Author: Freedom Matthews
Publisher: Oftomes Publishing
Series: Curses of VIII #1
Release date: July 12th 2016
Genre: YA fantasy
If saying 'I love you' meant death, would you still say it?
The Wilted Rose, of faery-tale and folklore, is a pirate ship filled with unfortunate souls-each forbidden to love. One such soul is Valencia 'Lennie' Roux. Raised in a brothel and an heir to a curse; Lennie never expected to pique the interest of any man. Yet with the arrival of vivid-eyed Nathaniel, she is torn between wanting to know him better and fearing what that knowledge would mean.
With Nathaniel bringing the crew's total to six, the Wilted Rose sets off in search of the remaining two heirs. They hope that in reuniting, they will convince the faery Sorceress responsible for the curse, to end it. However lurking beneath the water is a long standing enemy of the Wilted Rose; who is determined to thwart their quest and bring down its leaders.
Together the eight heirs fight for survival, friendship and love.
Freedom is a twenty-something book hoarder with a fondness for all things vintage. She lives in rural Hampshire, UK, with a hotchpotch of family members, ponies and wonky bookshelves. Creating stories has been a passion since before she can remember, and she has been consciously writing since she was 14 years old. An introverted and shy girl, Freedom found her voice in imaginary worlds and has continued to do so…
The oars hit the water, and Cherie let out a growl. The long and tumultuous journey had seized her joints, but she didn't slow. As the wood pierced the surface again, she looked skyward. The moon shone overhead, a beacon guiding her forward. How long had it been? Weeks, months, or even days? Yet there it was: land.
Reaching the shallows, she pushed out a weary breath; she had made it. Clambering onto the beach, she collapsed onto the sand, and for the first time in days she was still. Two years had passed since she last touched this place, twenty-four months for her life to come full circle. Desperation had brought her here then, and that same need dragged her back. If this didn’t work . . . no, she couldn’t think of the alternative.
Tears spilled down her cheeks as she attempted to stand, she swiped them away. This was not the time to cry; there would be chance enough to do that after she completed her task. Composing herself, she stood. Swaying a little, she pulled in a deep breath and planted her feet.
Before she set off, she adjusted the shawl covered bundle at her breast. The material was grander than the rest of her attire, and tied tightly around her body, creating a sling. With tender hands, she shifted the cargo, her touch so gentle she could only have been carrying the most fragile of burdens. Her forehead creased as she ran her fingertips over the fabric, ensuring nothing had been damaged in her fall.
This was it. She had to move. Throwing back her shoulders and lifting her head, she stepped forward. Her strides did not falter as she crossed the sand. The roads beyond it were silent; every respectable person was asleep. Keeping to the shadows, she danced amongst the inky darkness. Her soundless footfalls troubled no one as she wound through the side streets and alleyways. She didn’t trust the quiet, and her wary eyes searched every darkened corner for imagined ghosts. With a quickened pace, she reached the stable yard, her breathlessness disturbing its occupants. The startled neighs had Cherie tripping over herself. Colliding with a wall, pain shot up her arms. Stopping to examine the scrapes, she leaned against the cool stone. Her breath hung in the air as she tried to settle her pounding heart. Not far to go, she thought, setting off again.
Rivage had been a picturesque village, once. Yet as Cherie dodged around broken glass and eyed the frail hinges of barely usable shutters, she remembered the glory the houses once appeared to possess. Focussing her melancholy elsewhere, she ducked beneath an archway and was greeted by a small weather-beaten bridge. The sight stalled Cherie’s progress, and she skittered to a stop. Crossing this wooden pathway meant her life would be forever-changed. Cherie’s return would not be welcomed but she knew there could be no other choice, she needed help, and across that bridge was the only place she could find it. Her heart was racing with the fear of what she would find on the other side, but she knew that despite her misgivings she would carry on.
Resolute in her choice, she stepped onto the worn bridge, flinching as the damaged wood let out a creak. Was that the sound of regret? She brushed the thought aside. She hadn’t come this far to let trivial demons chase her away now. Cherie ploughed on, trying to ignore the building tension within.
A few strides later, she reached the other side. As the surroundings attacked her senses, she released a pent-up breath. Bittersweet memories threatened to overwhelm her as she took in the view. The clear contrast between the broken village where she had walked and the opulent one in which she now stood was immense. A sign nailed to a post read ‘Quart de Plaisir.’ She gave it little attention as she passed by.
