Tuesday, September 24, 2013


(For previous chapters, see right side bar. If viewing by mobile, scroll down from http://leannareneebooks.blogspot.com for all chapters)

Chapter Twenty-Two (Part One)

As he righted himself, I curtseyed deeply. "My esteemed Lord Denbury, it is an honor to be here," I replied with soft earnestness. He broke into a smile. A genuine smile like I'd not seen for some time, a flame of his pride returning, and it was as if one of the gas lamps had been lit in the room. But it was only his eyes. The moonlight did all the rest. "I love the name of it," I added eagerly. "Rosecrest..."

"Dates back in something of our lineage to the War of the Roses. I'm not sure what's fact and what's familial aggrandizing." He chuckled.

And at the mention of family, there again came the pain, like a veil being drawn over those seraphim features of his. He reached up to turn the key of a gas lamp before thinking better of it, keeping signs of activity at a minimum. There was moonlight enough.

We set to wandering the quiet, dark, enormous old house. To say it was eerie was perhaps the understatement of my life.

And yet it was so arrestingly exquisite. Eerie didn't bother me. Eerie was enticing, the kind of setting where a soul could give over to romance, a place for passionate whispers and stolen clutches in dark corners, surrounded by shadowed beauty on all sides. Frightening was a different story, a shade darker on the palette. At the moment, we were firmly in the color of eerie, and I was content to stay in its entrancing hue.

Rosecrest was the kind of grand, palatial manor that would be its own character in a famous tale. Old and mid-eighteenth-century Gothic, it was everything a Brontë would have written about and that in any other case or company, I'd have unabashedly swooned over.

But I didn't need to make a show of any of that here, as it would have been a bit much. For Lavinia soon caught up with us and took that particular helm, her black layers as slightly askew as her coiffure, Nathaniel looking a bit smug behind her. His long black coat swept the floor as he stalked into the main foyer, making him look like these  surroundings were one of his stage sets. As my far more theatrical compatriot, Lavinia did all the sighing and exclaiming over the manor for me. Nathaniel was quite used to the place but seemed to love seeing it through Lavinia's eyes, and their impassioned, nearly childlike wonder was so refreshing against the anxieties that had my shoulders so tensed.

Allowing for momentary curiosity, I watched them. After that furious kiss of theirs in the underground corridor, I wondered if Nathaniel Veil, the Gothic Don Juan, was growing to favor Lavinia in the ways that I hoped, as I wanted her to be his foremost paramour. She was too much of his kindred spirit not to be, and her unbridled rapture at the estate was endearing and contagious. After a particularly rhapsodic ode where Lavinia exclaimed about the moonlight through the massive, arching window that illuminated the grand wood and marble staircase to upper floors "as a portal into the night court of the realms of faerie," I did feel compelled to add my own compliments to her panoply.

"It is so very beautiful, Jonathon," I murmured. "Breathtaking. All of it. And it is yours. That must not be in doubt. I know everyone involved will make sure justice is served for you and for this wondrous place," I reassured with all the confidences I could muster. I was sobered by how hard this all had to be for him. I reached out and pressed his hand in mine as he took us through the length of the main foyer.

"Why would the Society just abandon this treasure?" Lavinia exclaimed.

"Oh, they haven't abandoned it, it was overtaken by a nouveau riche family that fancied themselves landed and titled—or at least are trying to be—in a home they had no right to buy as it was stolen not sold, though they changed our family crests anyway," Jonathon growled. "The Society acts as landlord. Per Brinkman's exterior surveillance, it would seem that both the family and Society persons do come and go, but no one here has kept any permanent staff on retainer," Jonathon replied. "Considering the Society's penchant for experimentation, we need to be prepared for any number of things to be taking up space in my estate." The grim resignation in his tone spoke again of his amazing resilience. I took his hand again, and this time I just didn't let go of it as we continued the tour.

Thankfully, there were no obvious vials of "The Cure." No apparent wires leading to reanimate corpses stowed away in any of the upstairs guest rooms, fine set after fine set as they were. It would seem the Society kept the grand home as it was, rather than using its great resources as another testing ground. At least we hoped. Jonathon and Nathaniel ran downstairs to the kitchens and cellars and came back up shrugging, the place empty. For Jonathon's sake, I was so glad, though it continually felt like a calm before a storm. Like we were missing something.

