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New Book Cover Unveiled for Romantic Fantasy "The Chamber of Curiosities"

A new book cover has been created by Design for Writers for Romantic Fantasy, The Chamber of Curiosities by Anastasia Blackwell.

The novel, set in a carnival in an ancient land, is scheduled to be published in early Spring. The story begins the night of a full blue moon when a beautiful aerialist breaks into the cage of a carnival freak, known as The Human Beast. Obsessed to see his face, she entices him to to allow her to shave him  His remarkable transformation inflames the superstitions of citizens, and sets the stage for revolution in the seaport town where they are held captive.

dfw-ab-tcoc-cover-3d-nologo copy

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Teaser Chapter of New Mythical Romance - 'The Chamber of Curiosities'

The Chamber of Curiosities

The Chamber of Curiosities, by Anastasia Blackwell, is a tale of obsessive, passionate love set in a carnival on a bastion overlooking the seaport of a mysterious land. It tells the tale of how a single act of faith can transform lives and change the course of destiny.
 

THE CHAMBER OF CURIOSITIES

Chapter One 

The Night of the Two Blue Moons

   “It feels like something terribly wonderful or wonderfully terrible is about to happen.”

  

       The two moons were tinged blue that night, a remarkable, but not unheard of event in the ancient port town of Tressaria. The twin sapphires were a sign of supernatural intervention by many, and a reminder that the cosmos cannot be trusted to remain constant. Yet, its beauty was undeniable.

         Snow flurries fell from the heavens, drifted languidly and lent a dreamy romance to the hush of anticipation. Only those with keen senses could hear the nocturnal creatures take their shifts in the dark rotation. The usual sounds that emanated from the freak’s cages in the ‘The Chamber of Curiosities’ were curiously still.

           Darney Veska, featured as The Human Beast in the carnival freak show, The Chamber of Curiosities grasped onto the bars of his cage and crouched beneath the low ceiling to peer up into the sky.

          He had spent most of his life living outdoors and was well attuned to the musings of nature. But, he had never experienced such a mysterious winter night’s scene.

        “It feels like something terribly wonderful or wonderfully terrible is about to happen” he whispered beneath his breath.

         Darney had been a resident of the carnival through a balmy season, but the weather had abruptly turned cold.  Mrs. Beedro, the carnival owner’s wife had delivered a blanket stitched from wild animal pelts to keep him warm through the cold times. Darney had no other garments, other than the pair of raw threaded trousers and shirt he had worn for years.

          He took his day’s tips from his pocket and reached beneath the nest of his pet, Kavas, to deposit the change beneath a loose plank where he kept his coins hidden.  The mouse squealed at the intrusion and the silence was breached.

         There was the sound of a key entering the lock to his cage and a small figure, cloaked in a cape, stepped inside. A tiny hand drew back the hood and Darney glimpsed a flash of sharp steel.  

          He lunged forward, stole the weapon, and grasped the intruder by the throat. Sheets of silky blonde hair fell to his chest, as the crimson lined hood fell away.

            He held a beautiful young woman in his arms with a razor to her neck.

            “State your purpose.” he demanded.

            “When did you learn to speak?” the girl asked in a voice strangled with fear. His size dwarfed her and the cramped cage gave no room for escape.

             “As a child.”

            “But, you’ve never spoken.”

            “It did not suit the job.”

            “Don’t hurt me,” she begged, as he tightened his grip.

            “Who are you and why are you here?.” Darney demanded.

            “I am Clare, the aerialist, she answered.”

             The girl’s reply unnerved Darney.  On the first day of his incarceration, she had passed his cage and thrown back her mane of hair to turn back and catch his gaze.  She wore a pale green suit stitched tightly to her lithe body.  The only woman he had seen before that day was his Mother, so Clare left a powerful impression.

             “You’ve stolen a key and broken into my home with a weapon. Tell me your purpose or I’ll end your life.”

            “Release me and I will tell you,” she said.

            “Move into the corner, so you can’t be seen by the other freaks,” he ordered.

            Claire backed up against coarse wood, and Darney hovered over her, with the blade poised at the hollow of her neck.

           The two moons spied through the bars, devious blue eyes, conspiring to set the stage for a darker struggle.

            “Are you an agent sent to exterminate me?” he asked.

            “I would never kill.  Please don’t think me so terrible.”

           “Then what is your purpose? I have never seen a woman of the carnival carry a razor; although I have witnessed more than one enter a cage.”

            “I had a dream.”

            “You dreamt of killing me?” he asked.

            “I dreamed of shaving you.”

            Darney’s eyes were reduced to slits as his mouth turned cruel, and it appeared he might bury the blade in the girl's neck.

            “I have an unbearable compulsion to see your face," she said.

        She looked up into his eyes, beyond the pale façade that belied an unfathomable depth, and sought the bond she experienced the first time she saw him peering through the bars of his cage. He was an innocent then, and his loneliness and fear were heartbreaking. A season of carnival cruelty had hardened him, but she felt the sense of a kindred spirit and her desire for meaningful companionship had intensified her obsession.

            “Each night, since the day I laid eyes on you, I have dreamed of breaking into your cage and shaving off your beard so that I could see your face. Tonight the urge became unbearable. I brought the miserable 'little man', Croque, a bottle of spirits, waited until he passed out, and stole his keys.”

            “You came here to cut off my beard.”

            “I did.”

            “You are aware I am billed as ‘The Human Beast’, and it is my livelihood to appear as such.”

           “I am.”

            “Then why would you strip me of my work?” he asked, his voice growing deep with indignation.

