Meet Hunter Wells in this excerpt from
Prologue: Part Three: The Alpha Male.
(See below to meet Chloe Arcenaux and Marc Thomas)
Behind him, Hunter heard a giggle. He turned casually, careful to appear unruffled and uncaring, and saw two teenage girls standing on the other side of the chain-link fence that surrounded the playground. Tess and Brianna stood there looking at him.
“Hi Hunter,” said Tess.
“Hi Brianna,” said Hunter.
Brianna smiled back at him and then gave her friend a condescending look of pity.
“Hi,” she said. “What are you doing here?”
“Just hanging out.” Hunter shoved one of his hands into his pocket and immediately felt awkward, but couldn’t pull it out without looking even more awkward. He shrugged, hoping that Brianna wouldn’t notice.
“That’s cool.” Brianna left Tess tapping her foot and stepped closer to the fence, twisting her fingers through it in a way that made Hunter’s stomach flip-flop. “Me too.”
“Nice.” From behind him, Hunter heard one of his friends holler at the girls and he grinned. “Wanna see something cool?”
Brianna bit her lip and nodded. Hunter turned to his friends and shouted, “Hey guys! Try to launch each other off the teeter-totter!”
Laughter and hoots followed as the boys on the playground equipment hurried to obey Hunter’s instructions. Soon the metal ringing and heavy thuds of bodies flying off of the teeter-totter and into the mulch on the ground filled the air.
Brianna nodded, suitably impressed. “They do whatever you tell them too?”
Hunter winked at her. “Yeah.”
“Cool.” Brianna looked down at the phone in her hands. “Hey, do you have my number? You should text me sometime.”
Hunter did his best not to swallow, but his mouth suddenly seemed full of saliva. “I don’t know, what is it?” He pulled out his phone to punch her number in, but when she didn’t answer, he looked up.
She was looking over his shoulder at something. Behind her, Tess was rolling her eyes and shifting from one foot to the other, obviously anxious to leave. Hunter swivelled around and saw a kid, maybe seven years old, standing near the teeter-totter, staring uncertainly at the older boys as they jumped on and off.
Hunter was about to tell them to get off so the kid could use them when Brianna said from behind him, “Hey. That kid needs to learn to respect his elders, don’t you think?”
Hunter looked at her. She was smiling a dangerous smile that both excited and unnerved him. He didn't answer, and she looked at him expectantly. For a moment he wasn't sure what to do, then he saw her jiggling her phone in front of her chest and he made up his mind.
“Hey, guys!” His friends stopped and turned to him. “The kid doesn’t want to wait his turn. Why don’t you slide over and make some space for him?”
The response was immediate. The guys grabbed the kid, who didn’t even cry out, he was so shocked. Within seconds, they’d pushed him into the tube slide. Then, with two of them blocking the bottom, they started to dump dirt and mulch down the slide, laughing cruelly the whole time.
Hunter took another drag on his cigarette. He felt slightly sick and he didn’t think it was the tobacco.
“You’re so funny!” Brianna laughed, staring past Hunter at the tube slide, which was now echoing with hollow, pleading sobs. “Did I mention that I’m having a few people over on Saturday? You can totally swing by, if you want.”
Hunter slowly let out the smoke. Perfect. An invitation to Brianna’s. Now he just had to get her out of here so he could let that kid out of the slide.
His eyes played over her face and she smiled coyly at him and giggled.
Hunter felt a chill run down his spine as the wind picked up. His jacket fluttered around him but he noticed that Brianna’s hair didn’t move. Neither did Tess’s. In fact, neither of them seemed to have noticed the wind at all; they were both staring over his head with wide eyes.
Hunter looked up to see what they were gawking at.
It was Brianna’s face, sculpted in 3D out of cigarette smoke. Hunter gasped. How was this possible? He’d been thinking about her, and then the wind… but…
Brianna released the fence, letting it spring back on itself with a chinging sound, and stepped backwards until she found Tess’s hand.
“How are you doing that?” Brianna looked down at Hunter with disgust and then back up at her face in the air above his head. “What are you, some kind of freak?”
The girls didn’t stay a second longer, but ran off down the street, looking back every now and then to send a shriek towards Hunter.
Hunter was floored. He stared up at the face in the smoke with his mouth open. This was impossible.