I grew utterly overwhelmed by the vastness of the place, two long wings of bedrooms, studies and sitting rooms interrupted by the occasional alcove or balcony that looked down over the main foyer or the elegant ballroom, the whole of the house done up in a synthesis of dark, carved wood, archways, and stained-glass accents.

Eventually, we descended to the west wing and swept into the dining room. It was lavish, immense, full of dark woods and sparkling crystal, hard to take in at once for all the details and finery.

But it was all the portraits lining the walls, hung above the wooden paneling in grand, gilt frames that caught my eye.

It was a family, a well-heeled gentleman of middle age, two youths standing as if they were already men to his left, bookended by a woman in lavish gown that seemed to be trying a bit too hard. It was a bit too ostentatious to be tasteful, a sign of the striving classes I'd learned from one of Maggie Hathorn's rambling monologues.

I blinked. And in that moment, my vision swam a bit, as everything went out of focus within the frames. My throat went dry.

"Oh no, Jonathon," I said, suddenly dizzy with the further descent of dread that pitched my stomach. "The house isn't empty."

I pointed to the paintings. All of which had changed when I blinked. Each stoic form had suddenly shifted. All of them reached out their hands, open palms, desperate. Reaching out to me. Souls reaching out for help. Just as Jonathon had done when he was imprisoned in canvas. So the Society had brought its evil unto Rosecrest after all.

"This house isn't empty at all," I said in a choking whisper. "It's full of trapped souls."

(End of Chapter 22.1 - 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! The Magic Most Foul team really hopes the audience will continue to grow and it can only do so with YOUR help! If you haven't already, do pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and the sequel: The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause! Donations directly support the editorial staff.

Cheers! Happy haunting! See you next Tuesday!)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


(For previous chapters, see right side bar. If viewing by mobile, scroll down from http://leannareneebooks.blogspot.com for all chapters)

Chapter Twenty-One (Part Two)

I closed my eyes a moment as Jonathon did up my hands again, trying to block out thoughts of how the toxin had overtaken me, how I'd been tied down for fear of harming others. How embarrassing. This was not much better, this show of humiliation.

I tried not to think of the helpless position this put us in, how as women we were expected to be the '"bait'" for demons, as I'd chosen to be once before at the Metropolitan, to lure out evil so that I might best it with a countercurse. That we were constrained to do so was inescapably sickening to me. I was aware that society relegated us to second-class citizens, though I believed with all my heart women were equal creatures under the God that I knew. Human law and opinion just needed to catch up with the divine. Just because I could play the game of my world did not mean I was complicit to it otherwise. Jonathon must have read the struggle on my face; surely he could feel it, for what he offered was a salve:

"I take no pleasure in anything that would give you discomfort, Natalie. I would never subject you to something I didn't know you could handle with the most impressive aplomb."

"Thank you, dear," I replied, opening my eyes to take in his kind gaze. He'd always been as much of my champion as I was of myself. Bless him for that. "Thank you. For such a thing as this is not easy to stomach."

"For a girl like you, hardly," he said with a little laugh. "And I'd not have that any other way." He tied the knot of the bindings, loose in truth, but looking quite thorough to an outside eye. He kissed me fondly on the cheek and stepped away.

Jonathon took his carriage lantern, Nathaniel, too, and as he went down the marble steps ahead, he called back to us. "Wait one moment, ladies, while we light the torches on ahead."

A dank, dark corridor was revealed beyond the descending set of stairs. The fine trappings near the mouth of the corridor, presumably all that a lady ensconced in that private cottage would have seen, were enough of a courtesy. But the route to get to her was something else entirely.

Jonathon and Nathaniel darted back up the corridor and up the marble slab stairs to fetch us. They led us each by the elbows down into the corridor, taking care with our balance. None of us were in a rush, as everything had an oppressive weight of dread about it. Poor Jonathon, who should have been so excited to return home. Now home was enemy territory that had to be approached by subterfuge...

The connecting passage was like an endless tomb. Dirt-packed walls were reinforced by wood and stone beams. The soot of torches and lanterns smeared big black tongues up the slightly arched ceiling that was not far above our heads. An interminable length lay ahead of us. Jonathon and Nathaniel had only lit the periodic torches for a few paces on, but Jonathon held out a lit taper. I assumed there were more yet to light. I wasn't necessarily claustrophobic by nature- after all, I lived in New York City- but this would try anyone's sense of space.

