Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Chapter Three, Part 1:

I looked up at Mrs. Northe, wide-eyed. "Should I...be in finer dress for dinner?" Suddenly the knee-buckling certainty that I could never suitably fill the role of Lady Denbury nearly caused me to stumble against my mentor and substitute mother. I'd turned the poor man down anyway. I'd be lucky if he had the patience to ask me again. My throat felt dry, and I tried to recover myself.

"If you'd like to dress, I've kept something for you upstairs." She chuckled. "But the company here is hardly the kind for that sort of ceremony."

"Did I ruin everything?" I whispered, seeing that Jonathon was eagerly responding to my father's awkward prompt about something museum related.

"I don't know, did you?" she whispered back, flashing a maddeningly mischievous grin.

"Maybe." I sighed. "I'm so sorry about dinner, I didn't know you planned anything—"

"Oh, this is hardly for you. Toasting your engagement would have been a delightful distraction. But with the papers being the way they are—"

"You saw about the Association, they're being targeted, just like Jonathon was—"

"Of course and I've already taken action, which is why this dinner is more important than when, exactly, you accept that dear boy's hand. Come along, let's make introductions." She gestured me forward down the entrance foyer and into the lavish dining room, and I was reminded of all the reasons why I was eternally grateful for her. Though being indebted to anyone chafed at my "woeful sense of independence," as my father called it.

All the best and finest was laid out, glittering and appetizing. The room was as rich and lush in carpeting and drapery as it was in the spread of food before us in crystal, silver, and gold-trimmed china with peacock feather patterns.

I wondered about the elegant silver-haired man in a fine navy suit near the head of the table, but it was the sight of Reverend Blessing, who had helped lead the charge in our recent battle against demons, that had me beaming a smile. And then I recognized another face at the table, a haunted red-headed woman I'd last seen backstage at Nathaniel Veil's show.

"Many of you are acquainted, save for this fine chap here to my right," Mrs. Northe began, brushing a satin-gloved hand that spoke of great familiarity across the gentleman’s shoulder. My father's jaw clenched imperceptibly. No one but me would have seen it, but after spending much of my life mute, I read body language as if it were spoken. "This is Senator Rupert Bishop," Mrs. Northe went on, "nobly representing our state in Washington. Rupert and I were childhood friends and attended our first séance together, when was that..."

"Good God," the silver-haired man exclaimed, the chiseled angles of his face curving into a gamesome expression. "Nearly thirty years ago."

Mrs. Northe made a face and batted a hand. "Why did I ask? To be clear, we were children when we called our first ghost. Rupert's hair turned to winter at twenty, so let's just not speculate about our ages." Everyone chuckled. Mrs. Northe turned her charming presence to my father, and his jaw eased. "This is Gareth Stewart of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and his daughter Miss Natalie." I offered what felt like a somewhat awkward smile. She did not introduce Jonathon. He hadn't entered the room and was perhaps still lingering in the hall.

My father bowed his head to the assembled company and addressed Mr. Bishop. "Pleasure to meet you, Senator. My late wife was grateful for your support of her causes. You may have met her, she was always out and about..." he said with soft fondness that made me ache for the woman I'd never known, save for the fact she saved my life twice, once from the grave. She died for me when I was four, pushing me out of the way of a reckless carriage, and her spirit returned to save me yet again, from a demon's grip.

"Helen Stewart, you must mean, what a loss," the senator said quietly. That my mother had made an impact a senator could recall more than a decade after her death caused a lump to rise in my throat. My father nodded briefly, by now steeled to the loss but never unaffected by the mention of her name in public.

"She was the toast of our ASPCA benefits," Reverend Blessing piped in with his sonorous voice, a brilliant smile flashing a white crescent across his brown skin.

"Yes, she was," Senator Bishop added. "As passionate against animal cruelty as she was to cruelty to any creature!" Bishop shared in the reverend's warm smile before turning kind, gray-green eyes to my father and then to me. "Mister and Miss Stewart, I'm sorry to say I've been in Washington when your Metropolitan soirees grace the upper echelon of the town. Let's coordinate, as I'd love to attend one in the future."

"We'd be honored to have you, sir," my father replied.

Jonathon entered. I hoped he hadn't been out there pouting. Whatever his mood, he was

the picture of calm stoicism as he bowed his head to the assembled company and spoke with crisp softness that could hold a room in thrall. "Reverend Blessing, sir, good to see you, and why, Miss Kent," Jonathon murmured, turning to the redhead who was sitting a seat apart from everyone, dressed all in black as was the custom of Mister Veil's Association. "I..."

"Didn't expect to see me here?" Her tone was clipped with a fine London accent made more pointed by her anxiety. She set her pretty lips into a prim line, her eyes glittering with tears that she held back. "Yes. I couldn't have predicted it either. But as you well know Mrs. Northe is a godsend."

"Miss Lavinia Kent." Mrs. Northe gestured, presenting the poor, haunted girl before shooing us all into our places at the table.

"I'm afraid I still don't entirely understand what occurred, Miss Kent," Senator Bishop began gently, leaning his tall form closer across the table in a way that was engaged but nonthreatening. "Papers never tell the full story, nor an unbiased one. Could I ask you to elaborate?"

Lavinia stared into her soup as she spoke, seasoning the broth with an occasional tear, her British accent lighter for her years in New York. "We had seen the leaflet for a "cure for melancholy" at Nathaniel's show, in the program. I know he"—she looked up guiltily at Jonathon—"and you, Lord Denbury, had asked me to go take them all out. And I did, but I kept one. It haunted me, called to me. I wanted to know what it was about, and I wasn't the only one who had kept one of those papers. Curiosity is such a temptation. I inquired after the address, and a package was simply sent to my home in reply, a few vials and testimonial tracts. We distributed the drug and awaited bliss. For those of us who've attempted suicide, we hoped for salvation. It was instead an invitation to hell. True, the serum had an amazing effect. Opposite what it promised. Intense euphoria became torture. There was nothing to stop us, least of all ourselves."

