COMING MAY 1
SHADE: Book 1: The Frankenstein Saga
For fans of the Netflix program, THE FRANKENSTEIN CHRONICLES, AND I DARKEN by Kiersten White, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY by Susan Dennard, and BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA.
REVIEWS FOR SHADE
"This is a nailbiting, teeth clenching, scream inducing, not blinking, afraid of the dark and anything moving in it read that hooked me from the start."—Kaye, 5-star review on Amazon
Merrie takes the reader on a Gothic horror thrill ride through Mary Wollstonecroft Godwin's eyes that ends in a heart-stopping cliffhanger. I can't wait to read the rest of the story!"—Jane, 5-star review on Amazon
Shade hit the ground running from page 1. It is a truly disturbing gothic horror story with some romance thrown in for good measure."—Kimberly, 5-star review on Amazon
BOOK 1: CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT
I was cursed from the moment I met him.
He laughed at my jokes and his eyes sparkled when I talked. Everyone in the room adored him, from my father to our literary guests. And when he leaned close enough to whisper in my ear, asking me to slip away with him, I saw the envy in my sisters’ eyes.
If I was cursed at the sight of him, then I lost my soul when we kissed. I was only sixteen at the time, still I should have known better.
He was married, after all. He promised me his marriage was a loveless union and he was certain he would get a divorce any day. However, in the end, his freedom had taken longer than either of us expected and came at a great price.
Now, we both had blood on our hands.
We tried to run, to escape the guilt, the landscape changing from rolling hills to sharp mountains, rivers giving way to lakes, and winter giving way to spring. But we could never run far enough.
For the whole world had fallen under our curse.
Brown snow began to fall in Hungary and red snow in Italy. Rumors claimed that almost a foot of snow now blanketed Quebec City, while lakes and rivers as far south as Pennsylvania chilled beneath layers of ice.
And here in Switzerland—the one place we were certain we’d be safe—the entire landscape from valley floor to mountain peak was covered in snow.
But it was the middle of May.
The sky should have been full of stars. A soft breeze should have been blowing across Lake Geneva and the forests should have whispered in reply. Our carriage should have been surrounded by grassy meadows.
Instead, I sat in the back of the carriage, bundled in furs, snow drifting around me, the wind chafing my skin. I knew I deserved this penance. It kept me in a valley of sorrow, where I belonged. Still, it was terrifying, this feeling that my sin might destroy the world.
“Someday they’ll call this the year with no summer,” my fiancé, Percy Shelley mused as he poured another glass of wine, spilling most of it on my gown. “Perhaps we’ll write epic poems about it during our holiday, you, Byron and I. Maybe we’ll even sing about it.”
“While we’re all stuck indoors,” I said.
My soul had longed for green fields and daisies and sunshine.
I had secretly hoped that something would lift the heaviness in my heart, that feeling like someone was standing on my chest and making every breath difficult. There were times when I felt as if I was sinking in a lake of black tar and would never escape.
“There will be good days ahead, my beloved,” Percy said. It was the old Percy speaking, the one I’d fallen in love with, the one who had seduced me.
Once he’d been a wild rebel who challenged every political and religious structure, he’d been a growing force in the Romantic Movement. But today he was a twenty-three-year-old man who drank from sunrise to sunset, who gambled away our meager funds until we were penniless. He took laudanum every day, but the opium couldn’t stop his nightmares. Or mine.
Our long journey finally ended when a villa appeared before us, grand as a royal manor, surrounded by forests, the Alps rising in the background. The front door hung open, which surprised me, since the hour was late and the weather cold. As the carriage drew nearer, I noticed someone shadowing the doorway. When our horses stopped, that person ran toward us.
It was none other than our host, Lord Byron himself, a weapon in one hand that looked like a seventeenth-century dueling pistol.
“Hurry, get inside the house,” he commanded us. “One of the servants will tend to your horses and you can retrieve your luggage in the morning.”
His tone startled me and I looked around, but saw no danger. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I must grab my satchel first,” Percy protested in a slurred voice. “I’ll have nothing to sleep in—”
I knew he didn’t care about clothing. His laudanum was in that bag.
Percy stumbled out of the carriage and Byron caught him by the arm, while I continued to scan the landscape around us. “Inside, quickly,” Byron repeated, hastening us both toward the front door. “You were supposed to have been here hours ago.”
“Our carriage broke down outside of Lancy,” I said as I lifted my skirts to run beside them, my boots sinking into ankle-deep snow. It was a lie, but I didn’t want to explain the argument Percy had with an innkeeper about our lodging or how it had delayed our travel. We all stood inside the villa now, the door closing behind us.
I moved toward the fireplace, shaking the snow off my dress and cloak. “Why on earth did you rush us inside like that?” I asked, my hands extended toward the fire. I didn’t realize there were other people in the room until I began to slip off my gloves. That was when my stepsister, Claire—one of Byron’s many lovers—rose from a nearby chair, her belly even more swollen with his child than the last time I had seen her.
“Sister.” She nodded a greeting at me and I gave the same back to her. There were no warm hugs between us, not now, nor had there ever been.
An unexpected fifth member to our party sat in another chair—Byron’s personal physician, Doctor John Polidori. He glanced up from the book he was reading long enough to run a curious gaze over me. It was hard to ignore him, with his olive complexion and black curly hair and that intense expression in his dark eyes.
“Byron?” I asked again. “You’d think we were being chased by assassins from the way you ushered us inside.”
He paused in the doorway, still carrying that dueling pistol in one hand, his face flushed, the collar of his shirt unbuttoned. He looked oddly disheveled for a man who always prided himself on his appearance.
“It’s the weather,” he said as he joined us in the drawing room, pouring himself a glass of whiskey and slugging it down in one, long swallow.
No one moved or spoke. I had a feeling Claire and John already knew what was going on for they avoided my gaze.
“All this snow has driven wild animals down from the mountains—lynx, wolves, bears,” he continued, filling his glass again and then, almost as an afterthought, pouring drinks for Percy and me. “The beasts can be quite dangerous if encountered when one is unprepared.”
At that point, his characteristic charm rose to the surface and he gave me a polite bow, before handing me a tumbler of whiskey.
“As I explained in my letter, you may both do as you please while you’re here,” he said. “Stay up all night and sleep all day. Drink so much that you forget which room is yours. There is only one thing that I must insist upon,” he said, an ominous tone in his words. “You must not go outdoors after dusk.”
A puzzled expression must have crossed my face for he focused on me, taking my hand and holding it in his.
“My dearest Mary, we wouldn’t want someone as lovely as you to end up as prey, would we?”
I gave him a short laugh, trying my best to hide the sliver of apprehension that flowed through me.
We’d come to Switzerland to keep Byron company during his exile, secretly hoping that this holiday might set us free from the torment that pursued us. Instead, I realized we were on an unwelcome adventure and, from this point on, anything could happen.
To the rest of the world, 1816 would be remembered as the summer when snow replaced rain and crops refused to grow and thousands died in their beds, hungry and cold.
To me, it would forever be remembered as the summer when our curse took shape and came down from the mountains, ready to devour us all.
All content © 2017, Merrie Destefano