Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Chapter 1 of Devastating Sorrow



My newest book series is all about an immortal named Penelope (Penny) Ann Montague. She's a 150 year old woman who is entirely sick and tired of life. She's tired of living the long, endless days. At night she works as a phone sex operator just to feel some sort of connection to the human race. She certainly doesn't do it for the money. And during her off hours she experiments with her immortality in an attempt to end her long, lonely existence after the death of her only child.

Penny has an annoying younger brother who is also an immortal. Byron Montague is nothing but an annoyance these days. He's a womanizing beast who enjoys the finer things in life: watches, cars, clothes, and other men's wives. If it's pretty and sparkly he wants it.

In their world, Penny and Byron are the results of a birth defect. Born in a time when women lost more children than not, Penny and Byron grew and aged, watching siblings come along, and enjoying their simple life, until one day it wasn't so simple anymore.

Once their immortality was discovered, the two were whisked away to the immortal world. They were raised by an immortal witch who recognizes Penny's affinity for the magic all around us. Penny learned and grew in strength, but Byron--who didn't have a lick of magical talent--was sent away to school.

After years of training, Penny joins the North American Immortal Faction and Byron goes off to college, quickly becoming the party animal he is today. This is where the two are in their stories when Byron shows up on Penny's doorstep, in trouble yet again.

Check out Chapter 1 of Devastating Sorrow to see where that middle of the night knock on the door leads.






DEVASTATING SORROW
CHAPTER 1

     I've never understood the desire to talk to someone on the phone during intimate activities with yourself. Why is it necessary for some men to spend hundreds of dollars in order to hear another voice on the other end of the line while using his own hand to elicit satisfaction? I highly doubt these men are ignorant enough to mistaken the sound of a crude performance for real lust and affection, and yet there are the regulars who call back night after night asking specifically for “Miss Veronica”.
     Of course Miss Veronica is merely my phone sex operator name. I would never give these men my real name. Who knows how dangerous, and possibly embarrassing that would be out in the real world? But then again, after living for one hundred and fifty years there isn't much left that does embarrass me.
     If it wasn't for the freedom and security in the phone sex industry I wouldn't be able to afford the lifestyle I lived. Well, that's not true. I can afford anything I want, what with all the money I had squared away in numerous accounts around the world, but I get bored. Yet, I enjoy the quiet solitude and the ability to stay out of the public eye this job affords me.
     The world has changed so much since I was born that now I don't even have to leave my house for weeks at a time if I so desire. With the internet, cell phones, grocery deliveries, and the ability to pay bills online automatically, I can hide away and wallow in my self-doubt and depression without drawing unwanted attention to myself.
     “Are you still there, Miss Veronica?” the raspy, panting voice on the line asked. He'd finished with a grunt and a moan seconds before, after asking me to say something derogatory about his mother.
     “Oh yes,” I cooed seductively while flipping to the next page in the newest Cosmopolitan edition. Yet another article about how to please your man in bed. With an eye roll, I tossed the magazine to the other side of my brown suede sofa.
     The battery on my phone chirped annoyingly to remind me that it was time to end this call with Charlie Brown. And yes, that's what he said his name was. I had no idea if it were true or not, and I didn't care in the slightest.
     “Oh, Charlie. You're so hot,” I drawled. “You make me so horny. I hope you'll give Miss Veronica a call again real soon.”
     “But, wait. No,” he stammered with a gasp. “Are you sure we can't just talk for a little while longer? I don't mind paying.”
     Sure, I wouldn't mind the extra money, but I was done for the day. Listening to these men grunt and groan and pretend to be my lovers was mentally exhausting to the point of making me want to throw myself off the top of this five story apartment building. Again.
     “Thank you for the offer, honey pie, but after this time with you, Miss Veronica is exhausted. You tire me out, handsome.” I threw in a yawn to get my point across. If he couldn't tell the difference between real sex sounds and fake it was doubtful he could tell a fake yawn when it slapped him in the face.