             “I was terribly compelled, that’s all I can say. Then, tonight, it was utterly out of my control, impossible to stop, as if I was the catalyst of a chain of events that was pre-destined.”

            “One more lie and I’ll slice your throat.”

            “It’s true.”

            “I won’t be tricked with words from a book,” he seethed.

            “Since when do freaks read?”

            “My mother brought them occasionally, when she dropped off my slop in the animal coop where I lived behind my parent’s house.”

            “You remember every passage?”

            “There is no waste in my perceptions.”

            “I was never taught,” she said, with a tinge of shame shining through a determination to show no self pity.

            “Yet, you’ve stolen words, and used them for your own purpose.”

            “My landlady often reads to me when her husband is not in sight. It is my favorite story. I admit I have memorized every line.”

             “They don’t survive, you know.”

             “But, they do, she shared with me the forbidden version.”

            “You nasty boy,” a voice shrieked from across the through-way.  A faintly distorted image could be seen peering through the bars of a red striped cage set on wheels.

          Darney turned his massive back to the bars to protect Clare from observation and drew himself to his full stature.  He towered over her, a creature of stunning power and strength, and she shrank beneath his gaze, shaken, broken, near giving up.

         “I will not serve your compulsion,” he stated emphatically.

         “Then, serve your rights, sir, “she answered in a thin voice that seemed to trail away from her, lost as it left her mouth..

          “There are no rights in the carnival.”

          “You can empower yourself by feeding their superstitions.”

         “Leave my cage, before it’s too late.”

         “The town’s people will believe you have been transformed by the gods into a magical being. And, since you have no access to a razor, it will be considered a miracle.”

         Clare observed a glimmer of intrigue awaken in his luminous pale blue eyes. The mirrored reflection from the twin moons deepened the affect and made them even more mysterious and compelling 

          Darney, in turn, was mesmerized with Claire’s vivid green eyes, shaded in dark lashes, quivering red stained lips, and the fierce determination that leaked from the shadows of her luminescent beauty.

            Both realized the danger of the act in a realm where the coin ruled supreme.

           “Silly idea. You can keep the razor. Likely, you will need it as a weapon in the future” she said.

           "Do you refer to a particular individual?” he asked with renewed suspicion.

            “The carnival is a vicious place; no one can be trusted.”

             Darney struggled to contain an internal conflict that twisted his face into a mask of ruthlessness.

            “In this dream of yours, how do you shave me?” he asked.

            “I kneel before you, as a servant, and remove the hair from your face, section by section. I am gentle - careful not to cut your skin with the sharp blade”

           Darney’s response to Clare’s confession was not what she had imagined. In fact, it was a shock.  His face blanched, as though he might faint.  Then, he fell to his knees, covered his face, and began to sob, like a heartbroken child.

          Clare had never seen a man cry and the spectacle swept her away from the storm of her own emotions. She did not move or speak until he had fully recovered from his outburst.

          “Tell me why my desire brings you to tears,” she asked tenderly.

            “I have never been touched and I have never seen my face,” he confessed.

            A heavy blanket of snow began to fall, affording a veil of serenity and obscuring the two blue moons and the outside world.

            “Do you have a Mother?” she asked.

            “I do.”

            “Did she touch you?”

            “I don’t remember.”

            “Was there a name, before they cursed you with the vile title?”

            “Darney Veska.

            “Lovely.”

             He wiped his tears with the torn cloth and a slight smile tugged at the corner of his lips,

            “Tomorrow the carnival will be closed, with mounds of snow to shovel from the streets. I will wake Croque from his stupor and tell him there as been a miracle. The Human Beast has been transformed by the gods, on the night of the two blue moons. The townspeople are terribly superstitious. Once word gets out, you will be the highlight of the show.”

            “A cage, no less.”

            “Perhaps you will earn enough to escape.”

            “I wouldn’t know where to go.”

            “Have you ever imagined a different world?”

            “I dreamed of a house in the country, where animals and children run free.”

            “I had a vision of the same.”

            Darney lowered his head and sheets of lustrous dark hair fell hair fell to cover his face. She marveled that it was not caked and matted as the other freaks, and longed to draw her fingers through the silken strands.

            “May I approach you?” she asked.

            His struggle to respond was more a fight against the weight of relief than the desire to maintain his image as The Human Beast. To relinquish power and place his life in the hands of a young woman with a razor took courage. But not as much bravery as was required to maintain poise as fellow beings passed his cage and judged him as subhuman.

           The worst of the humiliation was not that they threw coins and food and taunted him. It was that they walked hand in hand, families, lovers, none alone. None alone, except for Darney and the perversities of nature that inhabited ‘The Chamber of Curiosities’ - the freak show staged in the shape of a human heart.

           “Swear to me you come with good intentions,” he said in a voice laced with solemn resignation.

            “I shall offer a token of trust, a strand of my hair for you to take the first cut,” she said and offered a lock for him to cut.”

            He roughly sheered the lock and secured it beneath his water bowl.

           “Loneliness is not always a bad thing. I have been touched and taken, but never with love,” she said.

            Their vaporous breaths met and melted into the air, then faded through the bars.

            “Fear is not your friend, Darney. It will destroy you, if you allow it. I stand on the pedestal, every night, terrified that I will fall to my death. And perhaps I will. But, at least I experienced the exhilaration of the jump. I did something to excite the audience, to inspire them to take a chance. If we don’t take the leap, then there is no hope for the others. There is a moment in time when you must have faith, believe in yourself, and relinquish fear.  If you don’t, you will be chained inside this cage for the rest of your life.”

            “Hand me the blade,” she said.

            Darney’s hand shook, nearly uncontrollably, as he relinquished the weapon.

