My longtime readers should know by now that I love the mini-fiction events; a glimpse into the world, a story by a beloved side character, or an introduction to never before seen action – I love it all and can never get enough.
I’m hosting the first Rust City Book Convention here in the Metro Detroit area, and to help spotlight the authors attending, I’ve come up with a fabulous new feature series – Hidden Treasures. I’ve asked the #RustCity16 authors to write a story, featuring any or all of their characters as they discover a new bit of treasure – i.e. at a flea market, up in the attic, tomb-raiding, etc.
Frolicking In The Attic
Curiosity and anticipation carried her up the circular stairway that ended in a large cluttered room high above the main shingled roof of Ravenswood. The rain tapped a soothing rhythm on the conical roof overhead while dust motes, drifting in the soft light cast by several high windows, settled on shrouded furniture and abandoned rugs, rolled and tied and leaning against corners. A pensive garden angel with a clipped wing sat beside a box of discarded bottles and broken pottery. Two bamboo fishing poles lay across a box of old, musty books. If a ghost inhabited the castle she had no doubt it would reside here – a graveyard of a different sort. Fortunately, she didn’t believe in ghosts.
Spying a series of wooden chests and trunks along a back wall, she wove a path through the cast-offs, some covered, some not.
The first chest released a scent of wood and leather and revealed a variety of discarded toys: wooden blocks, tin soldiers, two bags of marbles, which surprised her in its redundancy. Why two sacks of marbles and not one? She shook her head, replaced the marbles then moved on.
The next chest yielded a collection of men’s clothes. She ran her fingers over a linen shirt noting the narrow shoulders. This must have come from an earlier time as the laird’s muscular frame would have ripped this to pieces. Still it might prove useful. While her father’s Prince Albert might not be fashionable for a lady, it had served her well. So might these. She removed a few plain shirts and a pair of pants that might fit with a belt tightened about her waist, and set those aside.
Pleased with her discoveries, she moved some dusty pottery balanced on top of a third chest. Lavender and patchouli teased her nose as she uncovered several fancy bonnets wrapped in paper that rested on yards and yards of fabric. After carefully setting the bonnets aside, she removed the heavy dresses cut to fit over old crinoline cages of decades past. It would take substantial altering to mold those dresses into current styles, but then what else was she to do? She set the dresses aside. Near the bottom she found a beautiful paisley shawl with tiny moth holes near the fringe. The tiny holes shouldn’t affect the warmth provided by the material, so she added that to her collection, along with a delicate silk chemise and a skirt that must have at one time been part of an elaborate ensemble.
She returned all but one of the heavy dresses to the chest, but paused as she lifted one of the bonnets. Lacy filaments of feathers peeked from beneath the paper. They softly shivered with her movements, teasing her curiosity. She carefully unwrapped the bonnet, revealing a most ostentatious creation of straw, lace, feathers and ribbon. The bonnet itself had a high bill that towered over the forehead, the space filled with downy ostrich feathers that seemed in constant motion. Lace dripped down the sides of the bonnet and formed a curtain that would drape over the back of the neck. Hats of the current fashion were practical affairs that sat flat on the top of the head and shaded the face. She turned the bonnet in her hand. Unless the wearer had her back toward the sun, this straw concoction would offer no shade at all.
But there was something about the pure non-practically of the frou-frou trimmings that called to her. Never having owned such a frivolous confection, she quickly glanced right and left to verify that no one would witness her foolishness. She slipped the bonnet over her head and tied the wide silk ribbons under her chin.
Just wearing the frothy bit of fashion made her a bit giddy. She glanced around the dusty space, hoping to find a mirror. Her gaze settled on a tall flat shape against the wall, draped with white sheeting. Climbing over similarly draped tables and chairs, she made her way to what she hoped would prove a mirror. Tossing back the sheet, she suddenly saw herself in a way she had never before been presented.
Not that she was suddenly beautiful. No magic, and certainly no hat would miraculously make that sort of change. Her nose was still too large for her long face, and her eyes too bold and assessing. No, she certainly wasn’t beautiful, but the impractical hat flattered her face in the framing as if she were. And somehow, that made all the difference.
