Sample: Sweet NOTHING

I promise I will get my weekly #writetip blog post up, but to tide you over, here is a sample from the historical romance I am about to begin querying, Sweet NOTHING:

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Peach Tree (cover art) by Brian H. Bullard

The house was clearly built and furnished to accommodate several rowdy children. Many of the rooms were left as they had been when the offspring left home, a few of them from previous generations before Thomas and Walter. Elizabeth furrowed her brow, wondering what could possess a family to engage in such neglect.

The door at the far end of the floor, opposite Granger’s room, appeared never to have been opened at all. The knob was heavily tarnished and the door stuck. She attempted to shove it open, and had to throw her weight against it to get it open.

“Mrs. Granger!” Daisy squeaked, emerging from the room where they had just been. She froze next to her in the doorway, eyes wide.

Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust. The floral pattern on the bedspread had faded in two broad swaths where the sun fell on it through the window. A continental uniform had been spread at the foot of the bed. The sun had faded a grey square over the shoulder.

Daisy tugged at Elizabeth’s sleeve. “We’re not allowed in here,” she whispered.

“Of course,” Elizabeth replied, just as softly, although she didn’t understand their need to whisper. She backed out of the room and closed the door reverently. “Daisy,” she asked, turning to the next door, “how long have you been with Granger Plantation?”

The girl’s face lit up. “Two more weeks makes two years, ma’am.”

“Have you ever met Mr. Granger’s brother, Walter?”

Daisy’s smile disappeared. “No, ma’am, and I wouldn’t bring him up around Master Thomas, either, if I was you.”

The next door was just a thin layer of wood, attempting to blend into the wall. The handle was the only indication it was there.

“Did he die?” She took the handle and attempted to turn it. It scraped reluctantly.

“No, ma’am, not that I know of. But Master Thomas gets cross when people bring him up.”

Another mystery, Elizabeth thought wryly. But with the way her own sibling had been behaving, she could understand.

Yanking, she popped the door open to reveal a narrow staircase leading up and around a corner. The stairwell was dark and curtained with cobwebs. Waterbugs scattered from the sudden light. Elizabeth wrinkled her nose and peered into the darkness.

“Don’t do it, ma’am.” Daisy was whispering again.

“Oh, what’s the worst that could happen?” Elizabeth gathered her skirts tightly around her. “I could be trapped in a cold, dark place for as long as I shall live?” She snorted bitterly.

It was dark, but it was not cold. Oppressive heat pressed down on her as she ascended the stairs. She brushed the cobwebs away, puffing and grunting in disgust. The stairwell grew dark, then lightened again as she approached the top. Light crept in the cracks around a narrow door.

“I believe—” she called down, but lowered her voice when she realized Daisy was still right behind her. “I believe it leads to the roof.”

The door was latched with a simple hasp, held by a dowel and a generous amount of rust. The dowel crumbled in her hand as she attempted to pull it free. A few tugs of the hasp scraped away enough rust for her to pull the door open.

Sunlight blinded them. Elizabeth shielded her eyes and stepped out into the open. A gentle breeze caressed her skin, relieving her from the stuffy heat. She gasped as her eyes adjusted. She was standing on a widow’s walk, about three feet wide, lined with wrought iron railing. She circled the walk, mouth hanging open in awe: She could see the entire plantation from here, as well as her father’s. Turning south and squinting, she could see the rooftops in town.

Daisy pressed herself against the wall next to the door. Pale and trembling, she stared down off the edge. When Elizabeth followed her gaze, she pressed herself against the wall next to her. They were so high! The cobblestones of the courtyard were far below them.

“If… If it’s all right with you, Mrs. Granger,” Daisy said in a shaking voice, “I’d like to go… down… back down… downstairs.”

Elizabeth took a deep breath to keep her voice from shaking as well. “Of course.”

“It would sho’ make me feel better, ma’am, if you came with me.”

Raising her eyes from the courtyard to the grounds, Elizabeth shook her head. Here, she could be alone. She could be herself again.

“I think I would much rather stay here,” she murmured.

“Please, ma’am…”

“You may go,” Elizabeth said firmly. “I will come down if I need you.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Slowly, Daisy descended. Elizabeth bade her feet move again, and circled the walk, allowing the breeze to tug her along. This time she moved decidedly closer to the wall. Her eyes roved the fields until she found Granger at the edge of the peach orchard. He and his two men—they must be Jacob and the foreman, Jeremiah—stood around a crate of early peaches. Granger held one to his face and passed it along.

Elizabeth giggled. When she was small, she would sneak into the orchard and steal the best peaches she could find. Her mother put a quick end to this one day when Elizabeth came home, sticky with the fragrant juice. She had not eaten peaches since, and her mouth began to water.

Stepping forward, she placed her hand on the iron railing. The crossbeam groaned loose and broke. She stepped back, wincing as it clanged against the bars, thudded onto the roof, and clattered down to the courtyard.

Thomas Granger jerked his head up. She could feel his eyes land on her. Throwing down the peach in his hand, he shot toward the house, his long legs making a short trip of the distance.

Elizabeth huffed. She was obviously not hurt. Sighing, she started down the stairs, closing the door and scraping the hasp back into place.

“Elizabeth!”

Her face burned as she came to the foot of the stairwell. She could hear Granger and his men pounding upstairs.

“Elizabeth?” At first, there was panic in Granger’s voice and face. When he realized she was unharmed, the panic disappeared. Anger replaced it. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I was just—”

“You could have been killed! How dare you—”

“How dare I?”

The men on the stairs backed away from the shouting. Jacob stood at the top, hands behind his back and eyes on the ground. Daisy, tears streaming down her face, stood by him and imitated his posture.

“I forbid you from going up there!” Granger was yelling now. “Do I make myself clear?”

“The roof! The library! Your bed!” Elizabeth shouted back. Granger recoiled, snapping his mouth shut. The red faded from his face, but she continued. “Pray, tell me where else I am forbidden to go—in my own home!”

“This is not—” Granger choked on his words. He pointed to the stairwell behind her. “Never,” he said in a fierce whisper. He pointed to the dusty soldier’s room. “Never,” he repeated. He pointed behind him, to his own bedroom door. “Never!”

The last banishment stabbed her. Tears filled her eyes and threatened to fall. She dropped her face to hide them and gathered her skirts. She hurried to the stairs.

“Where are you doing now?”

“I’m going home!” Her voice broke. She hoped he had not heard.

“Elizabeth…” His tone softened, but his voice was still rough from yelling. She ignored him. Tears streamed freely down her face by the time she stepped into the courtyard.

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