Back to London after an amazing weekend in the City of Spires… It was cold and grey but still… I had a great time
Had a drink at The Turf, the Randolph and Freud’s… Still my favorite places in the whole world.
I was also very lucky to meet that very handsome guy who took me on a tour of his City. His name starts with a ‘R’. I made a video of it and I’m planning to release it over the next few weeks. So, yes, you’re going to have a private tour of Oxford by Earl Boy himself.
Give me a few weeks to put it all together. In the meantime, a selection of pictures of some Oxford landmarks.
Last week, I shared Madison and Rupert’s first kiss. Now is another first time, at least the beginning of it…
Her brain struggled to come up with anything more elaborate, while he flicked through a lacquered box and extracted an old-fashioned record. Fascinated, she watched him set the disk on a gramophone, and the needle descend onto the revolving plate. The room filled with the smooth tones of the 1950s crooner. He sang about Witchcraft. How ironic.
She took the hand Rupert had extended and focused on keeping her feet from kicking each other. But he was a smooth dancer, and she forgot about choreography, her body swaying against his.
“Sorry, I’m not very modern. My grandfather, Charles Vance, he’s the one who was fascinated with the family’s history. He donated his vinyl collection to me.”
“I like it better than standard Cajun wedding bands, French accordions, violins, steel guitars. Altogether, they suck.”
When they laughed, her breasts brushed against his chest. His hand followed the curve of her back, and her head tilted backward.
He kissed her. His tongue touched her lips, opened them. Her breast tightened against the material of the corset. They begged for a touch. Sparks of desire ignited her senses from the pit of her stomach to her fingertips.
But Rupert held off. He stepped away, the space between them now a void Madison could have fallen into.
“Have I done anything wrong?” Dizziness threatened to make her lose her balance.
Grabbing her hands in his, Rupert took them to his lips for a light kiss. “I don’t want to push too far.”
Too far … Pent-up yearning had rendered her insane for the last three weeks.
“I want it to be right. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life.” Rupert kept his eyes down.
She wanted to scream: I’m the virgin here. At freaking twenty-two.
Staring at Rupert, his arms dangling at his sides, Madison understood tonight wasn’t about her and her need for fulfillment. Tonight was about sharing and giving, not taking by force—like that night on the bayou when Tarquin had attacked her.
Madison was ready. She yielded, voluntary and out of love.
She snuggled her way back into his arms, where she belonged. “I’ve waited a long time too, and I’m glad I did. I want it to be you.”
So now I have a date: december 6th, 2012!
Claudia at Phat Puppy Art created it and I’m very happy with it
Julie at ATOMR (who is simply awesome) is organizing the event. Check her post: http://wp.me/p20ttU-SM
… and because it will be December… I’m thinking of having a “X-mas spirit” giveaway to celebrate. Keep listening… I’ll say more soon.
…. yes, my friends, it’s official… the date EVERYONE was waiting for
Oxford Whispers is out.
If you scroll down, I have a little gift on the right: the TRAILER!
The dates of the blog tour can be found under “Events”. You’ll just have to click the links.
THE FIRST KISS…
“Yes, please. I’m not used to drinking so much wine. I’m a bit lightheaded.”
Rupert held her coat, and while she wrapped the scarf around her neck, he put on his navy blue jacket. Outside the Turf, the cold took her aback but he tucked her under his arm. Madison fought her need to lean against his strength, to indulge in being petite, fragile, next to him.
Once they stood on New College Lane, she tilted her head upward to ask him, “Where do you want to go?”
“To a secret place…” His smile and closeness could have made her melt on the spot, despite the polar temperature. “We’re going to break the law.”
Madison was a law-abiding citizen but she followed him along the cobbled streets, passing the Bodleian Library, to Radcliffe Square, all the time wondering if he really meant it… What was he up to?
The Radcliffe Camera, with its circular shape and Corinthian columns, stood grand in the center. They were alone on the square, alone in the world.
“Rupert, the Camera isn’t a secret place, and I would prefer breaking the law in a less popular location. I’m sure there are CCTV cameras spying on us right now.”
