We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in the UK… and that’s a shame! But I thought, with this very autumny, foggy, cold weather AND a few days away from work, you could enjoy a cozy, romantic, sexy read.
That’s why I’ve made Oxford Whispers available for free only today, Wednesday 21st November.
Hope you’ll enjoy it
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?”
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.
Just a Kiss by Lady Antebellum… Just a Kiss by Lady Antebellun (click here to see the YouTube video)
I had already started writing Oxford Whispers when that song was released. I absolutely loved it and listened to it over and over again while working. Then, I saw the video. It all made sense. It’s about two young people who fall in love during their gap year. It’s about first love, pure love, sweet love… and they look absolutely cute!
It’s part of my soundtrack for Oxford Whispers. More on Friday…
What do you think of that song? Is there one song that always reminds you of being twenty?
Last week I shared my satisfaction and joy (New Adult / Upper YA / Mature YA: Here, at last!) after reading two fabulous New Adult (NA) novels: Easy by Tammara Webber (which I will review in a couple of days) and Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire (for review, click here). Last night, I finished (at 1am) the touching Because of Low by Abby Glines. I just thought I would expand a little by giving some background to why I love reading NA and why I love writing it.
I dived into Harry Potter. I devoured Twilight. Now what?
I’m not a teen anymore (humm! haven’t been for a while). But in some unexpected, time-defying ways, I grew up with those heroes. They nurtured my thoughts, my dreams. I cheered for them, cried with them…. and fell in love with them (you, broody vampire, yes you!).
I’m now desperate for the next adventure, for the next step in my ‘growing-up.’
‘Coming-of-age’ doesn’t only happen in high school. A lot of the excitement, joys and heartbreaks also fill those ‘in-between years,’ when you’re legally an adult but don’t always know how to be one. Or why you should even try to be.
But hardly any book deals with this transition into the ‘big bad’ world, about these life-changing, earth-shattering ‘first-times.’
The first time we leave home, our family, our parents, the friends we grew up with, but didn’t always choose.
The first home, the first job, the first real love.
I want to write about those days, those years, and share the stories with you. You may be experiencing these emotions right now… or you lived through them some time ago and want to understand how and why they define who you are now.
I had fantastic comments last week both on this blog and on Twitter. They made me think and raised great questions. I have one for you and would be grateful if you could share your thoughts. Do you consider HIGH SCHOOL or COLLEGE the place for the ‘first times’? And why? It can be based on your own experience or what you observe (with your kids, for example).
Also, if you have read NA books you have loved, please let me know. I’m always looking for a new NA read and a book to review.
The Beatles sang it…
What would you do if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me.
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song,
And I’ll try not to sing out of key.
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm,I get high with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.
We can make friends at any point in time.
They can become dear, precious, pivotal, annoying, frustrating… at pretty much any age. But I do believe that the friendships we strike-their quality, content, longevity, intensity-depend a lot on when those people enter our lives.
A very special group of friends are those you meet early on, at high school or in college. For me, my first love happened when I met The Valiant Warriors in Paris at uni… I was 21. We then sailed together to Oxford, and finally flew to Berlin. These friends (boys AND girls) are my rock.
Life has taken us far away from each other, but they’re the ones I will always come back to. They make me laugh, they make me dance, they make me sing… out loud and out of key. But who cares? That’s what U2 are for, aren’t they?
Nowadays, we see each other once or twice a year. We live in different cities, different countries. We’ve made different or opposite choices about our priorities, or maybe we just did our best, and our lives just turned out the way they did.
But those guys, God, I can trust them. I can tell them anything, embarrassing, disturbing, so-not-funny… Anything. I can go radio silent for months and months… and still, when we talk again, it’s as if no time had gone by. We have treasures of memories together, of nights spent dancing till dawn, talking sh**t, and listening to music.
What do I wish for my little baby girl? Success, love, happiness… Yes, of course, all of that. But if I have to start somewhere, I will wish her Friendship. I will wish her to meet, one day, her own Valiant Warriors. And a lucky girl she will be.