Friday, August 26, 2011

Viridis-- A Sneak Peek!



I'm still planning on e-publishing Viridis in the upcoming weeks, but wanted to give you a sneak peek.  Above is also the final cover.   It feels like this has been a long journey, and I'll admit, I'm a bit nervous to take this next step.  Can't move forward though if you're not willing to take a risk.  I do hope you'll enjoy.

Viridis by Calista Taylor

Chapter One

London, January 1866

The body lay as it had fallen, the man’s limbs bent at awkward angles.  Holding the lantern out to shed light onto the scene, Inspector William Thomas crouched down, careful to avoid the pool of blood that had frozen onto the cobbles.  Shifting the body over, he made note that the blood beneath had not yet had a chance to ice.  The man couldn’t have been dead more than a few hours.  Any longer, and he’d have been stripped of any valuables, the harsh cold being the only thing to keep the street urchins at bay thus far.
Looking around the dark alley, there was little evidence to be had, other than the body itself.  No signs that a struggle had ensued.  Nothing left behind.  It must have been done quick and with surprise, since a young man like this would be apt to put up a fight.
Even through the dim flickering lantern light, William was able to identify the killing blow as having come from a fuse gun, the burn in the fabric and the hole of singed flesh all the evidence he needed.  At least his death would have come quick, a small mercy.
The man’s face had frozen into one of shock.  It was still a beautiful face even in death, framed by locks of gold, youthful, with a strong jaw.
Someone would be missing this man come morning.  By the cut and quality of the cloth he wore, it was certain this was a man of wealth.  The poor went missing and dead too often for most to notice or care.  It was a cruel injustice, but that did not change the reality of the matter.
          “Do we have any identification?”  William turned to the constable who had found the body during his rounds.
          “That we do, Inspector, and it’s not likely you’re going to have an easy night of it.  According to the calling card found on his person, this is Lord Niles Hawthorne.”  The constable handed it to him.
          “A bit out of his way to be wandering into this part of town.  More than likely he’d been over to Viridis.  No other reason to be in this part of the city.” 
           Viridis was a dinner theatre and club offering a drink by the same name.  Lady Phoebe Hughes had developed the strong distillation from a variety of plant essences, and as of late, more and more of London’s elite were turning to the newly developed herbal for refreshment and escape.  Viridis offered all the best traits of intoxication—and then some— with none of the undesirable side effects.  Indeed, the club Viridis had been designed with London’s elite in mind, offering them not only a fashionable and entertaining destination, but also one that managed to retain a sense of respectability and decorum, despite the nature of the herbal, which once consumed, was rumored to have the effect of an aphrodisiac.
          William could see the attraction.  Physically, the herbal did not make one susceptible to dependency.  However, that was not to say one did not develop a mental predilection for the euphoria and heightened senses it brought on, both mentally and physically.  And it was the physical effect of the drink that attracted so many followers. It was rumored that when Viridis was taken in its undiluted form, an orgasm could be brought on by a single kiss.
          With so many of influence frequenting the club, the local authorities had been willing to overlook its rather salacious, yet tasteful reputation, but with a murder only blocks from Viridis’ doorsteps, William would need to take a much closer look at the club and its proprietress.
          It was high time William paid Lady Phoebe Hughes a visit.


