‘Dominic’s Nemesis’: The Unseen Chapter 1

Aside So, what’s the story behind the Unseen chapter 1, you ask?  Well, maybe you didn’t ask, but I’m going to tell you anyway, because there’s probably at least one person out there that wants to hear it.  And, I aim to please.  I feel like I explained this before, but I can’t quite recall so I’ll run it down again.  So, in the midst of editing Dominic’s Nemesis for publication….I happened upon some writing advice from Stephen King posted online somewhere.  He said that if you can lobe off the first two or three chapters of your novel, and still read and understand the story…then you don’t really need those chapters and you should leave them off.  Its just slowing down the plot.  So I decided to try it with Chapter one….and it worked!  Outside of a coupla tidbits, I really didn’t need this chapter one.  There is some great backstory in it on the Heroine…which is why I thought you guys would be interested in reading it.  About 90% of the book takes place in the Hero’s sphere…this Chapter takes place entirely in the Heroine’s sphere, so enjoy.

 

The Real Chapter 1

For the first time in over six months, Eden cried.  Her beloved mother and last living American relative had passed the previous year.  The weight of her sorrow had almost been unbearable, and then there was the necessary, but unwanted move from America to England.  Although she resisted mightily, in the end her mother was able to extract a deathbed promise from her to travel to her father’s family in London and try to mend fences.  Adelaide had not liked the idea of an unmarried, twenty-year-old heiress living all alone in Boston.  She was fearful Eden, beautiful, naïve, and shamelessly cosseted by two adoring parents and several widowed aunts, would be an instant target for fortune hunters and swindlers alike.

Eden was not so naïve as Adelaide thought.  Although she did not easily warm to her dying mother’s solution to the problem, she had no illusion about how exposed she would be without either parent or her aunts to insulate her from the outside world.  When it came right down to it, Eden simply did not like being alone.  She was so used to being surrounded by adoring relatives until the prospect of rambling around her parents palatial estate all by herself had loomed over her, weakening her, frightening her, during the last days of her mother’s illness.  Until, finally one day, when her mother began discussing the arrangements for her funeral and she cracked and made the promise to relocate and seek out the distinguished Lord and Lady Prescott, of London.

Having only met her grandparents once a very long time ago, she could not quite recall their exact titles.  She knew they were of the English nobility, but she was woefully uneducated as to the particulars of earldoms, peerage, and such.  She concluded that she had best address them as something besides Grandmama and Grandpapa, when she deposited herself on their doorstep looking ever the garish, American relative with nary a letter of introduction to speak for her.  After several days of heavy thought she had settled on the ubiquitous ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady’.  She considered at first penning a letter to inform them of her parent’s deaths and introduce herself in the hopes of receiving a friendly response or perhaps even an invitation to visit.  Then, she’d thought of the weeks of waiting for a reply, and receiving either nothing at all or an unsympathetic response and decided against it.

As it turned out, she was too sea sick and apprehensive after the three-month voyage to face the very real possibility that her estranged grandparents would refuse to acknowledge her.  Instead she made yet another hasty decision to turn up on her cousin’s doorstep in lieu of her grandparent’s.  Her father’s brother and sister-in-law had come to visit the Americas on several occasions during her childhood, bringing their copper-haired daughter Millicent with them.  Her aunt and uncle stuck out in her mind as being stiff and humorless, doing their “duty” to visit once every five years.  Conversely, Eden remembered she and Millie being fast friends, chatting, giggling, sharing stories of their respective homelands.  They’d even exchanged correspondence occasionally.  She knew from the last of those visits, some four years ago, that Millie had been groomed to make her come out a couple of seasons ago.  Possibly, she was married.

Upon arrival in London, Eden procured suitable lodging for herself and her two hired companions at what she hoped was a respectable inn, and immediately sent messengers to inquire after her cousin Millicent’s whereabouts.   She was hoping Millie was married so that she would be spared the trial of being housed by her aunt and uncle.  They would ‘do their duty’ by taking her in (and probably think of England the entire time).  Eden shuttered at the misery of such half-hearted hospitality.  What she sort was a friend, someone to take her mind off her grief and perhaps even ease her loneliness a bit.

Word came fairly quickly, in the form of a hastily written, but welcoming invitation to visit with Millicent St. James, Marchioness of Linley.  Eager to be away from the oppressive solitude, the overly-sharp maid, and the dour-faced chaperon her mother had insisted she hire, Eden scarcely took the time to freshen up and change into a dull grey mourning dress, with a high waist and voluminous skirt, before hiring a hack.  She looked a fright, she knew.  The continued stream of upheavals she’d endured lately had taken their toll on her appearance.  She’d lost precious weight, causing her slim tallish frame to take on an almost skeletal appearance.  She had taken to catching her hip-length ashen tresses together at the nape of her neck and tying them off with a ribbon.  The style tended to be severe and unbecoming to her pale skin and oval face, making already over-large hazel eyes seem too big for her otherwise petite features.  Wincing at the hollow visage in the mirror, Eden silently prayed that Millie and her husband wouldn’t notice her wan appearance, or if they did, they were too English to comment.  She hoped in vain.

