Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Paper Masque by Jessica Dall

The Paper Masque by Jessica Dall


Available from 5 Prince Publishing www.5princebooks.com  books@5princebooks.com
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Historical, Alternative History
Release Date: December 4, 2014
Digital ISBN 13 978-1-63112-087-9 ISBN: 10:1631120875
Print ISBN 13: 978-1-63112-088-6 ISBN: 10: 1631120883
Purchase link : http://www.5princebooks.com/buy-links.html

The Broken Line- Book Three
Elsie Wembley has never suffered boredom gladly. Oldest of three—and second in line to the throne—she knows Carby like the back of her hand, always staying only one step ahead of trouble. When Elsie meets button-down Laurence Flynn, however, it seems she may finally have found someone to keep her out of it for good—at least until his secrets catch up to them.

With war on the horizon and nothing certain, Book 3 of The Broken Line Series continues in a quickly changing world.


About Jessica Dall
Jessica Dall finished her first novel at age 15 and been writing ever since. She is the author of such novels as Grey Areas and The Bleeding Crowd, the Broken Line Series, and a number of short stories which have appeared in both literary magazines and anthologies. When not writing, she works as a freelance editor and creative writing teacher in Washington, DC.

How to Contact Jessica:
Twitter: @JessicaDall
facebook.com/jkdall
Website: jessicadall.com

Excerpt of The Paper Masque
Chapter One

Elsie squeezed her eyes shut, head pounding. Her body refused to move.
Oh well, she had dealt with worse hangovers than this in her life.
Releasing a long breath, Elsie forced her legs over the edge of the bed, levering herself up to sitting. The springs of the mattress creaked under her. Loudly.
Everett groaned before Elsie could, rubbing his forehead unhappily. “Christ, Els. What time is it?”
“Later than I should be here.” Elsie took one last moment to force her body to listen to her, then stood, grabbing her bag. Pulling out the change of clothes, she shimmied into the blouse and pedal pushers. “You don’t need to get up. I can show myself out.”
“It’s barely light out, Els.” Everett pushed himself up on his elbows, the quilt sliding down his bare chest to his waist.
Elsie shook her head, rolling up last night’s dress to stuff it in her bag. For all of Everett Adderley’s faults, being unattractive was not one of them. She did her best to ignore it. “And if my mother finds out I’ve been gone, I’m never going to see the light of day again. I’ve already been pushing my luck lately.”
“Like she’d be able to keep you in if she tried.” Everett ran a hand through his wavy blond hair, pushing it out of his face as he lay back down. “Will you at least use the stairs this time?”
“And where’s the fun in that?” Elsie strapped her bag over her back.
Everett turned to his side. “One of these days, you’re going to slip and break your neck, and I’m going to have a lot of explaining to do.”
“Come now, darling.” Elsie pushed the window open, checking the courtyard quickly before glancing back at the bed. “I could have come crawling out of any of these windows. Nothing to tie me to this one.”
Everett just grunted.
Elsie pulled herself up onto the sill, taking a moment to make sure she had her balance before she swung to the outside, twisting to get a grip on the window frame.
Nobody ever looked up. Elsie had figured that out not long after she had learned to walk. High enough up you were as good as invisible. And with the rough stone walls, with all their protruding window sills, it was as though the designers of the Berkshire dorms wanted people to climb them. Working her toes into the crevices, Elsie pulled herself up the last three stories to the roof, rolling her shoulders as she found her footing on the slant. Sure, it was simpler to do when it didn’t feel like she had lead-filled stockings being thrown around her skull, but at this point, she likely would have been able to make it home along the roofs blackout drunk, never mind a hangover.
Moving lightly, Elsie made her way across the slate roof, angling her body to keep upright on the tilt. A hop from the dorms to the chapel, another to the science building, down three branches of the old oak on the far side, and Elsie reached the wall surrounding the old university.
Elsie crouched, taking a moment to study the road running between the walls and the rows of townhouses across from the university. The sky just beginning to lighten, it made sense that the Berks’ campus was dead—no self-respecting university student would be up now unless they were only just coming home—but the rest of Carby was anybody’s guess. Having to dash across the road and then up the side of the townhouses to reach the roofs again would leave her exposed for long enough that an early riser might spot a suspicious shape climbing up the balconies. With the streets mostly empty, however, she wouldn’t be able do disappear into a crowd if anyone took an interest in her.
Grabbing a tie from the front pocket of her bag, Elsie forced her blonde hair back into a messy bun. With her head swimming as it was, she was lucky she’d gotten up the side of the dorms as quickly as she had. The smooth brick townhomes would prove more of a challenge—even with their wrought iron balconies.
Moving to the east corner of the wall, Elsie worked her way down to the street, pulling a skirt from her bag to slip over the pedal pushers before she continued forward. She would just have to hope she didn’t gather too much suspicion working her way back across Carby by ground.
Only a twenty minute walk on the worst of days, the sky had fully lightened by the time Elsie made it to the last turn before the palace gates. Skirting the front with its guardhouse, she turned left, moving along the side of the palace grounds. Ducking behind a final tree, Elsie wiggled the old iron rod free from its place and pushed her way through the gate into the hedge. Not quite as easy a fit as it had once been, she could still manage it well enough. Slipping the rod back into place, she wriggled her way free of the branches. A quick check to make sure no stray leaves had found a place to stick, and Elsie finally made her way up to the back of the palace.
Once a fair deal larger than it was now, the palace had gone through a number of renovations in the three decades Elsie’s mother had lived there. Parts of the old structure still shining through here and there, entire wings had been demolished with other parts being rebuilt, turning the palace into some mix of old monarchy and what had been the “new style” a generation and a half ago. It seemed likely Queen Mary would have turned everything into a bigger replica of the country house in Aberfirth if she had been any freer with their purses.
Swinging around what was left of the old west wing, Elsie worked her way into the rose garden, taking the winding path up to the back door.
“Your Highness. You’re up early this morning.”
Elsie spun toward the voice, doing her best to release a breath as the rush of adrenaline passed. She pulled herself up to her full, generally impressive height, head tilted back regally. “Mr. Fletcher. I didn’t know you were in Carby.”
The man smiled from his seat on a bench. “Just arrived last night.”
At least seventy, Antony Fletcher did look good for his age, body still trim with a full head of white hair. Looking at the pencil he held, Elsie would imagine many men would have had to retire from his profession long before due to tremors, but no, the painter’s hands seemed as steady as ever with his hazel eyes clear and alert. A little too alert for Elsie’s liking at the moment. Elsie pulled herself straight, trying to hide any lingering surprise. “Did my mother call you in to help with repainting the east room?”
Antony nodded. “That, and she was hoping for me do Princess Anne’s portrait.”
Elsie furrowed her brow. Self-conscious as Anne was, Elsie couldn’t see her little sister enjoying that prospect. “Isn’t Anne a little young for all that?”
“You were six the first time I painted you, Your Highness.” Antony smiled, the lines around his eyes deepening. “Princess Anne is twice that now.”
“And hates people staring at her, I’m sure you know,” Elsie returned.
Antony just continued to smile. “I’m sure we’ll find some way to make things work.”
Elsie caught her hands in front of her, did her best to make her words sound final. “Well, I’m sure my mother will be glad to have you. She’s always in a good mood when you’re around.”
“It is always good to see old friends,” Antony agreed.
Elsie nodded, turning for the door once again. “If you’ll excuse me…”
“I’ll assume you don’t wish for me to mention you just getting in when I see your mother later?”
Elsie turned back to face him, fixing her grey eyes on him. Annoyingly, as always, they seemed to have no affect with Antony Fletcher. She pulled her shoulders back all the same. “I was just taking a walk. I couldn’t sleep.”
“With that large a pack with you?” Antony nodded to the bag on her back.
“Yes,” she said, tone challenging him to comment. “Is that a problem?”
The corner of the old man’s mouth turned up. “Have a good morning, Your Highness.”
Elsie didn’t bother to respond, turning to the palace with a punctuated finality, ignoring the feeling that Antony Fletcher was laughing at her back.