Her bright eyes were reddened by tears, her mouth twisted with shame and pain as she continued. "And that's the horror of it. See, we've learned to combat our demons; we were just looking for a bit of help. But this hurt instead, the cut direct. What's the worst insult to weary people who valiantly manage to control their demons? Take away their control and make them the demon. There's nothing more cruel."

There was a quiet silence. Not tense, but merely empathetic. Her words paralleled Jonathon's experience eerily. I looked over and saw the same haunted visage I recognized from the days when his soul was trapped in a painting while a demon ran around in his likeness. Mrs. Northe broke the quiet gently by prompting. "Miss Kent's family was going to—"

"Send me off to a histrionic ward," Lavinia finished harshly what Mrs. Northe had begun delicately.

"But the senator and I told them there was no need for that, and I offered to take her in," Mrs. Northe replied.

"We've seen too many delicate souls, gifted souls, ruined by a world that doesn't understand," the elegant Senator Bishop added. "You remind me so much of my ward, Clara, gifted and sensitive. If I hadn't taken her in after her parents' death, I don't know what would've become of her. Some souls simply aren't for this earth. And yet, we are put here for a reason. To help those who are here understand that life is so much more than the limited dimensions of a first glance."

Lavinia clung to the senator's words as if they were a rope leading her out of a dark tunnel. I liked this man. I agreed with his words heartily and was compelled by his demeanor, his effortless magnetism, but something ate at me. Something that wasn't the senator's fault at all, but Mrs. Northe's...

What about Margaret Hathorn? Poor, misled, and maddening Maggie, who had stupidly gone and unwittingly cracked open dark matters she had no business in, all because Mrs. Northe didn't seem to want to bother with her. All because Mrs. Northe had ignored Maggie for me. Maggie was Mrs. Northe's niece, family; I'd just been a poor mute girl wrapped up in a magical curse, and I'd swiftly become Mrs. Northe's cause celebre. Maggie ended up courting evil into her own home, evil that nearly killed us both, because Mrs. Northe hadn't taken her seriously enough to intervene before the girl was too far gone. And yet, Miss Kent was worthy of salvation?

Where was Maggie? Had she been left to rot in some histrionic ward instead? Maggie was an idiot, certainly, but all she'd ever wanted was to be included, though she didn't understand the first thing about Spiritualism and what she did know was wrong. Mrs. Northe had no patience for Maggie's constant sensationalism, a trait I'd never allowed myself. I hadn't had the luxury of romanticizing dark magic. It had always been trying to kill me. I wanted to raise this issue, to demand an answer about why Mrs. Northe continued to fail her, but Lavinia continued and so I held my tongue. Though I caught Mrs. Northe's eye, looking at my hand to the side of the fine china where I'd clutched a finely pressed napkin too tightly, my knuckles white. I stared at the fine table setting and tried to remember which silverware setting went with which course and felt sick to my stomach again.

"My family never understood me," Lavinia replied to the senator, "but after this, they have no wish to see me, ever again. They're back to England out of embarrassment, it would seem. I hope they don't try to get Nathaniel arrested—"

"I won't have it," Jonathon exclaimed. "We'll bring the Master's Society to heel—"

"With care," Mrs. Northe cautioned. "With evidence. That is what we need. Evidence. Now more than ever, you mustn't be headstrong but measured." She turned to Lavinia. "Do you think being in England will cause Mr. Veil more trouble than here?"

"If he returns to New York, I can try to offer some measure of protection. I've...resources," the senator said mysteriously.

Lavinia lit up. "Whatever your advice may be, my friends, I'll take. And however I can help, I am in your debt."

"We'll find a way you can be useful and find ways to put your talents to work," the senator said, with the sort of assurance that made you believe in God, that everything had its time and its season.

"And we'll find those responsible," Jonathon murmured. Lavinia just looked over at him with wide, aquamarine eyes and nodded. Sometimes the idea of a vengeful God was a comfort too.

"The appropriate authorities will," my father added, giving Jonathon a warning glance. There would be no discussion of Mister Brinkman the British spy at the table, clearly.

"I pray daily for resolution of all your affairs, Lord Denbury," Reverend Blessing said, clasping his dark hands together.

"Thank you," Jonathon replied. "I'll have to return to England at some point and settle the last of it, and I'll need all the prayers I can get."

I hadn't thought about his needing to return home again, but of course. What if he went and never came back? I'd given him nothing to tether him here, to me. New York was not his home. He'd been kidnapped here. I suddenly had no appetite whatsoever, feeling whatever I'd gained might truly be lost thanks to nerves, youth, and stubbornness.

The revered led us in a brief and prosaic grace, and we then took to our first course, a golden broth soup. After a moment, the reverend added, "Do let me know, Lord Denbury, if there is anything I can do in the meantime."

"Can I visit those greyhounds of yours?" Jonathon asked with a small smile. "Those two girls could brighten any man's spirit. Good thing about dogs, so loyal, so forgiving, don't really care about any of your particulars, just take to you in good faith," he said gamesomely, but every word was a stab at me. I became fascinated by turning the spoon in the broth so that I wouldn't look at him or blurt out something pleading, silly, or defensive. I'd been silent for so many years, and in that time, my thoughts had no reins, as there was no danger of them finding voice. I had to be careful I didn't let something fly from my mental stable that would do more damage than good.

The reverend erupted in a low, endearing chuckle as Jonathon referenced his hounds rescued from a coursing run where they'd been mistreated. "Bunny and Blue were just as fond of you, my lord," the reverend replied. "Let's plan a day in the park; they're a sight to see out there. Appreciate them while you can, our rescuer found a permanent home for them. A Bronx farm." Blessing's deep brown eyes misted over. "It'll kill me to see them go, but I watch them strain toward any open door. Every living thing must be allowed to let run in the space that suits them..." His attachment to the veritable zoo of his house was one of the reasons I'd so instantly trusted him with my life. That and he was a damn good exorcist when called to be one. He looked up with a sudden grin. "But Mrs. Dawn has a new commission for me, a smaller pup who needs nothing but care. Little Sallie isn't seeing well these days, so being inside would be a blessing, with someone to dote on her a bit. That I can do."