None of us felt compelled to say anything. I had a thousand questions as to what to expect, but I doubted Jonathon could offer me any answers. We were playing this game entirely by ear. I tried not to think about any number of my nightmares where terrible things happened down long corridors where I was, for all intents and purposes, trapped... When Jonathon and Nathaniel lit the lamps, I just prayed they would stay lit for us and not be snuffed out by God knows what... Hadn't I promised myself I'd avoid corridors? I was the worst tempter of fate that ever lived.

I had no sense of time or length of passage other than a great deal of it. Finally the mouth of it seemed to widen as if we'd come to the estuary of a river. Before us lay another set of stairs. Out from the tunnel rose another large metal door. Jonathon ascended the set of stairs, fished for the same key in yet another impressive iron lock, and was very careful to turn the lock slowly so that the latch would not echo.

"Stay quiet until I can determine if we've any measure of cover or safety," Jonathon whispered.

He gestured us through the door and into a strange space beyond, a little landing, wooden panels all around us and a few strange pipes, levers, and meters and small vertical slots in the panels before us. He very slowly shifted a lever, and a small slot opened. There was darkness beyond. A sliver of light far in the distance.

"What's on the other side?" Lavinia whispered.

"Our library." He peered into the dim vertical opening once more. "Obviously, no one is feeling literarily inclined at the moment," Jonathon replied, still in a whisper.

"What is all this?" I gestured around me to the other levers, which I assumed may be other peep holes, but that didn't explain the pipes or meter.

"When the house was fitted with gas fixtures," Jonathon began, still keeping his voice hushed, "my father became rather entranced with the secret passages and with their possible advantage. I always thought he was a bit paranoid, but now I wonder if he actually was on to something. He was so protective of Mother, all my life, terrified of losing her, that I thought he was going a bit mad over it. I wonder if some part of him foresaw their doom..." Jonathon looked at the wooden landing beneath our feet. "I know Mother had a suitor early in her life that had caused her trouble. She'd only mentioned it briefly, when she was instructing me how to be a proper gentleman. It would seem he'd proven the very opposite. I hope I wasn't blind, that there was something I should have seen, been forewarned—"

I placed my hand on his arm. "You mustn't think like that. There's nothing you could have done, truly. And you have become the good and proper gentleman she'd be so proud of..."

He offered me a strained smile before shaking his head as if casting off something he didn't wish to consider further. He continued. "Father had a device fitted here"—he gestured to a little open-faced dial with a needle—"that tells us if any of the gas lines have been turned anywhere in the house. The needle is down, so that indicates no lamps have been turned. And he had every room fitted, even the kitchens. Told no one but Mother and me about this little area, as we were the only ones to know about the passages themselves. I never dreamed I'd actually have cause to use them. So by the lamp theory, no one is here at this hour, as staff, if any were here to attend to anyone present, would always be awake at this time."

I nodded. I nearly offered the critique that demons could likely act in the darkness, but I wasn't sure if that would be helpful. My body seemed to know when they were present before my mind had any registry, and while I was tense, there were no telltale hairs rising on the back of my neck. Not yet.

"And now we listen," he added, gesturing to a small phonograph-like bell. "There is a pipe from each room to carry any noise. It's frighteningly sensitive. Father never made it a habit to hide here, he wasn't mad about it, but he did threaten me never to keep secrets, as he said he'd hear everything like the ear of God." He chuckled again, and this time didn't bother to blink back a tear.

The poor man still had never had time to grieve. There had been no proper funeral for his parents. There had been no closure. My heart seized with an ache and a love so pure and raw. He hadn't spoken of them much since we'd met. I could see now that was only because speaking of them was so fraught with melancholy and wistfulness for the time wrongfully stolen from their lives.

"Do keep quiet and your breathing shallow, friends," Jonathon bid, "and let's see if anything picks up."

We listened. Only the occasional creak of an old house. No stirring of any presence, no footsteps, no words, snores, no rustling or shifting. An uncanny blanket of quiet.

"It would seem we are indeed alone, but I still say we proceed with caution. If anyone finds us, we play our parts. However, I'm not sure the bindings will be necessary. I'd rather do without them," Jonathon said, and in a moment I was free once more.

"I'll hold it in case," I said, keeping the fabric clutched in one of my hands. With my other hand, I pressed against the stays and laces of my corset and felt the ridge of the small, sharp scissors I'd been yearning for earlier. I undid one hook and eye of my bodice near my navel to allow for a quick plucking out of the blade. The small comforts were profound.

