We’re so pleased to welcome author Hayden Thorne back today to introduce her New Adult Historical Fantasy, Guardian Angel. Enjoy the exclusive excerpt she’s sharing with you, and then be sure to click on the Rafflecopter widget below to enter for the chance to win one of two e-copies of the book.
Guardian Angel is very much a return to my roots in that it’s historical (Victorian), gothic (yay, decay, death, and the macabre!), and fantastical (AU all the way, baby!). It’s also me diving into the deepest end of the pool in that it’s not only an adult novel – clearly a departure from my usual YA stuff – but it’s also self-published and is, by far, the longest book I’ve ever written at 132,157 words. It marks my first of X number of self-published adult novels I intend to tackle this year and perhaps even beyond. Will I ever go back to writing gay YA fiction? Eventually. Possibly. I don’t know yet. But this is one of those instances in which one simply needed to heed the call to switch gears and venture down a different path from what one’s used to – for reasons that run the gamut.
At any rate, I really enjoyed writing this novel. Gothic fiction – a close second is Victorian ghost fiction – has always been one of my dearest loves and biggest creative influences, and in Guardian Angel, I played with gothic tropes while mixing up some magical elements meant to make the book a hybrid of classic gothic romance and dark fairy tales. While it was written as a stand alone, I ended it with the possibility of writing more novels set in the same world. Not necessarily a series, but more like episodic stories all taking place in a strange, darkly magical, yet progressive England sometime in the 19th century. Depending on how inspiration strikes next time, it might or might not happen, but the possibility is certainly left open.
And, finally, like those classic gothic tales, the horror elements in this book are all shaped not only by mystery and outwardly eerie details, but by the slow building up of tension through atmosphere and subtle dread. The excerpt I’m sharing is one of several scenes that, I hope, demonstrate this effectively enough.
Blurb: When nineteen-year-old Dominic Coville’s parents die in an accident, leaving him not only alone but on the brink of poverty, he desperately searches for work and is thrilled when the post of secretary is awarded to him despite his obvious inexperience and ignorance. Mr. Wynyard Knight of Mandrake Abbey, however, gladly welcomes Dominic and earns the young man’s immediate sympathy for his fragile health as well as gratitude for the promising new life now awaiting Dominic.
“Inside rock and timber, hungry shadows seek…”
But unusual things soon happen and appear to focus solely on him, and Dominic begins to wonder about the true history of Mr. Knight, the strange young man haunting the third floor, and Mandrake Abbey. With the persistent and increasingly violent attempts at communication by an angry ghost shadowing his hours, Dominic struggles to unravel the mysteries of his new home. And even with the help of a handsome young gentleman who’s an aspiring supernaturalist as well as his clairvoyant sister, danger closes in far too quickly.
Then it’s only a matter of time before carefully constructed facades fall away, and the sickly, decaying underbelly of Mandrake Abbey’s centuries-old collection of stone and timber will reveal itself.
Set in an alternate England sometime before the mid-19th century, ‘Guardian Angel’ weaves a tangled and dark tapestry of old magic, romance, and madness, a celebration of classic gothic fiction and its macabre sensibilities.
Excerpt: And it seemed as though I was in the kitchen listening to her scold me like she would a wayward child one moment, and then I was standing in the bathing room, undressing, the next moment. Just as I’d done before, I paused, shivering a little in my nakedness, and holding my breath to listen for those sounds coming from the wall.
I didn’t know how long it took for the faint scraping and scratching to happen, but the silence of the bathing room was eventually interrupted by those soft, almost furtive – movements. Yes, they made me think of movements against the wall, though they were still quite muffled. I didn’t step into the waiting water in the tub right away. Instead I kept listening, my eyes moving over the wall in front of me, the wall where the tub was secured with pipes that pumped water into it.
On a whim I leaned forward to reach over the tub, bending at my hips and bracing myself with one hand on a pipe while pressing the other against the wall. I wanted to feel the wood, wanted to pinpoint the general location of those mysterious sounds.
Just as I did, however, the scratching and scraping ceased altogether, feeding my imagination further and making me wonder if the walls were alive and knew what I was trying to do. That it had paused in its noise to watch and wait, see what I intended to do next. I suppressed a smile and rolled my eyes at myself, but I kept on, ignoring the chill, my nudity, and my desperate need to get in the warm water. I must have looked utterly ridiculous, too, bent at the hips and feeling the wall, my exposed rear pushed back in a pretty obscene position, I might add.
“All right, that’s enough of this,” I said, shaking my head as I pushed myself back to a normal – not to mention more dignified – upright posture.
I immediately stepped in the tub, sighing in relief as warmth enveloped me inch by inch. I sank down happily, stretching myself out and leaning back till my head was the only part of my body to stay above water.