           “Do you have a cloth to dip in water to soften the root and make a closer cut?”

            Darney tore a piece of cloth from his shirt, dipped it into his water bowl, and pressed it against his face.  He had never been shaved or groomed by another.  The stigma and shame of his appearance had caused him to be banished to live amongst the animals, and groom himself as one of them.

             Clare kneeled before him in the wood shavings that covered the floor, enveloping him in her intoxicating smell, and began to cut away the mask that separated him from humanity.

            A heavy snowfall obscured the outside world and time slowed to the eternal. Darney relaxed against his cell wall, held captive to the sensuality of the moment, and gave over Clare’s divine touch.

             He prayed she would not notice the affect on his body. He had matured in the company of animals and believed the acts were the same between man and woman. Carnivals workers often sneaked into the cages of the freaks, and he heard lustful sounds continue late into the night. But, his feelings for this young woman were far more exquisite. He had read of finer forms of courtship, and instinct told him she must be treated with care.

           Clare had never experienced physical attraction to a man – only disgust and revulsion. She could not understand the thrill of girls her own age, but now had a taste of the intoxication -- a feeling both terrifying and delicious.  On the day of Darney’s arrival she had seen him nearly naked, and was astonished by his physical appearance.

           No man in her land carried such an enormous frame. But, it was his hands she found most appealing. They were large, heavily veined, with long fingers, and carried the potential of both a brutal warrior and sensitive lover.

            “I’ve scarred you”, she said as a trail of blood oozed down his cheek. She cut a horizontal line across his upper cheek, as he shifted his weight and his thigh brushed against hersl.

           “You don’t need to be gentle. I’m accustomed to bites and claw marks.”

              Darney held the cloth to the cut, while Clare finished the last of the job, and wiped his face clean with water from his bowl. Darney felt her move dainty fingertips across the contours of his facial structure - eyelids, cheekbones, and lips. 

            The snow storm abated and the moons now afforded enough light for her to see his face clearly.

            “Dear God – it is sacrilege – the most horrible imaginable. How could they do this to you?" she uttered.

            “Worse than Croque?”

            “That would be impossible” she laughed, and tears collected in her eyes, as though she might weep at his misfortune.

           .”You have been misled, my dear friend. You are not a human beast. In fact, you are the most ideal man I have ever seen,” she said.

          Clare admired the perfect symmetry, features unlike those of her countrymen. The average Tressarian had a large nose, protruding eyes and ears, pocked skin, and coarse, unruly, balding hair, as well as crooked teeth, full gut, short limbs, double chin, and small appendages. Men’s bodies were covered with coarse hair, front and back, while Darney’s  skin was smooth and hairless. 

           “You agree I am not of normal size or stature. I am a freak of nature,” he said, seeking to ascertain if her words were mere flattery.

            “Your frame is unusually large and certainly unlike the men in our township, or even the fittest seamen from other lands I’ve seen dock at the port. But, you are perfectly proportioned, and your face is exquisite. Even your teeth are straight and white, despite your deprivation. Perhaps if you lived in another land, you would have been a king.”

           Claire reached into her satin satchel to remove a small mirror.

           “Take a look for yourself.”

            Darney accepted the reflective glass to peer at his face for the first time. He observed high cheek bones cradling a well formed nose, full lips, and deeply set pale blue eyes. A faint cleft gave definition to his chin, and the shadow of beard perfectly outlined a masculine jaw. There were no mars on his skin, other than the recent cut, and his skin color looked healthy, flushed and radiant.

            “Cut off my hair.”

            “Not yet.  I will braid it like the horses,” she said and moved behind him to tie his hair away from his face.

            “Some men take when they have no right to steal. It doesn’t mean you have given yourself. So, I consider myself as pure as you.  I hope you do not view me as soiled.”

          Claire leaned forward and afforded Darney a tender first kiss.  The virginal gesture drew a wildly erotic response, a stab of longing like a sharp pick slammed into a slab of ice. He was not a boy, he was a fully grown man, past his second decade, and had been starved of affection for far too long.

          “Love means complete trust in another. You must earn my trust, Darney.”

            “The two moons are nearly spent, and so is our night together,” Darney replied, and drew himself up to nearly full height, the ceiling constraining his stature.

           “In the morning, stand at the bars and speak to whoever approaches. Offer quotations from the books you have memorized. I will set the gossip in motion, and tell them miracle occurred on the night of the two blue moons. The Human Beast has been transformed into a Godlike creature, with the powers of a prophet and healer.”

          “Remember, no matter what happens, you are a supreme being in this world or any other,” she said, and departed his cage.

           Darney lowered himself to the floor and drew himself into a fetal position. He wrapped his fur tightly around him and fell into a slumber, disturbed by startling dreams, both erotic and violent.  

          The power of faith had unlocked Darney’s unclaimed legacy. He was no longer a savage innocent held in abject servitude, bereft of identity or the hope of a meaningful future.  A robust manly power struggled to be born, and unleashed, would wreak havoc in the land of Tressaria, as he claimed his right to express his humanity.

          The Human Beast had awakened.

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The Chamber of Curiosities: Sneak Peak at First Chapter of New Mythical Romance Novel.

Welcome to The Chamber of Curiosities, a story of obsessive, passionate love set in a carnival on a bastion overlooking the seaport of a mysterious land. It tells the tale of how a single act of faith can transform lives and change the course of destiny.