Nathaniel untied Lavinia's wrists, and I wasn't sure which of them lost control, but suddenly their lips were as locked as their arms were around one another. Perhaps the quiet tension simply had been too much for them. In unison, Jonathon and I turned away as if we didn't notice.

But I thought I saw Jonathon smirk as he took my hand and led me forward, pressing his hand into the darkness. With the drop of a clunking lever, a panel swung forward into the library we'd been scouting. We left the panel open for the entwined couple; they'd see to it as they would.

I looked around in wonder at the dim library, rectangular and tall, with floor to ceiling books, lit only by the moonlight streaming in from behind the arched French windows curtained in lavish fabric. But Jonathon didn't linger here. I think he was too concerned with getting to the heart of the estate to truly take stock, for he moved forward with specific intent. The library led into a grand corridor with chandeliers dropping down periodically throughout the length of it, sweeping out into an open area beyond, likely the main foyer.

Everything ahead was shadowed and glittering silver, all the finery, all the mirrored and crystaline surfaces, the golden frames around still-lives and landscape paintings and well-polished wood. It was the hallway of a palace, with arches marching forward, everything dim save for a wildly bright moon that sent light in at odd angles to bounce off any responsive surface and make the hall look as if it were enchanted. I was, certainly.

He looked back to me, to why I'd paused, and his furrowed brow eased. He bowed slightly and tried to hide the pain in his expression, but I was too accustomed to that beautiful face to miss it. "Allow me to welcome you to Rosecrest, my lady."

(End of Chapter 21.2 - 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! The Magic Most Foul team really hopes the audience will continue to grow and it can only do so with YOUR help! If you haven't already, do pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and the sequel: The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause! Donations directly support the editorial staff.

Cheers! Happy haunting! See you next Tuesday!)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Leanna on Boardwalk Empire!

As many of you know, I spent a wonderful decade as a professional stage actress before I shifted my focus onto my novels. I am blessed to still work actively in film and television, often behind the scenes, but it's really nice to see yourself on the screen. Here I am in a little featured bit for HBO's hit show Boardwalk Empire. This is the teaser for tonight's episode, Door To Door, you can see me right at the top as "Mrs. Grant"! Huzzah!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


(For previous chapters, see right side bar. If viewing by mobile, scroll down from http://leannareneebooks.blogspot.com for all chapters) 

Chapter Twenty-One (Part One)

The gentlemen helped Lavinia and me out of the carriage, and we stepped down onto soft green moss. From what I could see by the lit lanterns hung on each corner of the fine carriage, we were surrounded by trees, the team of horses having stopped in a little clearing. A bright moon hung high in the sky.

The horses were steaming with their exertion, seeming very glad to be nibbling at grass once Nathaniel removed their bits and patted their sweaty hides. He spoke to the two horses with such fondness, calling them by name, so I now knew this was his carriage, his team. Veil had done well for himself, it would seem, for those were just as fine a set of horses as the carriage itself was of the highest caliber. Perhaps he had a few wealthy patrons. I knew nothing of his lineage, but this wasn't the time to ask, as a peculiar arrangement lay before us.

A few paces ahead of us sat a circular, dark brick wall draped in climbing ivy that just surpassed Jonathon's tall height.

He took two of the lanterns from the carriage's four exterior hooks, then handed one to Nathaniel and then strode forward, the beams of light bouncing and illuminating only lush greenery around us. The rest beyond was thorough darkness. Jonathon fished in his pocket before procuring a large iron key that he inserted into just as large of a lock. The solid metal gate opened with a rusty groan, and Jonathon gestured all of us forward.
He led us within the curved wall. Inside were the long-lost remnants of an untended garden that may once have been exquisite. Up the path sat a small, single-story cottage of dark brick that was nearly entirely overgrown with ivy and climbing roses. The roses, either white or pale pink, I couldn't quite tell in the light, were the only things looking thoroughly healthy in the area, their tumbling glory utterly unheeding the dilapidation of the building they climbed upon.

We walked carefully up an overgrown flagstone path. Weeds and briars slapped and snagged at my skirts. Jonathon led us up to a splintering wooden door. This reminded me of a fairy tale. We had somehow crossed into an enchanted forest, and in this hut we would encounter either profit, an oracle, a witch, or some other Grimm doom. Though I had to admit, the scenery had more romance than magic or dread to it, wistfully abandoned.

