Sneak Peek: Nightingale, chapter 1

**I’m posting this from my phone while in the car, so please excuse the block formatting**

1

“My name is Lark Greene.”

A white light flashes, blinding me. I can’t see beyond the small circle of darkness, but I know they’re out there, pressing in on all sides, listening to everything I say. Blasting my words over the newsfeeds. Mother prepared me for this. She and Annalise worked with me on my statement, reviewing details, having me repeat my answers over and over again until they were burned into my mind.

I tuck my trembling hands beneath my legs and lean forward against the small table I’m seated behind. Mother’s fingers drum against my shoulder, a reminder that I am not alone, and her energy flows through me like a steady fix of soothing medicine. My hands steady a little.

A camera floats over my head like an annoying gnat. It whirls and hums, zooming in close on my face. With closed eyes, I inhale deeply, and open them on the exhale. The light flashes again. I cover my face with my hands, prepared for the pain that’s sure to follow.

#

Mother crossed the room until she stood next to the side of the bed. She leaned over me, her face mere inches from mine, and her minty breath fanned across my face. I wanted to shrink away, but there was nowhere to go.

“How do you feel about Beck Channing?”

My heart clenched like a fist at the sound of his name. She’d asked the same question a hundred times since Annalise rescued me from Summer Hill.
I wouldn’t tell her. She couldn’t know I loved him. That I hadn’t forgotten him, the way she wanted me to.

An icy chill raced down my spine and my mouth opened. Words I didn’t mean to say spilled out. “Is he okay?”

A cruel smile stretched across Mother’s lips. “Do you love him?”

I should have said ‘no’. I wanted to say ‘no’. I needed to protect Beck.

“Yes.”

​Scorching air blasted over me, and the bed tilted sideways, spilling me onto the floor.

I scrambled to my knees, gasping. “Why are you doing this?”

“Beck Channing is your enemy, Love. He wants to kill you.” A small light bounced in Mother’s upturned palm. Without warning it exploded into dozens of glowing fire orbs and hurtled toward my face. Each impact burned more than the last.

“Stop!” I screamed and curled my arms around my head. “Mother, please! Stop!”

My body was yanked from the ground until I dangled several feet in the air. My arms flailed, trying to grab something. Anything. But there was nothing to hold on to. I could move, but I couldn’t seem to propel myself forward. Or down.
Beneath me, Mother circled like a wild animal. “Oh, Lark, I can’t stop.” Notes of sorrow filled her voice. “I need to fix you. The Light witches have confused you and I need to help you remember who you really are. You want that don’t you? My help?”

My skin burned where her fireballs hit me. If this is how she loves me, what will she do if she hates me? I thought while nodding my head. If I agree, maybe she’ll stop.

She snapped her fingers, and Annalise and two male guards appeared. They stood behind her, staring at me with a mix of curiosity and pity. I didn’t mind the staring—I would too, if I saw a girl dangling in the air—but the pity concerned me. Especially after the fireballs.

Mother beckoned one of the men forward.

“Malin?” he said, with his head bowed.

“Fire,” she ordered.

He balked. “Surely, Malin, you don’t mean—”

“Set my daughter on fire, Oliver.” He hesitated and Mother screamed, “Now.”

Oh God. “Please, no. Please.” I clawed at the air, trying to escape, but it was no use. I didn’t move.

Oliver didn’t look at me when pointed his finger in my direction. Fear tore through my insides.

The flame ignited the hem of my skirt. I slapped it out, burning myself. “Mother, stop,” I pleaded. “Please. I’ll do whatever you want.”

“Dawson!” Mother screamed. “Take care of this.”

The other man pushed himself before Oliver and a second flame hit my tights. They melted and oozed down my legs. Stinging, burning pain raced across my skin. My body jerked and writhed, but I gathered the pain, pulled it deep into my core. It combined with the fear and anger already inside me. My fingers twitched and magic exploded from my fingertips.

I fell in a heap on the floor. All around me, angry orange flames climbed the walls, gobbling up the curtains and paintings. They nibbled at the ceiling.
Thick, black smoke choked my lungs and I crawled toward the door, only to be immediately flung back.

Mother wasn’t done with me yet.

#

“Try again,” Mother whispers.

“Everyone is waiting.”

My wrist smarts and I touch where my wristlet should be. However, instead of the normal delicate band, a thick, blue restraint encircles my left wrist. To the public, it probably looks like a custom wristlet. But I know better. It, along with the guards, is all that’s keeping my powers in check. Mother explained this to me. The trauma of what happened at Summer Hill tapped into my power more than she had anticipated. Basically, my system became overwhelmed and I exploded.

