I am so excited to share with you an excerpt from L.H. Cosway’s newest novel, a Gothic Romance set in modern times, as well as a chance to win a signed paperback copy.
I changed out of my uniform and into some jeans, a sleeveless flowy top and a long cardigan. Then I went downstairs and gently knocked on Sylvia’s bedroom door.
“Come in,” her small voice answered.
I ducked my head in. “I’m going to mass. Do you want to come?”
Her eyes lit up at the prospect of getting out of the house, even if it was only to go to mass. I knew she enjoyed the fresh air on the walk to and from the church, so I always invited her along.
I was wheeling her to the front door when footsteps sounded down the stairs.
“Where are you going?” Noah asked.
I turned around to face him. “We’re going to a late evening mass. Care to join us?” My invitation was mildly sarcastic. I suspected a church was the last place Noah wanted to spend time, especially after what he said about not believing in any religions.
His eyes narrowed the slightest bit as he looked from me to his mother. I noticed Sylvia’s shoulders stiffen right before Noah replied, “I’ll grab my coat.”
Well, that had backfired. Still, I wouldn’t rescind my invite. Noah had done something kind for me (in his own special way) by confronting Vee, and I was feeling quite warm towards him at the moment. I knew I shouldn’t, especially given how crazy he’d acted, but I couldn’t help it.
He returned a moment later, shrugging into his leather jacket, and we started the short walk to the church. I cast him a quick glance and saw he was already looking at me. I caught the barest hint of a smirk grace his lips before I quickly turned away.
“Where were you last night?” I asked casually.
My eyebrows jumped. “You have a job?”
“I bartend in the city a few nights a week. Last night things ran late, so I ended up sleeping on a friend’s couch.”
“Oh,” I said, surprised to have gotten a seemingly honest answer out of him. There was a silly part of me that wanted to find the good in Noah, probably because then I wouldn’t feel quite so guilty about my aforementioned feelings.
We walked in quiet for a minute or two, before I asked, “Remember that boy you told me about, the one who tried to bully you at school?”
Noah nodded, seeming intrigued by me bringing him up.
“That thing you said to him,” I went on in a small voice. “You only threatened, right? You didn’t actually do it?”
I saw a flicker of amusement in the curve of his mouth. “Of course, I didn’t do it. That would make me insane.” A pause as he tilted his head, thinking about it. “And a rapist. And though there are many of those in the world, I can safely say I’m not one of them.”
His attention went momentarily to Sylvia, who still seemed tense and uncomfortable in her son’s presence. Why though? Did they just have one of those distant and cold mother son relationships, or was there more to it? Vee and Sylvia weren’t very close either, despite living together in the same house. I thought it was a case of them having no other choice, and even though Vee could be cruel, she hadn’t yet resorted to the ultimate cruelty of shipping her mother off to a care home.
We reached the church just before mass began. I wheeled Sylvia to the last row, setting her chair next to the pew where I sat down. Noah moved by me, his leg brushing mine as he took a seat on the other side of me.
Father Connolly emerged in his vestments, first bowing to the ministers then venerating the altar with a kiss before incensing the altar and the cross. I took a sidelong glance at Noah and found him watching without expression. Something about his stoic profile distracted me while the parishioners stood, and I belatedly stood with them, as did Noah.
“In the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit,” Father Connolly intoned before being met with the collective, “Amen.”
I noticed that though he stood, Noah didn’t say Amen.
“Peace be with you.”
“And also with you.”
While Father Connolly went through the Penitential Act, I was attuned to Noah. Something about him being here enthralled me. He seemed well-acquainted with the proceedings, even though he never fully participated and didn’t take part in any of the collective responses. It made sense since he told me he’d once been religious but since lost his faith. When it came time for Holy Communion, I turned to Sylvia and asked if she wanted me to bring her up.
“Yes, thank you,” she replied, placing her hand on mine gratefully. Noah made a quiet scoff as he leaned forward to eye his mother. “Seriously?”
His tone was cynical, but Sylvia refused to meet his gaze or respond. He sat back, shaking his head. I frowned at him, not understanding his reaction. Sylvia often took Holy Communion when she came to mass with me.
I stood and wheeled her into the queue of people. When we returned, Noah was still seated in the pew, like a dark, fallen angel who’d come back to a place he’d once called home but no longer belonged.
