Here is your sneak peek into the first chapter of Desolate. As per my prior blog post, this book does contain sensitive material and I jump straight into it. This book is very emotional and although I tried not to dwell on the horrors Roseline faces, I also wanted to be realistic. Please read this chapter and decide if this book is suitable for you. For those readers of mine who have wanted a more mature novel, this one should be right up your alley. For my young readers, please note that this book may be disturbing.
Caro de carne mea. Os ex ossibus meis. Lorem nocte in saecula saeculorum.
The words whisper through my mind like a long-forgotten song as my eyes flutter open. Light and dark battle around me, seeking purchase on the room. Flames lick the wooden walls, trailing overhead to embrace the knotted timbers that hold the inflamed roof aloft.
Ash pelts down upon me like a livid rain, singeing flesh and hair. I cry out as I roll away from the gaping hole above, beating at the embers that set the hem of my dress alight.
I pause as my fingers glide across the rich fabric of my voluminous skirts, seizing it between my fingers to draw it up so I can see it in the dim light. The material was once white and adorned with bits of lace along the hem, accustomed for a wedding. It is now a dingy gray, soiled and charred into fraying bits. The ruffled hem of my dress crumbles into ash as I run my finger along it, fluttering down to land upon my bare feet.
I had slippers, I think as I turn to look about me, confused and dazed by my odd surroundings.
Heat from the flames strokes my cheek with mounting intensity. I can feel my eyelashes beginning to mat together with sweat that drips from my brow. I swipe the beads away with the back of my hand and realize a fever has ensnared me.
The air hangs thick before me, weighted with smoke and the scent of something repulsive, as if the grave itself spewed forth its inhabitants. I blink to see through the haze, startled to discover that when I focus, I can see each particle of ash that drifts to the floorboards, leaving a thick dusting on everything within sight.
“Hello?” I call, my throat croaking from the lack of moisture in the air.
My hands tremble as I push against the floor, attempting to rise. My leg muscles coil and I am sent careening backward. The wind is knocked from my chest as I slide down the inflamed wall. The scent of my burning hair stings in my nose as I crawl forward to escape the sweltering heat.
How did I jump like that? I stare down at my fingers, noting the definition of my skin stretched taut over pale flesh.
I was never one for hiding from the sun as some ladies were accustomed to. I lived for the moment when I could escape the confines of my father’s home and be free. My mother loved to scold me about my freckles and sun-kissed skin, though as I turn my hands over, I realize the golden hue of my flesh has been stripped away.
My gaze trails up from my hands, pausing over the corded muscles that now lie just beneath the nearly translucent flesh of my forearms. I poke at the muscle, bewildered by its presence, though I have only a scant second to wonder at the changes in my body before I become aware of the blood that coats my upper arms, vining down to my wrists. I draw my hands up to my face and see drying blood caked within the half-crescent circle of my chipped fingernails.
“Hello?” I call again as I lower my hands and stare in horror at the billowing smoke before me. The fire has begun to spread to all corners of the room. I hear movement in the darkened shadows; however, I cannot decipher what causes it. “Is anyone there?”
A low, guttural chuckle rises from somewhere within the depths of the thick cloud before me. My stomach clenches painfully as the laughter rolls over me like a glacial downpour.
A memory seizes me: my family, perched resolutely in long wooden pews. My brother Petru sat beside my mother, stiff backed and vexed to silence. Storm clouds brewed along his handsome features, darkening his eyes. His hair was combed and slicked with mother’s cooking oil, a look that would have brought tears to my eyes had I not been so preoccupied with my own ordeal.
My sister Adela sat beside him, prim and proper in her beautiful dress and ribbons. Her hair shone like waves of summer wheat in the candlelight and her heart-shaped face lit with excitement. This was her first wedding.
Ahead of me had been an altar of glossed wood and gold, achingly familiar from my mornings spent in this very room for weekly service. A large crucifix stood atop the altar and an aged, cracking leather Bible rested atop its polished surface. I fixed my gaze on the likeness of Christ, praying for deliverance, though none came.
I can remember hearing my feet whisper across the wooden plank floor as I slowly made my way down the aisle. My father’s rotund stomach jiggled as he nodded at each of the guests seated nearest the aisle.
My cousins arrived just this morning for the wedding, all the way from the southern province of Wallachia. I had not seen them since their youngest, a wee pig-faced runt of a boy, was added to their rather excessive litter. My entire family gathered from near and far for the occasion, nearly fifty people in all. My father had seen to that.
It is not every day that a Dragomir marries into such a highborn family.
I remember the feel of my intended’s hand as he clasped mine in his. His flesh was supple with youth and oddly warm to the touch. If I had reason to care, I would have questioned him as to his health, though I dared not. Not after I met his eye.
Hunger… that is what I saw when I looked at him for the first time, not one moon past. It was as obvious as it was appalling. His dark gaze made my skin crawl and my fingers tremble from within the confines of my skirts when my father presented me to him.
There was something indescribably evil about my betrothed. Why was I the only one to see it?
I suspect that Petru knew, yet he was too busy chasing skirts to think much of it until Father announced a deal had been struck. I was sold like cattle in a market. My pleas did little good. Nor did my tears.