     “Um. Okay then,” Charlie sighed. “Is it okay if I call you again, tomorrow? At the same time?”
     Covering the phone with my hand and holding it away. I growled loudly toward the ceiling before returning it to my ear. “Sure thing, honey pie. You go ahead and call Miss Veronica whenever you want between the hours of nine and three, Tuesday through Saturday.”
     He said something else, but I didn't make it out before I clicked the phone off and placed it in the charging base on the table beside me.
     I pulled my laptop from the coffee table, crossed my legs and placed it on top of them. After each call session, the company I worked for—Hot Young Women, Inc.—required all of its operators to access a private operators’ log board to share information about our callers, what they liked, what they requested, and how long the calls last. This helps others who may get calls from the same clients stick to what those clients enjoy. It's also a good way to pinpoint the troublemakers who are looking for more than just a few minutes of noise to jerk off to.
     I logged my information about Charlie Brown, noting that this time he had talked a lot more about his mother than usual. I online chatted with a few of the other operators who were calling it a night before logging off and plugging my laptop up to charge next to the phone.
     It was a quarter after three in the morning, but with the hours I keep this was the middle of the day for me. I made a sandwich and grabbed a grape soda from the fridge. I had just placed the can on the table next to my plate when there was a loud, aggressive knock at the door. I jumped at the banging and glanced around the apartment, fully expecting cloaked invaders to crash through the floor-to-ceiling windows on the east facing wall.
     Abandoning the idea of assassins attacking me, I made my way to the door and peered through the tiny peephole. “Shit.” Him again? He was always causing me trouble, no matter how we left things the last time we parted.
     He banged again, harder this time, bouncing the door on its hinges. I pulled away before I was dealing with an eye injury as well as the annoying visitor.
     “Come on, Penny. I know you're in there.” When I didn't respond he added, “I can see your eye.”
     “Shit.” I shook my head and reached for the deadbolts. “Okay. Okay. Give me a minute.” Three deadbolts, one slide bolt, a chain, and a door knob later I stared out at my little brother.
     Without asking, Byron Montague barged through the door, pushed past me, and proceeded to sit his ass at my table and help himself to my sandwich and soda.
“Hey! I was going to eat that.” I grabbed the plate from his hands and threw the bitten sandwich into the kitchen sink.
     With a full mouth, he popped the top of the soda can and gulped greedily. He swiped his mouth with the back of his hand before plopping the can back down on the table and leaning back in the chair. “I was eating that. Ever heard of family generosity? Do you have any beer?” His long, lithe legs stretched out in front of him as he reached his hands toward the ceiling. I heard his back pop and he groaned.
     “Out of shape, little brother?” I scoffed. “You know better than that.” He propped his feet up in the next table chair and I smacked him on the back of the head. “Feet down.” I sat in the chair to his right and turned it to face him with a sigh. “Why are you here?”
     “What?” He tried to look all innocent, but I knew better.
     Byron looked a lot like me. He had the same wavy dark hair, the same complexion, and even a similar jawline, though his was a bit more pronounced than mine. Everyone had thought us twins when we were children, but I'm actually older.
     Up until puberty we aged just like any other person around us, but after that our bodies slowed down drastically. We might age five to ten years in about one hundred years of living. My brother and I looked to be in our twenties, when in actuality we're seven times that.
     The immortal community had men and women who looked to be in their eighties or nineties. No one really knows how old they are though. Most of the time they don't know themselves.
     Byron's flawless skin, blue eyes, and messy black hair might get him whatever he wanted from unsuspecting twenty-somethings, but I knew my brother was a pro at manipulating people. I just wasn't one of those people.
     “Don't give me your bull shit, Byron.” I crossed my arms and narrowed my gaze. “What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into this time? Oh, and did you happen to notice that it's three in the morning? Who bangs on someone’s door like that at three in the morning?”
     “Aww, I knew you'd be awake, Sis.” He glanced at a Rolex wristwatch. I wondered what rich woman he'd slept with to get that little pretty. He leaned in close, placing both hands on my arms. Giving a little squeeze he looked deep in my eyes. “I know all about your little phone job. I knew you'd be up. Besides, we missed getting together for Thanksgiving, and Christmas was a couple weeks ago.”