The streets were alight with colour and sound. People were everywhere. As Cherie stepped onto her home turf, a smile bloomed, erasing all traces of tiredness. Singers and musicians cluttered the pavements, their outfits draped like silken shawls. Nothing had changed in her absence; the inhabitants of the underworld remained just as talented and dark as she remembered.
“Welcome back, Ma Cherie” A handsome, long-haired fire eater winked.
“Merci,” she replied as the man swung a lit orb over his head. The crackling flame licked at his skin before extinguishing completely.
Awed by the performance, Cherie stepped back. So captivated by the display, she didn't notice another entertainer at work until she collided with him. She spun, her heart in her throat, as the juggler's arms lurched forward. His ornaments tumbled from his hands. Without missing a beat, he leapt into the air, spinning once, before landing beside the fallen objects. Picking them up, he hurled them one by one, making the blunder part of his act.
The audience cheered, impressed by his expertise. No amount of praise or money could dampen the warning in the juggler’s gaze, however. Cherie’s apology died on her lips as she dove amongst the crowd, putting as much space between herself and the juggler as she could. In her false sense of confidence, she had forgotten the edge that came with the entertainers of the Quart de Plaisir.
Pushing her hair over her face, Cherie wound her way between the performers and their patrons, hoping to remain unnoticed. Despite her best efforts, she was recognised. Folks either acknowledged her with kindness, as the fire eater had done, or shrank back into the shadows… As she made her way across the square, her self-assurance grew; the wait would soon be over.
Cherie paused on her journey, stopping to gaze at a large sculpture which stood in at the central point. Though Cherie had seen and walked past the statue many times, she hadn’t ever truly taken in its form. The figure had been moulded into the shape of a pirate and his lover. Their passionate embrace, cased in iron, represented a forbidden love that had tears blurring her vision. Cherie turned away, so overcome by the image. Returning to her task, she stalked across the square. The châteaux style house she headed for was alight. People crowded it, spilling out onto the porch and beyond.
“Mon Dieu, is that a ghost? Cherie, we never thought we would see you again.”
A woman, dressed in little more than fancy undergarments, left the man at her side and rushed down the porch steps.
Not stopping to greet her friend, Cherie spoke in a rush, the words tumbling out, “I need to speak to Hans I have a favour to ask…”
Her desperation must have been obvious, as the woman grasped her by the arm and all but bundled her through the main entrance. The crowd parted as the two of them charged into the hall. The jangly piano and crowd noise pounded in Cherie’s head as she rushed to keep up the pace.
As they climbed ever upward, each floor was overrun. Men of every shape, size, and class drifted amongst scantily-clad women. All were too immersed in their own worlds to notice the hurriedness of Cherie and her friend.
Reaching the final landing, Cherie stopped to catch her breath. An eerie silence greeted her—which didn't help her nerves. As they continued along the corridor, Cherie noticed each of the door handles were decorated with multi-coloured scarves. These rooms were occupied. Cherie forced herself to breathe; the action brought forth the heady scent of cheap perfume and stale liquor. This all-too-familiar aroma only increased her stress.
“Good luck, mon ami,” her guide whispered, stopping before the final door.
She squeezed Cherie’s hand and kissed both her cheeks, leaving her to confront the demon alone. Cherie stared at the flawed oak before her. Splits and whorls tarnished the finish and represented what lay behind it. As her gaze strayed to the brass plaque, nailed amongst the defects, self-doubt welled up inside her and she pushed away a wave of nausea.
'Agréable, rien de plus que le plaisir:' 'There is nothing more pleasing than pleasure,' was engraved into the metal. Cherie recoiled. To most, this phrase was harmless, but nailed to this door gave its meaning a sinister flair.
Pulling in one last breath, she locked her nerves away. No turning back now. Gripping the handle, she stepped inside. Her heart thudded in her chest as she came face to face with her fear. He hadn’t changed, though Cherie never doubted he would. His tall, lean frame stretched out on a chaise, and his soul-searing blue eyes could not be hidden by his long, curly hair.
“Well, well, well. Look what the argent dragged in,” he said.
His lips twisted around a cigarillo as he nuzzled a young girl draped across his knee. “Returning to your duty, mon canard?” He blew a smoke ring, his bright eyes unwavering. “I'm sure we could find room for another femme de chambre.”
Cherie did not cower at his sarcasm, though her entire being begged her to turn and run. She wouldn’t bow down to his cruelty or make her escape; she had to fulfil the reason for her return.
“Hans…” Before she could continue, the shawl at her breast began to squirm, and the cry of a child echoed throughout the room.