“You Yanks are so conventional.” He seized Madison’s hand and ran to the other side of the square, alongside the Fellows’ Garden of Exeter College. Pippa had taken Madison into her college. They had walked in its tranquil garden and sat on the terrace overlooking Radcliffe Square.
Rupert took a key ring out of his jacket. After selecting one of the smaller keys, he inserted it into the ancient, wooden door in the college wall and opened it.
Her jaw dropped. “It’s not our college, and even if it were, you shouldn’t have those keys. We could get caught.” Madison checked around her with alarm. “Thank God it’s Christmas and damn cold,” she muttered following Rupert up the steep stairs leading to the terrace. For the first time in her life, breaking the rules didn’t feel so bad. She relaxed.
Immaculate snow covered the promontory, untouched now that most college residents had left for the holidays.
“So what about that, Mad Hatter? It helps having friends in high places. I bet none of your nerdy clique could have opened that door.” Rupert stood in front of her, with the square’s street lights shining behind him. He might have been planting his victory flag on top of Mount Everest.
“My friends don’t need to impress anyone.” She sharpened her words.
“I’m sorry.” He moved toward her. “I’m a jerk sometimes. Make that most of the time.” He sounded as if he meant it.
“My friends are good people,” she murmured.
“I know. So are you.”
“That’s a pretty lame comment for a cool guy like you.”
Madison kept her head down. He lifted her chin with his forefinger and looked into her eyes. She had read about those moments when time stopped, when life froze and turned upside-down. Now she was experiencing it.
Despite the cold and the snow, the air she breathed felt warm and sticky. The heat in her lungs soon burned her chest and radiated throughout her body.
She had to get closer to him, to bridge the foot-wide gap separating them. But he leaned toward her, lowering his head one inch at a time. His lips brushed hers, he withdrew, then he bent and kissed her again.
His mouth softened and massaged hers, fireworks exploded in her consciousness, and ignited micro braziers along her spine, extending to the tips of her breasts.
Rupert lifted her like a weightless doll against his chest and deepened their kiss. Her body was crushed against his, she wrapped her fingers at the back of his neck and let his tongue tease hers, savoring his taste. He increased the pressure and changed the angle of his head. The extra friction sent her into an agony of pleasure.
From far, far away, inner voices warned Madison. He already had a girlfriend. He was out of her league. He had even slept with Pippa.
She laid her hand on his cheek and pushed him away. While she struggled to get back on her feet, he squinted, as if extracted from a deep sleep.
“I’m sorry, Maddie. I didn’t want to push myself on you.”
His eyes were clear of any lie, but she stepped back further nevertheless.
“Please don’t go,” Rupert pleaded, and she stopped.
Fleeing was the easiest and safest option.
“I know. I won’t do anything you don’t want me to do. We can just talk.”
“It’s December and freezing.”
Rupert held out his hand in invitation. She walked back and put her hand in his. Relief dissipated the unhappiness in his face.
“Let’s sit on the bench. The view is nice,” he added. “I’ll keep you warm.”
Madison sat and relaxed against his body. While holding her in his arms, he started playing the tour guide, taking her on a time trip as they had done at Stratford-Upon-Avon. He told her how the Radcliffe Camera had inspired Tolkien, and how the author had used it as a backdrop for The Lord of the Rings, and then he told her about the novelist and Oxford professor C. S. Lewis and many other stories Oxford had given birth to.
Lulled by Rupert’s voice, she realized her eyelids had closed when he placed a kiss on them.
“Hello, Sleeping Beauty,” he whispered. She straightened up, surprised at feeling so groggy.
“Do you want to go to bed?” Rupert asked, and when she frowned, he added, “It’s not an indecent proposal. I’m not a rogue.”
“You are, Rupert Vance. It’s part of your charm.” She stared at him for a moment. Maybe it was the chardonnay, or the magic of the snowy night, but she had forgotten everything and everyone outside of their warm bubble, “Do you want to go to bed with me?”
