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Nearing the End of “The Exile”

There is something particularly satisfying when you realize that you are just two scenes and an epilogue away from the end of your next book. I really hope my friends will appreciate “The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Epoque.”

As more authors will attest…any book is a combination of blood and sweat. “The Exile” posed some significant challenges for me as I had to observe my characters going through that which is beyond life’s normal… And I had to dive deeply into myself to discover the truth I was trying to write.

One of the other exciting bits I have to offer is this…

Janet Taylor…the great JAFF cover artist…has taken on two projects for The Bennet Wardrobe Series!

1)  The Recover of The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey

and

2) The New Cover for The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Epoque Pt. 1

I am also adjusting the soft cover price for “The Keeper” to $7.99 from $12.99 once I republish the updated book in the new wrapper.

Janet and I are working to build a unified “series” look.  Common elements will tie all the books together. Front cover, Spine and Back Cover will tell readers instantly that they are reading a Bennet Wardrobe book.

OK…

Enough selling! Here is another sample chapter (probably the last one you will see before the book goes out for beta proofing!  Enjoy!

>>>>>>

Chapter XXXVI

Fitzwilliam was initially angry with Maggie for presuming to order his existence with the suggestion that the Doctor might prevent him from reuniting with Kitty. With a cool glass of lemonade in his hand, Henry eventually had calmed enough to realize that the young redhead had been serving in his stead as Kitty’s protector for nearly one year. She had every right to question his influence upon Kitty’s mental state.

His soul was far from being at rest. He was tormented by torrents of recrimination at his inability to prevent Kitty’s trials.  His self-reproach competed with a near-homicidal rage at Winters as being the author of her pain.

He recalled the stories Gran had related about the General’s battles with her first husband, one of Britain’s celebrated heroes—something about an elopement, an act considered somewhat scandalous in this modern age, but devastatingly so back in their Regency youth. She used to laughingly say ‘The General would have done for George if old Bonney had not!’  Henry understood just what the General must have felt all those decades ago.

Maybe the Fitzwilliam blood runs a little redder in me. As God is my witness, I will destroy that bastard!

Madame Renoir and Jacques had returned to the room when Maggie cried out upon Henry’s collapse. The Earl, for his part was not ready to engage in conversation.  As was his wont, he stood away from the group, hands clasped behind his back, gazing out through the French doors that overlooked the sun-dappled garden.

Henry stepped out seeking solitude beneath the drooping willows that cooled the manicured lawn surrounding their trunks. Spying a bench hidden behind an ancient trunk, he settled onto the white-painted iron filigree and tipped his head back against the rough bark. He stared at, without seeing, the fragmented and refracted rays that were split by the foliage. A singular peace, a calmness he had not experienced for nine years—plus twenty-odd—overtook him as the worry which had been his constant companion since July drained away.

Closing his eyes, he could feel his consciousness being pulled down into the center of his being. The swirling sensation was unusual but not disquieting. He could feel his entire corpus as if every nerve ending was on full alert, ready to go over the top. He was aware that a world outside of his core existed, but it held no real meaning as his mind expanded and explored the panoply of solutions laid in front of him.

The deeper he slid into the trance the more aware he became of another presence, one that was as much him as it was distinct unto itself. This inner guide was reaching out to him, trying to communicate, to help him find comfort.  Gradually within the reality behind his eyelids he could sense and then ‘see’ another face gazing at him with the kindest eyes…or what he imagined a friendly expression for a phantasmal being. Sound slowly welled up in this other reality.

The whispers became louder as he immersed himself in his thoughts.  But rather than becoming a maddening babble, each stream was crisp and clear. He could ‘reach out’ and touch a current, a solution, and appreciate it for what it was, what potential it could offer.

Holding sight and sound in his metaphorical fingers, Henry could sense that each of these individual strands, while interesting in themselves, had a broader importance when combined.  They were awaiting a unifying force.

When this realization rose to the surface of his internal discourse, the presence appeared within this remarkable environment. An ethereal hand, his and not-his, slid along the filaments, bundling them together with a brilliant thread that coruscated through the spectrum before settling upon the richest hue of china blue.