Chapter One 

The Night of the Two Blue Moons

           The two moons were tinged blue that night, a remarkable, but not unheard of event in the ancient port town of Tressaria. There was a hushed anticipation in the air, and only those with keen senses could hear the creatures take their shifts in the dark rotation. The usual sounds that emanated from the freak cages in the ‘The Chamber of Curiosities’ were curiously still. It felt like something terribly wonderful or wonderfully terrible was about to occur. The twin sapphire moons were a sign of supernatural intervention by many, and a reminder that the cosmos cannot be trusted to remain constant. Yet its beauty was undeniable.

          A full season had passed since Darney Veska arrived at the carnival compound perched on a bastion overlooking the sea. The weather had turned cold and snowflakes began to fall outside his cage. He broke into a broad smile as he reached outside the bars to capture the delicate flakes, watched them melt into the warmth of his massive hand, and lifted fingers to lips to taste the fresh moisture. Mrs. Beedro, the carnival owner’s wife, had stitched a blanket from wild animal pelts to keep him warm during the cold months. He wore the skin as a cape by day and a coverlet at night. Darney had no other clothes, other than a pair of raw threaded trousers. His pet mouse, Kavas, had recently given birth, and the family snuggled beneath straw that covered the raw wood floor. The nest also served to camouflage his money safe.  He had pried open a board, where he kept coins tossed by the carnival patrons that filed by his cage each day.

          Darney gently reached beneath the nest, removed the plank, took his day’s wages from his pocket, and deposited them in the hollow spot.  Kavas squealed as her nest was disrupted and the silence of the night was breached.

         Darney heard the sound of a key chain rattling, and the lock to the cage penetrated. He turned to see the door swing open and a small figure cloaked in a scarlet hooded cape stepped inside.  He backed into the corner - his heart pounding with terror. The strange being drew back the satin lined hood and he glimpsed a flash of sharp steel clenched in a tiny hand. A shrill scream broke the stillness as Darney lunged forward, stole the weapon, and grasped the intruder by its throat. He knew he could snap the slender neck, if he needed, as he had executed animals with gullets of nearly the same size.

            “Please don’t hurt me. I beg of you,” he heard a young woman’s voice cry out, and sheets of silky dark blonde hair fell onto his chest as the hood fell away. He held her firmly, and pressed the razor to her neck.

            “Who are you? And what do you want of me?” he demanded.

            “You speak? When did you learn to talk like a human?” she responded, her voice clouded with fear.

             “As a young child.” he replied, and tightened his grip.

            “Then why have you never spoken?”

            “It did not suit the job.”

            “Please don’t hurt me,” she begged as he tightened his grip.

            “You did not answer my question. Who are you?” Darney asked, with coarse ruthlessness.

            “I am Clare, the aerialist.”

             The girl’s answer unnerved Darney. He had watched her pass daily and was fiercely drawn to the fragile young beauty. In fact, he had experienced the first pangs of a new emotion, jealousy, as he watched the men in the crowd turn to admire her small, but exquisitely toned physique. On the first day of his incarceration she had tossed her fair mane, then turned back to catch his gaze.  He remembered she wore a pale green suit stitched tightly to her body.  The only woman he had seen before that fateful day was his Mother, so Clare had left a powerful impression.

             “Why are you here, how did you get the key to my cell, and why do you carry a razor?” Darney’s asked. His manner was gruff but his hand shook.

            “Let me go and I will tell you. You hold the blade - I am no longer a threat to you,” she said, then began to weep.

            “Move into the corner, so you can’t be seen by the other freaks,” he ordered as he released his hold.

            Claire obeyed his gruff command and cautiously backed into the corner. Darney moved opposite her, holding the sharp blade at the hollow of her neck. They remained locked in the position, she weeping softly, while he observed her with intense curiosity. The two moons spied from above, like devious blue eyes, conspiring to set the stage for a darker struggle. Kavas and her brood huddled in anticipation, while Darney’s spider companion, Java, played with a mummified prey strung in a intricate web splayed across the ceiling.

            “Are you an agent sent to exterminate me?” he asked.

            “I would never kill.  Please don’t think me so terrible.”

           “Then what is your purpose? I have never seen a woman of the carnival carry a razor; although I have witnessed more than one enter a cage.

            “I had a dream.”

            “You dreamt of killing me?” he asked.

            “I dreamed of shaving you.”

Darney’s eyes were reduced to slits as his mouth turned cruel and it appeared he might bury the knife in the girl's neck.

            “I have an unbearable compulsion to see your face," she said, and looked deeply into Darney’s eyes.  Beyond the pale façade that belied an unfathomable depth, Clare sought the bond she experienced the breathtaking first moment she saw him peering through the bars of his cage. He was an innocent then and his loneliness and fear were heartbreaking. A season of carnival cruelty had hardened him, but she still felt the sense of a kindred spirit and her desire for meaningful companionship had intensified her obsession.

            “Each night, since the day I laid eyes on you, I have dreamed of breaking into your cage and shaving off your beard so that I could see your face. Tonight the urge became unbearable. I brought the miserable 'little man', Croque, a bottle of spirits, waited until he passed out, and stole his keys.”

            “You came here to cut off my beard?”

            “I did.”

            “You are aware I am billed as ‘The Human Beast’, and it is my livelihood to appear as such?”

           “I am.”

            “Then why would you strip me of my work?” he asked, his resonant voice growing deep with indignation.

             Claire was overcome by a fresh assault of tears. “I don’t know. I was terribly compelled, that’s all I can say. Then, tonight, it was utterly out of my control, impossible to stop, as if I was the catalyst of a chain of events that was pre-destined.”

            “One more lie and I’ll slice your throat.”

            “It’s true.”

            “I won’t be tricked with words from a book,” he seethed.

            “Since when do freaks read?”

            “My mother brought them occasionally, when she dropped off my slop in the animal coop where I lived behind my parent’s house.”