I wasn't sure what this place was or once had been, let alone how we could attempt surveillance from so remote a location. Though I had no direct experience with English lords, I'd seen enough of the wealthy to know what an estate was and was not. This was not an estate. But it was curious indeed.

The same large iron key opened the door, paneled in shaded glass as if wanting to keep something within obscured. If there were windows, I couldn't see them in the darkness for the coverings of ivy and rose briars.

"Where are we?" I asked, looking around at the interior of the small, dusty cottage.

Jonathon took a thin taper sitting on the plate of a sconce by the door and began lighting the candles and lanterns within the place, and pool by pool of light revealed an intriguing space.

While petite, it was lavishly appointed, having obviously kept someone in great state. But considering the forest and wall around it, someone kept hidden.

"It's a bit of family history," Jonathon replied with an odd discomfort. "We're here on Denbury property, but property only known to a few, and accessed by none. I was grateful the carriage path was still somewhat navigable when I first retread it the other day, though I had to take a scythe to it to truly open it back up again. All of this dates back to my great-grandfather's time..."

"A lady was kept here," Lavinia stated, picking up dusty, fine lace doilies and distinctly ladies' accessories: a stray glove, a fan set onto the mantle of a marble fireplace, a vanity placed rather prominently in a room that wasn't a bedroom, but... "It all looks like one large ladies' boudoir," she added.

Nathaniel strode over to a set of lush, thick red velvet curtains and swept one back, revealing an enormous four-poster bed that was nestled into an alcove crowned by an elaborate trim. Or, it would seem it was a bedroom after all.

Jonathon cleared his throat. "Yes. Supposedly, my great-grandfather had quite a precious secret that he wanted to keep quite hidden indeed."

"On his own property?" Nathaniel said, seeming a bit more impressed than he should have been. If this was going where I thought it was, this was not something a gentleman should aspire to. "I suppose the secrets kept close to home are the most titillating..." he added, tossing a burning glance at Lavinia, who held his gaze and returned it.

I refrained from folding my arms and looking at Jonathon pointedly, though I truly wanted to make him squirm a bit. The sight of the bed had me blushing again, and I cursed my revelatory cheeks. Thankfully, there were other mysteries of the place to catch attention.

Turning away, I gestured to an immense, intriguing door, a massive wrought iron contraption beautifully decorated with floral and ivy patterns, and then gestured back to the smaller door we'd come in through, the one that led out to the little walled garden one might expect of an average cottage. "If that is the front door," I began, then gestured back to the ornate metal garden, "then where does this lead?"

Jonathon swung the door wide. A big black chasm was revealed, with stairs leading down into a dark corridor. The first few steps were white marble. Everything else was entirely in shadow.

"To the estate," Jonathon replied. He couldn't hold my gaze as I blinked at him.

"So what you're saying is that…" I said slowly, "you've brought us to the secret mistress cottage that is connected to your estate?" Now I felt justified in folding my arms and glowering. "That's…that's what's going on here?"

"Great-Grandfather's cottage, this wasn't like some family tradition," he clarified, clearly trying to justify this whole presentation as an extreme outlier. "He was an infamous rake, excessive, mad to the point of abject hedonism. My family has worked very hard to restore the Denbury reputation."

"But still, kidnapping and then bringing the lady you're courting to the mistress's cottage?" I countered. Again, I looked over to Lavinia for support in my indignation. I don't know why I bothered. She was staring rapturously at Nathaniel. I folded my arms, turning back to Jonathon. "Well, it doesn't strike the best tone."

"I realize that, but none of this is about you, Natalie," Jonathon said, bracing me as if that might be a shocking revelation. I scowled. He continued. "And none of this should be seen in the eyes of courtship but of necessity. Everything I have done is about getting into my estate, unseen, still keeping up the guise until I am absolutely certain I could have no possible trail on us in order to safely survey the situation. This is the perfect vantage point, to enter from a secret passage. There will be ways to spy and listen in without ever being seen. In addition, no one in the house—" His face flashed with fury. "None of those fools who don't belong there as it is not their house could know about any of this, not the passages, anything." He gestured around him to this unusual setting. "This was a very well-kept secret only between my mother, father, and me. We told none of our staff. The knowledge was bequeathed to my father when his father passed. Since this was a good escape route or hiding place in any emergency, we felt there was no sense sealing it off."

A fleeting glimmer of sorrow passed over his beautiful face. I assumed thinking of his late parents caused a pang, and I wondered at his strength of confronting all this; a house and family were taken from him, and here he was poised to survey it as if it wasn't even his anymore. Well, it wasn't; it had been stolen. But justice would be done. In the end. It had to be. But there were no certainties for us. His resilience in the face of it all was truly astonishing.