     I gasped. How did he know? I hadn't seen him in months and I never told him anything about my private life anyway. Byron was trouble with a capital T, and I'd learned over the years not to tell him anything I didn't want the entire immortal population, and half of the human race, to know.
     He released my arms with a chuckle, retreating to the kitchen sink and retrieving the sandwich. “Don't worry, big sis, I haven't told anyone about you masquerading as Miss Veronica.” Returning to the table, he took another big bite from the sandwich and sat again.
     I frowned deeply, watching my brother pig out on my sandwich at three in the morning. The city outside was quiet, but the noises coming from Byron's mouth reminded me of our childhood. Slopping the hogs wasn't much different than my brother's eating habits.
     I took a deep, calming breath, laced my fingers in my lap, and narrowed my gaze at the messy man in front of me. “I'll ask this one more time, little brother, and this time I better get a straight answer.” He looked up from the nearly gone sandwich. Seeing that I was completely serious, he placed what was left back on the plate and sat up a little straighter. “Why are you here?”
     “I'm worried about you, Penny.” Tiny lines formed around his eyes and across his forehead as he frowned.
     “Bull shit.” I knew better than to think my self-centered little brother felt anything closely resembling worry after all these years where I was involved. More likely he was concerned his safe haven would disappear.
     “Not bull shit!” His fist came down hard on my table. “I've heard things. Things about you.”
     Who would be talking about me? I kept to myself and didn't interact with any of the other immortals. The few interactions I had were always with humans who could be easily manipulated and convinced that anything out of the ordinary was, in fact, perfectly normal. All it took was telling them I was a foreigner and had a phobia to crowds. That worked in almost all situations where my youthful appearance and my desire to refrain from socializing came into question. And when that stopped working I moved to a different part of the country.
     “And who has been talking to you about me? One of your little sluts, maybe? Or could it be one of their husbands?” I shook my head and walked away. I settled on the sofa and grabbed the remote control. At this time of the night there wouldn't be anything more than infomercials on, but even that was better than listening to Byron.
     “Not even close,” he said, stomping toward me. “Not only do I know about the job, but I also know about your new obsession with ending your life.” He grabbed at the remote, but I held it up and away. “I know you've been researching and trying out all kinds of different techniques.”
     If he knew even a fraction of what he thought he knew about my suicide attempts he wouldn't be as calm as he was. I thought I'd come close the last time I tried, but I woke up three days later alive and fully healed from the freezer burn. Disappointment wasn't even the right word to describe how I felt that day.
     He grabbed at the remote again, but I shoved it down behind me into the cushions, accidentally pushing buttons along the way. The television switched channels a few times, ending up on CNN. “Don't be a child, Penny! Give me the remote!”
     Byron shoved me over to the next cushion and retrieved the remote from the depths of the sofa. A sticky gum wrapper came along with it, but he pulled it off before stabbing at the Off button. The apartment went silent, again.
     He sat down next to me. He was breathing heavy, which was very unusual. “You really are out of shape, aren't you?” In all the years we've been immortal, Byron and I made sure we were always in tip top shape. In the early years we never knew when someone would notice we didn't age and we'd have to fight or run for our lives. This was out of character.
     “Wanna explain the suicide experiment?”
     “Wanna tell me where you've been in the last few months? Someone keeping you hidden away in their secret love dungeon, or something?”
     He sighed deeply, shaking his head, and sitting back into the cushions. “Not even close to funny, sister.” It was at that moment I really took a good look at my brother.
     The wrinkles around his eyes were new; we didn't have wrinkles, and probably wouldn't for several more centuries. His usual smooth, shiny hair was ragged and dull, longer than he normally kept it. The ends were split and frizzy like he hadn't had a trim in months. He wore a faded Atlanta Braves T-shirt, a little on the big side, and a pair of faded jeans with both knees torn out. They didn't fit quite right either. The most shocking was what he wore on his feet. Flip-flops. Byron didn't wear flip-flops!
