Of Bells and Thorns
The Rose Master Book 2
by Valentina Cano
Genre: Fantasy, Magic Realism 294 pages
Rosewood Manor has been ashes for weeks.
Left with no post and no home, Anne Tinning never expected to find herself in a luxurious carriage, dressed in the finest of clothes, pretending to be the wife of Lord August Grey. The search for Miss Bellingham, however, will require them to blend into the very height of London society, a class Anne has only ever served, and which August despises. But August insists that the ruse is the only way. For although they’ve vanquished the wraith that called for August’s life, they will never be safe unless they find a way to stop the woman he scorned.
There are traces of Lily Bellingham the length and breadth of London, but when Anne and August investigate the gruesome disappearances in a factory she has just purchased, they realize that Lily is more powerful than either of them. And she has devised a new way to take her revenge.
With another curse placed upon August’s head, Anne must find a way to defeat Lily, and this time, she will have no help from the young man she has grown to love. This time, the curse is more insidious, twisting him into someone unrecognizable.
This time, August Grey is the one she must fear.
Lush, lyrical, and layered in horror-filled suspense, Of Bells and Thorns evokes the feel of classic Gothic literature, blending the magic of a beautiful fairy tale against the rich backdrop of history.
My dress crinkled as I shifted in the plush carriage seats. Still not accustomed to the layers of heavy cloth, I made much more noise than was absolutely necessary. My hand slipped into my gown’s pocket, a pocket I had especially made, and wrapped around the rose. The one that never seemed to wilt, that never crumbled under my touch, that always greeted me with its scent.
And its thorns.
“Damn,” I gasped, bringing my finger to my lips.
“Anne, do you think you could manage to keep your expletives to a bare minimum when we reach the hotel? Otherwise we’ll be thrown out, and I don’t fancy spending another night in the cold.”
“I’ll certainly try.”
August put down the book he’d been absorbed in for the majority of the trip and looked up at me. He shook his head and smiled. The gesture made his thin face even thinner and all I wanted to do was press a pastry on him, or a thick scone with a glob of Devonshire cream on it.
It had been two months since Rosewood Manor burnt down, and he was as insufferable as ever when it came to his health and well being. The cough was gone, at least, swept away like fog when we vanquished the wraith, but his leg still hurt him on wet days, which were most of them this spring season. More infuriatingly, he still waved aside food as if reading alone could keep body and soul together.
One of my corset stays was digging into my ribs and I wriggled to shift it to a more bearable location. I’d worn corsets for many years, but none of them nearly as intricate as the one I wore now and certainly never as tightly laced. When the woman at the shop had wrapped me in it two days ago, I had almost fallen in a swoon of skirts. I had adjusted somewhat to the tightness but I still had to pause to catch my breath at inopportune moments. Scrubbing floors or carrying chamber pots up and down seemingly endless stairs would have been impossible wearing this. I groaned and shifted in my seat again.
“Does my discomfort amuse you?” I asked lifting an eyebrow.
“You look positively miserable, Anne.”
“That is very perceptive of you. If you had to wear all the fabric I am currently suffocating under, it would not be so entertaining, I assure you.”
He reached out, wincing slightly as he moved his weakened leg, and smoothed a bit of cream lace on my new China blue bustle skirt. “Perhaps, but it would not look nearly as pleasant on me as it does on you.” His hand lingered on the fabric just a second longer than necessary, causing a flare of that strange heat the combination of our two innate abilities always created. After a second more, he removed his hand.
The Rose Master
The Rose Master Book 1 194 pages
The day Anne Tinning turns seventeen, birds fall from the sky. But that's hardly the most upsetting news. She's being dismissed from the home she's served at since she was a child, and shipped off to become the newly hired parlor maid for a place she's never heard of. And when she sees the run-down, isolated house, she instantly knows why:
There's something wrong with Rosewood Manor.
Staffed with only three other servants, all gripped by icy silence and inexplicable bruises, and inhabited by a young master who is as cold as the place itself, the house is shrouded in neglect and thick with fear. Her questions are met with hushed whispers, and she soon finds herself alone in the empty halls, left to tidy and clean rooms no one visits.
As the feeling of being watched grows, she begins to realize there is something else in the house with them--some creature that stalks the frozen halls and claws at her door. A creature that seems intent on harming her.
When a fire leaves Anne trapped in the manor with its Master, she finally demands to know why. But as she forces the truth about what haunts the grounds from Lord Grey, she learns secrets she isn't prepared for. The creature is very real, and she's the only one who can help him stop it.
Now, Anne must either risk her life for the young man she's grown to admire, or abandon her post while she still can.
The day I turned seventeen, birds fell from the sky. A flock of them seemed to cross an invisible line, a boundary of packed winter breezes that wrapped them up in a coat of ice, freezing whatever kernel of magic allowed them power over the air. In great chunks, like collapsing hair, they let out feathery sighs and gave in to the fall.
I was out in the courtyard, clearing a pathway through the new snow, huffing at the chill picking away at my bones. I was distracted by strange thoughts and did not see what was happening in the early dawn. Only when I began to hear the soft thuds did I turn.
Mounds of black down spotted the white courtyard. My hands flew to my mouth to cover a yelp of surprise. There were so many birds!
I hiked up my skirt, ignoring the wet hem flapping against my calves, and ran to the nearest bird to see if I could help. My footsteps crunched in the snow that piled around the indentation made by the black feathers.
A crow. A large one, with wings like melted coal, and a satin sheen to its beak that tempted my fingertips.
“Oh, you poor thing. What happened? What happened to all of you?” I looked around at the other bodies scattered in the snow. I’d never seen this before; nothing remotely like it.
I knelt beside the still figure and reached out a hand steadied by hours spent plucking larger creatures. I knew what a bird’s blood looked like, smelled like, felt like under my hands. The twist of their necks, like a cracking piece of chalk, was a familiar one.
I stretched out a finger and stroked one feather. The bird let out a grey cry and scurried up, allowing its talons to grip the packed cold beneath them. It shook its head and turned its eyes toward me. I was too stunned to be frightened; all I could do was stare into its orbs—pits that shone with the knowledge of flight and wind currents, that knew rain and ice intimately.
I don’t know how much time passed before the bird looked away, breaking the connection. I turned my head and saw the rest of the fallen creatures waking from their sudden slumber. One by one, they dipped their wings, seeming to churn the air around them, and lifted off once again into the London morning.
Valentina Cano is a student of classical singing who spends whatever free time she has either reading or writing. She also watches over a veritable army of pets, including her five, very spoiled, snakes. Her works have appeared in numerous publications and her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web. She lives in Miami, Florida.