Jonathon continued further. "You and Lavinia will be safe here while Nathaniel and I see if the house is occupied or indeed as abandoned as Brinkman indicated it might be from recent exterior surveillance."

"You mean to leave us here?" I clarified quietly.

"It would be for the best," Nathaniel stated.

"No, I am coming with you," I declared.

Jonathon shook his head. "I knew you'd say that, but, Natalie, my dear—"

"If we are about to be bait, as it were, I'd like to know what may be in store. I want to know where and what I might be—perhaps literally—dragged into. As you say, I don't need to be visible, but waiting here will be maddening—"

"Well, then, if you're so insistent about it, Miss Stewart," Nathaniel interrupted crisply, "then we should take every precaution. If we are discovered during this surveillance excursion, we'll need to play our parts." He reached into the pockets of his long black frock coat and plucked out the bindings he'd taken off Lavinia, unfurling them through his long fingers once more. He turned to Lavinia with smoldering attention.

Nathaniel grasped Lavinia's hand and brought it to his lips. "My lady. Would you permit me this little ruse once more? It's just a game," he purred.

Lavinia bit her lip, nodded, and if I wasn't mistaken, she swayed a bit as if her knees were suddenly weak.

I balled my fists, and that blushing flare of fury lit up over my body once more. "It is not a game, Mister Veil. It never has been. Perhaps this all seems like a grand act to you, but please remember people have died in this game. Your dear friend and myself, included. Not to mention your Association, too, if they're not careful."

The imperious actor turned a sober look to me. "If we don't make it a game, Miss Stewart, pretend we're not frightened, how in God's name will we have the courage to do what must be done?" he countered earnestly. "I stared into the eyes of that so-called "Master" of it all, and the soullessness I saw there, the pit left behind once all humanity has been removed..." He shuddered. "It defies description. And I'm very good with words. Perhaps you think me just an arrogant, carefree player after all. But I thought I glimpsed understanding when we met. I thought you saw, as Jonathon has always seen, that I take the terror I choose to counter with levity deathly seriously."

I nodded, looking away, contrite. He took a step closer to me, waiting to meet my eyes again. When we did, he added, "But you're not wrong to make sure of it."

"Thank you," I murmured.

I felt the pressure of Jonathon's hand in mine. I smiled up at him weakly. "Lead on then, Lord Denbury," I said, holding out my hands for him to make me out to be the captive again.

He smiled at me gently and was just as gentle as he took the fabric from his breast pocket and wrapped up my wrists, making it look like an intense bind, but it did not chafe in the least. "Thank you for placing your trust in me, Natalie. I do not take it for granted."

"That makes two of us," Nathaniel said to Lavinia, running a finger down her blushing cheek.

"How can the devils beat such a blessed team?" I asked, returning his smile.

Oh, but how I knew they'd try.

(End of Chapter 21.1 - 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! The Magic Most Foul team really hopes the audience will continue to grow and it can only do so with YOUR help! If you haven't already, do pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and the sequel: The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause! Donations directly support the editorial staff.

Cheers! Happy haunting! See you next Tuesday!)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


(For previous chapters, see right side bar. If viewing by mobile, scroll down from http://leannareneebooks.blogspot.com for all chapters)

Chapter Twenty (Part Two)

Good God, if it wasn't Jonathon Whitby, Lord Denbury himself, that leaned into the carriage about a foot away from me, resting on his elbow somewhat jauntily. Nathaniel Veil appeared on Lavinia's side with an expectant expression, looking like the wild, theatrical twin to Jonathon's more tamed elegance. But in that moment, I wasn't thinking of their black-haired beauty; I was only filled with fury as they both broke into grins at our blushing faces.

My cry of, "What in God's name?" thanks to my gag, came out as one jumbled, inelegant, "Aah ih aw ehh!" I threw my body forward, onto my knees, and tried to say, "You untie me this instant!" but that didn't come out any better than the first attempt.

I shook my head like a horse trying to throw off its bridle and wrestled my shoulders. Lavinia was, by contrast, sitting quite still and staring.

"I said I'd come fetch you," he replied, shifting forward to undo my bindings. I didn't like being tied down when I'd been subjected to the toxin, so I certainly didn't like it now.