 Chapter Two

           Lady Phoebe Hughes moved through the club, greeting her customers and making sure they were enjoying themselves.  The second show of the night— far more risqué than anything else in London— had just gotten underway and nearly all the tables were filled with London’s elite, men and women alike. 
           She had made the club as extravagant as time and money had allowed— gilded chandeliers above, rococo carved furnishings, and exquisite Persian rugs below— offering the nobility of London a place to come and dine while watching a bit of entertainment, not too unlike what one would find in Paris.  Though the theater and show allowed the ladies some semblance of an acceptable façade, the true reason they came was for her herbal concoction, Viridis, which had become all the rage among London society.
          Though she had originally developed the herbal to lift one’s mood, she had not anticipated the scope of its effects. Once consumed, it induced a certain euphoria, heightening the senses and making skin sensitive to the touch, leaving a person acutely aware of their carnal needs.
          Satisfied that things were running smoothly, Phoebe headed to the Sanctorum—a private area reserved for her best customers, connected to the front of the club by a wide corridor. She had spared no expense in this room, and though it had been dear, it had paid for itself in short time.
          Reminiscent of a gentlemen’s club, the Sanctorum was a large sitting room, comfortably outfitted with plenty of areas for relaxation, including large comfortable chairs and a roaring fire, which bathed everything in a gilded light.  It was a casual atmosphere affording a more intimate environment away from the theater. It was in this private area that her most elite customers congregated, and though the theatergoers had access to Viridis, it was only in this part of the club that one gained access to the stronger version of the drink.
          Beyond the Sanctorum, Phoebe had added yet another area which housed private rooms, enabling one to seek a clandestine rendezvous. The entrance was hidden by an optical diffuser, a tinkering that allowed one to pass through unnoticed.  She thought of the tinkerer who’d drawn up the original plans for the diffuser, and her heart ached at the memory of him.  He had left over a year ago, and she’d been forced to hire another tinkerer to build it.    
          A long mahogany bar occupied the far corner of the sitting room and was currently being run by her younger brother, Gabriel, who chatted with his patrons, entertaining them as he poured their drinks.  He was the only family she had left.  Their mother had died when she had been just ten, with her father dying several years later of a broken heart.  Then there was their sister, Imogene, gone just over a year.  They only had each other now.   
          He nodded to her in acknowledgment, and she could not help but smile at his handsome face.  Just a few years younger than herself at three and twenty, running the club would have been impossible if not for his constant help. 
          She approached the bar with a smile, but grew wary when her brother’s eyes darted around the room, a sigh escaping his lips.  “What is it, love?”
          Gabriel reached out and gave her hand a quick squeeze.  “Phoebe…”  He gave his head a shake, then looked up at her with a hint of smile.  “There’s someone here to see you.”  He motioned with a tilt of the head and a sparkle in his eyes to the gentleman sitting by the fire.
          Though the man’s back was to her and she could only see his luscious chestnut locks, she knew, without a single doubt in her mind, that it was he.  It had been over a year since she had last seen him, over a year since his duty to the Cause had called him away. And now he was here.  Her tinkerer.
          Her chest tightened and her heart picked up its pace, thundering away against her ribcage.  She glanced at Gabriel, steeled herself with a deep breath, and moved across the room on wobbly legs, her pulse deafening inside her head.  She closed the distance between them quickly, scarcely acknowledging the friendly greetings of her regular customers as she passed, her focus on him complete.
           She reached out, her hand hovering above his shoulder, not sure she could touch him without having her heart stop.  Before she could muster the courage, he turned around, his eyes locking on hers.
           “Phoebe.”  He stood to greet her, but took no more than a step towards her.
           “Seth.”  Her mouth had suddenly gone dry, her heart tripping over itself.  How she wished he didn’t have this affect on her.  “I hadn’t realized you had returned.”  She was barely able to get the words out.
            “Just this morning.  Please, sit with me.  It’s been too long.”  He motioned to the vacant chair across from him, sitting back in his own. 
           Phoebe fell into the chair before her legs gave out, her corset the only thing keeping her upright.  She was unable to look at him without being flooded with memories of their nights together, of his touch, and of the dark days after her sister’s death when no one—not even Seth—could reach her.
            Soon after their father’s death, Imogene had become plagued by melancholy and Phoebe had spent countless hours in her father’s abandoned laboratory, desperate to develop an herbal cure that would help her save her.  Unfortunately, Phoebe’s breakthrough had come only months too late. By the time the formula had been perfected, Imogene had already taken her own life.
            “You look beautiful, Phoebe.”  He moved to the edge of his chair, and reached out to take her hand in his.  “Do you know how I’ve missed you?  There wasn’t a day that went by when I didn’t think of you.”
             Though she wanted nothing more than to sink into his arms and forget how desperately alone she’d been this last year, she yanked her hand away, her anger and hurt getting the best of her.  “How dare you! How dare you say you’ve missed me. You left me, Seth. Left me when I needed you most.” All of the emotions she’d kept bottled up for so long came flooding back, and she had to blink away the tears that threatened.
             He flinched at her words.  “You know that’s not the reality of it.  It killed me to leave you the way I did.”  He reached out to her again, but stopped just short of touching her.
