Black Friday is here and we’re discussing the season with Karina Cooper’s Cherry St. Croix from Gilded.
In the gleaming heights of Victorian London, a world of deception awaits an unconventional Society lady whose taste for adventure makes her a most formidable adversary . . .
Though Society demands that I make a good marriage, I, Cherry St. Croix, have neither the time nor the interest. I am on the trail of a murder with no victim, a mystery with no motive, and the key to an alchemical formula that could be my family’s legacy.
Yet the world is not so kind as to let me pursue simple murder and uncomplicated bounties. Above the foggy drift, an earl insists on my attention, while my friends watch my increasingly desperate attempts to remain my own woman. From the silken demands of the Midnight Menagerie—to whose dangerously seductive ringmaster I owe a debt—to the rigorous pressures of the peerage, all are conspiring to place before me a choice that will forever change my life.
Make sure you stick around to the end. We’ll be giving away 2 copies of Gilded.
The Black Friday Affair: Dreaming of the Future
“Is she a caroler?”
“Sing, baby!” A knot of boys no older than I dissolved into a riot of sniggering.
My fists clenched at my sides as I forged through a crowd packed tighter than any soiree I’d ever been to. Elbows, aimed not with malice but without care, glanced off my sides, my arms—all that protected me from the sharp edge of these peoples’ flailing limbs was my special constructed corset.
My name is Cherry St. Croix, and I am—or, rather, I was—a collector. Up until one hour past, I had been London’s only female collector, though this a carefully maintained secret. I was also—had been, also, the soon-to-be-wealthy heiress of my late father’s fortune, a Society creature no more at home among London’s crème de la crème as I was at home here.
“Here”, of course, being a place so far-fetched that I myself was not certain that I did not dream it, lost on a particularly strong tide of opium direct.
My impressions were indistinct, but crowded. Lights everywhere, twinkling in all the colors of a rainbow, as if flame burned strongly behind colored glass. They hung in rivers of white, twined up blocky pillars in green and red. I could not see the walls, but I assumed that they were decorated with the same lush display of opulent electricity.
Where I was—wherever I dreamed of—it remained lit with a steady stream of Edison’s invention, and where I squinted upwards, others pushed past me as if I were only in the way.
I stepped out of the path of a woman bearing down on me, her hands wrapped white-knuckled around the handle of a strangely proportioned bassinet. “No mercy!” I think is what she shouted as the crowd parted like an army before a one-woman cavalry. And she was wearing trousers. Of a sort. Black, thin, encasing her legs in a fabric that lacked all definition, her heavyset frame swimming in a jacket made of like fabric in muted grey.
I turned, my heart thudding against the trappings of my armored corset, my cheeks hot as I saw only more shoulders, more heads, more bodies. I smelled stale sweat and the near over-powering confection of cinnamon, pine and exotic vanilla. Women wore trousers and long skirts and short skirts—things so scandalous, Bedlam would be near to bursting were they all taken in by the magistrates. Coats in downy softness, thick woven canvas, opened plaid, framed bodies that were thin, thick, soft, lanky—and all, every one, uncorseted, if I was any judge.
Babies screamed, so close my teeth rattled with the sound. Who would bring a child into this madness? They should be kept with nannies, swaddled safely and where they could not be heard.
A dull roar filled my ears—only partially the result of so many in such a confined space. Feet tromping, voices carrying, and somewhere, invisible, the sound of music. Not just one song, but many. They merged and swelled and tinkled; carols, I realized as the smells and the sights congealed into one piquant swath. ‘Twas Christmastime, or so the music assured me. Bags clutched in tight-fisted hands were green and gold and red, emblazoned with words and names and pictures that had no meaning. Macy’s. Bath and Bodyworks. Abercrombie and Fitch? I knew a Fitch, but he wasn’t any sort of a toff—not enough to get his name on a bit of paper like that.
“Attention,” came a crackling voice I could not see the speaker of. Feminine, but flat. “Macy’s will now be opening its doors for it’s Black Friday sales. Get up to ninety percent off on select products while supplies last. Please remember to be safe, and Merry Christmas from Macy’s!”
As if this were some kind of cue, the crowd surged wildly—a river whose tides could not agree. A shoulder clipped mine; I stumbled, yet could not go far as a foot planted squarely between mine tripped me into a graceless spin. “Sorry,” grunted a man whose balding head soared high above the crowd. He didn’t look to see if I still stood. It was only by the grace of my own physicality that I found my balance again.
“Out of the way!” shouted a woman, and three kids sobbed as she dragged them deeper into the heaving throng.
Madness. All of it, madness. And why was I here? Where was I?
I turned, desperate to escape, flinging elbows now as I struggled to push through the chaos. “Excuse me,” I called. “Pardon me, I beg your pardon—oh, for the bloody…” Pain lit up the side of my face as a long pole slammed into my temple. Its owner cursed, struggling to hold a large box by its corners, its picture something like a black rectangle with another picture within. “Back off, lady,” she snarled, “I was here first!”
My knees buckled. I must have cried out, but in this din, no one could hear.
What hell had I stumbled into?
“Look at me!” The deep voice cut through the chaos of my thoughts, of the wildly weaving crowd of strangers. “Come back here, this instant.”
What way? I couldn’t see anything past the blaringly bright lights, the tinkling music like the shattering of glass. Bags, so many bags, until I swore they walked on their own legs—mountains of bags, boxes, presents tied like little strings.
“Sale!” proclaimed a sign. “Sale! Sale!”
“Christmas savings,” announced that tinny, canned voice.
“’Tis the season!”
“Oh, my God, these are so cute!”
