“He felt something inside he hadn’t felt in a lifetime. And it was all so infuriating, how much he felt. It was infuriating how much she interfered with his plan. He wanted to shut her down and ban her from town, for simply being who she was.
“Yet he found himself watching her at night, acting on what was initially just curiosity, but now a perplexing impulse to protect her. Would there ever come a time she would be afraid, as people were supposed to be?”
We all have monsters. Even Beauty hides a Beast.
That was the message I wanted to convey in HEMLOCK VEILS. Not that an imperfect, disfigured soul had to be saved by one who is beautiful and without flaws, but that both souls are hiding demons. Both have done things they are ashamed of. Both must come face to face with those demons, accept them, and embrace them. Both must forgive themselves. And despite the demons, both Henry and Elizabeth are beautiful.
HEMLOCK VEILS isn’t just another Beauty and the Beast retelling set in modern times. Along with being a story centered on love and passion, it’s a story of growth, determination, bravery, and acceptance. Paths are tried, over and over again, but blessings are received. Magic is realized, and pain is experienced. Life is sacrificed for a greater purpose.
And it is only by that sacrifice a curse can be broken.
All book-plugging aside, this story and these inspirational characters have helped bring me out of my own dark time (which is still in progress). They first saw the light of publication when the core of my personal struggles were being tried, and this story was truly a buoy in my tumultuous sea that was life. And it still is.
HEMLOCK VEILS, a paranormal romance for adult audiences, was released from Swoon Romance November 2014, and is available on Amazon in both paperback and ebook form. The second book in the series, a continuation of Henry and Elizabeth’s journey, which will be loosely inspired by Sleeping Beauty, will be released later this year, so stay tuned! To see more about Jennie Davenport, go to her Goodreads author page.
Last but not least, check out some of Elizabeth Ashton and Henry Clayton in this excerpt from HEMLOCK VEILS below!
She straightened then, her back to him. It happened every time she sensed him watching at night, and even now he wondered how she knew he was there. She stood, not bothering to wipe her soil-stained fingers, and looked around her, her mannerisms hopeful as she glanced up to the suddenly darkening sky. But it was just deceiving cloud cover, and when she saw him she slumped. Was she hoping to see someone else? Perhaps the other form of himself?
“Mr. Clayton, you…startled me,” she excused with instantly pink cheeks, closing her sweater. He wished she hadn’t, since the shirt beneath was snug, flattering, and particularly low-cut. She also wore the same silver locket around her neck she always wore. The chain was long, allowing the oval-shaped pendant to rest low on the bare skin of her chest. He wondered what pictures it stored.
“They won’t survive in there,” he said, stepping closer.
Her brows pulled together.
“The azaleas.” Her eyes found the pot, basking in the sun. “That pot won’t allow the soil to drain well, and the sun will fry it. You’d have better luck over here,”—he pointed to the earthy ground below him, just beside the deck, where the overhang would provide sufficient shade all day long—“since the soil here is well drained. Azaleas thrive in the shade.”
She stared at him as though he was a stranger, and he reprimanded himself for saying too much. In and out, he had told himself before he came. Then she said, “I…didn’t know you were an expert on flowers.”
A trace of a smile. “I always pictured Arne doing the gardening.”
“We both do it.” He wanted to smile back, but instead looked away and shoved his hands into his pockets. “I don’t have much time, so—”
“Yes, of course. Come in.”
As he climbed the steps, he said, somewhat shamefully, “Ms. Ashton, about your car…”
She turned to him, raising a hand. “No, please. It’s fine, Mr. Clayton.”
“It’s not fine. I’ll pay for the repairs.” He scratched his head. “Not by Brian, of course, but somewhere in Government Camp maybe.”
She studied him.
“You’ll accept my offer, Ms. Ashton, no questions.”
She only nodded.
“And…” he began, taking a hesitant step. “You’re…Are you hurt?”
Again she studied him in a new light.