Just thought I’d share a little bit of my life with you. There’s this amazing exhibition at the Tate Britain, one of London’s most famous museum… and this exhibition centers around THE PRE-RAPHAELITES!!! Oxford Whispers was inspired by a pre-raphaelite painting titled The Wounded Cavalier.
So if you’re lucky enoughto travel to London over the enxt few months, please go there. It’s beautiful and so romantic.
Lots of love,
When Madison and Rupert meet for the first time…
ON THE OTHER SIDE of Tom Quad, Great Tom, the loudest bell in all Oxford, struck nine o’clock. The sharp November air smelled of woodsmoke, and Madison longed for Louisiana’s heat.
She missed her good old Converse sneakers, jeans and granny pants as she pulled a skimpy piece of material down her legs. No way this was called a dress.
Her eyes were fixed on the imposing facade of Christ Church Hall when she begged, “I’m freezing here. Can we go inside?”
Pippa gestured toward the entrance and strutted inside. Madison had met the girl—and her Irish mane of red hair—on her first day in England, on the train up from London.
For a week now she had given Madison the guilt trip. A graduate at Christ Church College, Madison was Pippa’s ticket to the social event of the Michaelmas term: Christ Church Ball. Pippa’s persistence had paid off and here she was, ready to cause mayhem with the male students.
Madison took a deep breath and followed the bright halo of Pippa’s hair up the sixteenth-century staircase that led to the Great Hall. Oliver, Madison’s dormmate, flanked her. A tuxedo had replaced his skinny jeans. She patted his thin shoulders to inject some confidence into him, but he kept starring at Pippa’s electric-blue dress. Star-struck.
At first, Madison struggled to recognize the grand, silent Dining Hall, although its vaulted ceiling rose to the heavens as usual. Tonight, the room was overcrowded and overheated. Still, it was a better option than being locked in her room obsessing over the morning’s drama and the Puritan in the painting.
“Ollie, could you please get us some drinks?” Pippa’s smile showcased her dimples. “White wine for both of us.”
How to resist the musical lilt of her voice? Ollie couldn’t and headed for the bar. “Jolly good. Beats dancing anytime.”
Pippa turned to Madison. “I’m glad I lent you the dress. The way you look tonight, all the guys will get you a drink. You’ll be the first one to get wasted.”
“I could use a few glasses right now … I feel like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”
But Pippa’s attention had already shifted toward a potential target for the night. Irish Queen Bee waved at a muscular guy and strutted in his direction. Between chasing able-bodied male victims and college gossiping, there was never a dull moment in Pippa Connelly’s life.
Madison could leave now and let everyone else have a great time, but she didn’t want to sabotage herself again.
Her skin stung. She lifted her head to survey the space in front of her and met the glassy stare of Chris Church’s founder: Henry the Eighth. Hung on the other side of the hall, his portly figure spread over a full-length portrait.
Anne Boleyn, I am not.
Resolve solidified Madison’s stance and squared her shoulders. Tonight, she would face the music. Literally.
At Yale, she’d been too busy studying and juggling jobs to be part of the party scene. But things were looking up now. She was in a master’s program at Oxford University, England. Take that. And in the month since her arrival, she had been pretty lucky, meeting Pippa, then Ollie. Yes, things were definitely looking up.
Thinking of Ollie, Madison gazed at the crowded hall in search of her roommate. He wasn’t at the bar, and she needed a glass in her hand so she would have something to do with herself.
With an old Madonna tune playing in the background, she marched toward the bar.
Please God, keep this dress below my panty line.
Ollie was nowhere to be seen. She ordered a glass of white and ignored the push and pull of the other students around her eager for a drink.
“First time here?” asked a clipped voice behind her at the jammed-up counter.
She turned around. A guy about her age towered over her. She leaned against the bar to support herself as she lifted her gaze from the light blue shirt he wore, to a crisp collar, and followed the line of his neck to the handsome face above. No tuxedo here.
Madison cleared her throat, but only managed a ‘Yes’ that sounded more like a croak.