     The only Byron-like thing on his body was the Rolex watch on his wrist. He liked the finer things in life: food, wine, clothes, cars, and women. Something was askew here.
I pinched a bundle of denim on the leg of his jeans. “Where did you get these clothes, Byron?”
     Throwing his head back, he scrubbed at his face with both hands. “Ugh! I was hoping I wouldn't have to tell you, but maybe if I do you'll tell me what's up with you,” he mumbled from behind his hands.
     “Tell me what? Where have you been the last nine months?” I leaned in close, my nose only inches from his face. “Tell me.”
     He pulled his hands away and slowly returned my gaze. “I've been in the dungeons of Midnight Manor.”
     “Are you joking? 'Cause that's not funny in the least, Byron.”
     He dropped his eyes and didn't even bother to respond to my question. A few seconds later and it finally clicked for me.
     Jumping from my seat, I screamed, “Midnight Manor?” Tears pooled in his eyes, but he'd never let them fall. He blinked to clear his vision and stretched out a hand. “Come sit back down and I'll tell you everything.”
     “I doubt that,” I shouted back. “You never tell me everything!” I picked up a near-by book and aimed for his head. He ducked to one side and the book zoomed past his ear. “Midnight-fucking-Manor!”
     I paced in the area between the dining room table and the living room coffee table. How could he do this? Something like Midnight Manor wasn't just about him. If anyone, and I mean anyone, there knew Byron had a sister they would find me. Trouble with Midnight Manor was a family affair.
     “How could you do this to me, Byron?” Ringing my hands, I paced back and forth, back and forth. “What did I ever do to you to constitute Midnight Manor?” I wasn't a bad sister. Was I?
     I had raised him the best I could once we had to leave our parents and younger sisters behind. Hadn't I? What could I have done differently? Nothing, that's what! We had lived through some really tough times full of disease and poverty. I'd done the best I could until he finally decided it was time to be an adult and go out on his own. His decision had broken my heart, but it was the right thing to do for both of us. He'd gone to college and I joined the guard.
     Byron rose and strode over to me. He grabbed my hands and stopped my pacing. “You did nothing, Penny. You were the best sister and mother you knew how to be. None of this is your fault, and I'm sorry I brought this down on our heads.”
     “Then why did you do it?” I hadn't realized it until a tear rolled down my cheek, but I was sobbing at this point. “Why did you have to do something that bad? Couldn't you have stuck to your normal scams?” Sobbing harder, I slid to the floor and fell into a broken pile of myself. “Why Midnight Manor?”
     He sat on the floor in front of me, rubbing my back and stroking my hair. Over and over he said he was sorry, but all I could think of was how grateful I was our parents and sisters were long gone. I couldn't have stood the thoughts and despair if they had been trapped inside Midnight Manor. Or worse.
     After the heaving sobbing subsided, I lifted my head and swatted his hands away from me. “Tell me, now, what you did. How did this happen, Byron?” I backed up and propped against the nearest wall. I hugged my knees and glared at my brother until he spoke.
     “It all started when I met this woman—”
     I held up my hand. “I'm going to stop you right there. Give me the abridged version.”
     He sighed and shook his head. “Fine. Here it is. I screwed the wrong man's wife and he had power enough to throw me under the manor with enough charges to make immortality a never-ending torment of skinning, burning, drowning, and all sorts of other creative punishments.”
     I flinched at the thought. I'd heard the rumors of the kinds of tortures they were happy to dole out at Midnight Manor, and none of them were even close to as pretty as burning and skinning. And, of course Byron's trouble would be brought on by a woman. He never could keep his dick in his pants, even when his life depends on it.
     I rested my forehead on my knees. How could we get through this? There had to be a way to take care of this without him going back to the manor.
     “Wait a minute.” A thought hit me. “Why are you here?”
     “What do you mean?” His forehead wrinkled. “I'm here for you.”
     I shook my head. “No, you know what I mean.” I pointed at him. “If you were in the dungeons, why are you here now? They wouldn't just let you go.”
