If you found your way from USA Today's Happy Ever After Blog, you've already seen the beautiful cover by Nathalia Suellen. If you haven't, here's a sneak peek:
For anyone unfamiliar with my new-adult titles, The Hummingbird Heart is book two in my Haunted Hearts Legacy series -- a four book historical Gothic saga following the generations of one family as, haunted by both literal and figurative ghosts, they search for self-acceptance, love, and happiness. Recommended for ages 16+.
Here's a look at book one (click image to enlarge):
For more info on The Architect of Song, follow this link. And to give you an idea of book two's story-line, here's The Hummingbird Heart's back cover:
|Hits shelves August 15, 2017|
The Hummingbird Heart
Not all those who wander are lost.
Diurnal assignments for Friday, April 15, 1904:
1. Oil the carousel’s cranking rods and ring gear; 2. Complete design for new ride; 3. Present Lord Desmond with a written request for funds; 4. Buy a birthday gift for Emilia in Worthington.
Julian Thornton ceased writing on the assignment page in his log and resituated the pocket-sized leather-bound book in his lap. Leaning his head against the tree trunk behind him, he flipped to the back pages reserved for his inner musings. Fountain pen to paper, he opened his mind, giving voice to the ink.
Emilia is sixteen today. My sister—who still occupies my memories as a fine-boned, pink babe swaddled in blankets—is a lady. And I have ne’er felt more inept in our relations. She has sprouted wings and eaten her way out of her cocoon. Now she flies above me, leaving me a mere shadow on the ground. I am an echo fluttering beneath, always a few steps behind or ahead—never in sync.
I can no longer talk to her. She’s too high to hear me. The only secrets we share are those bequeathed us through our lineage; we were both born of a ghost story, after all. And though most people would consider that impossible, to me, the chance of death crossing over into life is more fathomable than the quirks of the fairer sex.
After nineteen years of living alongside ladies, I find that there is an inexplicable pull between the antipoles—male and female—a negative and positive charge that when left uncontained leads to an explosive combustion … an electron-spin so effulgent it renders anyone in its path blinded by the resulting holocaust.
“Hmm … so that’s how you plan to defeat us, aye?”
The same instant the familiar voice broke into Julian’s concentration, two tell-tale drizzles of red syrup oozed down from the branches overhead, landing soundly upon his log’s opened pages. The ink melted into sticky purple-black puddles.
Damn. Inhaling the magnolia-spiced morning air, Julian managed to keep the oath beneath his breath. He’d always been taught one shouldn’t curse in the presence of a lady … he supposed it applied even if said lady was in a tree, cozied up in the branches like a narcoleptic monkey.
He drew out his handkerchief and snapped it open to dab the sickly-sweet pools of raspberry ice from his journal’s page, hoping to salvage the folded parchment beneath, whereupon he had drawn the designs for his newest amusement ride. “Defeat whom, Willow?” He set his book aside along with his pen, regretting the invitation to talk the moment he’d offered it.
“Your mortal enemy, of course. Women. You plan on incinerating us with your electron-spin.”
Julian’s back tensed at her successive snort and his ears grew hot. After eleven years of growing up alongside one another, Willow knew how he abhorred anyone reading over his shoulder. He flashed a glare up at her.
“Say, where are your spectacles?” she asked.
Two more sticky droplets fell, this time landing on a snowy magnolia, one of thousands upon the shrubs that surrounded his oak tree like castle walls. Over the past year, Julian had always found solace here in the mornings, but for the last few weeks his placid kingdom had been stormed by this most formidable foe—quiet as a lizard and clandestine as a cat.
“I’ve misplaced them,” he grumbled in reference to his missing spectacles, turning his head away. He only required them for reading, but often wore them to help people differentiate between himself and his twin brother. “They’ve been absent for days. Hadn’t you noticed?” Hearing a slurp from the leafy canopy which shaded him from the sun, he waited for his intruder’s reply.
“Naturalmente. I knew something was different. Assumed your head was shrinking or some such. Back to the subject … best stop your wool gathering. At this rate, you’ll never get your finance request ready in time. You have to pitch it this morning so you may leave for Worthington before noon. Emilia will never forgive you if you’re not back in time for her birthday dinner tonight.”
Julian folded his stained handkerchief and tucked it in his vest pocket. “And pray tell, how am I to make progress with you blotting out my notes like the wrath of God on judgment day, Willomena?”
A distinctive plop parted the ankle-high grass beside him where Willow tossed down her raspberry ice from above. Julian winced; he’d not meant to spout off her full name. Although it always snapped her to attention, it also sometimes had the strangest impact on her mood—a saddening effect. As beautiful as the name was, he had no idea why it would sadden her. Just one of Willow’s many quirks.