The smell of his freshly laundered clothes drifted over her. Bergamot or lavender, Madison couldn’t say which, but the fragrance contrasted with the sweat and cheap perfume of the crowd.
He’s hotter than the hinges on the gates of hell.
He chuckled, clearly enjoying her agitation. But his voice was soft when he asked, “American? Where from?”
“Louisiana.” Adonis is chatting me up.
The full-lips-slash-chiseled-cheekbones combo was full-on cliché, but would melt a freakin’ iceberg.
He gave her a rueful smile and she tried turning away, but couldn’t find the necessary space at the crowded bar. Pivoting her head, she strained for a better view of possible avenues of retreat.
“You arrived with Ginger Girl.”
“No idea who you’re talking about … Blondie.” The steel in her voice had chinks in it.
Sparkles lit up in his eyes, and her heart missed a beat. Shivers— chilly then warm—ran down her spine, and back up again. The student bartender shook her elbow and signaled toward a glass on the bar. She held out the exact change, keeping her arm strong, her hand still, but her new friend stopped her midway.
“Allow me. I’m Rupert, by the way.”
“I’ll pay for it,” she answered in a tone that rang ﬂ at. “Mine’s Madison.” No froggy sound this time. Phew.
“Maybe we could go somewhere quieter.” His offer sounded like a naughty invitation, one that said, “I wanna do bad things with you, honey.” Or at least it did to Madison’s wired brain.
“Sorry, I’m spending the evening with my friends,” she forced herself to articulate. God, could she sound more laaaaaaame?
“I see, although I’m not sure your friends will play by your rules. Pippa Connelly doesn’t often leave a party on her own. You shouldn’t be left all by yourself.”
Taking her wine, she finally managed to move out of his way. “Is that the best pick-up line you have?” Yes, more of that. “Something tells me you don’t leave parties on your own, either.” Woo-hoo.
He shrugged and cast his eyes downward. “True.”
“Good luck then. No doubt you’ll find a desperate girl or two tonight.” She flashed him the Scarlett O’Hara smile her mother had taught her. As if the LeBon women had ever been Southern belles.
Madison walked away, her chin up.
For once, she hadn’t screwed up socially. She had even been quite good toward the end of this verbal ping-pong, even if she did say so herself.
She peeked back toward Rupert. His eyes remained glued on her, while he ignored an anorexic blond girl standing at his side. Satisfied, Madison brought the glass to her lips. The wine was almost as sweet as the rum her grandmother drank back home. She spotted a dark corner to savor her social victory in peace.
After three steps, an inner storm struck. As it had done earlier that morning.
The ballroom and the laughing crowd fell away from the foreground, as if she were on a roller coaster.
Et Voila! That’s how the story started…
Oxford, a clearing on the outskirts of the city – June 1650
I CANNOT BREATHE.
A thick coif wraps around my head, and a black gown covers every inch of my body. As Mother ordered, its wide collar hides the contours of my shoulders. I must abide by the rules not only in public, but also in this clearing, where I spent much of my childhood.
I slide my fingers between my throat and the material of the coif, loosening its tightness over my neck. My chest rises and I take in a mouthful of air.
“I do not know when we will see each other again. I will stay in London for the summer months.” His somber, buttoned waistcoat makes Peter look so severe. The vest is finely cut yet bears no ornament, and a wide-brimmed hat hides most of his face.
I tempt him again. “You can always give up your charge and stay in Oxford. There is a good life here away from Westminster and its fruitless negotiations.”
His hands are clasped on the Holy Scriptures, as if those words were his own, and I want to steal the Bible away from him. My friend should not use the name of Our Lord to serve his own ambitions.
“Sarah, you know it is my duty to work for the protection of our rights against Charles’ rule.”
Peter takes my hand and brings it to his lips for an innocent kiss. Looking away I ignore his touch on my skin. My eyes catch the outline of something lying on the other side of the withered oak, among the ferns and yellow leaves.
Intrigued, I walk away from Peter. After a few steps, the discovery becomes clear.