I’d just pulled the towel from where I’d draped it on the side of the tub when the scratching started again. I paused and listened, my heart beating rapidly when realization of my error dawned.
The sounds didn’t come from the wall where the pipes were set as I’d believed at first. They instead came from the wall opposite the tub, where the chair and table sat, my clothes piled on the former. It was also the wall separating the bathing room from my bedroom. I turned to stare at the wall, my hand frozen above the water, my fingers curled stiffly around the towel.
The bathing room was the same depth as my room, but it was significantly narrower, and I wondered if Mr. Knight simply took the bedroom next to mine, erected a new wall in order to create this bathing room, and left the rest of the bedroom alone, now about two-thirds its former size. I’d never bothered to check since my arrival, though I’d seen the door thrown open in order to allow sunlight in and ease the dimness of the hallway during the day. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was just as empty as the rest of the unused rooms on the second floor.
There were no windows in the bathing room as well. It was oppressively dark, no matter what time of the day, and the feeble light from my oil lamp mitigated things by a modest amount. That said, I’d never considered it necessary to use light magic to brighten the room while I bathed, seeing as how there really wasn’t anything to give me cause for concern with the room’s solid construction and minimal furnishings. If anything, I’d found it a sweet sort of comfort, washing myself in warm water with the light kept low. The room’s size was also a source of comfort, making me think of humble little cottages and their cozy hearths and candlelight.
The wall, made of dark, paneled wood like the rest of the rooms in Mandrake Abbey, appeared normal to me as I swept my gaze over it. I held my breath again and stayed frozen, hoping to catch more of those sounds.
I almost choked in surprise when the scratching happened again, and since it was so soft and furtive, even sporadic, it took some doing to track it. I didn’t know how long I sat in the tub, staring, listening, and waiting, but the sounds eventually stopped. After another moment waiting, I decided whatever had caused it had finally settled down, and I went back to washing myself, wetting the towel and then rubbing my arms and neck first with it.
The relaxing effects of a warm bath weren’t there that evening, or at least they were now tempered. I scrubbed myself almost automatically, my hands moving as they needed to, though my mind was firmly elsewhere.
Those faint scratching sounds didn’t seem like old timber making odd noises for whatever reason. Age, decay, even masonry holding the abbey together somehow causing some disturbance within the structure’s general framework – I found myself discounting everything. And it was because what I’d first suspected could very well be true: movement.
Something was moving inside the wall, and I hoped it was nothing more significant than rodents. Surely those creatures were common in great, old buildings like Mandrake Abbey despite the servants’ vigilance. I shuddered at the thought and forced my mind back to the present. If I kept this up, the water would be ice cold before I was done, and Mr. Knight would have fallen asleep at the dinner table, waiting for me.
After submerging myself a couple of times to wet my hair and face, scrubbing my scalp briskly with my fingers and my face with the wet towel, I sank down one more time before surging up and out, blinking my eyes open and immediately turning to my left to look at the wall.
“That was stupid,” I said under my breath. “What on earth did you expect to find, you imbecile?”
I eventually managed to soap myself and wash off, feeling a touch imbalanced for the rest of my bath. I stood up, the chill air forcing me to step out and dry up quickly. The self-directed admonition didn’t seem to work, or maybe it was because I was rapidly losing the comfortable warmth I’d grown so used to in the tub. Whatever the reason, I felt the urge to call on for some light magic. The magical fire appeared, brightened, and held steady, flooding the small, gloomy bathing room with its cheerful brilliance without blinding me.
That said, I couldn’t shake off a feeling of gnawing unease, my gaze constantly straying to the wall as I dressed. I thought at first my unusual nervousness was because of my earlier adventures upstairs, with my entire being left rattled and confused. I suppose the experience stayed with me, its hair-raising effects lingering still for all my beliefs of my own recovery. I was also starting to blame my fatigue from a poor night’s sleep for the strangeness of my day since my return home from Petrie, hence my overactive imagination.
At any rate, I dressed rapidly, almost carelessly, as though I was too eager to abandon the bathing room and return to more cheerful company downstairs.
Within moments I was hurrying down the hallway, the magical fire leading me to the stairs and down, disappearing on command when I finally reached the dining room. I stood at the doorway, staring at the empty room and the empty table, realizing that Mr. Knight had chosen to dine alone in his studio or his bedroom that night.
It was a bit of a relief, to be sure, as I felt I needed to gather my wits in order to be a good companion to Mr. Knight, who might be expecting me to engage him in stimulating conversation. As I turned around to walk to the kitchen for my dinner, something surged to the forefront of my mind, almost causing me to trip over my own feet.
It was a memory. Something that had happened in the bathing room. Something that had barely caught my attention then but had also held on, its grip on my mind tenacious and unrelenting.
I realized now I’d heard something else come from inside the wall. It was brief, even more muted than the scratching, but still audible: a soft grunt.
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