“Eden!  It really is you.”  Millie rushed forward and enveloped her in a hug, right there in the plushy decorated parlor with two stiff footmen looking on and a blinking maid hovering with a tea tray. Despite her morose mood and wound nerves, Eden returned the hug and tried for a weak smile when her cousin finally pulled back.

“Whatever are you doing here?  I had no idea of your being in London until that peculiar message arrived.  I thought the butler was playing some cruel jest at my expense.  I suppose I should apologize to the poor dear for raking him across the coals.  Goodness, you look dreadful.  What’s happened?  Do not tell me that you’ve traveled here alone.  Where the deuce is Aunt Addie and Uncle Charles?  Come, come, you must sit down before you fall over.”

Bone weary and very grateful for the invitation to be off her feet, Eden made for an elaborate brocade chaise lounge only to be snatched back like a naughty child.

“No, no, not in this silly room.  Isn’t it just ghastly.  Do not be shy.  You must tell me how you like it.”  The shorter woman waved her bejeweled hand around the room.

Millicent had not changed an ounce.  The same copper red hair, dumpy stature, and plumb figure.  Well, perhaps she was a bit more rounded across the middle Eden thought.  Most memorably, she still possessed the unnerving ability to have an entire tête-à-tête with herself.

“How do I like what?”  Eden asked, lost at the rapid bends in the conversation.  It always took her a minute or so to accelerate to Millie’s speed.

“The Parlor, of course.”

“Well, I-” Eden began.

“I truly think it was decorated by one of Prinny’s more extravagant mistresses.   Thank goodness for Victoria and the influx of some much needed modesty.  I have already warned Reggie that I intend to redo it.  I simply cannot receive respectable guests in this hoyden’s lair.”

Eden sighed wistfully, fancying herself a carefree innocent who still had the heart to care in what style the parlor was decorated.  At the moment she would gladly seat herself on a sack of flea-infested hay and take tea with the devil himself if she could erase the last two years of her life and have her mother and father back again.  She felt and probably looked as if she had aged a decade since their deaths.  Her composure dangled by a proverbial thread.  If Millicent did not seat her soon, she was sure to drop in a most inelegant swoon.  “Where shall we sit, then, if not the parlor?”

The redhead caught Eden’s hand and whirled around, nearly tipping over the maid.  “My bedchamber, of course.  I’ll ring for a nice hot bath, and my lady maid to come unsnarl your hair and burn that dress.  She’s an expert, you know, after dealing with my mop for years.”

Eden let herself be propelled along, numb to her surroundings.  She vaguely noted Millie sending the tea tray away in lieu of something stronger.  Eden stumbled up the staircase behind Millie, who took a right on the second floor landing.  They traversed a long hallway before finally coming to their destination.   Eden deposited herself on the counterpane of the canopied bed and unceremoniously bust into cathartic tears.  Millie arrived to rub her back as she crumpled face first into the nearest pillow.

The sobs came in waves like thick sheets of rain during a violent thunderstorm.  She couldn’t stop them, nor did she put forth the effort to pretend.  Her thin shoulders shook. She drew her feet up and curled into a ball, trying her best to shut out the rest of the world. Her face turned motley red as the sobs racked her body.  She cried until her head throbbed, her throat closed, and it hurt to breath.  Though she was unaware of it at the time, Millie stayed with her through the storm, rubbing her back, wiping her nose, murmuring words of comfort as she let the pain of her loss consume her.

*   *   *

 

Sometime later, she awakened to a semi-darkened room, the same one she’d cried herself to sleep in except she noticed that she was beneath the covers instead of collapsed atop them.  She swiveled her head to the side slowly, mindful of a dull ache.  She felt the weight of something on her chest and realized that it was her hair, which was braided in a single blond plait the width of a rope.   She tried her voice next.

“Millie?”  She croaked at the shadowy figure that appeared over her holding a glowing lamp.

“Yes, I’m here.”  She answered automatically.  “Shall I put on more light?  If you’re ready for that bath, I can have the tub fetched.  Mary is down for the night, but we could wash your hair ourselves and plait it back the way it is now.  Yours is straighter and not so prone to tangles as mine.”

Eden stared at her, not quite sure what she wanted to do.  The simple choice of resuming life, a normal everyday life, seemed a daunting task.  She knew she could not put it off forever.  Eventually she would have to put away her grief and began anew.  “A bath sounds nice.”  She found herself saying.   “Perhaps I shall feel better then.”

Millie nodded.  Eden noted that her cousin looked extremely relieved by her restored lucidity.  Struck suddenly by guilt at the obvious worry her outburst caused, Eden smiled a weak apology when her cousin returned from speaking with some unseen person on the other side of the chamber door.