            “How do you remember the words?”

            “There is no waste in my perceptions.”

            “I was never taught,” she said with a tinge of shame shining through a determination to show no self pity.

            “Then, how did you steal the words?”

            “The woman I lodge with often reads to me when her husband is not in sight. It is my favorite story. I have memorized every line.”

        “They don’t survive, you know.”

        “But they do, she shared with me the forbidden version.”

          Claire observed a glimmer of intrigue awaken in Darney’s luminous pale blue eyes. The mirrored reflection from the twin moons deepened the affect and made them even more mysteriously compelling than the first time she caught his gaze.

         “I must see your face. It is a compulsion beyond control. If you are stripped of the facial hair it will lead the town’s people to believe the celestial powers blessed you on this rare night. It will feed their superstitions and they will accept you have been transformed by the gods into a magical being. And since you have no access to shaving equipment it will be considered a miracle.”

         Claire’s obsessive desire intensified as she spoke, nearly unbearable, as she experienced the young giant as the most transparent, vulnerable human being she had ever met. She believed he could read her thoughts, feelings, and memories, leaving her naked, utterly exposed, and overtaken by a flood of wildly conflictive emotions.

          And Darney, in turn, was mesmerized with Claire’s vivid green eyes, shaded in dark lashes, and the perfection of her small features, and quivering red stained lips.

           “It was a silly idea. I’m sorry for the intrusion. Please forgive me. May I have your permission to leave? You can keep the razor. Likely, you will need it as a weapon in the future” she said.

           "Do you refer to a particular individual?” he asked with renewed suspicion.

            “The carnival is a vicious place; no one can be trusted.”

              An excruciating pause ensued as Darney continued to observe the girl, while appearing to struggle with an intense internal conflict.

             “May I have your permission to stand and leave?”  She asked him, now in the throes of a paralyzing panic.

            “No,” Darney replied firmly, and turned to look outside to determine if any of the freaks were peering through their bars, as they often did late into the night.

            “In this dream of yours, how do you shave me?”

            “I . . . crouch before you . . . and remove the hair section by section. I operate very slowly . . . so not to cut you. Have you . . . ever been shaved?” she asked, her voice choked by extreme desire and the fear of what he might do.

            Claire’s words struck a nerve in Darney and sparked a spontaneous emotional reaction.  He dropped his head, broke into tears, and began to sob like a heartbroken child.  The intense display of emotion shocked Claire, but it also calmed her panic. A veil of serenity descended as she sat with him and allowed the lonely giant to relieve himself of the pent up feelings.  She did not move or speak until he had fully recovered.

          “Why does my question make you weep?

            “I have never been touched and I have never seen my face,” he replied, and licked away hot tears as they caressed his lips.

           His shame at the outburst was tempered by comfort in a heavy blanket of snow that had begun to fall, guarding the couple from the eyes of the outside world.

            “Didn’t your mother touch you?” she asked tenderly.

            “When I was little, I suppose, but I don’t remember.”

            “Do you have a name?”

            “Darney Veska.

            “Lovely name,”

             He appeared embarrassed and a slight smile tugged at the corner of his lip,

            “Well Darney, we could change all that tonight, on the night of the two blue moons, and the first snow of the season. Tomorrow the carnival will be closed, with mounds of snow to shovel from the streets. I will wake Croque from his stupor and tell him there as been a miracle. Your facial hair has been stripped and you have learned to speak like a man. The townspeople are terribly superstitious. Once word gets out, you will be the highlight of the show. You may earn enough coins to retire and build your own home. Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to live like a normal person?”

            Darney lowered his head and sheets of hair fell to cover his face, so she could not register his response. His lustrous dark hair, so different in texture from the coarseness of his beard, fell well below his waist. Clare was surprised it was not caked and matted like the other freaks. Her cheeks blushed as she imagined how it might feel to bury her face in the soft strands.

            “May I approach you?” she asked timidly.

            He struggled with his answer, but it was more a fight against the weight of relief than the desire to maintain his image as a subhuman. To relinquish power and place his life in the hands of a young woman with a razor took courage. But not as much bravery as was required to maintain poise as he watched humans pass his cage. The worst of the humiliation was not that they threw coins or taunted him. It was that they walked hand in hand, families, lovers, none alone. None alone, except for Darney and the perversities of nature that inhabited ‘The Chamber of Curiosities’ - the freak show staged in the shape of a human heart.

           “Swear to me you come with good intentions and do not have plans to carry out a horrific deed,” he requested in a voice laced with solemn resignation.

            “I do. And will offer a token of trust, a strand of my hair for you to take the first cut. You may keep it as a symbol of my friendship. I have been touched many times, Darney, but rarely with love, so don’t believe loneliness is always a bad thing. I will be the first to touch you and show you your face. It is an honor.  I have a mirror in my purse and will offer a glimpse of your reflection when I am finished. May I kneel before you?”

              His nod of acceptance was barely perceptible, but Clare now felt keenly in tune and imagined their heartbeats in synchronicity as their vaporous breaths met and melted into the cold air, then faded through the bars. She cautiously moved to kneel before him, still somewhat wary of his emotional volatility, and lifted a lock of her hair to offer for him to cut.  He roughly sheered the lock, then secured it beneath his water bowl.

            “Now, hand me the blade,” she said.

            Darney’s hand shook nearly uncontrollably, but he did as instructed. “Do you have a cloth, Darney, to dip in water and soften the root as I cut?”

            He drew his hair back and tied it into a knot, then tore a piece from the old clothes he wore on the day he was transported from his home on the farm in the small barred wagon. He dipped the rag into his water bowl and pressed it to his face. Her intoxicating smell enveloped him as she leaned forward, pressed the razor to his cheek, and began to cut away the mask that separated him from humanity.