“Because if you are, I’d like to cover the medical exp—”
“No.” She scrunched her eyes and waved a hand, appearing annoyed. Perhaps humiliated. “There won’t be any medical expenses. I’m fine, just a little sore. It’ll go away.” She gave a half-smile, lifting her thumb. “And this didn’t need stitches.”
He nodded, and it seemed she couldn’t swallow as she looked to his feet. “I,” she began. “I wasn’t myself after…I mean, I’m sorry for…”
“For what? Wanting to defend yourself?”
“For being a monster. I’m not usually like that, not…like him.”
He ground his teeth, trying with all of him not to be offended. “You’re not a monster. And you could never be like it.”
“It?” After a perplexing moment, recognition relaxed her brow. “Oh. I’m referring to Brian, Mr. Clayton.”
He fumbled over his thoughts, foolishness leaving his face slightly warm. He’d never heard anyone claim another man was more of a monster than himself. “It’s…no matter,” he said, even though it did matter. Because seeing her “monster” left him strangely comforted. It left him strangely connected to her.
She hardly nodded before turning, apparently just as eager to move on. He followed her through her back door, his eyes taking an involuntary detour down the curves of her backside and hips, snug in her jeans. The heat had just begun to coil within his abdomen when a scent hit him like a wave—a joyous, overwhelming wave. The cottage smelled of baking, of the bakery, of his mother. It was the smell of summer afternoons and even most mornings. It was the smell of flour-dusted aprons and safe-havens. And now it would be the smell of Elizabeth.
She closed the door and his eyes adjusted to artificial light. It was clean and tidy, though she had too many belongings for such a small living space. All of it was mismatched, too, not the slightest rhyme or reason to it. It looked as though she’d collected random pieces over time, all with different meanings. But he liked it, liked the way it looked homey without looking like his old home. Here, he only saw Elizabeth. A massive bookshelf nearly reached the ceiling, and most of its occupants were cookbooks.
After a second of observance, he looked down and found her staring at him. For a brief moment, he stared back, noticing how the splash of afternoon sun through the kitchen window hit her cheekbones and elongated her eyelashes. She looked down quickly, her nose wrinkling. “Sorry,” she said, a hint of laughter in her voice. “I’m just adapting to the sight of Mr. Clayton in a t-shirt and jeans.” She met his eyes and moved her fingers over her chin, making him wonder if her skin was as soft as it appeared. “It looks good on you,” she added, referring to his newly acquired beard.
He cleared his throat and adjusted his weight, uncomfortable with the way they were getting too comfortable. But luckily, before he could dwell on the thought of how badly he wanted to kiss her, even just once, she said, “In the bathroom,” and left him alone. He followed but paused on his way, caught off guard by the book on the coffee table. Not just caught off guard; barreled over, really. The oval table it rested on was on its last leg and pushed closely to the fireplace, probably to allow for more walking room. The book he knew well lay open wide, the large pages parted at the spine. The words curse, and monster, and eternity screamed at him from the pages. She closed it in a hurry then pulled it from the table, cradling it to her chest before putting it on the bookshelf.
“Fairy tales, Ms. Ashton?”
“It was just something my father and I used to read. It was his book, actually.” Her smile said she was dwelling on a fond memory or two, and he dwelt on her smile, the way one side lifted slightly higher than the other. “Fairy tales and legends were his thing. They were our thing. I’ve never seen a grown man believe in things so impossible.”
“He actually believed them?”
“For a while I thought it was only to make me believe, but I realized before he died that he always had.” She paused, looking to the side. “He’s the reason I came here, to Oregon. He always talked about it, how magical it was.” Her eyes focused on his again. Clearly, if he wanted to shun her, the only way he would gain the proper courage would be to refrain from making eye contact with her. “It never made sense to me, believing the stories. From the time I was a young teen I always thought magic was something people created to cure a boring life.” Then, her eyes—the ones he couldn’t look away from—grew hesitant, perhaps even fearful. “To me, logic was…reality.”
He swallowed. “Was?”
“When I came to Hemlock, I couldn’t think of them as nonsense anymore.”
“They are nonsense.”