     The only way Midnight Manor released a prisoner was if that prisoner could offer them more alive than dead, or incarcerated.
     There was that guilty look. Even as young children I could tell when Byron was lying or felt guilty about something. He had a hard time hiding those feelings from me. And after nearly two centuries he wasn't any better at it.
     “What did you promise them?” I demanded. He stood and stomped to the fridge. He pulled another soda out and popped the top. I watched in disbelief as he took a long pull off the can. “Byron!”
     Slamming the fridge door closed he yelled, “You! Okay? I promised them you!”
     I slowly rose from the floor. “Me? What do you mean you promised them me?”
     He leaned over the sink like he was going to be sick. His voice echoed in the stainless steel as he replied, “I promised you would help retrieve a runner.”
     “Why would you do that? You know I left the business!”
     The anger rose swiftly. I couldn't believe he would do such a thing. And all for a woman, at that!
     When he didn't answer me, the anger boiled over. I charged him, screaming like an Amazonian warrior. He turned just in time for my fist to make direct contact with his jaw. Bones crunched beneath my knuckles and his face moved in slow motion from one side to the other with the force of my strike. I'd caught him so off-guard he didn't have time to strengthen his stance against the blow so his entire body flew to the left. He bounced off the in-wall oven and landed in a pile at my feet.
     A short whimper came from him, but I didn't care. “Get up, you back stabber! Take what you have coming to you!”
     “Penny, stop. Please,” he moaned, holding up his hands in surrender. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth and dripped onto my clean linoleum floor.
     “Get up,” I growled. “You're getting blood on my floor.” I walked away from him toward my bedroom. I cursed loudly as I pulled blankets and a pillow from the top of my closet. Handbags fell to the floor, but I just kicked them to the side and continued stomping back to the living room. “Don't get blood on my couch, you dick!”
     I dropped the bedding on the couch and stomped back to my room, slamming the door and muttering to myself about how irresponsible and untrustworthy my brother had turned out to be on the way to the en suite. “How could I have screwed him up so badly? He was a decent kid at one point,” I questioned the empty bathroom while stripping clothes off and tossing them into the plastic hamper against the wall.
     I showered while thoughts of how I intended to handle this situation ran through my head. One scenario after another played through my mind. None seeming the right fix. Of course I'd have to do whatever Midnight Manor wanted in order to save Byron from an eternity of torture, but I didn't have to be happy, or very cooperative about it.
     Runners were very complicated creatures. The elders of the immortals consider runners to be any immortal who doesn't abide by their rules and desires, and then tries to take off instead of facing judgment. Thus, runners. Runners could vary from one extreme to another depending on the elder immortal who is doling out the judgment at the time. Some are a little more fickle than others.
     The mildest example of insult resulting in time spent at Midnight Manor was back in 1805 when a French immortal decided he didn't want to speak with the Immortal King after a dinner party. The offending Frenchman felt ill after eating tainted shellfish and instead of saying good night to the king he merely left. The next morning he found himself shackled to a dungeon wall at Midnight Manor. As far as I know, he's still there.
     The most severe incident was an immortal woman who severed the head of her neighbor, who just so happened to be sleeping with her husband. It didn't kill the neighbor, but it would take centuries for the woman's head to reattach to her body. And that's if the doctors could keep the body's tissue viable enough for all those years.
     The offending woman was punished by having her own head removed. Her live and talking head was currently in a collection room at Midnight Manor. Or though that's how the story goes. I've never seen it for myself. I stay as far away from Midnight Manor as possible.
     Dressed in my favorite pair of yoga pants and tank top, I crawled into bed. “I'll think of something,” I whispered to the bedside lamp as I flicked the switch.
     I fell asleep with thoughts of our parents. What would they tell me to do? Honestly, they wouldn't know what to say. They were simple people in a simple time. They never expected to have immortal children, much less two of them. It was merely a genetic defect. Unlike other birth defects, their children didn't die as infants. They live forever.      Sometimes I wished I'd died all those years ago. At least then I wouldn't be trying to find a way out now.