I cursed as I pushed against the unending surge; flailed, thrust, wedged myself between this human machine, its parts all with faces and legs and hands and eyes dead and shining with fever. A fist caught in my hair; I felt the pins scatter, heard them plink, crunch and grind beneath the footsteps of a mechanical army whose flesh seemed so real.
Like a market flooded by shoppers hellbent on the very best, like one of Hawke’s own Menagerie events, wall to wall filled with bright-eyed purveyors, and yet so much worse than anything I could imagine.
“I have you!” announced that deep, deep voice, and hard fingers closed over my arm. Abruptly, I was plucked from the knot of a crazed fit of young women in matching pink fabric trousers, “JUICY” embroidered across their inappropriately displayed derrieres.
I fought by rote, because I did not know what enemies awaited me in this chaotic warfare, but a rough hand curved over my wrists and I found myself tucked into a corner, blocked from the stream of feet and cries and crinkled bags by broad shoulders wrapped in black. Tawny eyes met mine, a fiercely vivid streak of blue bisecting one, and Micajah Hawke said, “If you do not wake up this very instant, Miss Black, there will be hell to pay.”
The world split. It began at the fierce baring of his teeth, cracked wide. The music climbed, higher, shrill, until it rang like crystal and someone all but shrieked something about rocking around a Christmas tree.
Rock? Why would anyone want to rock back and forth around a Christmas tree? Was it an American ritual? I’d thought them to be similar to our own.
Yet I couldn’t ask, my throat rasping dry and thick, as the lights shimmered to a rainbow and all at once went brilliant white.
I must have tried to flee, for when my eyes opened again, I saw only his. Tawny and blue. The Devil’s own.
“Are you with me, Miss Black?” he asked, and this time, I heard no music. No carols. No shouting but a muted dim far, far away.
I lay on my back, the ground hard and cold beneath me. My face itched, as it always did when lampblack smeared from my hair to my cheeks. Over his shoulder, three scandalously dressed sweets hovered in worried tandem.
I cleared my throat. It hurt. “What happened?” I rasped.
The hard set to Hawke’s mouth did not ease, yet the fingers cradling the back of my neck were gentle as he helped me sit. “You collapsed,” he said flatly.
Collapsed? “I did no such thing,” I contested, but it lacked heat. I could not stop myself from looking about me. The cold dipped into my fustian coat, raked bitter fingers across my exposed cheeks, my knuckles. It did nothing to dispel the heat from Hawke’s grasp. A heat that quickly vanished as he removed himself from my side.
“See to her,” he ordered, already prepared to walk away.
He did, but he did not turn.
Mindful of the girls, the Menagerie prostitutes who would not spare me from gossip, I asked cautiously, “How did I get out here?”
“He carried you,” whispered one; Jane, a blonde thing often used to lure the bored and witless. “Don’t you recall fainting?”
“I do not faint.” But… I must have. “How long?”
Hawke shook his head. “A few minutes,” was all he spared me. “Only long enough to disturb the whole of my Menagerie. You are more trouble than you are worth, Miss Black. Change that.”
I winced, but did not argue. Not now, when he had the advantage by standing on his own feet, under his own power. I felt I’d only embarrass myself if I tried.
The three sweets swooped upon me, mother hens to my dusty chicklet. I caught Jane by the wrist, delicate between my fingers. “Jane. What day is it?”
Concern shaped her brow beneath an artfully curled fringe. “Don’t you recall?”
“Please.” I tried for a smile, but I fear it must have looked awful, because she flinched. “’Tis not Christmas, is it?”
“No.” Another look of concern, this exchanged with Delilah. “’Tis the twenty-fifth of November, miss.” I frowned.
“Eighteen-eighty-seven,” offered the other sweet, whose name I did not know.
Exactly the date I remembered. So why, then, had I dreamt of warfare, a terrible thing called Black Friday, during Christmas?
What nonsense a mind touched by opium may dream. What utter nonsense.
Meet Karina Cooper!
After writing happily ever afters for all of her friends in school, Karina Cooper eventually grew up (sort of), went to work in the real world (kind of), where she decided that making stuff up was way more fun (true!). She writes dark and sexy paranormal romance, steampunk urban fantasy, and writes across multiple genres with mad glee. One part glamour, one part dork and all imagination, Karina is also a gamer, an airship captain’s wife, and a steampunk fashionista. She lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with a husband, a menagerie, a severe coffee habit, and a passel of adopted gamer geeks. Visit her at www.karinacooper.com, because she says so.
Want to purchase Karina’s novels?
The St. Croix Chronicles
Dark Mission Series
- Before the Witches
- Blood of the Wicked
- Lure of the Wicked
- No Rest for the Witches
- All Things Wicked
- Sacrifice the Wicked
Please help spread the word: Tweet: Celebrate the madness with 32 authors while #giveaways ensue during #BlackFriday (Nov23-Dec24) http://tinyurl.com/LEBlackFriday2012 #paranormal #fantasy
Thank you Karina for taking part in Literary Escapism’s Black Friday!
Karina is giving away is giving away 2 copies of Gilded. To enter, all you have to do is answer this one question: What do you think caused Cherry’s fainting spell? Remember, you must answer the question in order to be entered.
Even though I’m not giving the additional entries any more, you can still help support the author by sharing their article, and this contest, on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere you can. After all, the more people who are aware of this fabulous author ensures we get more fabulous stories.
The winner must post a review of the novel someplace. Whether it is on their own blog, Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or wherever, it doesn’t matter. Just help get the word out.
All Black Friday contests will remain open until December 31st at which time I’ll determine the winner with help from the snazzy new plug-in I have. Have you checked out the other Black Friday contests yet? Check out the Master List to see all the Black Friday giveaways
I have not been contacting winners, so you will need to check back to see if you’ve won.