I believe my mother knew of my distress, although she had learned long ago that no one defied my father’s wishes. His word was law in the Dragomir household, and to many without. My sister, dear sweet Adela, knew of my fears. She would cradle me in the night, just as I used to do for her when nightmares plagued her as a child. She would whisper to me, plotting our escape. We would head to Wallachia and marry farmers and be blissfully happy. Childish dreams, still I prayed for them nonetheless.
When Vladimir Enescue seized my hand before the altar, I wanted to pull back, to run and hide in the woods so I could not be found, although his grip was far too tight and my father’s reprove fierce.
I was trapped.
I do so pledge. My own damning words echo endlessly through my mind as I crawl forward, my hands flailing about before me in search of the pews my family sat upon. Heated splinters easily burrow into the flesh of my palms as I hunt, drawn inexplicably toward a sweet yet oddly tinny scent.
My hand touches something damp and sticky and I rear back. My knees ache from kneeling upon the hard floor, yet I dare not move. “No,” I moan as I stare down at my mother’s corpse. The flesh of her throat has been shredded, as if a rabid animal tore at her repeatedly. The front of her gown is a blanket of crimson. It clings to her like a vile sludge.
I turn away as my stomach contracts. I know I am about to be ill; however, my convulsion stutters to a halt as I spy my father’s hand just beyond my mother, sticking out from behind the second pew. Only his hand. I cannot see where the remainder of his body has gone.
Beyond him I see piles of my fair-haired relations strewn about the room, some dangling over the backs of pews while others have been carelessly tossed aside in the aisle. Their clothes are alight from the embers that flitter down from the crumbling ceiling.
The scent of death rises in my nostrils and I gag. Bile burns in my throat as I peer through the smoke that now escapes through the charred hole in the roof to see my brother’s body hung from the double doors leading into the church. A rusty nail impales through Petru’s shoulder so that he slumps to one side, his chin propped against his sunken chest. Blood coats his wedding clothes, dripping from the tips of his shoes. The sheath at his hip is barren, his sword lost among the carnage.
I remember everything. I turn about in place, searching for my new husband. I know he is here somewhere.
Vladimir Enescue did this. He and his horrid brother.
Threads from the woven tapestries along the walls drift to the floor in charred piles of irreplaceable ash. The plank walls groan as the foundation of the church begins to deteriorate.
The fire appears to leap from body to body before me as I lurch to my feet and weave among the blue flames, desperately trying to fight against the pain swelling in my chest. It is not the dull ache of remorse, but a sharp, jagged pain that steals away my breath. Warm blood clings to my throat and chest like a second skin, sticky and maddening. My bronze hairs feel heavy laden as the thick strands slap against my face, matted with congealing blood.
The scent of boiling flesh needles at my eyes and turns my stomach rancid. The flames chase after me as I frantically scour the pews in search of my sister.
I cannot see my husband, though I know he is here. I can hear his laughter all around me, caged within the shadows. I can feel his taunting eyes upon me as he watches and waits.
Blood rains down from my hair, splattering against the bodice of my wedding dress, melding with the crimson design that spans my bodice. I do not know to whom the blood belongs. Myself? My husband? My sister?
“Adela!” My voice is hoarse as I grip a pew to pull myself over a slain cousin, Remus, and his young wife Valeria beside him. I try not to think of the unborn child within her womb that will never see the light of day.
My nails dig deep into the flesh of the pine seatback, crying out as the pew tears free from the floor and crashes atop Remus. I stare in disbelief at the flames that crawl up through the new cavity I opened in the floor. How did I manage that? Surely it is because the floor is severely compromised by the fire.
As I move to step around Remus, I spy deep indentations where my fingers lay buried within the wood. I step forward to brush my fingers across the markings. A sickening squelch from below my foot makes me feel faint. Oh, my Lord! Whom did I tread upon?
I dare not look for fear of losing my nerve as I pick my way through the carnage. Dismembered body parts lie scattered before me like a gruesome puzzle. Is this Lucien Enescue’s doing? My husband’s brother was the one who butchered my family and stole the life of my brother as I watched in stunted horror. I have never met a more vile man.
My hands tremble as I clutch my stomach and lurch to the side, expelling the acid that burns in my throat. I wipe my mouth clean, though the taste of guilt lingers. My chest rises and falls as the sound of crackling flames consumes my mind. The smoke grows thicker, hanging heavily in the air before me. Though much of it rises from the blistered slant of the church gable, the smoke pouring from the walls around me is suffocating.
The room begins to spin as I fight back the terror that grips me. “Adela!”
I push back to my feet, ignoring the flames that seize the hem of my dress. The floor is unbearably hot on the soles of my feet, yet I press on, gritting my feet against the blisters that form. Nothing seems as it should, almost as if I have awoken into a terrific nightmare. If only I could pinch myself and wake.
My sister’s golden hair should be easy to spot in the firelight, yet she is nowhere to be seen. “Adela, answer me!”
