward, momentum fighting my brain’s command to stop. Everything went into slow motion, and I watched, as if outside myself, each horrific moment unfold. My step into the street was completed an instant later, and nothing could halt my body from intersecting the vehicle’s path.
I dragged in one long breath before impact.
Then a whirling white blur hit me like a steam shovel to my abdomen and threw me back onto the sidewalk. Briefcase flying, I slammed into the concrete with a painful jarring. Skin scraped the ground, the burn ran down to my bones, and all the air whooshed from my lungs. My eyes closed, and a disturbing tingling coursed through my limbs and chest as I registered the car engine’s hum fading away to nothing. My last coherent thought: everything was about to change.
The fuzziness began to clear and my body settled. Damn, what happened? There’d been a car, speeding. It hit me. Or at least something had. Why no agony? There should be more pain, right? I opened my eyes. What the hell! My back was against the pavement, and I was draped underneath a panting, drooling, cream-colored standard poodle.
“If that isn’t the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen a human do. Were you looking where you were going? If I hadn’t slammed you away from that car you would’ve been killed and what would I say to Morven? Huh? She’d roast me for dinner. I can hear her now. ‘You think I can’t acquire a new familiar, Jack? I should have replaced you with a cat ages ago.”
I figured I’d been knocked into next Sunday because I could hear the dog speaking clear as a bell.
“How could you let the Mother Heir be killed one minute before you brought her home?’ And that’s the highly edited version without the expletives and threats to bodily harm. Are you trying to get me fired? I swear, I think I bruised my front leg shoving you out of the way. Ow, I’m really hurt. I need a doctor. Someone get me a doctor.”
At this point the poodle stopped complaining and panted melodramatically, a pained doggy expression on its face. It coated me with a glob of slobber and sneezed in quick succession.
The last thing I remember was thinking I hated poodles almost as much as birthdays. Then, black.
The problem with fainting is that you generally wake up and still have to deal with whatever disaster sent you into the faint in the first place. The trauma of the accident had caused some sort of temporary hallucinogenic state. Case in point– imagining the furry dog sitting on the sidewalk next to me had spoken. Of course he hadn’t. I shook my head to clear it.
“Thanks for helping me, Jack.” How did I know his name?
The dog was well groomed and shaved around his hindquarters, although he smelled of wet dander. Probably had a great home somewhere.
I shifted my body to test for injury. Nothing screamed ‘call an ambulance,’ so I gritted my teeth and pushed myself to a stand with only the tiniest of groans and awkward lurching. I’d survived worse.
“Maybe you have a tag, and I can phone your owner and tell him you’re a big hero,” I mumbled to the dog, a bitter note in my voice. “It figures my champion would have four legs and drool. Nothing personal, pup. We’ll just limp over to my place to make the call.”
Jack, now blessedly silent, followed me as I picked up my briefcase and crossed the street. No demon cars in sight. The asshole that almost hit me hadn’t even stopped, and the street had been bare of neighbors weeding their modest yards, so no witnesses. My earlier distraction had prevented me from noticing the make of the red sedan, yet alone its license plate.
I fumbled with my keys, and my door opened. Jack wiggled his way inside as I entered. I spread my arms. “Welcome to my humble abode.” Cheeks burning as I imagined someone might catch me talking to this well-groomed mutt, I nudged aside the part of me reflecting how desperate I must feel to be speaking to a poodle.
But despite the bizarre accident leading to his presence, I begrudgingly acknowledged it was just plain nice to have someone to talk to, even if I couldn’t expect a response. It became harder to wake up alone each morning. I didn’t get a lot of company, and I could use some about now, my day already rough before the near miss with the car.
At work I’d been spit on by one kid, “fired” by two others, and shoved into a wall by a fourth. I rubbed at the bruise on my hip, silently cursing the hellion who had body checked me when I refused her request for a pass. Working in a group home for teenagers, I knew better than to let my guard down. It was nuts to work there after the life I’d led, but someone had to watch out for those kids. The list of those willing was short and not so sweet. Now, I’d have new bruises and scrapes from the car incident to keep the one on my hip company.