"On the feast of Saint Francis, reverend, I'm coming to your house. That Assisi fellow would be well pleased with you," Senator Bishop said with a chuckle, making the reverend beam even brighter.

Mrs. Northe sat at the head of the table like a queen, she fit the regal role so well. She must have felt my gaze upon her for she turned to me, and in that moment I saw how truly tired she was. Not old. But tired. An old soul who was done. Ready to retire. Not from this world, but from the battles this world threw at her. Adding to the list of my many questions, I wondered just what all had happened during her recent escape to Chicago. When she spoke, I wondered if she'd read my mind. Likely she had. She could do that sometimes. At least get the sense of things.

"Friends, I have gathered you here because it should surprise no one to hear that there is still unfinished business. What happened to Lord Denbury and his portrait was one thing. The business at the hospital with the reanimate creature was another. The chemicals given to the Association is another. Master's Society resources are growing, and that's the clock we must turn back. All the assets they've gained we must reclaim. My visit to Chicago was as harrowing and challenging. The experiments that we've been seeing are going on in other cities too. Chicago I know for certain. Possibly others in the East. Industrial towns. The Master's Society has been looking to harness industry. I can only imagine they'd like to do so for their terrible inversion of life, taking the isolated incidents we've seen and mass producing them. Manufacturing horror. There's a deeper agenda at work, that of controlling through fear, but they'll have no stage upon which to play if we gain control of the means of their production."

"How do you know all this? That's quite the sweeping vision," my father asked wearily.

"Yes, Gareth," she replied sadly. It was still odd to hear anyone refer to him with such familiarity. He'd never let anyone so close. "It's the vision my best friend had upon her deathbed. It's why I had to go out to Chicago to be at her side. She needed to tell me what she was seeing. What the possibilities could be if we don't nip this Society in the bud."

Everyone at the table swallowed hard and I felt light-headed with recollection. The murmur of demons echoing in my mind was all too easy to bring back. My father's hands were clenched, white-knuckled. He didn't want to be wrapped up in this. But the woman he was courting was forcing him to confront what we'd been dealing with for months, and better it come from her than from me. Mrs. Northe continued:

"Spiritualist friends of mine in three major cities have begun to seek out the weed at its heart and rip it from the ground. There is much work to be done. We must pinpoint the epicenter of the Master's Society's New York operation, confiscate any paperwork, and track down the source, laboratory, and masterminds of the latest assault."

Jonathon chimed in, directing all his words to Mrs. Northe, a heavy weight about his generally powerful carriage. "Last week, I received a missive from the London 'Master' with instructions to look in on Doctor Stevens, purveyor of the chemical in Miss Kent's incident, and report back, just as I was instructed to do with Doctor Preston. This is presumably before any news of what happened to Preston reached them, though I'm not sure by what channels it could have; Preston's operation was small and his demonic aide was bested.” Jonathon gave Reverend Blessing a small, grateful smile. “However, the address of Stevens and the address of the supposed 'New York Office' were both vacant. Either I was being fooled, or the events surrounding Preston made Stevens disappear. So I've no longer the lead I hoped I had."

I stared at Jonathon. This was news to me, both the missive and his having inspected the premises on his own. I felt betrayed. He knew I wanted to be involved, for him to never undertake playing a demon doppelganger on his own. That a demon had once worn his face was enough to set anyone on edge, but his hiding things only undermined the type of partnership I thought we'd been building. He did not meet my gaze, and I wondered just how much he hadn't been telling me in our past weeks of laying low.

(End of Chapter 3.1 -- Copyright 2013 Leanna Renee Hieber, The Magic Most Foul saga - If you like what you see, please share this link with friends, Tweet it, FB, + it! Pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul saga books 1 and 2: Darker Still and The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or please consider donating to the cause via the donate button on the sidebar! Donations go directly to support the editorial staff and future production costs, please note the two nifty prize levels. Cheers! Happy haunting! See you next Tuesday!)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Chapter Two
There is nothing so beautiful in all the world as Central Park in autumn. I've been known to make bold and declarative statements that I will later temper if I'm in less dramatic of a mood. But this is a statement I can put my full weight behind no matter my state of mind. Central Park is heaven. And even more so if you're in love.

I've been nearly killed several times in the past few months. There's nothing that gives a person perspective as much as facing death, and nothing that gives as much liberty to speak dramatically as having survived. I have not known Jonathon Whitby, Lord Denbury, for long. And yet, we have saved each other's lives several times now. Nothing shows truth of character or purity of heart more than saving another soul. I daresay Jonathon and I know more of one another in a mere few months than those who have spent untroubled years side by side. We have seen death side by side and our mere survival has shed a deal of light on love.

Descending the stoop and drawing onward toward the grand expanse of the park ahead of us, I had hopes in my heart, as any young romantic might. My father had his pressures and concerns. Denbury's lineage had still further strictures. I was a nervous wreck, wondering if this might be the day that he would ask for my hand or if some heretofore unknown obstacle would yet keep us apart. He was eighteen, as I would be within a few months, and we were no longer children. Society placed demands upon a man and woman who enjoyed each other's company in the way that we did.

My preoccupation was overtaken, as it always was, by the charm of the park. My racing thoughts calmed once surrounded by lush green, over eight hundred acres worth, in winding vistas and charming expanses. The park has been over thirty years in its construction, with improvements yearly. It is a man-made Eden sculpted and curated to present myriad poetic compositions and countless breathtaking views, built to be like a living salon of landscape portraits. A thousand different parks live within one long central rectangle. Eden lives at the heart of Metropolitan chaos. In any and all directions, the view is beautiful. And the park brings out the beauty in people; wanting to wear their Sunday best even on a Tuesday, the park remains an event in and of itself. Not barred or gated like royal gardens of old, this was built as, and will remain, a park of the people. And the people are devoted to that which is theirs.