He reached out and gripped that strand. The haunting familiarity of the color coalesced into a clicking and rapidly moving kineograph, a flipbook, showing at first still pictures, but quickly changing into motion and sound.   And there was only one subject—Miss Catherine Bennet.

Her life in his time flew by. He caught every interaction they had ever experienced, every instance when she had brushed against his consciousness. The sound of her rich alto chuckle echoed across the folds of his mind as she and Ellie had played some sophomoric teenaged prank designed to prick his ‘so-much-older-and-more-serious-than-you’ pretensions. Her infectious happiness morphed into her quiet lip-chewing moments as she wrestled with a difficult color combination in her efforts to capture a sunset over the Peak above Pemberley.

How could he have not known it before?

From that moment he first espied her terrified figure in his chamber’s doorway in those first moments after she had stepped into his life from the Wardrobe, those china blue eyes had wrapped themselves around his heart.

And, he had fought it…for eight years…all because of a woman he could never attain, lost as she was in his future. He had nothing of her, never would have anything of her. Just a fading memory of a feeling, of a scent.

All those years—wasted upon a dream that could never exist in this world.

And then his tears came as he mourned both the past…and the future.

•••

She had quietly slipped down the rear stairs and had passed through Monsieur’s studio to exit into the garden. The meetings with Freud had continued to deliver relief. Today, however, as Kitty processed their work together, left her unsettled, as if the fabric of the universe had been shaken by some unseen gigantic hand. Ripples flowed across her thoughts, the wavelets leaving their traces on the shores of her unconscious mind.

She needed the peace she could only find beneath the willows.

Early on in her sojourn with the Renoirs, Kitty had discovered the hidden treasure that was the garden behind the house. Whenever Monsieur was between compositions, there he could be found. If little Pierre had finally driven the ever-gentle Aline to motherly distraction, Jacques would spell her and spend an hour chasing the youngster through the trees and shrubs. The more Kitty had learned of the Impressionist process, the more she understood the beauty that resided in the Renoir’s garden, whether it was hibernating in February or bursting forth in May.

Crossing the threshold, her shoes touched the lawn so carefully clipped each morning while still damp from the mists that gave the house its name. As she passed the boundary into greenness, she heard a soft, choking sound, as another soul released its sadness, throwing it into the wands that hung from a thousand branches.
Kitty was curious. T’was a man who sobbed. She was drawn to that at once strange yet so thoroughly familiar source of energy radiating from one who rarely released his pain. Rounding the buttresses of the eldest tree in the garden, Kitty nearly fell to her knees when she beheld he who had been haunting her dreams for the past month.

Henry, Oh my poor Henry!

Throughout all the years she had known him, she had never seen him in such a state. His grief when Lydia had died had been profound, but did not reach the gut-wrenching pain she was observing.  The sheen of his tears on his cheeks glimmered in the scattered rays that lightened the darkling shade beneath the ancient willow. His hands rested limply by his legs, palms up, fingers softly curled in supplication.

Something cracked inside of Miss Bennet. The wall that she had been chipping at during the dozens of sessions with the Doctor now suddenly was rent asunder like rotted muslin rather than holding firm like grey field stone. The healing mercy she had so carefully husbanded to bathe her own wounds poured forth.  This she ached to dispense to the bruised figure seated before her.

Kitty moved closer, silently crushing the young green blades beneath her feet.

•••

As Henry’s emotions raged throughout his body, blistering his raw nerve endings, an explosion fractured his fugue. A soundless scent raced through the gap—roses over cut grass—and washed away the channels of sadness and regret scoured in his soul.

So fresh! So new! Into what madness have I descended? Have I displaced myself back to October 1915? Am I trapped behind my eyelids in an eternal time loop?

Then a hand softly stroked his hair back away from his forehead in another familiar gesture not felt for those same nine years. With infinite gentleness, his left hand, so recently unoccupied, reached up as if under its own volition, to grasp that member and pull it down to his lips for a tender kiss.

Am I dreaming? Is She here? Am I there?

Her sudden gasp penetrated his awareness.

His eyes flew open, transitioning him from his inner world to the glorious beauty of Renoir’s garden.

And the china blue eyes under the blonde fringe that had beguiled him for months.

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