Time to Pick a Title
Today I’m posting the third chapter of my serialized novel. This installment gives you a little deeper look into our hero, Garrett Sterling. If you’ve read Chapter 1 and 2, you’ve already met Cassandra Darkin. What? You haven’t read them. Quick! Pop over and catch up before you read the third chapter today.
Now that we have three chapters, it’s time to get serious about picking a title. At the bottom of this post, I’ll list some possible titles and give you a chance to cast your vote for one. Or you can suggest one of your own. Enjoy!
“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns…”
Homer, The Odyssey
“Have I any reason to hope you can adopt an expression that makes you appear less constipated?” Garret asked Pierce Langdon, Viscount Westfall as they mounted the long staircase leading up to Almack’s assembly room.
“Have I any reason to hope you’ll refrain from mentally undressing every woman you see?” Westfall countered. “Honestly, Sterling, your mind is as untidy as a boar’s nest and, I might add, filled with even less moral rectitude.”
Garret scoffed. The man was a walking sermon. He would have been annoyed by his upright companion if he hadn’t thought there was entertainment potential in baiting him. “Never say you don’t wonder what’s beneath a woman’s silk and lace or I’ll suspect you’re a secret molly.”
“I’m no molly.” The viscount’s face flushed with sudden color. “Of course I wonder, but a gentleman doesn’t allow his mind to wallow in such speculations.”
“Therein lies your error,” Garret said. “I’m no gentleman.”
They passed a couple on the wide staircase. For the pure cussedness of it, Garret imagined the shapely woman in nothing but her stockings. The pale globes of her bum undulated as she climbed the steps. Despite the pinpricks of headache he experienced when he used his gift, he Sent the image directly to Westfall’s pitiably open mind.
The viscount glared at him. “Swine.”
“If you haven’t the wit to come up with that on your own, you might at least say thank you.” Garret shrugged. “If you don’t like what you see, look the other way.”
“It’s not as simple as that,” Westfall said through clenched teeth. “I can’t look away. Everything that tumbles through the minds around me comes screaming through mine.” He glanced over his shoulder and smiled shyly at the woman behind them. “For your information,” he whispered, “she possesses an imagination as randy as yours. I don’t see the charm myself, but apparently, the two of us are also compelling in naught but our stockings.”
“It’s the knee britches,” Garret said with a chuckle. “Sets a woman’s fancy aflutter. The patronesses insist upon them because trousers don’t reveal nearly so much of what’s on a man’s mind.”
“Would that I had to rely merely on conjecture to determine another’s mental state.”
Westfall’s tone was so unexpectedly bitter, Garret turned to face him. “You don’t much like people, do you?”
“Can you blame me? I know what they’re thinking, after all.” The viscount tugged down his waistcoat to smooth the rich brocade and brushed an imagined speck of lint from his lapel.
He’s a meticulous sort who likes control, Garret realized. To be constantly bombarded by the minds of others, awash in their unbridled lusts and emotions, privy to their secret machinations—Westfall’s psychic ability must be a unique brand of hell for a fastidious man like him. Little wonder he teeters on the edge of madness.
Garret didn’t often spare a thought for the feelings of others, but he was surprisingly sorry for this man.
“You can save your pity,” Westfall said despite the fact that Garret had not offered a word of compassion. “I wasn’t mad when my family consigned me to Bedlam. Despite two years of dubious treatments, I still wasn’t mad when the duke managed to have me released to his charge.” He met Garret’s gaze with steely determination in his gray eyes. “Hearing voices does not necessarily mean one is completely dotty.”
“Only slightly dotty then. I’m relieved to hear it.” Garret handed a pair of shillings to Mr. Willis, Almack’s venerable porter. Along with the coin, he loosed a mental suggestion that he was actually presenting two of the pressed metal vouchers that guaranteed entrance into Polite Society’s Holy of Holies.
The porter handed back the shillings and waved them on.
