Monday, 7 January 2013

Excerpt from 'Listen to the Heartbeat'

As the countdown to publication day of 'Listen to the Heartbeat' continues (write it down in your calendar, folks, it is January 18th 2013), you may wish to have a look at how the novel begins. So if you want to read on, there's an excerpt here below. But first, let me boast once more about the cover. Isn't it beautiful?

So here is the excerpt:
The stale air steamed in the room, which was saturated with a week’s worth of humidifier mist. Lucy fought back the urge to wipe the sheen of perspiration that coated her forehead. A quick dab with her silky handkerchief would do. But that would definitely qualify as a slap on father’s face and would most assuredly stick her with an hour-long sermon on her miserable failure to have turned into a refined beau monde mademoiselle. “Educated young ladies never display disrespect for the basic needs of the ill and frail,” he would say, struggling to breathe as the humidifier only provided small relief. Her father had made a considerable investment in her expensive education, and expected—no, demanded—a high standard of behavior as part of the dividend.
Lucy stole a quick glance at him. Edward Whitfield looked a lot frailer today than any other day in the past few weeks. His thin body, once athletic and stalwart, now was that of a wrinkled child. It would not be long before the cancer would consume the last part of him, but Lucy had no doubt that the very last part claimed would be his caustic tongue. His eyes were glazed by fever, and he’d just finished spilling his guts into an enamel bowl. But even at this very moment, Edward still had enough breath left in him to huff at his team of doctors over poor medication choices. At his current tempo, there seemed to be only two options left, she mused. Either spend his fortune on the creation of a new anti-spew potion, or find a new medical team overseas after having sacked all available U.S. oncologists.
Strength is derived by ignoring the weaknesses of the human physique and relying on the infinite power of the human mind,” Descartes had once said. Maybe that’s how her father’s spirit was still strong as a bull, even though he had one foot in the grave and the other one firmly on the edge. Her father quoted those damn Descartes teachings day in and day out. Additionally, he had her read them aloud to him, what seemed like one hundred and one times a day. The motto of existentialism, he called it: “Je pense donc je suis. Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am.” No wonder she woke up in the middle of the night, chanting like a lunatic.
Je pense donc je suis. Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am.”…
Je pense donc je suis. Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am.
Je pense donc je suis. Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am.
That must be how cults hypnotized people and turned them into lifelong puppets.
Lucy risked another furtive glance his way. Maybe there was a chance now to wipe her forehead without him blustering at her even for moving her hand. Or even better, to sneak out of here together with the damn copy of Descartes’ volume from her father’s priceless library. Lucy ran with that thought, dreaming of digging a deep hole at the bottom of Edward’s beloved Longleaf Pine and burying the wretched book topped with a huge bucketful of dung.
A small vibration started tickling Lucy’s hip and grew stronger and stronger as the seconds ticked by. To risk or not to risk? She stuck her hand between the folds of her dress and took out the cell phone, stealing another furtive glimpse at her father. His eyelids had drooped under the spell of his exhaustion, but an erratic flutter was still haunting them. Returning her attention to the phone, she looked fondly at the handsome face displayed on the screen. Peter Randall’s pale blue eyes were staring back at her, bearing funny little crinkles at their corners as he was smiling at her with those lips that were the cornucopia of her fantasies at night and the very essence of her daydreams.
“Hey!” Lucy picked up and breathed into the handset, her voice a faint whisper.
“Hey, babe.” Peter’s voice caressed her senses, velvet soft. “Is it safe to talk?”
“Uh-uh,” she said, looking warily toward the huge king size bed. “Not yet…maybe in another half an hour.”
“Do you think you can sneak out?” he asked. “I miss you.”
God, how sweet had that sounded! Lucy felt a thousand wild shivers run hot through her veins. “I miss you too, but I can’t leave. He won’t let me out without his guard dogs on my heels.” She struggled to keep her voice down to a whisper.
Peter Randall stifled an irritated sigh. “You shouldn’t have told him about me, babe,” he said. “That’s why he’s put a tail on you.”
She shot a dark glare toward the bed. “I know, but it’s a little too late now, isn’t it?” Damn her stupidity and her tendency to be sincere with the wrong people at the wrong time! Yeah, the truth will set you free, but first it will make you so miserable, youd rather choose to rot in the damn cage of lies! she mused bitterly.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find a way around it.” Peter’s soft voice kept sending hot flames through her body. “I’ll call you later tonight. I love you, babe.”
 “I love you, too,” Lucy murmured, staring pensively at the screen. Had he heard her last words? Not quite sure, she bit her lower lip. It had sounded as if he’d hung up a little too early.
“Lucy Whitfield, would you kindly give your cell phone to Rosa?” Edward’s voice resounded from the bed. Damn it! Lucy cursed silently just as a jolt of panic shot through her. The scoundrel had lain there in silence, playing dead and listening to the entire conversation! Dead meat, that’s what she was right now, grounded until the day when her father was finally nailed in his coffin!
“Yes,” she muttered, holding her phone out for the maid to confiscate.
“I beg your pardon?” Edward Whitfield’s voice turned silky.
“Yes, sir!” she amended, this time looking straight at him.
He stared back at her, dark-eyed, his thin, crumpled face hard like steel. “Could you please go to the library and get the Plato Oxford Classical Texts? I would like you to read them to me,” he said.
She stood up without a word and headed for the door.
“Lucy Whitfield!” his voice thundered across the room, making her flinch.
“Yes, sir.” She turned around abruptly.
Edward’s face was once more calm and unreadable, only bearing the print of exhaustion. “Educated people reply when talked to. They do not just turn their back on their interlocutors,” he said.
“My apologies, sir,” Lucy replied. “I’ll get that volume right away. If you would excuse me…” She let her words trail just as she executed a perfect curtsy and left the room. Let him feel the blow of her insult, she thought with devilish satisfaction! He’ll certainly choke or puke once more, having seen his daughter bob a miserable servant’s curtsy! Now that was a little cruel to wish for. A short pang of guilt hit her. Only a short one, though. She pushed the guilt out of her mind, leaving room for smiling, pale blue eyes. Too bad Edward Whitfield thought philosophy readings were the appropriate punishment for every wrong she’d ever done to him. Her perceived transgressions included being born a girl, looking so much like her late mother, having nothing in common with her father, being in love with Peter Randall, and right now, for planning a romantic rendezvous. A rendezvous which was going to happen, even if she had to dig her way out the mansion.