We entered the park from one of the transverse open gates; many of them had begun to have names etched in stone, but this open mouth had yet to be named. Jonathon and I strolled arm in arm, my light yellow lace parasol cocked at an angle to block as much of the hazy autumn sun as possible. My father hung back many paces, pretending not to be looking at us, a newspaper tucked under his elbow. I felt strained and scrutinized, and my natural urge to relax against Jonathon's hand that so often liked to wander freely over my back was held in check. My muscles were rigid against my corset boning, Jonathon's hand stiff upon the stays; all the effortless ease of our relationship felt stifled by all that was expected of us.

Once we were inside the park Jonathon looked to me to guide him, and I gestured forward, curving slightly downtown along a winding path, one I knew well.

Jonathon took in the surroundings. "Lovely place. It looks like the English countryside."

"I believe that was rather the point," I replied.

Jonathon shook his head. "Americans. You child imitators."

I scowled. "Don't tease my favorite place. You just wait until you see her..."

Ahead of us lay my patron saint, my Angel, the crux of the park's magic.

The Bethesda Terrace was the park's new crown jewel, an enormous arched stone terrace with finely hewn stairs and elaborate stone carvings on vast rails leading in a grand descent to a brick courtyard below stretching generously out towards a still pool of water where gentlemen rowed parasol-bedecked ladies in rowboats about a curving inlet, a more thickly forested patch of the park beyond.

At the center of this grand plaza was the Angel of the Waters, tall and gloriously presiding atop her fountain; a vast circular basin and uplifting cherubim lay below her. She represented that biblical story of fresh spring bubbling up from the rock she touched, her step bringing forth life and renewal, her wings outstretched, the folds of her skirt billowing, her form of powerful grace serving as a memorial for the Union dead. The fountain poured water from a basin at the angel's feet towards a larger basin below, and then dropped further unto a vast wide circular pool, its basin at knee level.

"This is admittedly spectacular," Jonathon murmured.
This got a smile out of me and I squeezed his hand before breaking away. Bending to touch my fingers into the water, I instinctively brought my wet finger to my forehead and made the sign of the cross as if in renewal of baptism. The Angel had become, from the moment I first laid eyes upon her, my patron saint. I brought all my troubles and joys unto her. Today I had brought her my greatest joy, this man at my side. Despite all the troubles he'd inadvertently laid at my feet. I begged the Angel's blessing as if she were my mother, and I hoped that my mother indeed was watching now, as she'd been present in my last battle. I could only hope she was with me now when life was so gloriously alive, not only when death was so perilously close.

"We've been through so much, you and I," Jonathon began hesitantly, taking a seat upon the rounded basin ledge of the fountain. "I don't know where to begin. How could I capture the last few months?" He spoke as if he weren't sure he were in the right tense or even language. A decisive conversationalist in normal circumstances, this was an odd departure.

"My diary helped frame my thoughts. At first. But then, in gaining my voice, I no longer needed a diary in the same way. Then I had you to talk to... So just...talk to me," I offered with a little smile. Jonathon stared into the water, his handsome reflection looking up at him with wide eyes. He didn't seem able to look at me so I looked at all the glory around him.

Behind Jonathon marched the beautiful Romanesque arches of the terrace platform where painted tiles graced the ceiling and led couples promenading , children running, contemplative souls wandering on their own, underneath the transverse road and toward another grand staircase beyond that led up unto the Great Mall where trees arched in one long avenue toward Manhattan's bustle once more. The clop of horse hooves atop the terrace, beyond its grand balcony, was a gentle, lulling rhythm as fine carriages, open calashes, and carts rolled past in steady streams.

Jonathon was oddly still, but the park around him burst with life and activity. Boys ran about in clusters on the grass, couples reclined upon blankets in the shade of the rolling hills that sloped up beyond the terrace walls, the occasional bird fluttered about from tree to tree, a few notes of music were carried on the breeze from a balladeer or from a boat passengers serenading on the water.

"There is so much expected of me," he murmured. "So much I'm afraid I've failed at, because of everything that's happened to me. I don't know if I can fix it, Natalie. Can I be the lord I'm meant to be in this lifetime anymore?" He pierced me with a wide, panicked stare that unsettled me. I wasn't sure what answer he wanted out of me, and his nerves were affecting my own confidence.

"I believe," I said, trying to keep my voice calm. This was not helped by the sight of my father. He stood far beyond on the terrace balcony and looked away when I looked up. "That you, Jonathon Whitby, can do and be anything you wish."

"All that's been taken from me, Natalie. It's maddening. Every day the anger and injustice of what's been done builds. I've had no resolution. No justice. I don't want to be driven by revenge." He looked up at the beautiful surroundings, and I kept hoping he would take comfort in them as I did, but he looked back into the water again, and I could see the expression of his reflection darken. "I hate when hate consumes me... That's not who I want to be."

These were hardly the words of affection, promises, or question I was hoping he'd ask.

"No, hateful isn't who you are," I said, trying to be soothing. I understood his pain, his loss, never allowed to grieve his parents, his estate, all that had been stolen for no comprehensible reason. But I couldn't change what had been done to him. "Look around you, at this beautiful space, none of what happened to you matters here—"
"But it's here, in me, and I can't just ignore it," he hissed, hitting his chest with a fist and standing suddenly. He began to walk away. I followed, forward, toward the inlet of the reservoir beyond, where a path veered off along thick bushes. "I don't want to rise to all the challenges I'm being put to. Right now, I'm not sure I want to be the better person, not toward my enemies." He whirled to me, grabbing me by the arms then dragging me farther into a copse of underbrush. "But you, I do want to be better to you..." he murmured, a desperate edge to his voice that I hadn't heard since his soul's trapped days in the painting. "And your father insists I do what's right. Of course. But I just... I'm forced to do so much..."
I blushed, feeling awkward. "I don't want to be the reason you're forced into anything." I couldn't be sure about where my father had shifted to; for the moment the foliage blocked us from the above road. I'm sure our disappearance had him wondering too.
"Well, like it or not, Natalie, you are," Jonathon responded. His clipped words were not comforting. "I have to do many things that defy convention. My life has seen to that now. You're not of my class, not of my world, but I must do right by you."
I stared at him, wondering if I'd just been insulted while he was trying to be "noble."