“So long as I’m sane enough to distinguish my own thoughts from those around me, I consider myself of sound mind.” Westfall pushed open the door. Music, underscored with the drone of myriad conversations, assaulted them. He staggered back a pace, his already pallid complexion blanching further.
“Are you all right, man?” Garret asked.
Westfall’s Adam’s apple bobbed once and he squared his shoulders. “I shall be. It’s been a while since I was in the presence of so many minds.”
“Yes, well, fortunately this is the cream of society so there’s not much going on in most of them.”
“On the contrary, you’d be surprised at how busy a small mind can be. The matron in the corner, for instance, is cataloguing everyone’s attire with as much urgency as a squirrel gathering nuts for winter.” A furrow deepened between Westfall’s sandy brows. “We need to be quick about this, though. I don’t know how long I can bear it.”
“Divide and conquer then. You troll for Daphne Darkin and I’ll see if I can scare up the younger sister. Constance, was it?”
“Right.” Garret surveyed the line of beauties on the dance floor, colorful and graceful as an English garden. One of them was about to become the Duke of Camden’s newest pet project. He almost pitied the girl. “Come find me if you discover something of import and we’ll complete our abduction with dispatch.”
“Abduction? Surely it won’t come to that.”
“I’ll try for a seduction, if that eases your conscience, but one way or another we have to convince the girl to come away with total strangers.” Garret glanced at the sideboard and found Almack’s usual fare—bread sliced so thin he could practically read The Times through it, pound cake and drinks with no alcohol at all. “Pity they only serve tea and lemonade here. An inebriated debutante would be much more pliant.”
“How did His Grace suggest we proceed?”
“The duke doesn’t care how we manage to bring the right lady to Camden House,” Garret said. “His Grace rules by fiat, just like the Almighty. He only speaks and expects it to be done. We must sort out the details ourselves.”
In the worst case, Garret could always imprint the girl’s mind with the thought that, of course, she’d love to risk her reputation by departing without a chaperone in the company of two men whom she didn’t know. He privately thought it would be more interesting if he didn’t have to resort to using his gift. It would indicate a freshness of spirit not often seen in a debutante. And Vesta had said the new fire mage was no virgin, so his interest level on that score was already high. A soiled dove was generally more adventurous than one with a maidenhood yet to lose.
“How long have you been a member of the Order?” Westfall asked as he scoured the room with his penetrating gaze.
“Too long.” It had been six months since His Grace tracked Garret to his lair. He was passed out in an opium den trying to get a handle on the more troublesome aspect of his gift. Being able to shoot a random thought into another’s mind was a devilishly enjoyable ability. Dreaming a future for them that he couldn’t control was much less so.
As much as he chafed under the duke’s leadership, Garret needed help before his nightmares became someone else’s waking reality. If he could avoid having dreams, or at least avoid remembering them, he was less likely to destroy someone.
“Have hope, Sterling,” Westfall said as if he’d spoken his worst fear aloud. “It’s a prodigious load you bear, but the duke is undoubtedly looking for a cure for you.”
“What he’s undoubtedly looking for is a way to use me. And you, Westfall . . .” Garret kept his tone low, but it was full of silky menace. “Stay the hell out of my head.”
So that’s the end of Chapter 3. Now here are some of my title possibilities:
The Education of Miss Cassandra Darkin
The Fire Mage’s Lover
Lord of Flames
Elemental, My Dear Miss Darkin
A Lady’s Secret
The Importance of Being Scandalous
Or… one of your own design??????
As a thank you for helping me choose a title, I’m offering a chance to win one of my Rock*It Reads. On April 15th, I’ll post Chapter 4. Make sure you’re signed up to receive my newsletter and leave a comment on the Order of the Muse blog posts and you’ll be eligible to win your choice from my Rock*it Reads titles. A new winner will be drawn each month. Good luck!The drawing will be on May 1st! Thanks.