I sent a short excerpt a week or so ago to a fellow author and finally got her feedback on it this morning. She said it reminded her of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Cathy Marie Buchanan's The Painted Girls all at the same time. I don't know Buchanan, but will take that as high praise indeed.
And speaking of Dracula . . . the following excerpt, one of my faves, incorporates the flashback my friend read:
The moment they were through the front door, Cat made a beeline for her bedroom, muttering something about getting back to work. She locked the door, headed straight for her desk, and switched on the lamp. Still struggling to steer her mind back to vampires, she started picking through the articles she’d collected over the past several months, most of them addressing the vampire’s sexual prowess. The title of her doctorate was Romancing the Vampire: His Evolution from Sexual Predator to Bad-Boy Fantasy.
She picked up Carmilla—a Gothic novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu telling of a young woman’s seduction by a vampiric female being. On the cover was a young woman in white, the victim, presumably, peering out a castle window with a mixture of longing and forlorn—an unwelcome mirror of Cat's own emotions.
Carmilla possessed unearthly beauty, could change her shape, and slept in a coffin, but concealed her true nature behind a sweet facade. Her affection for the story’s heroine was genuine, making the seduction all the more disturbing.
Images and sensations from earlier floated through Cat’s mind. The feel of his mouth, the weight of his body, the impression of penetration. Desire fluttered in her abdomen like a trapped bird. She bit down, forcing her focus back to Carmilla. She thumbed through the novella, scanning and jotting some notes before picking up Dracula. The image of his hand reaching past her flashed through her mind. His words echoed: He was lucky to have no reflection to be forever wrecking his head.
She chased away his ghost, turned to a dog-eared page, and began to read a highlighted passage.
In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner. I thought at the time that I must be dreaming when I saw them, they threw no shadow on the floor. They came close to me, and looked at me for some time, and then whispered together. Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes, that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair as can be, with great masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires. I seemed somehow to know her face, and to know it in connection with some dreamy fear, but I could not recollect at the moment how or where . . .
Eeriness washed over Cat, raising the hairs on her nape as she re-read the last line.
Was he . . . ?
Could he possibly be . . . ?
It certainly would explain a few things.
Like that seductive stare of his--the one that was so penetrating it felt as if he was actually inside her.
And his habit of vanishing into thin air.
And the fact that he knew about her Cinderella Charm.
But it didn’t explain the visions. Or the bagpipes. And she didn’t feel “dreamy fear” when she looked at him, she felt a blazing desire to jump his bones—a desire that even now smoldered deep in her belly.
She dropped Dracula on the desk as if it had burst into flames. She sure as hell had. Swallowing, she unzipped her dress and let it fall to the floor, stepping out of it as she moved toward the bed. Wearing only her bra and panties, she reclined and reached to the nightstand. Easing open the drawer, she felt around for the book she kept on hand for such occasions: The Rampant Cock (the symbol of Clan Sinclair).
The scuffed cover--featuring a buff, bare-chested Highlander—protected yellowed, heavily dog-eared pages smelling suspiciously of dust mites. As she read the first of the bawdiest passages, she slipped a hand between her legs, imagining it belonged to the long-fingered Scot.
When the last shudders of release had passed, she dropped the book in the open drawer and her head on the pillow. No sooner had she closed her eyes than a new scene began to take shape inside her mind. It was fuzzy at first--an indistinguishable collage of shadow, light, and color, but, little by little, it sharpened until she saw herself walking in Paris. She wore a peacock-blue gown, a strange sort of fur wrap, and an enormous hat ornamented with ribbons and exotic plumes.
Strangely, she was both inside and outside herself at the same time. And she was herself, but also someone else. She had the same dark hair and willowy figure, but the woman she was inside frequented fashionable cabarets and salons, belonged to Le Tout-Paris, and possessed poise and confidence.
Was it a dream? Her dreams were often vividly realistic, but this seemed more so somehow. Setting aside the explanation for now, Cat took a breath and sank into the experience. The morning air was cool on her face and the sky above clear and luminous. She walked alone, but passed several people in old-fashioned clothing: men in suits with starched collars and women in elegant lace and velvet gowns. Most wore hats as large and ostentatious as her own. Others wore smaller chapeaus and carried parasols.