“Forgive me.  I have no excuse except to say that I have not been at myself of late.”

“Eden, please.  You must tell me what is the matter.  How is it that you arrived here in London unaccompanied?”

She allowed herself the luxury of a sigh, before she answered.  “I rented a room just outside of town somewheres, at The Hound something or other.  I abandoned the maid and a hired chaperon there. It was quite scandalous of me but I just couldn’t bear them any longer.  They weren’t much for company.  I suffered from seasickness for most of the journey, so the pair of them were no less eager to part with me as I was to part with them.”  She closed her eyes momentarily and took another fortifying breath.  She pushed up into a sitting position, her back propped against several cushions.  “Mama…died just before Michaelmas last year.

“Goodness that’s nearly seven months ago.  Why did you not write?  What about Uncle and your mother’s sisters?  Is there no one left.”

“There was a carriage accident last summer before mama took sick.  My aunts…I do not know the particulars except to say that it was fatal for everyone involved.  Papa passed not two years before of an arrest of the heart.  It was so sudden.  Mama was afraid if we wrote to his parents in London, they would descend upon us and take me away.  Our grandparents are powerful people from what I know of them.  Papa and mama would always say that that was the reason they had made the choice to live in Boston, to avoid their controlling ways.  Ironic it seems that in the end, mama begged me to seek refuge with them.”

“Oh dear.  It seems such a nightmare.  I do not know what to say.”  A knock sounded at the chamber door just then.  Millie drew the bed curtain closed and went to admit the visitor.   From what Eden could see through the gauzy veil of clouded white silk, two male servants entered the dim chamber carrying a footed-tub.  Several more figures filed in with jugs, which they took turns emptying into the tub.  The tub rested at the other end of the room the farthest from the bed she occupied.  She saw Millie address the tallest figure.  Eden assumed him a servant, but she couldn’t make out what words passed between the two.  Shockingly, at the end of their discourse, the much shorter Millicent stood on the tips of her toes and plant a soft kiss on the man’s cheek.  Egads!  Was this the manner in which one thanked the servants in London these days?

Some ten minutes later, after Eden downed a cup of throat-scorching ‘tea’, she found herself undressed and being inspected by Millie.  She suspected the tea was doctored with spirits.

“Oh dear.”  Eden eyed her cousin aghast expression over the top of the tub.  “You are much too thin.  I thought it due to that awful dress, but you are even thinner without it.”

“During the first month of the voyage, I cast up my crumpets every day for a fortnight.  In the later weeks, I restricted myself to small, bland meals of unflavored bread and a special tea the maid suggested.  She assumed I was er, in a delicate condition.  Since she was for once being helpful I did not bother to correct her.”

Millie frowned at her cousin.  “Eden, I realize that you’ve had a difficult time of it, but you really must be more mindful of your reputation.  Things are a bit relaxed in America, I know.   London society, however, will not overlook your heritage.  If anything, they will hold you to even higher standards of respectability.  Why, you could be torn to shreds for what you have told me in the past minute and a half alone.  We must be rid of this maid and that shameless excuse for a chaperon immediately.  Pay them handsomely mind you, so they won’t tell tales.  Better yet, pay their voyage back to America.  I won’t have you made a laughingstock on top of everything else.  We’ll go away to the country for a bit.  The time is coming near for my confinement…”

Eden scarcely heard her.  Settling into the steaming hot water, she bent her knees so that they stuck up out of the water and slid down to rest her neck back against rim of the tub.  Millie lectured on about the evils and expectations of the ton.  Eden almost felt home again.  Her mother and aunts had often attended her bath, to chat, gossip or impart cautionary advice.  Sighing at the memory, she dunked her head beneath the surface.  Eyes closed she caught hold of her left plait and began to unraveling it.

She was halfway done with the second plait when she heard it, felt it even.  A disembodied scream vibrated through the currents of the water like someone had stuck a high-pitched tuning fork and dipped it in the tub.  The smothered screech sent a tingling sensation down her neck and spine.  She jerked in shock, and resurfaced so fast the movement sent choppy waves splashing over the side of the tub and onto the floor.   She stood ramrod straight, panting uncontrollably and clutching the sides of the porcelain tub with stiff fingers.

Millicent was at her side in an instant.  “Eden.  Eden?

Wet hair plastered to her head, Eden blinked and shook her head as if shaking off a bad dream.  “Did you say something?  Just now, while I was submerged.”

“Probably.  There are scarcely two seconds in the day when I am not saying something to someone.”

Truer words had never been uttered, Eden thought.  “Yes, of course.  It must have been you I heard.”

“Eden, are you certain you’re alright.  When you sprang up like that, your face paled as if you were afraid of something.”

She faked a smile to hide her own unease.  “Oh, yes, I slipped.  I am not a very accomplished swimmer, and I took a nasty spill into a pond back home, just after Papa…It just reminded me, is all.”

 

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