Gnats started to gather on the ice’s slushy remains beside him. Julian grinned. Eighteen years old, yet still the woman wouldn’t breakfast on a kidney omelet or seed biscuit like the rest of the cultured world. And damned if he didn’t find it downright charming.
A rustle of fabric stirred overhead. Even without looking up, he could see her in his mind’s eye—a dizzying sequence of grace and agility despite her inelegant pose.
She would be hanging upside down now, her skirts an inverted tumble of plain cotton that mushroomed her upper torso and head. Her chemise would come untucked enough to reveal the prismatic hummingbird tattoo at the small of her lower back—the mysterious marking which she’d never explained—and her lacy pantalets would serve as the only pretense of modesty or whimsy she’d allow herself.
A gust from her movements raked his plaited hair so the shoulder length braid struggled to wrestle free of its leather tie. Still no need to look.
The branches creaked. She was swinging. Back and forth, gaining momentum until her hands could find purchase on a branch sturdy enough to support her slight weight. She grunted, and a sympathetic vibration shuddered in his throat.
He rubbed his fresh-shaved chin. Eyes closed, he pictured her knees releasing, her body a fluid sweep of olive-gold Italian skin as her bare feet drifted to the ground with all the poise of apple blossoms riding a breezy downdraft.
Just as he envisioned her dropping, he felt her upright next to him, radiating warmth from the thrill of descent.
He looked up to meet her gaze and she frowned, the excess of her skirts folded over one arm. Her dark auburn hair draped to her waist, still holding the ravaged crimp of braids not fully brushed out. Tremors skipped through Julian’s fingers—a repressed desire to tame the tousled mess and return it to some semblance of order.
“I know”—he strummed his pen against his leg—“you don’t like me using your full name. I will try to respect that. But you must respect my wishes, as well. No more reading over my shoulder.”
She bowed to him then—an acrobat acknowledging her captive audience—and the little toe of her right foot wriggled within inches of the collapsed mound of her raspberry ice.
He applauded and at last she smiled. He responded with a grin of his own. An effortless response, partly due to the jagged, crimson stain streaked across her lips and the slight gap between her central incisors—the one endearing flaw in her straight white teeth. But the ease with which she made him smile was more than her smudged appearance.
Julian couldn’t keep company with any other woman—save his sister, mother, or Aunt Enya—without breaking into an arctic sweat and losing all function of his tongue. Willomena, however, was different. Whatever a lady might do in any given situation, he could rest assured she would do the complete opposite. Which put her, in his mind, in the league of a man. And men he understood.
Willow trounced onto her posterior without any pretense of straightening her skirt. “You’ve been careless today.” Her slender ankles poked out from the billows of dusty fabric and crossed casually. “You missed a cranking gear. And you failed to oil the center beam.”
Considering her statement, he noted the oily splotches at her wrists and on her gathered cuffs. “I was in a hurry. Desmond and his wife are to leave sometime this afternoon. Thank you for double-checking the rides.”
She shrugged. “I had nothing better to do. You might wish to talk to your brother, though. One of the unicorns is in need of a tail replacement before the guests arrive in June. A squirrel must have nested in it over the winter. I would tell Nick myself, but Lord only knows where he’s about this morning.”
“A nest, you say?” Julian wasn’t surprised. It was the biggest drawback to using real horse hair on the carousel. He scooted over to share the trunk’s support with Willow. She propped her back close enough that their shoulders brushed. His nostrils detected raspberries mingled with her unique fragrance—as exotic and intoxicating as jasmine and black opium—and a sudden and sharp pang crimped his gut. His mouth watered. Hunger, he assured himself. He’d eaten very little breakfast. “So, my brother’s missing again?” Julian noted the quiver of her black coppery-tipped lashes upon his query.
“I had such a magnificent prank planned for today, what with the maids cleaning the townhouse for Emilia’s celebration. Now I’ve no one to help me execute it.” Her frown transformed to a grin of wicked delight that brought to mind a deranged fairy. “It has to do with a box of snails and old Miss Abbot’s obsession with clean ceilings. It’s a simple enough ruse. I merely need someone tall to boost me up on their shoulders so the snails can suction in place. You could help me…”
Julian had his journal on his lap, the parchment with his design and monetary calculations spread out over it, fountain pen in hand. “One might argue that by now we’ve outgrown such pranks. Besides, I’ve already too much to do if I’m to make that trip today.”