“Maybe some. But can you honestly tell me, Mr. Clayton, that some sort of magic doesn’t exist in this forest? You of all people should know it.”
He almost flinched. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“You’ve lived here much of your life. You live in the best part of the forest. And no matter how impossible it is to the rest of the world, a mysterious beast roams it. Surely you’ve thought—maybe as most in this town have—there might be something to these myths.”
He lifted a brow. “I hardly think a children’s book is the place to research our monster, Ms. Ashton. And I suggest you stop researching anyway, because you’ll get nowhere.”
She nodded, her eyes knowing, as usual. And how he wanted to be in her head, to see what she knew exactly. “It wasn’t research, Mr. Clayton. Just trying to refresh old memories.”
He would never tell her he owned the same book, practically had every word memorized—especially the third chapter in section three. Arne had found it online ten years ago, during Henry’s most desperate thirst for knowledge. It had opened his eyes to many things, and that was exactly why Elizabeth needed to keep believing it was nonsense.
He stepped around her and into the bathroom, hardly big enough for two. She squeezed in there with him anyway, the small space filling with their body heat. There, on the floor behind the tub, the pipe was separated at the joint. Wet towels were piled on the floor, and beneath the pipe was a bowl, collecting water that still dripped from the pipe. “I turned off the water cut-off valve last night, but it’s still leaking,” she said.
Removing the tools from around his waist, he lay on the floor, propped on his side, and edged his way behind the tub. He pulled the rubber repair sleeve from his tool belt and began fitting one of the pipe’s broken ends through, adjusting the sleeve around it. He did the same with the other end, fitting it into the other side of the sleeve, but only after a short battle between him and the pipe—where if not for his strength, he wouldn’t have been able to manipulate it to fit. Really, this whole house needed new pipes, but he reminded himself it wasn’t his house anymore.
With a restrained grunt, he rolled to his back and inched his way directly beneath. Water dripped in his face and he wiped it away. He reached for his screwdriver and screws; they were too far and his fingers scaled the tile, but before he could ask, she handed them to him. He couldn’t see her, but knew she watched him. And to his own dismay, he liked the way it felt.
Still wiping away the water that dripped in his face—trying to keep his face out of the way—he engaged four screws in the sleeve to keep it in place. After tightening them, he waited, waited for the dripping water. It didn’t come.
With another grunt, he maneuvered himself out and sat. A small towel waited for him, held in Elizabeth’s outstretched hand. He eyed her a moment and nodded as he took it, wiping his face, neck, and hair. She rubbed at the back of her own neck, looking to the side as though flustered. The slight blush in her cheeks left his own warm. “Mr. Clayton,” she said. “I can’t thank you enough—”
Holding up a hand, he stood, returning the towel to her. “Don’t thank me yet. I need to make sure it holds.”
He followed her to the skinny closet in her bedroom, the one holding the smallest water heater he’d ever seen. He tried not to look around the room, since even the idea of him being here felt strange. It was too informal for the formal relationship he wanted to keep. It was impossible, however, not to notice from the corner of his eye her unmade bed, sheets the color of red rose pedals.
There, behind the water heater—since she had no crawl space, cellar, or basement—was the water cut-off valve. He turned it back on, the handle moving with difficulty and even giving off protesting squeals.
Back in the bathroom, with his hand on the right-hand knob above the bathtub’s nozzle, he looked at her. “Ready?”
“Wait,” she said, shielding herself with a towel. From behind it: “Okay, go.”
He chuckled. With the slightest hesitation—and he would admit with the shielding of his other hand—he turned the cold water knob in a counter-clockwise direction. After a faint groan, it came blasting through the nozzle in the intended way. He lowered his hand, and she lowered her towel. He then turned on the left nozzle and let them both flow, the pressure strong. It wasn’t long before steam began to rise.
He turned them off, not bothering to hide his smile. “I think you’re safe.”
She draped the towel over the tub and with a smile of her own, left the bathroom. “I have something for you, Mr. Clayton,” he heard.
He sighed to himself, rising with reluctance. She was impossible.
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