***

The sharp knock jerked Elsie awake far sooner than was kind. Forcing her eyes open, Elsie looked across the room accusingly, less than eager to move from the plush bed.
“Elsie?” the small voice asked through the door. “Are you there?”
Anne. Elsie released a breath, rubbing a hand over her face. “I’m here. It’s open.”
The door creaked on its hinges, swinging fully open before Anne started forward with her halting gait. She frowned, looking Elsie over. “Are you all right?”
“I’ll survive.” Elsie sat up, pushing bits of loose hair away from her face. “What is it?”
Anne hesitated, pressed her lips together. “You said you wanted me to wake you up to go to parliament today?”
Elsie blinked, the conversation slowly sliding into place in her half-functioning mind. “Right. Thanks. Why don’t you head downstairs, I’ll join you in a second.”
Anne nodded, turning to head back out of the room.
Elsie released a final breath, closing her eyes for a moment before pushing herself out of bed. As well as Anne managed to get around on her bad foot, Elsie still had time before her sister made it to the front door. Elsie shook her head, turning to the mirror as she listened to her sister hobble down the hall. Shame it was, too, pretty a girl as Anne would have been had she not been born with the problems. The only sibling with auburn hair, Anne likely would have been a dead ringer for their mother when Mary had been younger save for that unfortunate port-wine stain and clubfoot.
Elsie tried not to think on it too long, slipping the pedal pushers off from under her skirt before critiquing the result. Slightly wrinkled from her impromptu nap, the skirt and blouse weren’t beyond salvaging for the rest of the day with any luck. Bits of her blonde hair loose around her face, it was nearly stylish. If only she were going to a Berks party rather than parliament.
She glanced at the lever on the wall, debating ringing for a maid to help with her hair, but the entire ritual always felt so stuffy, old. And with Anne working her way downstairs, it seemed like a dreadful waste of time. Sitting at her vanity, Elsie managed a less bohemian bun herself, pinning it into place. She could bother someone later when she changed for dinner.
Popping back up, Elsie tucked her blouse back in place and started after her sister.