The minute the fabric was unwound from around my mouth, I launched into a tirade, though the language was so much quicker in my head than I was able to spit out. My tongue, due to my disability, still remained at a pace behind my mind, and it only made me blush hotter.

"Jonathon Whitby! You… should be ashamed of yourself. This is not how you treat ladies. Much less ones you're courting," I murmured vehemently. "We had no idea what was going on. That was… simply cruel!"

I looked over at Lavinia for support, expecting a mutually incensed young woman.

Instead, I found Lavinia looking rather dreamily at Nathaniel as he undid her bindings. We wore the same blush, blooming brightly, but hers seemed far less borne of anger. As she leaned towards him with hitching breaths, I rolled my eyes. I supposed, in her Gothic novel heart, that this was somehow very romantic.

Jonathon noted with discomfort that I was not so swayed. He opened his mouth to reply, but I cut him off.

"Why such a show of abducting us, what good did that do save scare us to death?" I asked, keeping my tone hard. "And I hope you'll give us the small courtesy of telling us where we've been swept off to."

"It's good to see you, too, you know," he said, frowning.

"Don't you dare pout at me! You nearly drove us mad!" I snapped. I felt my whole body grow hot with the delayed panic, as if the blush were a rapid contagion, my survival instinct now overturned with relief and yet replaced by a thorough and violent anger. "After all we've been through, to do something like that? It's not a game! It's not a game when I honestly thought I might die," I said, tears springing to my eyes. "When I'm scared I might soon die, with your help or no, these dangerous circumstances—"

Jonathon climbed in the carriage and took me by the arms and spoke earnestly. "I'm so sorry. This was what was advised to us." I wanted to break away, but his embrace felt divine and his warm breath on my ear so delicious. I cursed giving over easily, though my heartbeat still pounded like the thump of rolling trains. "I thought you'd know it was me."

"You could've said something," I murmured. I glanced over, glaring at Nathaniel. "You could have whispered something, either of you—"

"No," Jonathon replied firmly. "We were both advised against that as your body, fight, and struggle would have changed in the moment, and even a hitch could have cost us the ruse. Please understand that we feared eyes upon us, we had to keep up appearances."

"Advised by who—"

"Gabriel Brinkman," Nathaniel piped in. I noticed that as he stood at the side of the carriage, Lavinia had gravitated to him, sitting midcarriage between the benches in a pool of black satin and ensconced in her paramour's arms. I furrowed my brow.

"Ah, Mister Brinkman." I turned back to Jonathon, pulling back to stare him down fully. "He who ferreted you off without allowing you any chance to tell me you were going?"

Suddenly Lavinia seemed to recover her dignity and self-awareness. "Or me!" she piped in.

Both gentlemen sighed in tandem.

"Time was of the essence. And to tell you the truth, Brinkman so passionately convinced me to just come directly to London that it was precisely the thing to do. I telegraphed a note to Mrs. Northe with addresses I'd found in my searching on the streets of New York, several Master's Society properties that had that fiery red and gold aura about them, the demon's mark."

"You wrote Mrs. Northe, but not me—"

"It was encoded, and nothing could be traced. I didn't know how to send you something as efficiently that wouldn't give too much away. Please, Natalie, your need to be included shouldn't overreach the caution for my  safety and that of your own."

"No, it shouldn't," I agreed. "But I do hope you'll explain why this show of force was necessary," I tried to take the edge off my voice, trying not to let the tears of panic I'd held back now flow forth in relief and displaced anger. My stubbornness was not so easily worn down.

"Brinkman said that there was a Society tail that he thought was closing in on me in New York, and had reports that things were escalating in England, that the Society was keeping an eye out on any of their scientists, experimenters, and operatives. We chanced that if I returned to England and convinced the Master that I was still my evil half, then they might be more forthcoming in general while giving me leave to move and interact with more freedom."

My jaw fell open. "You chanced meeting with that man again? He could've had you killed!"

"Brinkman was at the ready with police should I have signaled distress. But I convinced the bastard." A furious flash of pride crossed over his lovely, albeit haunted, face. I wondered if playing the demon again had the same distressing affect that his soul had shown when his body and mind were failing in the painting. "Dragged Nathaniel into it with me, he was brilliant."

"How did you earn his trust?" Lavinia asked, looking up at Nathaniel, her voice breathy, impressed.