"I know I'm not of your station," I murmured, kicking at a pebble on the uneven path with my boot that, next to his, was hardly as fine. "Not of your world. I already feel awkward about that, Jonathon, you don't need to make it worse—"

"Natalie, I don't mean—"

"I don't see how else that could be interpreted, it's true…"

This path wasn't as kempt or populated, and perhaps it was this that emboldened Jonathon. Clumsily, he dived in to kiss me, which I allowed for a moment because I was too disoriented to stop him, though an inelegant pawing wasn't his usual method and I was debating on whether or not to be insulted. The upper class often dismissed the rest of the world with ease. I could not tolerate that for myself; it would hurt too much to be thought "lesser" when I didn't believe that to be true. I drew back and stared at him. He stared back with wide eyes, a flash of panic in those ice-blue spheres.

And then, suddenly, he dropped to his knee, one hand fumbling in his pocket for something, a branch whacking me in the leg as he did so. My eyes went wide. No, no. After  that troubled outburst? And here? In the shrubbery?

"Marry me—" he began but was stopped by my fingertips as they pressed fully upon his mouth.

"No, Jonathon, you're doing it wrong."
He blinked up at me for a long moment before ducking to the side of my hasty, shushing fingers, abandoning whatever had been in his pocket. "Beg your pardon?"

"Jonathon, the way you're talking? No. You're unsure, sweating and stammering—"

 "Proposals make men nervous—"

"And vaguely rude. You need to be absolutely sure about this, pressured by nothing else but your own heart." I looked around at the unkempt underbrush we were surrounded by, frustrated. Did I not deserve some grand place where if his noble offer was seen by others, it would merely be applauded? Was I some secret to be kept? Hidden? Yet another of his burdens, rushed into legitimacy? "And we're in the middle of the bushes, Jonathon," I added, hurt in my tone. "Try again with a...better vista. Darling."
He stared up at me from his knee, baffled, speaking as if he could not believe his own words. "You, Miss Natalie Stewart, just turned down a British Lord."
I blushed, partly in embarrassment, partly in frustration. "I did not turn you down, though considered your entitled position, I bet you aren't used to that."

"All that's happened to me of late hasn't felt very entitled, Natalie," he said, deep pain in his voice.

I stared up at him with wide eyes, willing him to see both the overwhelming love in my heart and my fear that he wasn't ready. "I want to marry you," I exclaimed and said his title achingly, "Lord Denbury, and be a lady to you, like none other could ever be. But only if you sound like you really mean it." I stared at the ground. "Ask me because you don't think class matters. As if my father doesn't matter. You ask because you want to—"
"For the love of God, Natalie, I want to marry you!" he exclaimed, exasperated.
I looked into his eyes a moment, my stomach churning. "Here? In a tangle of briars? Here it's like I'm some rushed secret you're afraid to share, like you're hiding me—"
"That isn't true, and that isn't fair," he muttered, standing finally, brushing off his slightly mud-besmirched knee.
"Maybe it isn't. But this isn't the place. And you're not in a state of mind that should make this promise. Not right now."
"You are something else, Miss Natalie Stewart," Jonathon said with a chuckle, shaking his head. His chuckle lightened the admittedly awkward moment, and I dived in to kiss him softly upon the cheek.

"My father often uses the word 'particular,'" I offered.

"I may add 'difficult,'" Jonathon muttered, stalking away and back to the path. I followed after him. It wasn't as though I could argue that point. But I wouldn't apologize either. Facing death, it would seem, only solidified my stubborn self. I had to believe there would be a better moment ahead for a proposal.
At the head of the path, I could see my father pretending to be engrossed in a newspaper he wasn't holding right side up. I could see his gaze zero in on my hand. He wasn't the best with subtlety. When he did not see a ring there, he frowned and tried to wipe the disappointed expression off his face when he saw us looking at him, but it was too late. He knew there had been no progress toward propriety today, and I'm sure he assumed it was somehow my fault. There was an exchange between my father and Jonathon—perhaps an eye roll or an exasperate shrug—but I missed it,  needing to focus on lifting my skirts enough to not trip up the walk. I caught the swing of my father's head as if he'd been shaking it wearily.
We all walked in silence to Mrs. Northe's home where we had planned on eating dinner together. As Mary let us in the front door, I noticed extra top hats on the pegs beside the great foyer armoire and heard voices in the parlor beyond.
The widowed Mrs. Northe appeared to greet us, statuesque and stately as ever, blonde hair with streaks of silver swept up in artful, stunning filigree clasps that were nothing compared to the finery of her plum gown and the elegant jewels glittering about her smiling face.

She approached us with a fond chuckle, kissing my father on both cheeks first, a different fondness in her blue eyes for him than the affection she had for me, something I was still getting used to. Thankfully their courtship was unfolding far slower than mine, a likely case with a widower and a widow. I couldn't say I entirely understood the draw. I adored my father but he just didn't seem nearly as interesting as Evelyn Northe. I knew that was horribly unfair of me to think. It would seem Mother and Evelyn were very similar. Maybe my quiet father's gentle, steady hand and sensitive heart were just the sort of thing for inimitable, imperious women.
Taking up my hands in hers, she glanced at them briefly. She was dressed to the nines; finer than a mere dinner with friends required. A subtle exchange of expressions between her and Lord Denbury, her raised brow and his shrug told me something was a bit off. It then hit me like a swift punch to my gut. There had likely been a celebration planned for the evening. To celebrate our engagement. My stomach dropped even further as I looked up into Mrs. Northe's eyes and watched as she masked any presumption and beamed implacably, utterly unruffled.