Meet Chloe Arcenaux in this excerpt from
Prologue: Part Two: The Plantation Owner's Daughter
(See below to meet Marc Thomas)
Chloe Arcenaux lay in the burnt-out cane fields, her long chestnut hair fanning out around her head like a hand of cards on a riverboat’s gambling table.
All around her she could hear the gentle, mumbled singing of the plantation workers are they hacked at the sugar cane; she found the rhythmic sounds soothing, especially after the grueling lesson she’d just completed. They reminded her of the lapping noises of the Mississippi River that lay just to the east of her family’s plantation; the plantation her grandfather had built from nothing.
Elmwood sat west of St. Francisville on Bayou Sara. It was her father’s pride and joy and she knew that one day the running of the plantation would pass to her and her future husband, whoever he might be.
Chloe thought about all the boys in the area. Each of them had started paying her special attention recently, as much for her pretty face as her upcoming inheritance, she was sure. She smiled to herself. There were a couple of likely matches among them and each one of them was wrapped around her little finger, but she wasn’t serious about any of them. Still, it was pleasant to have them competing for her attentions every time she went into town.
Chloe brought a piece of cane to her mouth and started to chew, savouring the sweet, sappy texture of the fibrous veins. She knew that her father wouldn’t approve of her wasting her time in the fields. He was always pushing her to study and practice so that she would be ready to take over the plantation and all of its responsibilities when the time came.
She spat out a chunk of used-up fibers. The son he never had, that’s what he wants me to be. Chloe closed her eyes against the light of the noon-day sun. She didn’t mind being pushed to excel, but she could do without the constant reminders that as a woman she would have to work twice as hard as the boys her age to be accepted as an equal.
That’s why she was hiding in the cane fields now. She knew that Henri was disappointed with her progress and would be looking to see if she was practicing; her tutor always wanted her to practice more.
Not today, she thought to herself as she wiped a sheen of perspiration from her forehead. She pushed a wooden stick away from her. Pas aujourd’hui.
At least it hadn’t been French lessons today. Elmwood was situated in a primarily English-speaking area, but her father was still strict in making sure that she spoke the language of her ancestors.
Chloe lifted her arm to watch an ant crawl from her elbow to her fingertips and let her mind wander.
The warm sun beat down on her as she lay in the dirt and ash with her eyes drowsy, listening to the swish and thunk of the machetes and the droning sounds of voices as the plantation slaves harvested the cane. Her breathing became slow and steady and the line between the waking world and daydreams thinned and faded until it was no longer there.
A noise startled her. Amidst the hypnotic voices of the harvesters she heard a low growling sound. Chloe sat up and looked around her. All she could see were the bent backs of the plantation’s workers as they hunched over the leaning stalks of sugar cane, but still she could hear growling.
It seemed to be coming from every side. As soon as she looked in one direction the noise would come from another, even louder and closer than before, until finally she turned and saw its origin.
A mangy, black dog with matted fur stood before her, its legs bent as if ready to spring, its lips pulled back in a snarl to reveal its teeth. Speckles of white foam dripped from its mouth and Chloe’s eyes widened in fear.
Chloe slowly brushed her left hand along the ground towards the wooden stick she’d pushed away moments before. The dog growled louder at the movement, its rumbling tone stopping and starting like stuttering footsteps in gravel.
Her hand grasped the stick and abruptly the growling wasn’t growling any longer. Instead, incredibly, the dog was speaking to her.
“Libérez-moi!” The dog’s eyes were suddenly sad; the foam at its mouth was gone now. “Libérez-moi. Free me.”
Stunned, Chloe scrambled to her feet. She stepped on the hem of her dress and jerked to a stop, her head clearing. The sun was no longer at the highest point in the sky; at least two hours had passed since she’d lain down. She looked around her. The black faces of her father’s slaves stared back at her in consternation. The dog was gone, if it had ever been there.
Meet Marc Thomas in this excerpt from
Prologue: Part One: Le Préfet
Stefan cracked open his Desperados and took a swig, then passed it around to the other boys. He pulled out his lighter, the one he had stolen from the shopping centre back in Cholet, and flicked it a few times, watching the flame dance in front of him before snapping it closed and shoving the beer bottle at Gustav with a raised eyebrow. “Buvez! Drink! Or are you too scared?” He looked down at Gustav’s wide eyes and laughed, then tucked his hands into his armpits and began to flap his imaginary wings, making chicken sounds.