"By saying I wanted to see the breadth of his power as I could see my Association was under attack, and that they indeed had presented themselves as a test group of willing subjects. I told him if I could bring the Association into the fold of something more powerful, then I was willing to become a devotee in turn," Veil said convincingly.

"I played the same part as before," Jonathon continued. "I've seen the mannerisms and the pointed, eerie ways of the possessed enough to know how to mimic them. He asked questions of my conquests, and I invented elaborate stories." His shudder inspired my own. "And I made some promises…" And here his expression suddenly grew sheepish.

"Promises? I'm not sure I like the sound of that, Jonathon," I said, my voice lowering. "What kind of promises?"

"Bait," Nathaniel replied with a nonchalance that disturbed me. Our respective gentlemen looked at each of us.

"Us?" I was immediately indignant again.

"Only if you're willing," Jonathon rushed to reply. "I had a feeling when I met with the "Master" that you'd be coming. Natalie. You have that way about you, a certain predictability…" He offered a fond smile that threatened to undo my indignity. "And I know you want to eliminate these bastards as much as I do."

"Or I could convince others within my Association here in England," Nathaniel added. "In no way did we predicate this plan on the assurance of your involvement, most esteemed ladies. I am sure I could find other willing women—"

"I'll do it," Lavinia blurted. I set my jaw and nearly growled.

"But…" Jonathon leaned forward again to cup my face in his palm. "It would be far better to have the bravest woman I know there at my side. To have someone beside me who knows the enemy better than anyone else? That’s the safest option. For in the baiting, there is the trapping, the snaring of the fox." Here his bright eyes lit with determination.

"Go on," I urged. The fact that we were discussing intense and dangerous plans while in an open carriage was questionable, but they must have taken us somewhere far from civilization indeed, as all I could hear outside were the sounds of nature and wildlife at night.

Jonathon continued excitedly. "Brinkman will have guards posted in the secret passages of my home, and just when the true depth of the depravity is revealed, as I hope to get him onto one of his rhapsodies about his plans,  the authorities will swoop in and apprehend the villain."


"And the context of this baiting?" I queried pointedly.

Lavinia looked at me with a certain overwhelmed gratefulness, as if it was all she could do just to keep up and she was glad someone was asking the right questions. This kind of mindset and these sorts of situations were not the kind of thing any "good, upstanding" young woman would ever have been trained for. I simply had grown somewhat accustomed to the sort of twisted tale I seemed to have lived into, a strange extension of the countless adventure novels I consumed and loved since I could read.

"Why, you bring all the best bait to a lavish dinner party, of course," Veil replied with a winning smile. "A meeting of the depraved minds."

"I am hoping it will bring out others within the Master's Society for their arrest," Jonathon added.

"But…" I began, furrowing my brow. "Couldn't that mean we might end up being outnumbered? For what if Brinkman can't be trusted? What if he is just serving us all up directly into the hands of the enemy? Who vouches for this stranger who just conveniently, unexpectedly, showed up in our lives?" I thought about the day he swung uninvited into our carriage near Central Park, and this abduction plan seemed like his handiwork indeed. I wondered if he was lurking somewhere nearby, listening to everything. "Arriving knowing more about you than I'd like a stranger to know?"

"He isn't about to serve us up," Jonathon said gravely. "He's playing the double agent just as I am. Though unlike me, he's not doing his part as a possessed creature. But he is entwined in the same dangerous game, I assure you. Playing for life or death. For someone he loves."

"Trust us on that count," Nathaniel murmured. Though I didn't know the situation, from the look on both their faces, something horrible was at stake, and I felt a pang of pity for Brinkman. To have garnered such an unquestioning response, it must be something terrible indeed.

I nodded, though something nagged at me that I couldn't shake, the certainty that this couldn't possibly go smoothly, no matter how well thought out or imagined.

"You still haven't answered where we are."

"Ah, yes, that!" Joanthon smiled. "Now that we're away from watching eyes and listening ears, I shall present our next task. Surveillance." He offered his arm. Glancing over at Nathaniel, he did the same; a matching set of black sleeves, a similar engaging smile, a glimmer in Nathaniel's dark eyes was mirrored as well as in Jonathon's ice-blue ones. It was clear these two were best friends, kindred spirits, and impossible to resist. Even after kidnapping. "Shall we?"

(End of Chapter 20.2 - 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! The Magic Most Foul team really hopes the audience will continue to grow and it can only do so with YOUR help! If you haven't already, do pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and the sequel: The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and/or donate to the cause! Donations directly support the editorial staff.

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