A human form. A man. Gasping for breath.
I run toward him and almost stumble over the hem of my dress. The blade of a broken sword is embedded in the tree next to him. Playing cards are scattered amid the brambles. The Ace of Hearts stares up at me.
A feather protrudes from the top of his purple hat. His brown boots, the colored sash, and the golden hilt of the sword …
“A Cavalier,” Peter whispers, already by my side. “He must have fought one of ours and been left for dead.”
Cruel pleasure poisons my friend’s words.
I kneel by the soldier’s side and support him with my right arm. His eyes are closed, his mouth open. Holding my handkerchief over the wound on his neck, the cloth is quickly stained crimson.
The elegant man is alive, barely. I let out a sigh of relief.
“We need to take him to a physician.” My voice is steady, but I avoid looking up at Peter, who stands rigid next to me.
The Cavalier lays his left hand on mine, and my soul shivers. His eyes have opened. They bring back the cherished memory of another meadow in the spring sun and a young boy who gave me a red rose. I was a child then, but I can still remember his smile. The Cavalier’s smile.
“A good thing we found him. Justice will be rendered.”
Peter does not mean justice. He means slaughter. My own people will have the Cavalier executed.
I will not allow more blood to be shed. Not his blood.
I know at once, with clarity, what I must do.
Oxford, Faculty of History – Today
MADISON SPIED ON the Puritan, and the Puritan spied on the lovers. He hid behind a tree, his hand clenched on a Bible, his mouth twisted into a snarl. His hatred radiated out of the painting into the classroom, and punched Madison in the belly. She closed her eyes.
Violent scenes flashed behind her lids. Severe faces stared back at her, and battles played out around her. She saw blood. Blood on her hands and on the face of the Cavalier, the other man in the painting. The warm liquid stuck to her skin. To her soul.
Visions had shaken her before. But nothing like this …
Like a freakin’ Taser shot.
A wave of nausea flushed through her body, and an acrid taste invaded her mouth. She stood, but her knees buckled. Shuffling the few inches back to her seat she flattened her palms on the cold surface of the desk. The contact helped, but briefly.
Madison dragged her attention back to the painting, spread by the slide projector all over the classroom wall. In a forest clearing, a blond Cavalier lay in the arms of a young girl. Judging by his limp posture, he’d been badly injured. On the right side of the scene, a man dressed in black—the Puritan—watched. A plain hat covered half of his face. But Madison could see enough of his expression. He reeked of jealousy.
“Miss LeBon, do you need to take a break?” Doctor McCain’s familiar East Coast accent took her out of her trance and brought her back to the classroom.
As she shuffled in her seat, Madison’s chair squeaked. The other students turned in her direction. Embarrassment fired up her cheeks, but she managed to shake her head and give the professor a faint smile. He nodded and returned to his lecture.
Clad in dark blue jeans, he rested now on the corner of his desk. His compact body partly blocked the image of the painting behind him.
“William Shakespeare Burton was a relatively unknown artist, but this work, The Wounded Cavalier, enjoyed some success after he died. The scene takes place around 1650, after the execution of King Charles the First.”
The tutorial continued, but Madison looked away through the classroom window. One of the spires jutting into the Oxford skyline caught her attention. Her breathing slowed, and the trembling of her hands stopped. Almost.
She had been knocked off her feet before, but the ghosts had never made her sick enough to bring her breakfast to her lips. Never before had they been mere characters in a painting.
So much for leaving behind her voodoo heritage and the long line of LeBon psychics.
Madison gave herself a mental slap. She would not follow in her ancestors’ footsteps and end up a total whacko. She would not drown herself in the Mississippi or hang her pretty neck from the branch of a cypress. She would not let anyone shut her in a nuthouse. Just because she talked to those who were not there.
Confusion seeped into her. She would stand, fight and die for her crazy family, for her Cajun blood.
But no way am I going further into the loony bin. At least, not quite yet.
When Doctor McCain signaled the end of the session, her fists were tightly clenched, her knuckles white.