            “My sister had just died, but your assignment for the Cause took precedence. It always has, and I know now that it always will— which is fine, but let’s not pretend, Seth. I know your priorities.”
            “Phoebe, please.  I would have stayed if I could have, but you know I was the only one who could have fixed the geostat on such short notice. You know how important it was to get it back up and running.” 
            Seth was a brilliant tinkerer—one of the many reasons Phoebe had fallen in love with him. The geostat was one of Seth’s most innovative tinkerings, bringing much needed income to the Cause by making the mining of the arctic Outlands a possibility.  
            Controlled by the Cause, the Outlands were located so far to the north that water and land iced to become one.  While the earth in the Outlands was rich, the severe weather conditions had made mining previously impossible.  Only Seth’s geostat was capable of digging through the hardest earth and working in the harshest conditions. 
           Tinkerers were incredibly important to the Cause, for it was through their innovations that they sought to better the lives of the people, working for the good of all mankind. Though she had always done all she could to help the Cause, Phoebe did not always agree with the methods and demands made by those running things, and felt they often asked too much from those willing to help—too much from men like Seth.
            Seth got out of his seat and knelt in front of her, pulling her fighting hands into his.  Phoebe allowed herself a moment to really look at him.  His hair was disheveled, longer than he usually wore it, and he had lost some weight since she had last seen him, his muscular form now leaner, more hardened than it had been when he’d left.  But his eyes were still the deep blue-green of a tropical lagoon, intelligent and kind, promising far too much.
            How she wanted to just throw her arms around his neck and bury herself in his warmth, breathe in his scent.  But she feared it would always end the same way, with him abandoning her to go save the world.  So she held fast to her convictions, and gingerly removed her hands from his. “I do not know if I can do this again.  Things have changed since you left.”
            He retreated to his chair, giving her the space she needed.  “Yes.  I can see that.  Congratulations on your success.  It’s well deserved.  I know how hard you worked on it.”
           “Thank you.  You know, it probably would have never happened if it hadn’t been for your help.  Have you had a chance to try it?  It’s quite good actually.”    She gave him a bit of a smile, as the initial shock of seeing him wore off and her heart slowed its gallop.  She told herself she would be fine if she could only manage to avoid discussing their relationship.
            “Not yet, but I was hoping you would join me.”  He raised his eyebrows in question.
            “Of course.”  Phoebe caught the attention of one of her girls.  “From my private reserve, please.” She could not help but notice Seth’s eyes go wide for just a moment as he took in the girl’s uniform before quickly looking away, a blush creeping across his cheeks.  Though the waitress’s outfits were tasteful and elegant, they did run towards the provocative.
            With the girl gone, they sat in silence, just taking in one another while they waited, getting used to being in each other’s company once again.  It was not long before the young woman returned, wheeling a small cart before her.  She greeted them with a small curtsey.
            “Thank you, Maggie,” Phoebe said, by way of dismissal.   She picked up the small, dark green bottle and poured a thimble-sized amount into two slender crystal glasses.  The liquid was slightly viscous, and just the palest of greens.  “From my own personal supply.  Normally we dilute the strength, and though this still isn’t at full concentration, it’s not too far from it.”  Handing him a glass, she said, “Welcome back, Seth.”
             He lifted his glass to hers, and she watched as he took a tentative sip.  “You are right.  It is quite good.”  He took another sip, and then smiled.  “A little different from your earlier formulations.”
             Phoebe thanked him before bringing her own drink to her lips. There was only a hint of bitterness, with dominant notes of citrus and herb.  It was slightly sweet, and it went down with an alcoholic burn that sent a warm heat through her body.  She did not often drink Viridis herself.      
             Although the side effects of the drink were limited, it did seem to make one susceptible to an overly rosy view of things, and the other lustier characteristics of the herbal did not lend themselves overly when one did not have an outlet for release.  She knew that in ten minutes time that heat would turn into a mellow euphoria, sending tingles across her skin, leaving it sensitive enough that the mere breath of one’s lover could ignite passions.
             “So are you going to tell me of your adventures?  It must have been exciting over in the Outlands.”  When he was assigned the mission, she’d begged him to take her with him, wanting only to escape her anguish over her sister’s death, but he had refused, claiming the conditions to be too harsh for her to endure.
              “I wouldn’t have called it exciting.  Nothing but metal and grime, barely another soul to be found.  It’s just too cold for most humans and even the steam techs have problems when they go up to the surface for any length of time.  Actually, it was Gavin that brought me back on his airship.  He sends his regards.”
               “Gavin?”  Though she could not help but smile at the thought of their dear friend, she also could not stop her pulse from picking up its pace. When he had last visited her some six months ago, their visit had ended badly.  “It’s been months since I saw him last.  I do hope he’s well.  He’s always taking on such dangerous cargo runs.  I always fear he’ll run into some difficulty.” 
                Fearless and accomplished, Gavin flew when others refused—whether it be horrible weather conditions, territories at war or precious cargo—he was one of the most sought after airship captains. Gavin never shied away from a perilous situation, and had a knack for always landing on his feet.