"I've quite the dinner party lined up tonight, friends," she said in the sisterly, conspiring tone I was accustomed to, "but we've very serious business to discuss, and so it's best that we save our celebratory airs for another day," she stated, absolving me of my mishap. I tried to give Jonathon a look of apology, but he was actively avoiding my gaze.

Maybe I was too particular. But I couldn't have said "yes" being that uneasy. In the shrubbery. What's done was done and I hoped there'd be a picture-perfect opportunity in the future. In the meantime, we had company. Mrs. Northe's tone indicated she had gathered out-of-the ordinary company. For that respite, in this case, I was grateful.


(End of Chapter Two. Chapter Three: 3/26 -- Copyright 2013 Leanna Renee Hieber, The Magic Most Foul saga - If you like what you see, please share this link with friends, Tweet it, FB, + it! Pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause via the donate button on the sidebar! Cheers! Happy haunting! See you next Tuesday!)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Chapter 1.2 (Read 1.1)

"It's begun," I finally managed to reply quietly, sliding the paper across the lacquered console table behind the sofa toward Jonathon's reach. "Another phase. They've gone after the Association. And the papers will vilify those poor dears, every last one of them. Jonathon, the demons won't give up..." 

I rose nervously, going to the lace-covered window of Mrs. Evelyn Northe's fine parlor so I might watch New York City's richest and finest parade about Fifth Avenue, Central Park their magnificent backdrop, while Jonathon read the article that had so upset me.

Once he finished he looked up, tossing the paper onto a nearby writing desk. "Indeed. The demons seem hell bent on making everyone else as miserable as they must be. Well then, let's find that laboratory where that damnable concoction was brewed then." His upper-class British accent made his words crisp and biting, his tone laced with a bitter undercurrent; a man ready to go to war. "Shall we?"

I turned to him as a trolley car rumbled downtown, the rattle of the long cab matching my nerves. Jonathon was across the room, sitting tall and composed in a blue armchair upholstered in a fabric as expensive as his black suit. The blue of the chair magnified the shocking ice-blue of his eyes. Waves of onyx locks framed his handsome face and completed the elegant symphony of blue and black. I wondered if there would ever come a time when he wouldn't take my breath away when I turned to look at him. Or if I'd ever stop being terrified of losing him.

"Jonathon, no, we can't go," I finally replied. "You've been compromised. You can't play the demon. Remember the note?"

"Ah yes." He smiled, a bit too confidently. "This note?"

He dipped a hand to an interior pocket and pulled out two items, a folded paper and an envelope. He opened the first folded paper, showcasing one line of neat black script that had chilled me to the bone. Even from across the room the words hissed: "They're coming for you."

The phrase had become a recent feature in my nightmares. "Yes, that note," I said through clenched teeth.

He smiled again. "But I received this in yesterday's mail. A new development. Have a look."

He slid the small, neat envelope across the console as I'd done with the newspaper. We had to sit across the room from one another, being unmarried. It was the moral thing to do. The fact that no chaperone was present was a testament to the fact that any who knew us had given up on the idea that Lord Denbury and I could ever have a normal courtship. Still, we tried to be proper.

The envelope was addressed to Lord Denbury in the same neat, flourished script as the warning note had been, the paper of a finer weave than had ever passed over my gloved fingertips. There was a small black seal on the back, with a crest that looked important. But I suppose all crests look like they carry weight. If our family had a crest, I'd no idea, I was descended of middle-class academics.  

I opened the note Jonathon had already unsealed and read:

My dear Lord Denbury,

Your situation has made itself known to me. First, let me say I am very glad to learn you're not dead. Secondly, I'm glad you're no longer a demon. Thirdly, I'm terribly sorry about all your wretched luck.           

I followed the course of your portrait with some interest, and have been in contact with a friend, a solicitor who I understand assisted you. Mr. Knowles informs me you made contact with the "Majesty", one of three heads of a group known as the Master's Society. Ears we have employed inside that very office in Earl's Court you visited tell us a lackey could be en route to look in on you. I doubt kindly, so don't prepare tea. Take care. But know you are not alone.

I was assigned to New York City five years ago, employed in most secret investigation, by orders from the highest and most precious in the land. I wish to meet with you. To do so, please hire a southbound carriage at the intersection of 75th and Lexington this coming Friday at 1:25 in the afternoon. Instruct the carriage to turn right at 74th, continue south down Madison, right on 72nd and then westward; we shall meet at the Park entrance. Don't worry, I'll find you. Keep your faith and your head, you'll need them both.

Your friend,
Sir G. Brinkman,
Secret Investigator
Employed by Her Royal Majesty, Empress Queen Victoria
PS Please burn after reading

I looked up at Jonathon, frowning. Secret investigator? "You've spies? Here? Spying on us? Why?"

"British spies span the world, my dear. We've an Empire, remember."

I wrinkled my nose. "Last time I checked, this country fought a revolution and threw you out."

"All the more reason for spies." Jonathon grinned. He glanced around to see if we might be seen, jumped to his feet and rushed to lock one strong arm about my waist. "We must keep a watchful eye on our wayward cousins here in our former colony." He pressed his forehead to mine. "Who knows what they might get up to? We have to make sure they're on their...best behavior..." His hand wandered down my body.

I giggled as I gasped. His ability to set me afire remained overwhelming. Leaning in to him I murmured with my lips so very near his. "Are we really the ones who need watching? I'd beware all those entitled lords thinking they can just come over here and have their way with any American girl..."

Jonathon blinked. His hands slid down my waist and clapped about my bustle. "Can't we?" He grinned as I laughed, diving in to kiss my neck. It was true. He could have his way with me if I wasn't careful. But before that happened... There was a little business of engagement. One could not play loosely with virtue. Not a woman with any pride or decency. Not a lady. "Ah but you're not just any American girl," he murmured, his breath hot upon the hollow of my throat. "You were the inimitable girl heaven sent to save me. The only girl to see my plight. The only one brave enough risk your life for mine." He pulled back to gaze into my eyes, his playful seduction transformed into deathly earnest. "And I'll not lose sight for one moment of the fact I'll never be able to repay the debt."