“Six days ago…” My voice shakes. I must seem so frail to these people. I try again. “Six days ago, my mother’s guards rescued me from Summer Hill, the Channings’ family home, where I was kept hostage.”

The crowd mummers and another camera floats into position near my head.

There’s more I’m supposed to say, but the words are lost in the confusion of my mind. I open my parched mouth, then close it. Again. And again. No sound escapes my lips. Annalise appears at my side and hands me a glass of water. I drink deeply, allowing the liquid to soothe my throat.

The silent room waits for me to continue. I shift in my seat and set the glass down. Mother’s slim fingers travel down my arm, never breaking contact, and stop at my elbow. A sense of calmness washes over me, and I don’t fight Mother’s magic.

“Lark?” Mother says, prompting me. “You’re among friends. Everything is okay.”

I start reciting again. “While I was there, I was subjected to numerous tests and forms of…” My chest heaves. The memory of Bethina, lying on the grass as flames crept closer to her body, flashes through my mind. My heart races and I dart my eyes toward the exit, looking for an escape. All I want is to do is run as far as I can. I need to get out of here.

Mother’s grip tightens and her nails dig into my skin.

“Torture,” I say softly.

“Yes, that’s right, Love.”

They tortured me. Encased me. Denied me my magic. Killed my housemother.
Mother strokes my arm again. “Go on,” she whispers.

“They tried to kill me.”

#

​“Who killed Bethina?” Mother kept her hands folded on the desktop. We were alone in her office, like we had been all day.

​“Beck,” I answered. Not me. Beck. He killed her. Mother had repeated this to me non-stop.

​“That’s right. Beck killed Bethina before turning on you.” Mother tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. “Do you love Beck Channing?”

Magic probed at my heart, trying to force me to speak the truth I’d hidden deep inside me, but I had to lie. Lying was the only way for this to stop.
“No. He wants to kill me.” My lips twitched and I pressed them tightly together. I refused to let myself say anything else.

Mother smiled, pleased with the progress we’d made. “He came after you. To kill you.”

​“But Kyra and Annalise stopped him and rescued me from Summer Hill,” I finished, eager to show that I’d learned.
​Mother smiled. “That’s right. We saved you, Lark. We saved you from those monsters.”

#

Mother promised if I did this one thing, I wouldn’t have to speak to the newscasters again. Everyone wants to hear what happened in my own words. And the Society needs to see I am safe and there is no threat to our security.
It’s my duty, as a Founder’s descendant, to do this.

“It’s true? Beck’s one of them? Did he orchestrate your kidnapping?”

I turn my head toward the voice and squint into the blinding lights. My fingers tingle with magic and I curl them into fists.

“What did you say?”

My guards’ magic hits me from every direction. Waves of ice and fire wash over my skin, licking at the rawest spots of my heart. I press my hand over my chest, struggling to breathe beneath the onslaught.

“Is Beck Channing Sensitive?” the disembodied voice asks again.

The crowd buzzes with excitement. This is what they’ve been waiting for: my public denouncement of my birth-mate. Kyra says it’s the scandal of the year, and judging by the reaction to the question, I think she’s right.

Mother’s fingers dig into the soft flesh of my arm again. I lift my head and stare into the nearest camera.

“Yes. He is.” My voice rings out across the corridor. The crowd goes silent, waiting for me to say more.

Magic pushes at my heart, encouraging me to speak the lie Mother has taught me. The one I can now say easily.
I lean forward and rest my hands on the table.

“If I never see Beck Channing’s face again, it will be too soon.”

#

Kyra, Annalise, and two male guards surround me as we shove our way through the noisy crowd and toward a large wooden door. The leaner of the male guards, Oliver, pushes it open and Dawson steps through. He motions for me to follow.

The cool, white room feels oddly empty after the claustrophobia of the press conference. Unlike in there, where everything was hidden in shadow, this room is white-on-white-on-white. Like snow.

“You did great,” Kyra whispers. She drops onto a low couch and tucks her legs beneath her. “You sounded scared, and who can blame you? You’ve been through so much.”

The door swings open again, allowing the chatter of the room beyond to spill in, and I catch snips of the newscasters’ conversations. Mostly of the “Poor girl” and “Do you think she knew?” variety.

Mother, followed by her guards, glides in and joins Annalise and the men on other side of the room. I strain to hear the low hush of their voices, but the words are meaningless. Almost like code.

​No one glances in my direction or even acknowledges my presence, and for a fleeting moment, I consider walking out the door, back into the hallway filled with reporters and cameras and questions, and running. I don’t, of course, because being out there is a million times more dangerous than staying here, waiting for whatever it is I’m waiting for.