               “He always manages, does he not?” Seth said with a smile. “He’ll be staying in London for a bit, so I trust he’ll show up around here at some point or another.  Seth took another sip of his drink and then gave his head a shake.  “This is something powerful, Phoebe.  No wonder you cut its strength,” he said, his eyes intense, sparkling.
               Phoebe nodded in agreement, feeling her shoulders relax. Drinking Viridis with Seth probably wasn’t the wisest of decisions. Inventing the drink had not made her immune to its effects, and Phoebe felt her resolve to keep her distance from him melting away. The room was suddenly much too warm, her garments far too restrictive, and her breath so shallow she felt she might faint. Each pounding beat of her heart sent a pulse of need through her very core.
               “I’ve missed you, Seth.” The words were out before she could stop herself. She inwardly scolded herself for being weak and looked down at the glass in her hands.  “You could have written, you know.”
                He sat forward on the edge of his seat, only a breath away.  “By the gods, Phoebe, do ye not think I would have written or called if it were at all a possibility?  You know the Aether is weak that far north, making communication an impossibility.”  A faint Scottish lilt crept into his voice, as it always did when his emotions were running high or when he let his guard down.  How she had missed it.   The pain in his voice and the pleading in his eyes tore at her defenses, and she reached for his hand as he asked, “Do ye not know how hard it was to leave ye here?”
              “Is this gentleman bothering you, Phoebe?”  A cold, familiar voice came from behind them, cutting through the warm effects of the Viridis, sending a shard of panic through her heart.
              “Victor,” she stood and forced a smile. “Thank you, but no. Everything is fine here.”
The last person she wanted to see was Lord Victor Fenwick— especially with Seth present. In Seth’s absence, Phoebe had no other amorous ties, and Victor had started courting her soon after she opened her club, even going as far as asking Gabriel for her hand in marriage.  Gabriel had made it clear it was her decision to make, which only made Victor more persistent in his pursuit.
              Seth also stood, the crease in his brow making it clear he was unhappy about the interruption.  Phoebe made the introductions.  “Lord Victor Fenwick, Mr. Seth Elliott.”
             Though they were both exceptionally handsome, they couldn’t have been more different. Seth was tall, lean and muscular. His dark hair was long enough to brush his collar, his strong jaw clean-shaven. Though not born into a family of wealth, Seth’s brilliant work as a philanthropist and tinkerer had elevated his status in society—one of the reasons the Cause found him so valuable
             Where Seth was tall, dark, and lean, Victor was shorter and brawnier of build, his strong cheekbones framed by his well-trimmed blonde beard. As part of a family prominent in London society, Victor was more concerned with wealth, status, and power than the well-being of others.
            The two gentlemen glowered at one another, towering over Phoebe’s petite frame like two dogs fighting over their turf.  Victor spoke first, his voice a growl.  “I have not seen you at Viridis before, Mr. Elliott.  I must confess to spending a fair amount of time here, as I’m never able to go very long without paying dear Phoebe a visit.”
             Seth smiled at Victor, his gaze sharp and unwavering. “It is true.  I have only just returned from a trip abroad, though I consider myself lucky to be familiar with both Phoebe and her curious herbal, having had the pleasure of helping her with her endeavor.”  Turning to Phoebe with a smile, he took her hand in his.  “Indeed I do not think I’ll ever forget the effect that very first batch had on me— or you as I recall.”
            Phoebe blushed crimson at the memory.  Indeed, it was that first batch that led to the discovery of the true effects of Viridis and the rumor amongst London society that the herbal could bring on an orgasm with a single kiss.
            When Gabriel waved her over, she was relieved to have an excuse to leave.  Between the effects of the drink, the memories of Seth, and the two men hovering over her, it was all too much for her to handle. 
             “I’m terribly sorry, but my brother is hailing me.  If you will both excuse me, I do hope you will enjoy the rest of your evening.”  Then without waiting for a response, she walked back to the bar on still-wobbly legs.
             “That was looking like a precarious situation you had gotten yourself into.”  Gabriel gave her a crooked smile, making him all the more handsome, his dark curls bringing out the blue of his eyes.
              “I cannot thank you enough for your help.  I think it has left me feeling a bit drained, though.  I’m going to retire for the evening, if you think you can manage things here.”
              “You know that’s never a problem, love.  Truth of the matter is, you have the place so well-staffed, it could run itself without either of us here.  Your escape, however, might not be so easily made.”  He motioned behind her with his chin. 
               She turned just in time to see Seth approaching, her pulse becoming erratic as he neared. 
“Let me at least see you home, Phoebe.”  The gentle pleading in his voice tore at her few remaining defenses.
              Victor stood where she’d left him, his thick arms folded across his chest, his mouth set into a thin line.  But her attention strayed only for a moment— Seth was too close, his scent too familiar. 
              Unable to resist him any longer, she gave Seth a nod of agreement, despite the fact that she could still feel Victor’s gaze upon her.  She knew he was not a man she should anger, but she had never returned his advances, though he was always showing up at the club, bringing her small gifts.  Perhaps this would finally make it clear that she had no interest in him romantically, even if she felt just a little guilty, wondering if she had inadvertently encouraged him in some way.  
            Seth took her hand in his, his touch pulling her from her thoughts. He brought it to his lips before tucking it in the crook of his elbow, a smile on his face, his eyes dancing in the dim lamplight.  Her pulse raced as she walked out of the room on his arm, hoping she would not later regret her decision, for even though she had not said a word, already she could feel her heart surrendering to him. 