I kissed him softly on the lips, wanting to indulge more, but painfully aware that at any moment meant Father or Mrs. Northe could come around the hall and in through the open pocket doors. "You mustn't live in debt to me," I murmured.

"Then I'll live a life in love with you," he replied.

There he went again, with words to make me weak in the knees. Such words meant I threw myself at him for another kiss, this one longer. We heard a step on the stair. He broke away with a moan and stepped back a few paces. We looked but no one approached the pocket doors of the parlor so he didn't cross the room entirely.

"I must meet Brinkman. Straightaway. Just as he's said," Jonathon said brightly, fishing in another pocket for a box of matches. He'd been enjoying Mr. Northe's den of fine cigars a bit too often, it would seem, to have matches so easily on hand.

I raised an eyebrow. "You seem rather cheerful about it."

"Help, Natalie my love. We finally have help."

"We've always had Mrs. Northe."

"And bless her for all that she's done. But remember, we've not always had her. She ran off to Chicago in the hour of our need--"

"And in doing so saved your friend, and who knows what else she got up to out there, she was up to something--"

"Natalie, we'll need all the help we can get. And if it's from Her Majesty herself? Well then, color me a bit patriotic and proud!" Jonathon cried and if I wasn't mistaken he almost puffed out his chest a bit. He struck a match and suddenly the note from Brinkman was in flames per the agent's request.

"How will you know Brinkman, Jonathon? An elaborate path to the park hardly helps you identify him. How do you know he's not one of theirs?"

Jonathon tapped between his eyes. "If nothing else, the curse gave me second sight. It has proven true that I see auras of brimstone, like hell-fire, upon sight of a Society operative. But around Knowles there is a faint pale light. Mrs. Northe too. And you? Simply angelic. I'll get one look at Brinkman and friend or foe will be immediately evident."

"Just... take your pistol." I folded my arms. "And I'm going with you. I hope you memorized those instructions because I don't remember the details of what you just burned."

Jonathon sighed. "I copied them down, Natalie. Do you think me a dullard? Now. Will it do me any good to say that I don't want you to come with me or be placed in any possible danger--"

"Teams work together and that's final."

"I supposed as much--"
"But what do we tell Father?" I asked earnestly. The ongoing question that would plague us until we could make our relationship more permanent was what to tell my father. The truth? Or a pleasant lie that would harm no one and keep him from worrying? But considering we were unable to shield Father from the horrors that had befallen me on Denbury's account, I was not sure what he'd accept or reject. Before I could wonder further, Jonathon answered.

"That it's a lovely day for a walk," Jonathon said with even brighter cheer, this time forced, moving to stand a further pace apart from me, looking towards the open pocket doors.

"Indeed," my Father said, startling me with his entrance behind me. "It's a lovely day for you, Natalie, to show your lord here your precious Central Park!"

I had wanted to celebrate our recent victory over the demon by spending days luxuriating in my beloved park, sharing my favorite place on earth with the incredible man who had fought with me, through hell and back, to be by my side. But fear of "they're coming for you" had us keeping more indoors, with Mrs. Northe's private guards on the watch. We hadn't told my father about that note. We were scared he'd forbid me from seeing Jonathon again, as he'd done just before I nearly died. My throat still bore the faint traces of the demons' bruises.

"Don't you think so, Lord Denbury?" my father said, his eyes bright. "A beautiful day in the park to set things on the proper course?"

"Yes, Mr. Stewart," Jonathon said. I could have sworn a nervous shudder rippled through him.
I had grown intimately accustomed to body language during my many years suffering from Selective Mutism due to the trauma of my mother's death. Years of silence meant I could read physical cues like a book and I read Jonathon uncannily well. And while I had only perused a part of that particular library and I wanted to pore over every page, something about his nervousness had butterflies launching into flight within me too. Something about my father's phrase and tone kindled a little spark of hope...

Jonathon fidgeted with his coat-sleeves. He never fidgeted. I bit my lip.
Father at long last broke the tense silence. "Evelyn has excused herself I know not where," he said mournfully. "I was hoping to promenade with her. Alas, I must leave it to the young." He wagged his finger. "Though I shan't be too far behind..."

"Ah. Yes." Jonathon said, patted his breast pocket, moved crisply into the entrance hall, checked his reflection in the tall wardrobe mirror, and turned to me with his most winning smile. "Miss Stewart?" He held out his arm.

"My lord." I smiled, my heart hammering, and we set off, Jonathon suddenly acting as though he'd seen a ghost...


(End of Chapter One. Chapter Two: 3/19 -- Copyright 2013 Leanna Renee Hieber, The Magic Most Foul saga - If you like what you see, please share this link with friends, Tweet it, FB, + it! Pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul saga books 1 and 2: Darker Still and The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart  and/or donate to the cause via the donate button on the sidebar! Cheers! Happy haunting! See you next Tuesday!)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


New segments EVERY TUESDAY.
Cheers and happy haunting! 

The Finale of Magic Most Foul


"There are some qualities - some incorporate things,

That have a double life, which thus is made

A type of that twin entity which springs

From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade."

- Edgar Allan Poe

October, 1880



Saturday night, a hoard of black-clad youths, men and women in an altered state, recklessly endangered themselves and others in a sprawling public fit following a "wake" at the home of the British Emissary's daughter Lavinia Kent. The Kents have lived in New York City for nearly six years. While her family was out of town, it seems Miss Kent threw a soiree that Poe in all his ridiculous dark abandon would have envied for one of his tall tales. Even Miss Kent's poor chaperone was persuaded to partake in "The Cure": a chemical concoction promised to obliterate melancholy and despair.

Miss Kent chairs the group known as "Her Majesty's Association for Melancholy Bastards", a group affiliated with British actor Nathaniel Veil. When asked why they were all dressed in funereal attire, one girl known only as Raven- presumably in honor of Mr. Poe- said she'd come not only to partake of the cure but for a wake. (Though no one had died.) They were, it was said, in "mourning for their life."

