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About the author:
Lotte R. James spent most of her life in a windowless office crunching numbers and dreaming up stories of love and adventure.Finally she took the big leap and is currently working on her fifth romance novel, along with many more exciting projects. When she's not scribbling on tiny pieces of paper, she's off wandering the countryside for inspiration, or nestling in a coffee house.
What inspired you to write your book?
This is a sequel to 'The Rake & The Maid', and I felt Percy deserved his own story. It was also inspired by many walks along the Thames.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Though the ale was surprisingly good, and more importantly, potent, not as washed-down as it was in, well, nearly any establishment across the city, be it public house or gentlemen’s club, and he should know having patronized a fair majority over the years; it was not enough. Six pints of the Queen Anne’s finest were not nearly enough to fill the crushing numbness; the growing void within within him.
Not nearly enough to revive him to even half the man he was before.
To comfort, to restore a semblance of reason and meaning to the world which seemed to have collapsed around him into ash and ruin.
Well, not the world, but his world.
Popping the collar of the borrowed, scratchy worn wool coat, he pulled it tightly around himself, and faded into the shadows just beyond the limits of the pub, leaning against the damp brick of a neighbouring building.
The din of rowdy shouts, songs, and chatter echoed in the bitter night air, filling the otherwise chilling silence which had taken over the city, and could only mean one thing if it brought a semblance of peace to even this part of the metropolis which was typically closer to Pandemonium than civilization.
He could smell it in the air, feel it in the icy, sharp cold that nipped at his flesh, improperly covered for such weather. The wool coat, woolen waistcoat, and threadbare fingerless knit gloves were simply not enough to protect him from such a timely arrival as the glorious white petals now gracefully streaming down from the heavens, dancing in the wind as they began their task of blanketing the earth.
Covering up sin and dirt and muck and filth with breathtaking, sublime, pristine whiteness. He could see them, twirling and taunting in the warm streams of light from the Queen Anne’s.
And he hated them.
Not because his feet, protected only by the meagerest, holiest working man’s boots, protested their arrival, begging him to find warmer ground, but because they seemed to encapsulate his entire self.
Two rowdy sailors laughed, clapped each other on the back, and stumbled out of the door, unleashing a fresh wave of voices before it faded again. He tucked himself deeper into the shadows, still unable to move.
Unable to wrest his gaze from the tumbling flakes, larger now, like thick tufts of cotton, hypnotising in their grace.
In the magnitude of their power.
The power to bring silence and beauty and calm, and the pleasure of forgotten memories, all in an instant.
The power to herald the pleasure and joy and warmth of Christmastide.
When he had been a boy, like so many others, it had been his favorite time of year.
The only time, when the wars that raged in his home calmed; when the sorrow that permeated every layer of silk tapestry, lifted.
When he felt, for even the briefest moment, what it felt like to be loved, and hopeful.
Never more, never again.
Clenching his jaw against the bitterness, not of the cold, but of the memories, of the truth of himself, he shook his head and wondered instead why the Hell he had thought to find answers, a new beginning, hope, in this place, so foreign to the one he was raised in.
The foreignness was what you sought. The power of novelty to cleanse a man.
But here, in this corner of London where he didn’t belong, he had only found himself more lost than before. He had thought industry, diligence, a function, might ease the confusion, the doubts.
Might feed the darkness and anger within him, born of the world he had been raised in. The gilded, beautiful world, which reeked of rotten souls.
It had not.
It only magnified his uselessness.
Only magnified his loss.
The loss of bearings. The loss of friends. The loss of…
He’d had little to begin with, conviction dulled by ennui, but he’d had enough he thought, to make it through life, perhaps not happy, but contented. He’d had a moral code, a sense of right and wrong despite all the wickedness within him, and the immorality of his actions and life.
But that little sliver too had only been an illusion, like the rest of his world.
Frustrated, his feet now numb and covered in a thin, but growing layer of white death, he pushed himself from the wall, and began walking. To where, to what, he knew not.
There was nowhere left for him, nowhere he might wish to step foot in.
There was no woman, no body he desired.
There was no more liquor; any more and control would be lost, and what was the point anyways when six pints of good ale failed to warm a man and numb his mind.
He should leave this place.
He didn’t need to be here, he could go back, and resume his life, and –
His stomach roiled against the prospect.
No going back. There is nothing to go back to. It is emptier than this place.
This place which he had hoped would welcome and embrace him and yet which even after four months of attempting his best to get to know it, refused to yield.
The dull echo of shouts and grunts pulled him from his useless musings. He froze, and listened intently, trying to locate the source. He turned to gaze at the Queen, but found her as he had left her. Nothing more, nothing less.
And then he heard a cry, of pain, there, to his left.
Without thinking, he dove across the empty street, and down, down into the rank darkness of the alley which called to him in the night.
He followed the sounds, the sounds meant for him, calling to that dark place, as if they knew him. He followed, drunk, yes, but on the titillating offer meted out to him when he had nearly abandoned hope.
He followed them, plunging further into the dark labyrinthe that made up this part of Shadwell, until he found the source.
In the meeting of four alleys, lit by the moon’s glow, reflected tenfold off the now thick layer of white, two men, both enormous brutes, stevedores by the look and smell of them, a third, nimbler, leaner fellow between them.
The third, beaten, and bruised, whimpered and huddled himself into a ball on the ground, his blood a dark pool marring the pristine whiteness below him as he protected himself from more blows.
Grunt, thud, cry. Grunt, thud, cry.
It was a strange, primal music, that whet his own appetite, and warmed him as nothing else had for a very long time.
No one had noticed him, and he rubbed his hands together for a moment, enjoying the poetic beauty, the poetic irony of this moment, preparing to pounce.
And then, as the flash of steel glinted in the moonlight, he sprang forth.
More so than opium, or the pleasures of the flesh, or even the finest illegal Scotch.
The rush of blood made him lightheaded, yet grounded him, as he swirled and danced around the larger men, striking, quickly, deftly, avoiding blows but landing his own.
Bone meeting muscle, and bone. Repeatedly.
Shouts and words echoed in the air, but he did not hear them.
Only his own breath, sharp, and steady, and deep.
This, this, was who he was.
God how he relished in it. How it made him feel alive, awakening every nerve, every taste bud, every sense, and he bested them, with skill and speed, and pure rage and bloodlust.
The feel of slick warmth on his fingers, the cracking of bones splitting in the air, the pain in his own limbs made him hungry for more.
For oblivion, total, annihilating, all-powerful.
And he was almost there.
But he stopped.
It hurt him more than any physical pain, and every fiber of his being cried out in denial, begging for him to take the final step.
But he stopped.
Panting, ragged, thrumming with life, he stood there, frozen, and gazed at the scene he had so deftly created.
Two men, lying broken and bloody and stinking in black pools of muddled flesh and blood and sweat and slush, arranged at odd angles their bodies should never have been able to create.
He watched, intently, and saw their chests rise and fall, with difficulty, but nonetheless.
He watched, as the third man, who had scrambled away into the shadows, emerged, limping, cradling an arm, stunned.
And in that moment he knew with the most absolute certainty, that he was precisely where he was meant to be.
Not going back.
Not going anywhere.
And so it was, that on the night of the first snowfall in mid-December of the year 1822, that the Ghost of Shadwell was born.