I settled Sylvia back in her spot then knelt and clasped my hands together, lowering my head in prayer. I sensed Noah’s attention, and out the corner of my eye I saw him lean forward to study me.
He seemed extra intrigued by what I was doing. His keen focus lingered on the back of my neck, causing tiny hairs to rise in awareness. Then there was the whoosh of his clothing as he flopped back, exhaling a heavy breath.
“You kill me, Estella.”
His words were barely audible, and I didn’t know what they meant. Probably something to do with my kneeling down to pray. It wasn’t an unusual thing, but he seemed to find it riveting. His voice echoed in my head, making it difficult to focus or even remember what or who I had intended to pray for.
Noah’s presence had every part of me on edge. I felt his fascination almost as though he was channelling it to me from where he sat. He was probably just intrigued by someone as young as me being so devoted to God, never mind attending mass. He’d said something to that effect before. And it was true that there were less and less young people in the church these days, but we weren’t non-existent. There were still plenty of people my age who came here every week, though I wasn’t entirely sure if it was their own choice like it was mine, or if their parents encouraged them to come.
I had no one to encourage me, but if I didn’t have my faith, I wasn’t sure what I’d do. Maybe I’d succumb to the low moments of depression that often came over me. Maybe I’d let those low moments pull me down completely. I shuddered at the thought.
“I thought prayer was supposed to make you peaceful,” Noah whispered in the quietest voice. “You just shuddered. I hope God didn’t give you a bad omen.”
I opened my eyes a moment, casting him a censorious look. His gaze drifted over my face then lowered to my chest. My cross seemed to snag his attention again, and his eyes heated. That same heat slithered along my sternum as I turned back to face the altar. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate. It was useless though. Noah’s presence frazzled me too much. There was no point trying to pray with him watching me so closely.
I rose up and sat back in the pew. Father Connolly ended the mass, and I stood to wheel Sylvia out. Noah walked on my left, and even though he was silent he was impossible to ignore.
“That was interesting,” Noah said, breaking the quiet.
“It was just mass,” I said, trying to ignore the shivers his deep voice solicited.
“Most people zone out, but you were really into it,” he went on.
“It would be a waste of time to attend and not be …” I paused as I glanced at him briefly, “into it, as you say.”
“Not necessarily. I’m sure half the people there go just to be seen as pious,” he said, darting a look at the back of Sylvia’s head.
“That’s a very cynical view,” I replied.
He smirked. “Call me a cynic then.”
We reached the house, and I brought Sylvia to her room. Irene had just arrived, ready to go through her night-time routine. I went into the kitchen to grab a small bite to eat. Noah was already there, drinking a cup of tea. I gave a small nod and went to open the fridge. I scanned the lacklustre options, my back to him as I said, “I’d like it if you didn’t collect me from school anymore.”
I tensed for his response, hearing him set his cup down. “Why not?”
“Because I think it gives off the wrong impression.” Also, I didn’t want to incense Vee further. I appreciated Noah standing up for me, but I wasn’t fond of the drama. Besides, I could fight my own battles in my own way.
“Is that so,” he said, his words more contemplative than questioning.
I grabbed the loaf of bread and closed the fridge, heart racing as I finally turned to look at him. “It was fun to put Sally in her place, but this town is small. It won’t be long before she finds out you’re Vee’s brother, and then I’ll face the ridicule of having pretended my, my …”
Ugh, why couldn’t I speak?
Noah arched one eyebrow. “Your?”
“Well,” I went on, flustered. “For all intents and purposes, you’re my step-uncle, so it’s just pretty weird.”
His lips made a funny shape, and I couldn’t tell if he was annoyed or entertained. Then he said, “Step-uncle, huh?” and I knew it was the latter.
I swallowed and turned to butter a slice of bread, unable to handle his mocking tone. I heard his chair scrape back as he stood, and sensed his closeness he came to stand behind me. He placed his arms on either side of me, levelling his hands against the counter. I was encapsulated by his warmth as he bent down, his mouth at my ear, “If you don’t want me to collect you, then I won’t,” he breathed, and my stomach flipped. “But just so we’re clear, I’m not and never will be your uncle, Estella.”