            The snow continued to fall heavily, and it was now impossible to see anything outside the cage. As the outer world evaporated in a white flurry, time seemed to slow, and Darney relaxed against his cell wall. He drew the animal skin pelt tighter as she moved closer and squeezed his eyes shut, lost in the sensuality of the moment, and gave himself over to her divine touch. He hoped she would not notice the affect she had on his body. He had matured in the company of animals, and believed the sexual act to be the same with a woman. Carnivals workers sometimes sneaked into the cages of the freaks, and he heard similar sounds late into the night. Darney understood the nature of ecstatic relief, but the feeling he experienced with this young woman was far more exquisite. He had no knowledge of finer forms of courtship but instinct told him she must be treated with care.

             Claire was also deeply attracted to Darney.  She had never felt attraction to a man before; a more common response was disgust and revulsion. She could not understand the infatuations of girls her age, but now understand the intoxication, a feeling both terrifying and delicious.  She had seen him nearly naked in his cage the day he arrived, and was astonished by his appearance. No man in her land carried such an enormous frame. He was at least a foot taller than the tallest males in her country, heavily muscled, yet firm and lean, with long legs and arms, a small waist, and the clothed parts hinted at powerful male virility. But it was his hands she found most appealing. They were large, heavily veined, with long fingers, and carried the potential of both a brutal warrior and sensitive lover.

            “Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you”, she said as her trembling hand cut into the flesh  as he shifted his weight and his thigh brushed against hers, causing a trail of blood to ooze down his cheek.

           “You don’t need to be gentle with me. I’m accustomed to bites and claw marks,” he replied

              Claire dabbed away the blood, cut the last section, and wiped his face clean with water from his bowl. Darney kept his eyes shut, as he could not bear the anticipation of her reaction to his bare face. He felt her move dainty fingertips across the contours of his facial structure - eyelids, cheekbones, and lips. 

            “Dear God – it’s sacrilege – the most horrible imaginable," she utttered.

            Darney was crestfallen at the sound of her intense disappointment. He had prayed his face was not that of a monster, at least equal to the most homely of those who peered in at him as they moved through the causeway.

            “How bad is it?” Darney said, and lifted a hand to his soft cheek.

            “Oh dear friend, it is very bad, indeed.”

            “Worse than Croque?”

            She laughed, then said warmly, “Dear God no, that would be impossible. Darney, I must inform you that you have been misled your entire life. You are not a human beast. In fact, you are the most ideally handsome man I have ever seen. How could they do this to you?”

          Clare was astounded at the perfect symmetry, features so unlike those displayed by her countrymen. Large noses, protruding eyes and ears, pocked skin, and coarse, unruly, balding hair were the norm, as were crooked teeth and small appendages,

           He opened his eyes and looked deeply into hers to ascertain whether her words held truth, or mere flattery meant to soften the blow. “But you agree I am not of normal size or stature? I am a freak of nature.”

            “Your frame is unusually large and certainly unlike the frail men in our township, or even the fittest seamen from other lands I’ve seen dock at the port. But, you are perfectly proportioned, and your face is exquisite. Every feature is perfection. Even your teeth are straight and white, despite your deprivation. Perhaps if you lived in another land, you would have been a king. My dear friend, I will now show you your face. Prepare for a shock,” Claire said, and reached into her satin satchel to remove a small mirror. “Here Darney, take a look at yourself.”

            Darney accepted the mirror, took a deep breath to calm his anticipation, and then lifted the reflective glass to peer into his face for the first time.

            “What do you think?” Clare asked him.

            “I cannot judge myself, but it is not as frightening as I imagined.” He said, while observing high cheek bones cradling a well formed nose, full lips, and deeply set pale blue eyes. There was a faint cleft in his strong chin, and the shadow of beard perfectly outlining a strong jaw. He observed no mars on his skin, other than the cut, and the skin color looked healthy, nearly radiant with the flush created by Claire’s presence.

            “Cut cut off my hair.”

            “Not yet, my dear friend,” Claire said with a warm smile. “I will simply braid and tie it, like the horses,” she said with sparkling eyes, then drew her tiny fingers through the silky strands while looking deeply into his eyes. “But first I desire to cut a piece to keep with me as a memory of this sacred night. I will weave it into a necklace and attach my favorite charm to it, the one that is said to hold magical powers, to protect against evil,” she said as she cut a length to the scalp, then wove it around her hand and placed it in her satchel.

           “Darney, have you ever given your heart to a woman?” Clare asked.

            “My heart?” he answered, bewildered by the phrase.

            “Have you ever loved a woman?”

            “I told you I have not felt the touch of a woman.”

            “You confessed you had not been touched. I asked if you had loved. I suppose what I was requesting was that I be your first.”

            “The first to have you?”

            “No. Not the first to have me. But yes, the first to love to me. I have been touched and taken, but I have never been loved. Some men take when they have no right – only the power. It doesn’t mean you have given yourself. So, I consider myself pure, as you.  I hope you do not view me as soiled.  I have waited to give myself to a man I could trust. We are the same, my darling, doomed to loneliness. Yet, if we fight hard enough, perhaps we might forge a life of our own.”  She looked deeply into his eyes and stroked the contour of his cheek. “I will give myself to you when you prove you can be trusted with my heart. That is what love is, complete trust in another.”

            “The two moons are nearly spent, and so is our night together,” Darney replied with regret in his voice.