Or maybe I’m too tired or confused to care.

​Or perhaps I’m just dead inside.

As if any of that matters. Mother has made it clear there is nowhere I can run, nowhere I can hide, where she can’t find me. There may not be a physical barrier preventing me from escaping, like at Summer Hill, but she has magic, the eyes of the State, and the threat of the Light witches killing me. I’d be a fool to try to leave.

Out of habit, my fingers flutter to my neck, searching for my necklace, only to find an empty space. I cast my eyes to the floor and my shoulders heave. Somewhere between fleeing Summer Hill and arriving here, I lost it.

“Well done, Lark. Well done.” Mother beams. Her blond hair is pulled tightly away from her face into two low twists behind each ear. She looks like her normal, in-control self. Not the frightening woman who had me set on fire a few days earlier.

I squeeze my knees to my chest, forcing all the air from my lungs. I’ve learned Mother’s praise is generally followed by something horrible. With glazed eyes, I stare blankly at the snowy white carpet and focus on holding my breath.

“Now that that’s finished, I have to return to my office.” Mother brushes her hands together. “Annalise, see Lark home.”

“Of course, Malin.”

​My lip trembles slightly when Mother turns toward me.

“Is something wrong, Lark?”

Tears roll down my cheeks.

“Lark?”

I lift my head slowly, until Mother’s eyes lock on mine.

And I scream.

Read Chapter 2

Read Chapter 3

Nightingale Teaser #3: Who is Ryker?

 

Banners of each of the five great societies flutter overhead and lanterns cast a soft, warm glow across the dance floor, illuminating the hundreds of twirling couples below.

I haven’t been to a banquet this extravagant since Callum and Annalise were bound nearly three years ago. And that didn’t exactly work out well.

A waiter stops before me, and I lift a glass of champagne from his tray and finish it in two gulps. It’s my third—no fourth—glass of the night.

Kyra thinks I’m trying to drown my sorrows. Maybe she’s right. It’s not like I have much to be happy about. Not even my new green wristlet.

I lean against the wall, taking care to not slouch, and watch Maz lead Kyra across the dance floor. He’s all arms and legs, not at all elegant, and it’s amazing he hasn’t tripped over the billowing hem of Kyra’s gown.

“Bored?”

I lazily roll my head to the side. Ryker Newbold grins at me. His shirt hangs out of the bottom of his dinner jacket and a dark flop of hair drapes over one of his almond-shaped eyes. Next to him, I look as refined as Mother.

“Ryker! How are you?” Beck, Maz, and Ryker were once inseparable. So much so, that Kyra referred to them as a ‘three-headed monster.’ And unlike with Maz, Ryker and I have always gotten along.

He holds up a bottle of champagne. “Better since I found this.”

“Nice.” I raise my glass and pretend to toast him as Kyra and Maz whirl past, lost in each other. “They look good together, don’t they?”

Ryker snickers. “You’re generous. Maz looks like an octopus next to Kyra.”

“He’s never been graceful, has he?”

“Again, you’re being too kind.” Ryker takes long sip from the bottle. When he’s done, he tops off my glass. “How are you? Kyra said you were out of it for a few days.”

“I heard the same thing.” My memories of my first days here are hazy at best.

“You don’t know?”

“Not really. But the healers say that it’s normal for someone who’s been through what I have to lose track of time.”

Someone calls my name and I whip my head in their direction, only to have the room sway around me. I stagger into Ryker and he catches me by the elbow. My bare skin burns where his clothed arm touches me.

“Careful, Lark,” he says in a gravelly voice. “You don’t want everyone to think you’re drunk.”

I rest a hand against the wall to steady myself. “I am drunk.”

He squints at me. “How much have you had?”

“A few glasses.” I point to his bottle. “And whatever you’ve poured me.”

“Fantastic.” He glances over my shoulder and his face contorts.

“What?” I ask, following his eyes. My brother, Callum, stands on the other side of a long table laden with desserts. He’s glaring at us. No. He’s glaring at me. I try my best not to look intoxicated, because really, all I need is Callum running off to tattle on me. If Mother finds out, she’ll probably confine me to my room again and slap the restraint back on.

Ryker and I reposition ourselves so that we’re standing side-by-side, not touching. I keep my eyes on the dance floor and pretend my brother isn’t shooting withering looks at me.

A white light strobes off to my left and I instinctively shield my eyes.

“Lark! Who’s your escort?” a voice booms from a camera floating over my head.

“Damn it,” I whisper. Of course, the newscasters waited until I was in an awkward situation to zero in on me.