Dropping my briefcase, I headed for the bathroom and grabbed a couple of aspirin, downing them with water from the sink. The dog followed at my heels, his nails clicking on the hardwood with a lulling patter. I’d strip and have a look at the damage to my body after I made tea. I walked into the kitchen, grabbed a mug from the cabinet, and turned the knob on the stove to start the water boiling.
Jack trotted into the kitchen and sat at my feet, as if to gain my attention. “Do you have an ice pack I can put on my leg?” he said, his voice chiming as clear as Dolby Surround Sound.
I stared, mouth agape, at my still talking furry friend, stumbling backward and smacking into the wall.
“You really should paint the kitchen.” The poodle spoke as he took in the apartment. “The wallpaper is tacky. A nice soothing mint color would compliment the other rooms.”
Maybe the accident had jarred something loose in my head causing this hallucination. My pulse points pounded like jackhammers, but Jack continued, oblivious to my panic.
“And if that’s tea water, I’d love a bowl of Darjeeling. Otherwise, any dark tea will do. I never got into the green or herbal stuff when everyone started babbling about the health benefits.”
Oh, this is not good.
Maybe these hallucinations would stop after I had time to calm down from the accident. But what if this new psychosis was more permanent? My family history was a blank since I was a virtual orphan.
Rachel, you’ve seen worse. Deal. I pushed away from the wall, swaggering toward the canine with fake bravado and trying to talk myself down from the shock. “Dogs do not talk,” I growled. “You are a dog; hence you don’t talk. I’m just having the day from hell and the accident put me over the edge.”
I stabbed the air with my finger to punctuate my words, desperate to force this hallucination to listen up and cut the crap. “I’m going to sit down at my kitchen table and have a hot cup of tea. You’re going to sit next to me and pant, maybe whine or bark a little like a normal, average dog.”
Turning toward my stove, my legs shook. Why was this happening? If I closed my eyes, maybe he’d go away.
I glanced back and Jack shook his doggy head. “Rachel, I’m sure my presence shocks you, but you can certainly guess why I’ve come.”
Enough. I swung around, shouting, “Shut up!”
He whined, took a breath, maybe for courage, and continued. “Surely you have met, or at least learned about, familiars with the ability to speak. Lavinia Garrett is a talented witch, and I know she wouldn’t neglect your education too terribly.”
I wondered when the television crew would appear and show me the microphone secured inside Jack’s collar a la Candid Camera. I strode from the stove and walked into my bedroom to escape. The dog followed me.
Focus, Rachel. You have to figure this out. Lavinia Garrett? Witches? Why was my hallucination talking about my first foster mother? I hadn’t thought about her in years. I was four when she and her family were killed in a car crash after dropping me off at pre-school one morning. Ah-ha! Car crash! A car accident was the connection.
I threw myself down on my bed and shot him an icy glare. “I couldn’t have spoken with Mrs. Garrett about talking familiars or witchcraft,” I said, my voice brittle. “She died when I was four. Did the Garrett’s have a poodle like you? Is that why I’m imagining you?”
If a dog could look shocked, then that was what I saw on this pooch.
“Wha…wha…what do you mean Lavinia died?” he whimpered. “She raised you…was supposed to raise you…to prepare you to rule. Morven said she’d disappeared on a sabbatical a while back, which made sense once we found out she was your foster mother. But dead? Eva chose her specifically to protect you until it was time to embrace your destiny. You do know about your destiny, don’t you?”
Jack gave a doggy squeak, sounding more and more panicked by the moment. It’s nice to know that your hallucination is just as freaked as you when starting the slide into craziness. He deserved it for messing with my head.
I raised my hands to my eyes, blocking out the offensive mirage. “I am but mad north-northwest,” I muttered to myself, “When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.”
