Today I welcome author C.C. Aune to my blog. Her debut novel, The Ill-Kept Oath, came out last September.
Josephine went to bed that night certain her bout with trances had passed—it had been days since her last wandering—and awakened to find herself standing in the dark at the edge of the Heywood. Mildly vertiginous, she threw her arms wide and discovered a pistol in each hand. How this was possible, she couldn’t guess; she had not seen them since Edward confiscated them a fortnight ago.
She cast a glance downward and found herself clad in the oversized jacket, boots, and breeches from her mother’s trunk. The shako perched cock-eyed atop her loose tumble of hair.
“Blast it, not again!”
Voices rang in the distance. A twig snapped nearby, followed by animal-like snufflings. Stifling a whimper, Josephine wondered what she should do. Run? Back away slowly?
Her eyes flicked to the pistols. Small comfort, since they weren’t loaded.
Anyway, I haven’t the foggiest notion how to shoot the dratted things.
She raised her useless weapons and trained them on the woods. Another twig snapped—louder. Closer. She inched backward, heart racing, preparing to bolt for the house.
In an explosion of claws and unholy shrieks, a muscular beast plunged from the thicket. It skidded and wheeled on her, spitting and snarling. Josephine stood transfixed, staring in horror at the hellish figure. A blast of musk assaulted her senses, rousing her as swiftly as a sharp dose of salts. With a throaty cry, she squeezed the trigger of one pistol. The weapon discharged, belching fire and smoke. The beast stumbled, screaming, then regained its footing. Somehow she had shot it square in its left eye. The best cast about with its remaining orb, seeking revenge.
“Oh, help,” she whispered.
The beast’s roving eye fixed on the source of its pain. Through a fog of pure terror, Josephine perceived an intake of breath and gathering of muscles. It took a step toward her, nostrils twitching as it drew in her scent. Puttylike lips lifted, revealing its teeth, which were yellow and countless and lethally sharp. A long rope of saliva dangled from its mouth. Josephine watched, fascinated, as the mucus stretched downward, reached the point of release, and dropped to the ground with an audible plop.
She was so mesmerized by the repulsive details of the creature that she failed to notice it had crept nearer. Now she blinked and swallowed and found herself staring up at its chest. The thing sniffed her over, as if to assess her edibility. Its blown eye socket gaped dark and grisly; rivulets of ocular fluid had already begun to harden on its pelt. The odor it gave off—rotting flesh and old, rancid lard—staggered the senses.
Josephine comprehended that she was an instant from death.
The instinct to survive took over. Quick as lightning, she palmed the other pistol. Pressing the muzzle point-blank to the beast’s chest, she fired again.
Her weapon’s report rang out across the field, followed by a pause and a moan and a reassuring thump. Dogs barked, shouts grew nearer, footsteps pounded through the woods. Josephine bent over the corpse, trying to make sense of its alien features. In the faint starlight, she could see very little, but it was enough. This creature was unlike any animal in her knowledge. If she had no previously heard the soldiers’ musings about trolls, she would never have been able to identify the truth: this was a being of supernatural origins.
Someone’s hands closed over hers, and a voice said, low and firm, “I don’t think you want to be found here, my lady, especially like this.” It was Quimby. “May I have these?” he asked. Josephine nodded and gave the pistols up gladly. He tucked them into a pack, then undid his cloak and threw it over her shoulders.
Josephine was vaguely aware of the lieutenant fastening his cloak at her throat, and afterward bending to examine her face. “Are you hurt?” he murmured. She shook her head.
I killed something. I nearly died. Oh God, I nearly died! It took every ounce of her willpower not to stagger against him and shed relieved tears.
“I’m taking you home,” he said, nudging her away from the corpse. He hailed an approaching soldier. “I’ve dispatched the creature. Have the men burn it and scatter the remains. Oh—and will a crown help you forget who else was here?”
“Aye, sir!” The soldier caught the shining coin as it sailed through the air. His eyes flicked to Josephine before looking away.
Lieutenant Quimby resumed his pressure against the small of her back, propelling her toward Greenbank’s old mill and over the race. As they circled the pond, he said, “Well, then. Tell me how it is you came to kill my quarry in the middle of the night.”
Frightened and shocked as she was, Josephine thought he had some nerve. She snipped, “I’d rather not say. Besides, gentlemen don’t take credit for others’ achievements.”
Quimby chuckled. “Ladies don’t gad about in breeches firing guns. You ought to thank me, you know. You might make it back to bed before anyone realizes you’re gone.”
Josephine hadn’t time to be furious at his cheek. He had marched her up the lawn, and they were close to the house.
Quimby pointed toward a dark side-entry. “Here you are, madam. Good night.”
All of a sudden, the door burst open and Edward staggered out, shrugging a coat over his rumpled nightshirt and cradling a musket in one elbow. He spied them and goggled like one who has lost his mind. “Bloody hell!” he cried, lurching forward.
Quimby threw up an arm. “It’s not what you think! The men and I were conducting an exercise and inadvertently flushed our quarry into the path of Lady Weston.”
“I heard shots—”
“The beast was killed. No harm has been done.”
“No harm!” Edward turned on Josephine, his eyes ablaze with fury and concern. “Why in God’s name are you abroad late at night?”
Normally, she would have stood up for herself, but in this instance, Josephine had no ready retort. Shaking her head, she stepped backward into the officer’s sheltering stance.
Lieutenant Quimby interposed. “That very point, sir, I have already impressed. I’m sure Lady Weston is duly contrite.”
How could she be, for her actions had not entirely been willful? Regardless, Josephine murmured, “Thank you, Lieutenant. It shan’t happen again.” She brushed past the two men and darted inside. Upstairs, she changed clothes, hid Quimby’s cloak, and lay down on the bed. Visions of the slavering, one-eyed beast kept jolting her awake. There was no use trying to sleep, so she lit a candle and staggered to her desk.
“Oh help!” she scrawled.
Maybe now Prudence would finally believe her.
Two cousins. A dark family secret. A looming rebellion.
In Regency England, a mysterious inheritance draws Prudence Fairfeather and Lady Josephine Weston out of candlelit ballrooms and into the shadows of insurrection.
A newcomer to London society, Prudence longs for the enchantment of love and instead finds real magic in her late mother’s ring. But power brings peril, and strange mishaps culminate in an assassin’s bullet. Ensnared by the web of a malevolent socialite, Prudence forsakes romance to fight for her freedom.
Josephine fears an eternity of confined country life until rampaging trolls, a gang of drunken vigilantes, and a flirtatious officer bring her all the adventure she craves. Compelled by birthright to take up arms, she embraces her newfound, unladylike abilities to shield her loved ones from harm.
As danger drives a wedge through their friendship, Josephine and Prudence must face their magical legacy and the enemy who will kill to control them.
About the Author
CC Aune’s ramblings have led her through 49 states—nine of which she has called home—plus a fair number of countries. She has been a journalist and a contributor for the companion book to PBS’s 2000 series In Search of Our Ancestors. Currently, she directs the blog One Year of Letters, which explores the internal landscape of writers. The Ill-Kept Oath is her debut novel.