My turn! I dug out a manuscript that I had sort of finished, or thought I had finished. When I reread it, I realized it needed a lot of work, but the basics are there. Most of my work on this novel will be plotting. For me, I have to go in order. Just so I remember what’s going on in the story.
So, here’s the first chapter. I changed very little. All of the changes were deleting words and changing them so they weren’t repetitive. The red words are the ones I deleted.
And, by the way, the tentative title is Cursed With A Kiss.
“I have to see him,” Juleen whispered to her cousin, Christine, as she rushed through the stone hallway. Her velvet skirt swooshed about her legs as she hurried. She rounded a corner and stopped short with a gasp. People flooded into the hallway from the Great Hall like a stream overflowing its bank.
Juleen clenched her lips, straightened her back, and took a deep breath before diving into the sea of people. She slipped past peasants and nobility alike with mumbled apologies.
“A Delavan knight,” a whisper floated past her, the dark mystery of the words teasing her, further enticing her curiosity.
“Not just a knight. A spy,” another answered.
Juleen Marina St. Augusta, Princess of Harrow, twisted and turned through the throng of the curious crowd with a growing sense of urgency. She would not be denied this chance to see her enemy. She had been told by her tutors, her friends, and even her father, how the Delavan people looked, but she had never seen one.
Christine grabbed her arm, halting her. “Please, Juleen,” she begged. “He is said to have horns that can pierce you from across the room and eyes that will turn you to stone.”
Juleen cocked her head in disbelief. She had heard all the stories about the Delavanians, but she believed none of them. They were rumored to be apparitions with as dark a soul as their complexion, monsters that lived by no human code of decency. How she wanted to glimpse a demon of Delavan.
Someone shoved her from behind followed by an apology. She was not getting any closer this way. She stood on the tips of her toes to glance about the room, searching for some way to get closer to the dais. Everywhere she looked throngs of people vied for a glimpse of the prisoner. Since the spectacle took place in the middle front of the Great Hall, the sidewalls appeared to be less crowded. She knew she would have a better chance to move closer from there. She eased her hand from Christine’s grip and quickened her step, making her way through the human mass toward the white washed walls.
“Do not look at him, Your Highness,” a voice advised.
Juleen shifted her gaze to an elderly woman staring at her with a pinched face. It was the traveling gypsy. The fortune teller. “Why ever not?”
“He will take your soul,” the old woman whispered.
An unwanted shiver ran up Juleen’s spine and she made the sign of the cross, touching her forehead, stomach and each shoulder to ward off the evil she felt in the gypsy’s words. For a moment, she took heed of the gypsy’s warning and looked down at her slippered feet.
Tension and excitement rippled around her. There had never been a Delavanian in Castle Harrow. The fact he made it this far was a testament to his skill. Perhaps just a peek…
Slowly, she lifted her gaze. A swan headdress blocked her view. Frustrated, she skirted the crowd, keeping close to the walls, moving ever closer to the front of the room. She found her view blocked by a wall of nobles who prevented her forward movement. She shifted this way and that, craning her neck to the side, but still no sign of the Delavanian prisoner.
Between the shifting headdresses of the noblewomen in front of her, she caught glimpses of her father standing on the first step of the dais. Broad of shoulder and garbed in the most elegant blue velvet jupon, he stared down toward the floor with a scowl. His thick, gray mustache accented his displeasure with a downward slope.
Juleen glanced right and saw Sir Garrick standing on the floor of the Great Hall. His jaw was clenched tight, his eyes narrowed on someone before him. His bowl cut blonde hair framed his rugged face. Sir Garrick’s hand rested on the pommel of his ever-present sword.
Juleen shoved forward, elbowing her way between two noblemen. Her gaze drifted down to the man who garnered such animosity from her betrothed. He was on his knees. His head was slightly bowed forward, his face hidden behind his thick drooping mane of midnight black hair.
He was shirtless like a barbarian, his hands chained before him. His skin glistened a deep, dark gold in the torchlight, covering such powerful strength. Juleen couldn’t turn her head away. He must be the most powerful mighty warrior in all of Delavan, Juleen thought. Even at rest, his muscles were more defined and shaped then most of the men in Harrow.
Suddenly, the prisoner moved and a collective gasp raced through the gathered crowd like wind whistling through a field of wheat. He rose to his full height, a height that was a head taller then even Garrick, and Garrick was considered one of the tallest on in Harrow. His dark hair fell like a waterfall about his face, concealing his features.
A tingle snaked through Juleen.
Slowly, like the moon rising in the night sky, he lifted his head. Many of the nobles around her gasped in horror; most looked away in terror, afraid they would be turned to stone. One man put his arm around a lady, shielding her from the dark glare, and made his way from the room. They must have heard the old gypsy woman’s proclamation, Juleen rationalized. I should look away.
But she wanted to know. She wanted to see the fire rumored to be in every Delavanian’s eyes.
Through the waves of ebony strands hanging before his face, eyes as dark as midnight pinned her to the spot. She stood, transfixed, unable to break the magnetic stare. Heat flamed through her body as if someone lit a fire inside her, sending smoldering warmth to every nerve. Her body came alive, tingling and humming.
Suddenly, one of the soldiers shoved him forward and their gazes broke.
“Your Highness!” Christine shook her arm, demanding her attention. “Did you look upon him?”
Juleen couldn’t move.
Christine yanked on Juleen’s arm, pulling her out of the crush of people, toward a sidewall. She stared in horror and her grip tightened on Juleen’s arm. “Are you alright?” She grasped Juleen’s shoulders, fear creeping into her eyes. “Did you look into his eyes?”
Juleen blinked and focused on Christine. “He looks like a normal man,” she said, trying unsuccessfully to convince herself nothing happened when she looked at him.
“It is an illusion!” Christine cried. “He was trying to bewitch you! Forget him. Put him out of your thoughts.”
“Christine!” Juleen said, shifting her shoulders to free herself of her cousin’s hold. “The Delavanians hold no special power. They are just men.”
“You don’t know for sure. We’ve always been told they have horns and fangs and…”
“I saw no horns nor fangs.”
“He was hiding them!” Christine insisted.
Juleen rolled her eyes.
“And his hands! They were claws waiting to rip out a woman’s heart!”
“Christine! He was bound!”
“I’ll bet beneath his boots he has cloven feet,” Christine mused. “Did you see the way everyone avoided his gaze?”
“Oh, Christine. They’ve heard the legends, too.” Juleen looked at the double doors the prisoner had been led through. “What would a knight of Delavan be doing in my realm?”
“He was putting a curse on us. That’s what he was doing.”
“Christine!” Juleen commanded, scowling at her friend. Something of that magnitude could not be allowed to spread among her people. She seized Christine’s hands and pulled her close, whispering, “There is no curse. I will prove it to you. I will go into the dungeon and return unscathed.”
“No!” Christine gasped.
Juleen moved toward the double doors at the back of the room. “I will prove to you this Delavanian knight poses no threat. I will prove he is human.”
“No!” Christine begged. “Please, Juleen.”
Determination spread through Juleen as she marched toward the double doors where the prisoner had been lead out. Still, she couldn’t quite erase the question. It was like an annoying warning in the back of her mind. What was a Delavan knight doing in Harrow?