***

The gavel came down. “And so it is approved, the exchequer will extend credit for the necessary improvements to Her Majesty’s Navy.”
Elsie snorted. Her mother would love that. As much money as there had already been spent preparing for a war with the continent that had never come, parliament still seemed to consider itself in an arms race.
Mr. Jones cleared his throat from his spot at the end of the long hall looking at the papers in front of him. “And now Mr. Warrick has asked for the floor.”
The kind-looking man stood off to one side of the room, glancing at the paper between his hands before he started to speak, “My honored colleagues, I rise today to discuss an issue of grave importance to every member of this chamber: The situation in Oneác. Today we find ourselves at a crossroads. Many of you wish the present dominion over the land of Oneác to continue as it has for over a hundred years, others want our separation. With the violence and mayhem we have seen plague this issue, we must agree this arguing cannot continue. I believe Oneác should be given home rule.”
The expected uproar broke from the benches, men jumping up to shout at Mr. Warrick, others jumping to his defense.
“We benefit most from our relationship with Oneác through trade and economic companionship,” Mr. Warrick continued, nearly yelling to be heard over the din. “Of course we do not wish to sever those ties, but we can not continue to abuse Oneác, acting as if its own people do not know how to run it.”
Eyes scanning the shouting men, Elsie took it all in. Perry, MP from Kedington, remained silent as ever, nodding to himself as he wrote something on the pad in front of him. Howard and Pemberton, both from the south, gestured wildly—shouting what, Elsie sincerely doubted anyone could really tell. Townsend, from Milford, shouted back from across the aisle, nothing really surprising there.
“Home rule provides stability not severance. What I am proposing is a compromise many in this chamber will find hard to swallow. But the job of government, the job of Parliament, is not to create policy that is best for oneself but what is best for all…”
The shouting only grew louder. Nothing like the Oneácy problem to turn the MPs into shrieking children—even if poor Mr. Warrick spoke quite conservatively for his party.
“Can we go?” Anne whispered. “They’re giving me a headache.”
Elsie nodded, not willing to spend any of her sparse hangover energy on working her way through anything less than true debate.

***

Queen Mary had never cared for parties. Growing up, Elsie had quickly come to the realization that her mother didn’t much care for anything that came with being queen. Parties, meetings, even just standing out on the balcony and waving—honestly their most basic function—seemed to exhaust her. Perhaps, then, it made perfect sense that the large dining room that had entertained court meals, back when there had been a proper court, sat empty eleven-twelfths of the year, the small antechamber outside Elsie’s parents’ room turned into a family dining room.
Pushing her food around her plate, Elsie did her best to hide her unabashed boredom with the entire exercise.
“Are you feeling all right, Alice?”
Elsie started, taking a second to respond to her given name. She glanced across the oval table at her mother, straightening in her seat. “Yes, sorry. Just thinking.”
“About what?” Mary asked.
“Nothing in particular.” Elsie shook her head.
Something that nearly looked like pain flashed across Mary’s face, but Mary tilted the corners of her mouth up in one of her almost-smiles.
“I ran into Mr. Fletcher earlier,” Elsie changed the topic smoothly. “He said he was here to paint Anne?”
Anne looked up, eyes wide. “I don’t want to be painted.”
Mary managed a real smile for her youngest daughter. “Mr. Fletcher is a great painter, sweetheart. You remember the one he did of Alice a few years ago?”
Anne frowned. “But Elsie’s actually pretty.”
“And so are you,” Mary insisted, the pained look slipping back into her grey eyes.
“It’s a painting, not a photo, Annie,” Elsie argued before Anne could respond. “He can fix anything you want him to.”
Anne looked down, pushing her plate back. “May I please be excused?”
“We’re still—”
Anne began to limp away before Mary could finish her objection.
Eddy snorted, picking up his wine glass. “Good job, Els.”
“I didn’t know it would make her that upset.” Elsie shook her head, letting silence settle back over them.
All of them together, it was easy to see the family resemblance that ran through the new Wembley line. Only a little more than a year apart, Eddy and Elsie would easily have passed as twins, sharing their father’s sandy-blond hair and mother’s grey eyes. Especially now that Eddy had outgrown his childhood illness and filled out from the stick he used to have been.
If only Anne had some hope of outgrowing her problems as well, they would be a handsome lot—even as grey hairs and wrinkles began to work their way onto Mary and William’s faces. Worry lines, Elsie would say for her mother. Laughter lines for her father.
Elsie tilted her own wine glass toward her, glancing at the dark liquid inside. Her stomach turned at the thought of more wine. Not quite recovered from last night. She set the glass right again before returning to pushing her food around the plate in silence.

No comments:

Post a Comment