“Well, perhaps I might go along with you to Worthington. My lady’s maid is always willing to take a jaunt into town. I could help you choose something for Emilia.”
Julian tilted his head in thought. “I’ve decided to buy her some of that French stationary she likes to write her poetry upon. Besides, I thought you were chained to the Manor for your banishment from finishing school last month. I don’t think you’re allowed such an outing at this juncture.”
“I suppose.” She grimaced, making the dimple in her chin more prominent. “I had to run away. I missed you and Emilia and Nick, and all our jollies. Liverpool gave me the collywobbles.”
“The collywobbles? A rather childish locution from a woman so sophisticated she was caught smoking in the school’s library on four separate occasions.”
“I wasn’t actually smoking.”
Julian smirked. “So you say.”
“Truly. I don’t even know how to smoke a cheroot. I was pretending to inhale. Besides, it never worked. Headmistress Gribbles kept insisting there was a refined lady hidden within me. She was determined to redeem my thwarted soul.”
“Ah. So to punish her for her unwavering faith, you snuck into her chamber wearing a man's top hat and vest, face painted like a clown, and hid within her window seat to give her a righteous scare before you absconded and found your way back to us.”
Willow snorted—a most unladylike sound, yet somehow dainty when matched with her delicate profile. “You’re forgetting; I had on my corset and bloomers. Least I was half-trying to be refined. I’m sure she still wonders to this day how I fit into such a tiny space.”
“Yes. Perhaps I should send her an article on hyperlaxity.” With a sidelong glance, Julian studied Willow’s fine-boned double-jointed frame. That she could bend and knot her body in such pagan poses offered no riddle for a scientific mind. Yet still he’d lain awake more nights than he could count, mystified to physical discomfort by the thought of her lengthy, entangled limbs. “Just six more months.” Julian wiped his brow with a sleeve cuff, decidedly too warm in the unseasonal humidity. “Half a year and you could have graduated.”
“I would never have survived even another week of fan-flapping and dance lessons. I don’t know why Uncle Owen suddenly opted to send me there in the first place. He had no right to expect me to go on his command. It’s not as if he’s my fath—” her voice cracked on the last word.
Julian nudged her, sensing a pain she would never allow anyone to share. “He only wants what’s best for you. You’re blessed to have him. And Aunt Enya.”
Silent, she stretched her arms behind her head, the fabric molding around her nubile curves as her eyes drifted closed. She’d managed to skip out of the townhouse without a corset again. Julian’s mother encouraged such independence, but Aunt Enya was a different story. When Willow had fallen into Enya and Uncle Owen’s keep years ago, Enya regressed to the strict sartorial mode of ‘loose stays mean loose morals’. It was an argument his mother and aunt often broached but would never quell.
Noticing Willow’s sensual shape beneath the fabric, Julian swallowed against a swelling throat. He glanced at the magnolia shrubs for a distraction. “Of a truth, Willow.” He resituated his collar in an effort to steady his scratchy voice. “Where would you be had they not taken you in?”
“Always brimming with hypothetical questions aren’t you, il mio piccolo cavolo?”
Julian smirked. She’d called him her ‘little cabbage’ since they first met—mostly to annoy him. Over time, it had evolved to a term of endearment. Though English had become Willow’s primary language, she still used her native tongue for affect. In fact, she’d taught Julian to decipher and speak Italian so fluently they could have secret conversations around other people. It was the one advantage he had over his brother, Nick. Something she shared only with Julian, and he relished it.
Keeping her eyes shut, Willow returned his smile. “Without my guardians, I would be … well … most probably off with the circus having an adventure sublime.” She smacked her tinted lips for effect. “But I am indebted to their generosity, and I do hold great affection for them. No doubt they saved me from myself, if nothing else.”
Opening her eyes, she dropped her arms to pick up a twig. Mesmerized, she held it straight while a lady bug trailed the bumps of wood. In gentle puffs, she blew on the bug, coaxing it to open its wings and flitter away. Her dark eyebrows crimped as she watched its flight, and Julian knew she envied the insect’s ability to fly.
He’d spoken to her of the orphanage at times, yet still he knew so little. Anytime he broached why she’d ended up there after the circus, in hopes to understand why her parents chose to abandon her, she grew quiet and pensive, claiming to have no memory of it. She’d never even shown an interest in finding her family again. So everyone avoided the subject of her past to keep her smiling in the present. Still, he assumed a part of her missed her earliest childhood. Being raised as a performer—her mother a trapeze aerialist and contortionist, her father a prop man—a common life must seem very trite.