A smile twisted her lips as she studied herself from side to side, imagining she was a belle strolling through Hyde Park on the arm of a beau. Someone wearing a bonnet with dancing ostrich feathers would do just that. Or maybe she’d be asked to dance at a ball instead of relegated to the chairs by the wall. Suddenly she wanted to try the other out-dated bonnets in the chest and preen in front of the mirror with her own foolish fantasies. No one would ever know.
After sampling the other two bonnets, she returned to the first, her favorite. She slipped it on her head, most likely for the last time, and moved to the mirror to try her hand at tying the blue ribbon in a saucy bow to the side of her face, just as she had recalled seeing in old magazines.
The bow tied, she twisted and turned before the mirror. She even pursed her lips in a pretend kiss. Lips that touch liquor will never touch mine, the slogan slipped into her mind. An image of the laird’s very sensual lips beckoned in her imagination, but before she could consider the unlikely possibility of a kiss, a cold wet nose pressed her wrist. Her heart jumped, chasing all rational thoughts from her brain. She looked to her side.
“Peat! How did you sneak up here? You scared me.”
She bent to pet the dog, who rewarded her with powerful swings of his long tail, stirring up dust and snagging some of the protective sheeting. One bold swish and he partially exposed what she immediately recognized as a camera lens.
Hurtful memories of her father slammed hard into her chest, weakening her knees. She slumped onto a sheet covered table while Peat tried to snake his head under her hand.
It’s all your fault! Don’t buggle that frame! I don’t believe you’re mine. I could never sire such an ugly child. Is it a wonder I drink? Go away, you useless thing.
Even though the man was dead and buried, his drunken rants reached her from the grave. While he had made such comments in anger, they were all the more hurtful because she knew them in her heart to be true.
Who was she fooling? She was ugly, and a silly bonnet wouldn’t make her beautiful. She was unwanted by everyone except her friends of the Rake Patrol. Living in fear that one day their friendship would vanish, she kept a ferocious grip on them. Still Edwina had married leaving her behind. It was only a matter of time when Faith and Sarah found their matches. Then she would have no one. Alone and useless, with only a talent to create temperance slogans to keep her company. Her eyes burned at the prospect of her reality. Hardly a fairy tale existence.
“There you are!” The affection in the laird’s deep voice set her cheeks to warm even as she swiveled toward the entrance. Peat eagerly trotted to his master, toppling anything unattached to a solid base in the process.
Claire swiped a tear that had begun a trek down her cheek, then rallied a thin veneer of courage to hide her maudlin thoughts. “I beg your pardon, sir. Were you addressing me or your dog?”
“Sir?” One side of his mouth twisted upward while he dodged the dog’s affectionate tongue.
His loving attention to the animal answered her query as no words could. What silliness on her part to think a man would address her in such warm tones. She discretely swiped another tear while the laird was distracted by the dog.
“There’s no need to call me sir…” He lifted his head, squinting in her direction. “What’s that on your head?”
The bonnet! She’d forgotten the silly concoction remained perched above her face. What a ridiculous sight she must present. A plain woman dressed in practical black with a rainbow tied to her head. Her hands quickly reached for the ribbons.
“Nothing,” she said. “Just something I found in a chest.”
Bother! The blasted strings tightened in a knot further securing the proof of her foolishness. Frustration increased her embarrassment.
“Your mother sent me to look for clothes,” she explained. “I wasn’t prying.”
Bother. Bother. Bother!
“Clothes?” His eyebrows dove into a scowl. “You appear adequately dressed. Why do you need clothes?”
His sullen expression effectively banished her embarrassment. Did he not realize that she intended to stay as an uninvited houseguest? She stopped fidgeting with the ribbons and fisted her hands on her hips. “I won’t leave Faith.”
“Why not? The mewling mouse did.” He rose from his crouched position.
“I’m no mewling mouse,” she declared, though a part of her felt small indeed compared to his towering mass. The sooner she extricated herself from this room the better. She renewed her efforts on the wretched ribbons. The fancy bonnet slipped off her head in protest and dangled off the back of her neck like a bucket begging for rain.
“That much I can see.” He stepped forward. She hastily stepped back.
“Be still, English,” he commanded. “You’re bound to trip and break your neck.”
Given the hazards strewn about, she had to concede his point. She’d had enough difficulty dodging the chests moving forward, much less back.
“I canna have two female invalids in the house at the same time.” He approached until he was a breath away, then bent close, staring at the knot at her throat. “What would people say of me then?”