“Don’t go all Shakespeare on me, Rachel,” the dog complained, obviously recovering from his reaction. “Your destiny is a serious matter.” He straightened his canine posture and focused his beady eyes in a glare.
“If you insist on talking, the least you could do is make sense,” I accused. “I have no clue about ruling anything. And the only destiny I know about is the one I planned to create for myself with a stick of chocolate chip cookie dough and the TV remote. Of course, that’s looking pretty bleak right now, as the next few days will probably involve a locked ward at a hospital.”
The kettle whistled and I stomped back to the kitchen. Picking up my empty mug, I banged it down again on the counter. It felt good. I calmly– see how stable and together I am?–poured the water for my tea and brought it to the little table in my kitchen. Jack sat and stared.
“What?” The word came out louder than I intended and I winced. The poodle looked so pathetic, I began to feel guilty about yelling at him. “Do you need water or dog food? I mean, I don’t really have dog food, but I could throw something together.”
He lay down on my tile, covered his doggy face with his paws, and started to moan. “My life just got a bazillion times harder. This was supposed to be a straightforward assignment. ‘Just go retrieve the Mother Heir’, Morven had said. ‘Escort Rachel back to the court and you can have the rest of the weekend off to dig up bones.’”
I’d never seen a dog talk to itself before. Of course, I’d never seen a dog talk before at all, but Jack sputtered and mumbled and shook as he seemed to contemplate the situation. My anger ebbed. “Look, I should really be calling the emergency hotline now, but maybe you’d feel better if you start at the beginning.”
I had a bitch of a day, but I was willing to put off committing myself for a bit. Jeez, I was encouraging my hallucination to talk through his issues. My hands shook around my mug. I gripped it tighter, enjoying the slight burn on my palms. At least the pain was commonplace, normal.
Jack finally stood up and gave a shake. He sat back down on his hind legs and sent me a resolute stare. “Okay, if I start from the beginning we’ll probably be here for the next year. I’ll give you a condensed version, and we’ll go from there. By the way, you don’t happen to believe in magic or the supernatural or anything, do you? I mean this would be so much easier if you–”
He stopped when he saw the confusion registering on my face. “No, I wouldn’t be that lucky. Okay, here it goes. You are the heir to…well, you’re like the…queen for all the supernatural, you know, beings like angels, vampires, faeries–all the magical races on this planet.”
I forced myself to listen to his words. Magical races? He believed this? But he shouldn’t believe anything. He was only a dog. A fog settled over my mind, filling the void left by my retreating anger at hearing such a bizarre explanation. I blinked and refocused.
“On your twenty-fifth birthday, midnight tonight, you’re supposed to return to your court in the Garden of Eden, and assume leadership over all magical beings on this planet.”
I kept staring blankly, unable to place what I heard in any coherent context.
“You were supposed to be raised incognito out in the mortal world by a witch family. That way you would be ‘in touch’ with humanity and gain some sort of humility to help counteract your incredible powers and magical strength.” He spoke slowly and enunciated well, as if he lectured a child with a deficient IQ.
My incredible power and strength? Ha! I felt more like limp spaghetti. I listened simply because I was unable to move. The screaming voice in my head quieted, exhausted.
“The Mother Heir is always fostered among mortals. The witch’s job is to instruct you about your heritage and prepare you to rule.” Jack’s brow wrinkled and his words became hesitant. “But I guess something went wrong. I mean, you have no clue what I’m talking about, do you?” The last sounded hopeless, his ears flopping as he dropped his head in defeat.
“Nooo, not really.” I rolled my eyes.
After several minutes of absolute silence, he stood up, shook himself, and lay on the floor. “I better get comfortable. This will take a while. You said something about food before? Any leftover steak bones or hamburger in that fridge?”…
If you’ve liked what you’ve read, please consider checking out the book further at my website, www.michellepicard.com.
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