He suspected that’s the reason she left the orphanage yet was happy enough to call the manor home. There was nothing common about a life lived where shops, cafés, billiard halls, ballrooms, and lodging were all at hand within one milieu.
Just as his father had hoped, their home had become a holiday resort as well-renowned as Bath. There was a sense of grandeur and liberation in every vine-covered arbor, hot spring, and grassy slope. He supposed no one could feel ordinary in such a majestic setting.
Silently, he regarded his companion—so still in her repose. Her lower lip was so full and plump, the upper one seemed thin in comparison. The resulting imbalance formed a perpetual pout. Such a suggestive, sullen frown would appeal to any man, if said man could see past her hoydenish behavior long enough to notice.
Shaking his head, Julian returned to scribbling equations, jaw clamped tight. He’d lied to her earlier, about being too busy to aid in her prank. He always bowed out when she asked him to partake in anything daring or frolicsome.
In all honesty, he’d often imagined what it would be like to tag along as her accomplice. To stand on the brink of her contagious laughter—to feel it rush through his veins. But he feared he could never measure up to his brother for such excursions. Nick had been her consort in pranks and piracy since the day she’d arrived at the Manor of Diversions. They’d run wild like apes from the time she was eight and he was nine—notorious to even the guests for their devilish capers.
Resigned to their differences, Julian touched the nib of his pen to his tongue and tasted ink as he ciphered some figures in his head. With a nod, he jotted down the proper sum. He noticed the absence of warmth on his right side before realizing Willow had stood.
She shook grass from her skirt. “I suppose I’ll go visit Leander at the stables since I’m to be imprisoned on the grounds. Perchance he’ll let me help carriage train your father’s blue roan mare.”
“I doubt Leander’s at the stables today. This is his honeymoon week, lest you forget.”
As Uncle Owen and Aunt Enya’s only child, and being only a few months older than Willow, Leander was the closest thing to a brother Willow had. She’d been a part of his wedding three days earlier. But Willow tended to misplace her short-term memory anytime it conflicted with her spontaneity.
Twisting her crimped hair into a knot at her nape and securing it with the ladybug’s twig, she scowled. “Honeymoon, bah. What a ridiculous term. At least in Italy, we give it sparkle.” She spread out her arms like a butterfly waiting to launch. “Luna di miele.”
Her words didn’t register. Julian was too busy admiring the graceful turn of her slim, bared neck. With her nape exposed, she looked elegant and refined. Though he’d not dare admit it for fear she’d never wear her hair that way again.
“And on that note”—Willow coiled a loose lock around her finger—“whomever said it had to last more than one night? Consummate the marriage then be done with it. Honeymoon’s over. What more is there left to do after that?”
Forcing his attention back to his calculations, Julian mumbled absently while biting on the tip of his pen. “Consummate it again and again … until you learn every precept and secret of one another’s bodies. Until your differences become a natural and necessary extension of your likenesses. Least, that’s what I intend to do.” A fountain of heat spread through his earlobes upon realization that he’d spoken aloud.
Their gazes met. Willow’s eyes sliced through him. The bright, greenish-yellow irises were two toned like stained glass, and with her olive skin deepened to a blush as it was, they stood out even more—appearing to ignite as if the sun streamed from behind them.
“Forgive me,” he stammered. “I-I forget sometimes that you’re a gir—”
“Oh, that’s a fine thing.” She cut him off with a mock snarl. “Kick a lady when she’s down and out without her partner in crime, why don’t you?” Shifting her attention to the magnolia shrubs, she lifted on tiptoe to see over the clusters of snowy white flowers. “I do hope you have that request ready for Desmond. He’s on his way over. He seems to be in a hurry … or a fury. He’s beating his fists on his thighs. Have you done something to ruffle him?”
“Not that I could even conceive. I bow to his every whim.” Julian scrambled to finish the final equations, smearing ink with the side of his palm. No sooner had he rose than Lord Desmond flapped his way into the shrubs, oblivious to the opening on the other side of the tree. By the time he’d made a hole big enough to climb through, leaves, twigs, and magnolias clung to his clothes and top hat as if he’d sprouted into full bloom.
“You…” Standing a full head shorter, he pointed a gloved finger at Julian and several petals skittered on his sleeve with the breeze. The other hand was bared of any covering and showcased a legion of age spots. “After all these years. I never thought you were capable of such … such treachery.”
Willow stepped back to allow the wrinkled, red-faced investor fully within their circle. Her attention alternated between Julian and Desmond.
“Pardon, my lord?” Julian looked down on the little man covered in flowers, feeling a bit like Goliath about to be pummeled by a wood nymph. “To what do you refer?”