            “This has been a most spectacular evening. We have forged a vow, never to be broken.” Claire leaned forward and afforded Darney with a tender first kiss. The virginal gesture drew a wildly erotic response from deep in his gut and he responded with hunger.

            “No, dear, not yet,” she said, and drew away.

           “In the morning you must stand at the bars and speak to whoever approaches. I will set the gossip in motion and tell everyone that on my way to trapeze practice I saw The Human Beast stand at the bars of his cage. His face was shaven, hair braided, and he spoke as a man. A miracle happened on the night of the two blue moons and the beast has been transformed into a God. The curse has been lifted. Now, let me braid your hair,” Clare said, and slipped behind him to draw up his hair and weave it tightly away from his face.

           “You look lovely.” she said, and moved before him to take one last look at her handiwork. “I will be back soon,” she said with a delicious grin while drawing up her hood and moving to the door. “Remember,” she said turning back to him, “no matter what happens, you are a supreme being in this world or any other - more beautiful than the most acclaimed. I swear, it is true,” she said, then turned to depart.

            Claire leapt through mounds of glimmering fresh snow to her small carriage, replaced the stolen keys without waking Croque, then returned home to tuck herself into bed before the landlady rose at dawn to prepare breakfast. As she placed her head on her pillow she looked out the window at the drifts climbing up the window panes and felt a rare peace as she saw a vision of her children playing in the winter’s first snow.

           Darney drew himself into a fetal position, wrapped his fur tightly around him, and fell into a deep slumber, broken at times with startling dreams, both erotic and violent.  The power of faith had awakened Darney’s unclaimed legacy. He was no longer a savage innocent held in abject servitude, bereft of either identity or hope for the future. A robust manly power now struggled to be born, and the desires it would awaken would wreak havoc as he fought to secure his right to love and freedom. Yet all the young giant knew was that he wished to hold Claire in his arms for eternity.

                                                                                                                                                                             *  * *

 

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Reunited: Best Second Chance Romance Novels

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Ramey Sandeley and Alexandra Brighton Reunite in Scene from Trailer

ATTENTION READERS: New Romantic Fantasy, The Chamber of Curiosities is NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER. The e-book will be delivered to your Kindle on Sunday, May 14, 2017. Be the first to read, review, and start discussions on forums. The epic story, set in a carnival in an ancient land, features characters forced to abandon love, but fight to reunite, against all odds.

Reunited romance is popular in fiction, as in real life. Often a highly charged attraction cannot be realized as one or both are in a committed relationship. Or, one spurns, and then returns to woo or be won. Time apart can bring great change in individuals and offer opportunity for grown and maturity. Fate usually has its way, one way or another, so if an attraction is strong enoughh generally there will be a reunion at some point in the future.

In The House on Black Lake Alexandra Brighton meets Ramey Sandeley months after they have each married another. When he first takes her eyes she experiences a powerful connection.That night she makes love to her husband and pretends she is making love to Ramey. Nine months to the day she gives birth to a son.

Nearly 12 years later, now in the throes of a vicious divorce battle, she is invited to vacation at the Sandeley’s summer home on Black Lake. Alexandra does not make the journey to seduce Ramey Sandeley, as he is married with 5 children.  Rather, she makes the journey to release herself from him. However, she does not bargain on the fact that he is just as obsessed and tormented by the fateful evening, and their attempts to find resolution draw them into a dangerous web of betrayal and deceit.

Other popular novels featuring second hand love (thanks to Amazon romance form for input) are listed below.  None of the heroines are easily won back.

1. Libertine’s Kiss by Judith James – the couple were childhood playmates/sweethearts and got separated, she went on to get married and widowed and finds the H again when she goes to petition for her lands, H helps her

2. Devil Takes a Bride by Gaelen Foley  -H spurns h, then has to woo her back

3. The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Moran - h thinks the H abandoned her, H thinks the h is dead, when they meet the h doesn't want to rekindle because it brings up bad memories, so the H pursues

4. Tempt Me Tonight by Toni Blake - H and h were high school sweethearts, H cheated on h and they broke up. Years later she returns to town and they rekindle, lots of groveling by H.

5. Edge of Sight (The Guardian Angelinos) by Roxanne St. Clare - H and h hook up and then split up due to H. Three years later h needs help in a situation and H becomes bodyguard.

6. Forget Me Not (Navy Seals, Book 1) by Marliss Melton - H is solider captured for a year, presumed dead, then returns with amnesia. h has moved on with life.

7. Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley - H and h separated for years, after H treated her badly. H wants to reunite.

8. The Sins of Lord Easterbrook by Madeline Hunter - H and h intrigued by one another, but circumstances prevent them getting together. They meet up again and he pursues.

9. Three Nights by Debra Mullins - H and h have arrangement for three nights of sex to forgive father’s dept.  h gets pregnant and thinks H abandons her, but actually he is captured away for years. When he gets back and finds out about the child he wants a real relationship.

10. Wild Card by Lora Leigh - H is a Navy Seal who is forced to assume new identity. h believes he is dead, but when he returns to protect her from trouble, they must pretend to not know each other.

11. The Sweet Gum Tree by Catherine Allred – Couple meet as children and friendship turns to love. H suddenly departs after death of father. H has fifteen years of struggles and family heartbreak, then one day H shows up in town.
12. Addicted by Charlotte Featherstone - historical – Young friends and lover find their relationship ruined by H’s opium addiction, h later tries to help him get over his addiction.

14. A Place to Call Home by Deborah Smith – Star crossed lovers meet as children on opposite side of tracks. H is son of abusive father, h is his champion. Twenty years pass until they meet again.