She heard laughter in his voice, though for the life of her, she couldn’t imagine what he found humorous. She herself was far from laughter, mortification perhaps.
He raised a brow, while his fingers worked the knot. “I’d be branded a white slaver for certain.”
Bother, bother, and bother again. Would he never forgive her for that misunderstanding? She wanted to apologize, but her throat wouldn’t co-operate. His fingertips brushed her skin, robbing her of words. Only harsh squeaks would likely result if she tried.
Instead, she studied the wild unruly brown hair that curled and flowed unbridled and free on his forehead, a fashion vastly unsuitable for the polite society of London, yet appropriate here in this unchecked wilderness. It suited him, she thought. It must suit her as well as her fingers longed to touch it, brush it aside. Brush it away from those intense brown eyes with golden flecks focused on her neck. Even his very eyes defied the ordinary.
“If it’s clothes you’re needing, you won’t be finding them in these musty old trucks,” he said.
He was so close, his scent — warm with a hint of smoke, sweet with a touch of spice — made her a bit giddy. She quietly breathed in his warm richness, letting it fill her lungs. She never expected that one who brewed the demon spirit could smell so downright delectable.
The tops of his knuckles slid across the sensitive underside of her chin, setting off tingling reverberations around her jaw and throat that reached deep to her ribcage. Her breath caught, her eyes closed, her knees weakened. No man had ever touched her there. How was she to know even an accidental touch had such physical ramifications? What if he were to touch her elsewhere? Her cheeks warmed, her corset squeezed much too tight.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing here, English. Nothing but sad memories.”
She opened her eyes to mere slits, peering at him from beneath her lids. How could he know of her earlier thoughts? However he wasn’t looking at her, just the knot. His melancholy was his own, she realized, wondering what kind of memories would bring that despondent tone?
Suddenly, a glint of victory lit his eyes. He lifted the bonnet from it’s awkward position.
“Nothing but sad memories and old hats.” He smiled down at her.
“Thank you,” she said, already mourning the loss of his intimate posturing.
He held the frilly bonnet aloft like a prize. “Where did you find this ridiculous piece of fluff?” He laughed. “And why in the name of all that’s holy would you be wearing it?”
Her back stiffened. Any lingering sentiments of his ravishing scent and seductive touch vanished beneath his mockery. He saw her practical blouse and her practical skirt and deemed her not worthy of a little bit of frothy lace, of a little bit of feminine frivolity. He was no different than any other man in this. She snatched the bonnet from his hand, then carefully re-wrapped it in the tissue-paper. “Did you come here for some purpose other than ridicule, Mr. Macpherson?”
“Ridicule?” His eyes widened. “That wasn’t…”
She glared at him over her shoulder as she placed the bonnet back in the wooden chest.
“I was searching for Peat,” he stated in a huff. “He’s usually right by my side, but lately…” She felt the heat of his narrowed gaze on her back. “He’s deserted me in favor of you. Why is that, English?”
Meet Donna MacMeans!
Donna MacMeans writes humorous and intriguing historicals, and paranormals that entice with everything from a Victorian striptease, Japanese shunga, invisibility, and time-travel. Her stories have won many awards including the prestigious Golden Heart from Romance Writers of America, the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Historical Love & Laughter, as well as recognition in many regional contests. She teaches workshops across the country on writing and on taxes for writers. (She’s a licensed CPA?). Both her books and workshops consistently receive high praise and glowing reviews.
When her fingers aren’t on a keyboard or adding machine, she loves to dance. In fact, she met her husband on a dance floor in Cleveland, Ohio. Married 40+ years, she lives in Columbus, Ohio with two adult children close by and a black cat that loves to attack her ankles. She paints in acrylics, roots for the Ohio State Buckeyes (her alma mater) and periodically creates desserts with copious amounts of alcohol. She’s the Treasurer of the National organization, Romance Writers of America, and a member of Central Ohio Fiction Writers, Northeastern Ohio Romance Writers, and the popular blog group, Romance Bandits. Most important, she’s soon to be a first time Grandmom (yay!). She is always approachable and loves to hear from her readers.
Want to purchase ’s novels?
Don’t miss your chance to meet some amazing authors at Rust City Book Con next August! Come join us in our celebration of all things genre fiction in the Motor City! Registration is open for #RustCity16!