Over the rushing water, she heard clopping hooves and carriage wheels grinding on cobblestones, but also the sputter of early automobiles. In the distance, she spied a brasserie and somehow knew it was her destination. She was meeting a friend—a fellow writer from the Federation of Freethought. And she was late, though the narrowness of her ankle-length skirt made it impossible to lengthen her stride.
As she approached the cafe, she scanned the sidewalk tables in search of the friend—Louise Boyer--but did not see her. Had Louise, for some mad reason, opted to sit inside? Moving toward the front window to check, her wrap caught on the back of a woven chair, pulling it over with a crash. Face heating, she turned to both right the chair and offer an apology. Her eyes skimmed over a solitary gentleman in a tweed driving cap and round-rimmed dark glasses.
“Please forgive my clumsiness, monsieur,” she said in French, stooping to grab the chair.
“There is nothing to forgive, mademoiselle,” he replied as she set the chair back on its legs.
His words were French, but his accent foreign, provoking a second look. Peering at her over the top of his glasses were the most extraordinary golden eyes she’d ever seen.
“J’mapelle Graham Logan,” he said, tipping his cap.
She warmed under his gaze. “C'est un plaisir, Monsieur Logan.” Making a small curtsy, she added, “J’mapelle Catharine. Catharine Le Croix.”
(She pronounced it Catrine, which surprised the Cat part of her a little, as did the fact that Graham Logan was in Paris during Le Belle Époque and had not aged a day since.) The Catharine part of her also found him familiar—as well as intoxicating—a response shared.
“And where do you hail from, Monsieur Logan?”
“Scotland, originally,” he replied, now in English, which she understood perfectly. “But now reside here.”
Though Catharine had never been to Scotland, she yearned to go. She had long been a fan of the novels of Sir Walter Scott and had read with pleasure the books depicting Scottish country life by Ian MacLaren, S. R. Crockett, and others of the Kailyard School.
“And what brought you to Paris?” she asked.
He gave Catharine a smile that weakened her knees. “Ennui.”
His hair, unfashionably long, fell around his shoulders like a skein of copper silk. His herringbone suit was slightly out of date, but finely tailored. Over his chair lay a plaid wool overcoat, also quality. Feeling a trifle dizzy, she pulled her eyes away from his and glanced down at his table. Surprise pricked when she saw tarot cards. Curious about the nature of his query, she let her gaze roam over the spread.
The Queen of Swords—a cerebral woman who hid her heart. Was it, perchance, a harbinger of their meeting? A smile pulled at her lips but retreated when her eyes landed on the spread’s final card—the outcome.
“Death can herald many things,” she said, more for her comfort than his. “Change, for example, which is inevitable.”
Desire sparked when her eyes met his. Her gaze dropped, landing on The Lovers. Would they become intimate? It seemed possible, given the stirrings in her womb. She swallowed and licked her lips, keeping her eyes on the cards as he studied her the way a painter might study a nude model. She pressed her thighs together to douse her growing arousal, but the flames of lust only leapt higher.
Suddenly remembering Louise, she glanced around. Her friend was still nowhere to be seen. Not that she gave a fiche at this point.
“And what do you make of The Devil?” he asked, bringing her eyes back to his.
Taking a moment to study the spread again, she now saw The Devil beside the Queen—in the position of influencer.
She lifted a gloved hand to her perspiring face. “The shadow. That which lies hidden. Unconscious desires.” She swallowed. “The Devil represents . . . our bestial lusts, monsieur.”
“Or, might he represent . . .”—he arched an auburn eyebrow--“a dark magician?”
She did not comprehend his meaning. His eyes still held hers--his beguiling, penetrating eyes. She lowered her gaze to his mouth—a sculptural masterpiece worthy of Le Louvre. She yearned so badly to kiss that mouth she almost couldn’t breathe.
“Forgive me for staring, Mademoiselle Le Croix,” he said softly, seemingly oblivious to his effect on her. “But, if you do not mind my saying so, you bear an uncanny resemblance to a lady I knew once upon a time back in Scotland--a likeness I find most distracting.”
She kept her eyes on the cards. If she looked at him again, she would lose control. “And where is the lady now, monsieur?”
“In the grave,” he said with a rueful sigh. “Or so I have long believed.”