8 comments:

catwoods said...

I am so buying this. I've waited two long years to get my hands on a copy!

Calista Taylor said...

I'm so excited that you're excited!! : ) Thanks for all the support, Cat!!

Angie Sandro said...

I love this cover. It's so beautiful. I'm glad your self-publishing. I can't wait to finish reading this:)

Calista Taylor said...

Thank you so much, Angie!! I'll be sure to let you know when it's available. Thanks for all the support!!

Jemi Fraser said...

Love the tweaks you've made Cali! It's such a fabulous story - can't wait until it's out and about!!! :)

Calista Taylor said...

Thanks so much, Jemi! Couldn't have done it without you!

Lauren I. Ruiz said...

A sneak peak! Very kind of you, and very smart.

The cover looks great honestly. A problem with many self-published books is shoddy cover art that makes the book look unimpressive.

Lastly, did you seek professional editing or proofreading? As an editor, I highly recommend it for anyone who is self-publishing. If you haven't, visit my service for a look at some of the lowest rates for quality editing. If you have, smart again. :3

Calista Taylor said...

Thanks, Lauren! Actually, Viridis was edited by my agent who was previously an editor at one of the "big" publishing houses. Between her, several betas, and several more critique partners, I'm hoping most of the errors have been caught. *fingers crossed*

I'll be sure to keep you in mind for future books though!