I slip on the blood-slicked floor and crash to my knees before the altar, jarring my jaw so I nearly bite my tongue in half. Blood seeps between my teeth. Still, I ignore it as the copious amounts of fabric from my dress shield my knees from the brunt of the impact.
A terrible crash from behind sends me scrambling to my feet. I glance back over my shoulder to find the timbers nearest the door have collapsed, sealing me inside. I can no longer see my brother upon the far wall.
“Help!” I stagger up the steps toward the altar, terrified. Flames eat away at the wooden crucifix before me. Already half of the Lord’s body has been destroyed; the other portrays a gruesome reminder of the eternal torment my mother so loved to preach to me about when I was headstrong as a child.
Am I dead? Is this my damnation?
My gaze lands upon a glint of silver and I lurch forward to retrieve a bloodied dagger, clutching it tightly to my chest as another memory envelopes me: Adela’s wide eyes latch onto mine. Mewling sounds rise from her throat as she thrashes against Lucien’s grasp. The muscles along her forearms pull taut as she fights to touch my outstretched hands.
“It is time, brother,” Lucien growls as his gaze focuses on the moonlight streaming in through the windows.
“Time for what?” I whimper as I turn to face my new husband.
Vladimir smiles down at me, curling his finger along my cheekbone. “Do not fret. It will all be over soon.”
Adela’s piercing screams tear at me as Lucien waves the silver blade before my sister’s eyes. She bucks wildly as his arms snake about her chest and her cries give way to wailing pleas.
“No, please!” I beg as stinging tears blur my vision. “Take me instead.”
Vladimir’s hauntingly handsome face shows no emotion. “The pain will only be for a moment.”
“Roseli—” Adela’s cry gurgles in her throat as the blade slices clean through her flesh. A thin red line appears first, and then a shower of blood cascades down from her neck, staining her pale-pink dress. Her eyes bulge as she fights for breath. Delicate fingers attempt to staunch the outpouring.
I fall to my knees and the dagger clatters from my hands. My hair falls in a heavy veil over my face as I bow my head. Salty tears stream down the curve of my cheeks, pattering against the heated floor. Small puffs of steam rise from where they fall. My shriek of agony weaves among the rafters of this desecrated church and up into the night.
That is when I smell it. The heady bouquet that clings to my skin is sweet, delicious. My throat clenches as the scent rolls over me and I fight the urge to lick my lips. I lower my gaze and notice fresh sheets of blood staining my bodice for the first time. It trails down from my throat and oozes into a deep, cleanly edged wound just over my heart. The hole has already begun to mend, sealing over with a new layer of pale flesh.
Reaching up with quivering fingers, I touch the sticky warmth that adheres to my chest. “No, no, no!”
I shake my head at the memory of Vladimir plunging the dagger deep into my chest, tearing flesh and scoring bone. The pain had been excruciating, although it paled instantly as a new pain surged through my veins. The fires burned hotter than any mortal flame, charring everything in its path. The darkness had come… yet not fast enough.
It was all real! I cannot breathe as mocking laughter draws my gaze upward and I meet the dark, maniacal eyes of Lucien Enescue perched among the charred rafters. His long hair drapes about his shoulders, thickly matted with blood. The flesh of his right cheek is scored deeply with claw marks, which show rapid signs of healing. His chin is layered red with fresh blood. As he peels back his lips into a grotesque smile, I feel faint at the crimson that paints his teeth.
The scent of death permeates the air around him as he leaps down to the floor before me in a billow of black silk. There is no sound as his feet connect with the ground. Only the whisper of air shifting.
“She remembers.” His words feel like a thousand snakes writhing across my skin. Goose bumps rise as I flail backward, scuttling away from his slow, purposeful approach.
My fingers snag in something moist and stringy as I frantically try to flee. I turn slowly toward my hand, terrified of what I might discover. Tears roll unhindered down my grimy cheeks. Lifeless blue eyes stare back at me as I untangle my fingers from my sister’s stained golden strands.
“Adela!” I wail as the room begins to darken about me. My head grows unusually light as I blink against my shock.
The wooden floor trembles beneath my hands as something lands beside me, though I only see my sister. A clean gash is carved into her throat, cut deep to her spine. I glimpse bone protruding from the wound and realize her head is only partially attached by a thin layer of stretched skin. The blood that spilled from her wound has already begun to congeal against her ashen chest.
It is not this wound that consumes my attention, but rather the semi-circle of teeth marks on the tender flesh nestled in the hollow of her neck. A tremor rises through my body at the taste of Adela’s blood on my lips. I bit her!
“Guard the door, Lucien.” A husky voice seems to call from a distance. “I do not want to be disturbed.”
“The fire—” Lucien’s protest cuts off and I hear him move away.
My vision blurs as a dark face appears before me. I try to focus as strong hands press me roughly back to the floor. I know that I must fight back, to scream for help as my thoughts splinter.
I can feel my skirts being lifted and a weight pressed down upon me.
“Congratulations, my dear.” Cold fingers slide down my inner thigh as the hard voice of my husband whispers in my ear. “Your first kill.”
Tears spill down my cheeks as my head rolls to the side. I stare into the unseeing eyes of my sister as my husband takes me for the first time.
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