15. The Missing by Shiloh Ward - psychic, paranormal about troubled young woman with psychic powers and young man who helps her define her gifts by befriending, then leaving her, and returning when he needs help

15. To Die For: a Novel by Linda Howard  - H breaks off with her because he thinks she's "high maintenance". He's a cop and when he thinks she's been killed at her place of business, he realizes he loves her. Light hearted.

More to come . . .

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Dark, Obsessive, Possessive, Romance Novel/Film Heroes

The world has gone mad for Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey. But he is preceded by a long line of dark lovers in film and literature.

Wade Gotwals and Anastasia Blackwell in Scene HOBL trailer

ATTENTION READERS: New Romantic Fantasy, The Chamber of Curiosities is NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER. The e-book will be delivered to your Kindle on Sunday, May 14, 2017. Be the first to read, review, and start discussions on forums. The epic story, set in a carnival in an ancient land, features an obsessive, possessive romance hero and heroine, as well as supporting characters with intense love obsessions.

Nothing is more rewarding than delving into the psyche of an obsessive, possessive, romance hero. A sexy, powerful man possessed with love has undeniable allure.

Ramey Sandeley from The House on Black Lake is an obsessive, possessive male who has never heard the word "no".  Ramey first appears in the novel sweaty and burnt, fresh from branding animals with his custom tools. He believes his preternatural good looks, charm, wealth, and power afford him the right to own whatever and whomever he desires. But he meets his match with Alexandra Brighton, who, after having been possessed by her previous husband, and having made a vow at a shrine to be true to her manifest destiny, will no longer allow herself to be owned or controlled by anyone.

The night Alexandra arrives at Black Lake with her young son she is world weary from a brutal divorce, and in a highly vulnerable state. Soon after she is rowed out by Ramey and his wife to stay in a deserted Victorian in an island, with no way out. That night she dreams she is tied to a four poster, waiting for a burning brand to seal her wedding vows. Their battle of wills will lead them both to the brink of self destruction, and threaten the lives of those caught in their orbit.

To be adored to the point of obsession is truly a rare and beautiful thing.  Possessed film heroes can be found in - TwilightLegends of the Fall, The Phantom of the Opera, Cruel Intentions, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Meet Joe BlackPossession, King Arthur, The Last of the Mohicans, LadyhawkeTristan and Isolde, The Thorn BirdsA Streetcar Named Desire, The Man Who Cried  features Johnny Depp as a gypsy who rides a beautiful white horse, and Original Sin offers some of the sexiest scenes on film as Antonio Banderas outplays Angelina Jolie at her own dangerous game, with her possessive brother played to perfection by Thomas Jane (of Hung).  There are also notable darkly seductive tortured souls in literature, and many of the aforementioned tales began as novels.

Following are a few novels that feature such brooding males:

The Carpathian Series by Christine Freehan

An Independant Wife by Linda Howard

Immortals After Dark Series by Cresley Cole

The Madness of Lord Ian McKenzie, by Jennifer Ashley

The Misted Cliffs,by Catherine Asaro

The Silver Devil and The Flesh and the Devil, by Teres Denys - Note: These are cult classics and can be expensive

The Wolf and the Dove, by Cathleen Woodiwess

To Love an Earl, by Elizabeth Thornton.

The Devil's Embrace Catherine Coulter's first novel. Some have called it creepy, cruel, and disgusting, but everyone has their own tastes.

The Ground She Walks Upon, by Meagan McKinney

The House of Rohan- Ruthless, Breathless, Reckless, by Ann Stuart

Shadow Heart, by Laura Kinsdale

Uncommon Vows, by Mary Joe Putney

Double Standards by Judith McNaught

Gold Ring of Betrayal, by Michelle Reed

Murder Game, Ghostwalkers series 7, by Michelle Freehan

Into the Dark Lands, by Michelle Sagora

The Dark Jewels Trilogy, by Anne Bishop

Prince of Dreams, by Lisa Kleypas

The Twilight Saga, Stehanie Meyers.

Julie Garwood, J.R. Ward , Fallen Angel and Black Dagger Brotherhood Series  Gena Showalter- are other notable  authors who specialize in the genre.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

 Wuthering Heights, offers the supremely perfect, dark, brooding hero, Heathcliff,  Emily Bronte's masterpiece.

Gone with the Wind. gives us  Rhett Butler, who is in a class of his own.

For those who desire a darker, more erotic experience the following are well written in this genre:

The Man in the Black Leather Mask follows a female attorney's transformation from powerful woman to submissive beneath the hands of a ten years younger dominent colleague

Kidnapped for Christmas by Evangeline Anderson - Average, overweight woman's skinny sister plans her own kidnapping as a sexual lark, but man takes wrong woman and the more conservative sister finds herself a submissive to a very sexy man

Surrender To Me, by Shayla Black - a woman's secret desire is met by her boyfriend in a Las Vegas trick where he consents to menage with friend, who also happens to be Navy Seal. An obsession is sparked between the woman and her new friend and nothing is the same for the two.

Master of the Mountain by Cherise Sinclair - an less than figure perfect ad agency artist complies with boyfriend's request to visit remote swinger's cabin. During her stay she sees boyfriend with other woman and realizes her relationship is over. However, she meets a man that is emotionally scarred and afraid of commitment who takes her on a journey into the underworld of dominence and submission.

Submissive Desires by Carolyn Faulker. Very severe story of a woman's five year journey to complete submission in the hands of a fiercely powerful and possessive ex Navy Seal.

What will it take to relieve him of his torture?

Obsessive, possessive, brooding romance hero

 

I was recently interviewed about obsessive possessive love and the character of Ramey Sandeley.  Here are my thoughts:

 

 

Thanks to Amazon Romance Community