“Consider this your reckoning, two-faced knave!”
Willow yelped as Lord Desmond reached up to spank Julian’s cheek with the back of his empty glove then tossed the leather to the ground. A hot, stinging swell raced from the point of impact to Julian’s neck and ears, ripening to a full-fledged blush. The ride designs fluttered from his fingers to his feet, covering the investor’s glove.
“Julian …?” Willow’s fingertip trailed what must have been a flaring red splotch on his face, but he brushed her aside. Stunned, he faced the old man, every muscle tensed, poised to react but loathe to lose the funding he so desperately needed. He couldn’t afford to be rash. Lord Desmond had been the park’s only investor over the past five years.
Willow ran her palm between Julian’s shoulder blades. He relaxed at her touch, bit by bit. The contempt and betrayal on the old man’s face was genuine enough. He obviously believed he’d been wronged in some way.
“I demand satisfaction. A pistol duel at sunset.” Lord Desmond’s voice cracked, as if standing face to face with Julian’s chest rattled him. “To think, you with your hand in my pocket, all the while shoving the other one up my wife’s skirts!” From the depths of his jacket, he withdrew a pair of spectacles and flung them over Julian’s head into the tree’s canopy. Leaves rattled on the wired frame’s descent until it landed squarely within the melted raspberry puddle next to Willow’s foot.
Willow gasped and stared blankly up at Julian, an odd expression on her face, as if she were the one without spectacles … as if he were blurred and she couldn’t quite bring him into focus.
Julian struggled with Lord Desmond’s accusation. In his mind’s eye, he pictured the investor’s lovely wife in all of her voluptuous glory. She was the same age as Julian and his brother. Nick had often joked about Lady Mina and her decrepit viscount; everyone knew she’d been forced by her parents to marry the old codger for his wealth. Remembering such conversations, a sickening theory took form.
Surely his brother hadn’t…
Julian loosened the cravat at his neck. “Sir, there’s been some misunderstanding, to be sure.”
“My bride admitted everything when I found your spectacles tucked within her décolleté. She’s been infatuated by your bookishness since our arrival. Wasn’t enough for you to bed her … now you’re calling her a liar?” The old man’s face flared to the color of a cranberry. He looked at Willow then back at Julian. “Oh, I see. You don’t wish to discourage your newest conquest.” He appraised Willow’s bared feet, rumpled dress, and smeared lips. “Though it looks like you’ve already managed to deflower this one, here out in the open under God’s own eye.”
The rush of heat in Julian’s head drained into his chest, hot as flame for the attack on his friend’s honor. Her bottom lip had disappeared between her teeth, a sure sign she wrestled a retort of her own. Or worse, she was debating whether or not to physically accost the old man.
Before Julian could stop her, she poked her finger into Lord Desmond’s shirt. “Now see here, you pigeon-chested little molligrub!”
Easing her behind him, Julian swept up the old man’s glove along with his design and held them out to the investor, jaw clenched. “You will apologize to the lady.”
“Lady?” His rival’s face crinkled like a dried grape. “I’ve ne’er heard a lady speak with such rancor. Nor have I seen one so proud of her unshod feet. Let her apologize.”
Still holding out the design, Julian kept his body planted firmly in front of Willow. “You brought her into this. The apology rests on your shoulders. Then you and I will have a seat beside the tree and get to the bottom of these accusations rationally. We yet have business to discuss.”
“Our business is heretofore terminated.” Lord Desmond jerked away the paper along with his glove and cast them again to the grass. “The only thing left twixt us is a duel. Sunset. In the courtyard.” Running a malevolent gaze over Julian, he dusted petals and twigs from his clothes. “Best find yourself a second. Make certain it’s someone with a constitution for blood, as I’ve no intention of missing my mark.” Then he retreated through the jagged opening he’d made, leaving Julian sweltering beneath Willow’s bewildered stare and the mid-morning sun.
~INTL GIVEAWAY DEETS!~
1- Eye Doesn't See, Heart Doesn't Grieve - ACEO Surreal Circus art card
That's seven winners. Good luck to all who enter. I'll be back with more giveaways and reveals throughout the next few months before The Hummingbird Heart's August 15th launch!
~INTL GIVEAWAY DEETS!~
|1 - Signed and personalized paperback of The Architect of Song|
|3 - The Architect of Song Audio Books|
1- Eye Doesn't See, Heart Doesn't Grieve - ACEO Surreal Circus art card
|1 - Hummingbird temporary tattoo|
|1 - 5 piece set vintage nautical ship magnets|