Those who took the substance, which could be inhaled as a powder or mixed into a fluid and consumed, were then purportedly changed mentally and physically. An hour after imbibing the concoction, the party charged up Madison Avenue, howling and tossing aside anything or anyone in their paths. Witnesses described super-human strength, mesmerism and suggestion. Those who encountered the mob said the youths held onlookers in thrall, even as they were rough-housed and bullied.

After a while, horrified onlookers said the crowd simply collapsed, silk frocks and coat-tails ruined, mourning veils shredded. Strewn on lawns and street corners, the youth had to be roused by various officers of the peace. Most, once roused, fainted dead away again or began weeping. "We're not animals," Raven insisted. "We don't lose our heads like this. Nathaniel will be so angry with us." Miss Kent herself declined to comment.

Whether Nathaniel Veil had any hand in this mess is unclear save for the association with his Association. The fact that this could be a mere publicity stunt has escaped no one. Veil recently returned to England to continue his run of ACROSS THE VEIL, a show on Gothic themes, musings on life, death and dramatic explorations of the paranormal. (A show, this newspaper might add, that did not receive a favorable review within these pages.) After this little interlude he may want to be wary of his welcome back as he is slated to return for another run at the Astor by the end of next month. 

Participants in the incident were charged with disrupting the peace and public drunkenness. A search for the provider of said "cure" is being launched by police, albeit with skepticism. Is there really a drug at work here or was this an excuse to lash out? Surely its merely sheer, overdramatic hooliganism at its morbidly-dressed worst.

I set the paper down slowly enough to see the thin edges shake as the full, personal impact of the newspaper article hit me.

"Natalie, what is it?" Jonathon asked, staring at me with those eviscerating blue eyes of his. I opened my mouth but no sound came out. Damn my unpredictable, inconstant voice.

For the past many months now, I'd been pummeled by one strange event after another, pulled into the center of a paranormal whirlpool. At least in this case, we had an inkling, some sense of the next onslaught. Still, a foreshadow was hardly a comfort. We couldn't have guessed the scope.

Now it wasn't just myself or Jonathon Whitby, Lord Denbury in danger, with the occasional collateral victim. Now it was a crowd. I knew the Association. I adored them. They weren't hooligans or criminals, they were gentle souls, artistic and individual. Overdramatic, yes, but a threat? Hardly. This maligning was the work of The Master's Society, turning lambs into lions in ungodly experiments, leaving them for fodder in sensational, indelicate journalism. It could only get worse. Exponentially worse.

"It's begun," I finally managed to reply quietly, sliding the paper across the lacquered console table behind the sofa toward Jonathon's reach. "Another phase. They've gone after the Association. And the papers will vilify those poor dears, every last one of them. Jonathon, the demons won't give up..." 


(End of Chapter 1.1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3.1
Chapter 3.2
Chapter 4
Chapter 5.1
Chapter 5.2
Chapter 6
Chapter 7

Copyright 2013 Leanna Renee Hieber, The Magic Most Foul saga - If you like what you see, please share this saga with friends!
The Magic Most Foul books: Darker Still and the sequel: The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart  and the finale, THE DOUBLE LIFE OF INCORPORATE THINGS are now available via trade paperback and digital platforms.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

March Madness Blog Hop + Giveaway!


What am I, Leanna Renee Hieber, looking forward to most about spring? Why, spending time in my favourite place in all the world: Central Park! At the capstone vista of 19th Century romantic imagination, The Bethesda Terrace.

As you can see from my blog title I write Gothic Victorian novels with fantastical, magical paranormal elements. If any of you have visited Manhattan's incredible 843 acre slice of heaven in the center of the big city, you might recognize that gorgeous expanse pictured atop my blog. That's the Bethesda Terrace in the 1880s, the time period in which my Magic Most Foul saga (Now Available) and upcoming ETERNA FILES saga (2014 from Tor / Macmillan) are set.

The park was always a bold venture representing an idealistic, imaginative city as ambitious and interesting as it is populated. It is a park for the people, entirely man-made and sculpted to beautiful perfection by visionary minds of Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. The land was set aside by the city in the 1840s and construction on the park lasted for the next many decades with an ongoing maintenance budget that numbers in the millions of dollars. There were countless obstacles along the way to what much of the world considers to be landscaping engineering perfection but the park exceeded all its challenges, silenced any of its early critics, and has become a national treasure. It is impossible not to find its hundreds of varying vistas beautiful. It is the most valuable piece of real estate in the world, both financially and as a New Yorker, spiritually too. And I believe the Bethesda Terrace to be the park's crown jewel.

I've just launched my serialization of the finale in the Magic Most Foul saga, THE DOUBLE LIFE OF INCORPORATE THINGS, a Gothic paranormal adventure in 1880 New York City featuring two young lovers trying to escape a demonic conspiracy that has threatened not only their own lives multiple times and in elaborate measures but has destroyed their families, targeted their friends and if the ugly dark magic is not stopped, the entire city could plunge into chaos. And in the second chapter of THE DOUBLE LIFE OF INCORPORATE THINGS, I send my hero and heroine to that very Bethesda Terrace, giving some historical detail and context along the way. Stop by to catch the free serialization continuing every Tuesday!

TO ENTER TO WIN A COPY OF MY NOVEL DARKER STILL: comment below on your favourite spring activity or share your favorite historical haven for a chance to win a copy of DARKER STILL, book one in the Magic Most Foul saga! Please leave an email or Twitter handle so I can get in touch with the winner which will be chosen via randomizer on 3/31!

TO ENTER TO WIN THE SLEW OF AMAZING GRAND PRIZE STUFF: FILL OUT THE RAFFLECOPTER here, but please comment below for DARKER STILL, as a separate giveaway: a Rafflecopter giveaway

HUZZAH! Come back every Tuesday for the first installment of THE DOUBLE LIFE OF INCORPORATE THINGS - Serializing just like the Victorians did, RIGHT HERE! Read 1.1 now!