“Little Gus! Too afraid to drink!” The other boys joined in the fun, spitting mocking words at the younger boy.
“Drink, Little Gus, drink!”
“Come on, if we can do it, you can!”
“Hurles avec les loups, Little Gus! Howl with the wolves!”
Gustav was shaking; the bottle in his hand quivered with his fear. Intimidated by the older boys, he slowly raised the bottle to his lips and took a sip.
Immediately he began to choke and cough, spewing the harsh liquor onto the ground as his throat burned.
The bullies howled with laughter as Gustav began to cry. Stefan reached down and picked up the bottle, holding it out to Gustav as he said, “The first sip is the hardest, Little Gus. Have some more; it gets better, I promise.” He flicked the lighter menacingly, but couldn’t keep a straight face and laughed again until he heard a voice from behind him.
“Fichez-lui la paix,” said Marc, with no trace of humour in his voice. “Leave him alone.”
Stefan’s laughter died away as he turned to take in the large frame of the Préfet.
“This has nothing to do with you, Marc,” he sneered. “Little Gus and I are just having some fun, right, Little Gus?”
Gustav didn’t answer, but his fear-filled eyes locked onto Marc with a hint of hope.
Marc ignored Stefan and turned to the other boys. “Go back to the château grounds. I won’t tell Monsieur Marchal about the drinking if you go now and leave Gustav alone.”
Stefan signalled to the others to stand their ground and stared up at Marc, unafraid. “Pour qui tu te prends? Who do you think you are? The teacher’s favourite, the Préfet? That means nothing to me. Mind your own business.” He flicked the lighter again and snapped it shut with a sharp click.
Marc leaned down slowly, keeping Stefan in sight, and reached out to lead Gustav away. Stefan darted in and knocked Marc’s arm away with his fist still clenching the lighter.
“I said mind your own business. Back off, Marc!”
Marc felt his temper rise but controlled it. He didn’t want this to get violent.
“Stefan, just let us go. I don’t want any trouble.” Marc pulled Gustav gently with one hand and pressed calmly on Stefan’s chest with the other, compelling the bully to back up with gentle, but irresistible, force.
Stefan tried to push Marc’s arm away, but the bigger boy didn’t flinch. It was as if he didn’t even notice. Stefan’s eyes narrowed as he heard his friends whispering behind him. He could not back down, not in front of them.
He stepped back and growled, then swung his arm out and smashed the beer bottle against a tree trunk.
Marc looked up in surprise. This was escalating more than he had wanted. He stepped in front of Gustav and put his hands up, palms out, in a gesture of peace.
“I don’t want to fight you, Stefan.” Marc had been a strict pacifist for most of his life; he was a student of history and he had seen all the pain that fighting had caused over the years. War tore families apart. There was always a better way. He tried to remember the words of French poet Jean de La Fontaine: Patience et longueur de temps font plus que force ni que rage. Patience and time do more than force or rage.
“C’est bien dommage,” said Stefan. “That’s too bad! I’m sick of you always sticking your nose into my business. I’m going to teach you to leave me alone, once and for all!”
Marc felt his heart-rate jump as Stefan swung the broken bottle at him. He leapt out of the way and observed that, in his anger, the bully hadn’t noticed that his hand was bleeding from a cut sustained from the sharp glass.
“Why are you protecting him anyways?” shouted Stefan as he circled around Marc, who backed away but kept his body between Stefan and Gustav. “If you care about him, why don’t you let him stand up for himself instead of just shielding him?”
Marc paused. The question surprised him, but in that moment Stefan lunged and Marc was forced to act.
Moving faster than anyone would expect a boy his size to move, Marc dodged the thrust and grabbed Stefan’s wrist, squeezing just hard enough to force the bully to drop the broken bottle with a cry of pain.
Marc released him and turned to the others, who were standing with expressions on their faces that ranged from shock to anger to fear.
“Go back to the château grounds,” he said again, and they rushed off without a word, with Gustav only a step behind them.
Marc turned around to patch things up with Stefan, but Stefan was no longer there. Marc looked up to see the other boy crashing through the forest, heading away from the castle walls. He sighed, cursing his Préfet responsibilities, and ran after him.