“I’m sorry. Should have seen that.” Ryker maneuvers me so my back is to the room and I’m facing the wall. He keeps his hand around my waist, holding me up.

 

Paris Day 59: Big News & An Ode to Hard-Working Moms

*My husband, Bug, wrote today’s post.*

 

During my time away from work, I’ve realized I have missed the last several years of my children’s lives, and I can never get that time back.  I also realized I need more balance in my life to be the dad and husband I want to be, and more importantly, the dad my boys’, and the husband Dawn, deserves. Over the past five years, I travelled for weeks at a time, leaving Dawn alone as a single parent to manage sports schedules, home school, oversee the household, and maintain a writing career. That’s a lot for one person to handle.

After a lot of soul searching and conversation with Dawn and the boys, I have realized I need a radical change in my life, and have resigned from my job. This may sound crazy, especially in this economy, but I think I’m in a good place to do it. Plus, I don’t want to miss any more of my kids’ and Dawn’s amazing lives. I also want to be an equal partner again with Dawn — both in terms of the parenting responsibilities and in our marriage.

By resigning now, I’m able to stay in Paris with my family until I start my new job. This means my role as Mr. Mom is a limited time engagement, but I intend to embrace it fully while I can. As you’ll see below, my first attempts have been received with mixed reviews.  That said, I have thoroughly enjoyed it and know that with a little practice, I can be almost a quarter as good as Dawn!

I think I’ve been an extremely involved dad over the past eleven years – coaching, making school breakfasts, changing night-time diapers, even making an occasional dinner. But when the boys arrived in Paris and I decided to become Mr. Mom, I quickly learned I had no idea what goes into keeping the kids happy, healthy, and engaged while running a household.

I’ve been at it for almost two weeks, and phew, I’m tired.

The days are relatively structured which makes my life a little easier. But, I have no idea how Dawn does this on a daily basis and finds time to write. I’m exhausted and ready for a nap by noon.

 Here’s the morning routine:

 8:30-ish: The boys generally wake up in order — Keegan, Finn then Boone — and in relatively quick procession because they share one over-sized bedroom.

 9:00 am: Breakfast – I’ve always been the breakfast maker in our house, so this isn’t a new routine for me. While I detest being a short-order cook, I am a big pushover and usually give into the boys’ demands for scrambled eggs, cereal, cheese and meat plates, or yogurt and granola.

It’s tough whipping up a number of different meals because our kitchen is the size of a closet. But despite the small size, it’s amazing how quickly and how badly it can become dirty! What’s also amazing is for some reason, our boys can’t seem to put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

 9:30 am: Math – After tidying up the kitchen, we start math lessons. Dawn takes the youngest and they play with base 10 manipulative. He really seems to be picking up the idea of addition and subtraction.

Meanwhile, I work with the older two boys.

Math is our toughest subject by far.

Pudge and The Fox (using his left hand) working on the order of operations.

We slog through the lesson every day.  The goal is 30 minutes, but we usually spend 45 minutes to one hour, and at the end, I’m ready to crawl back into bed. It takes patience and restraint, energy, and a lot of love to work through these math lessons.  The good news is that I’ve seen progress over the last several days, and that keeps all of us going.

 10:30 am: All three boys gather for our history review.

Each night, I read a chapter from the History of the World, a really cool and easily understandable chronicle that breaks history into nice, brief little chunks that even The Colonel understands.

Our review entails ten questions about the previous night’s reading. Afterward, the two older boys write 1-2 paragraphs from a focused question about the reading.

What’s funny about the history review is that the five-year-old usually gets the highest score! He dictates his answers to me via whisper, so his older brothers “don’t cheat!”  When he doesn’t know the answer, his default answer is someone attacked someone else, or it’s war. Honestly, given the history of the world, it’s probably not a bad guess.

 11:00 am: The Colonel gets a needed break, and he usually runs off and plays cars while I teach one of the boys their spelling lesson and the other tackles French with Dawn.

Spelling is everyone’s favorite subject. Pudge, our oldest, has dyslexia and he struggled with spelling until last year. But now, he loves it, and every morning he blows me away with his progress. I credit this to the program Dawn chose for him: All About Spelling.

 11:15 am: The Colonel has wanted to read for months, and he’s finally getting his chance. Dawn works with him using All About Reading. Like with Pudge and spelling, it’s pretty cool to see the progress the Colonel has already made. In just two weeks, he can read basic sentences. I’m not sure who’s happier and prouder – mom and dad or him!

The Colonel can read!

 

 Noon: Assuming everyone is still standing and awake, the boys journal for 15 minutes. The Colonel draws a picture and dictates to us what he’s trying to communicate while the other two focus on paragraph formation – strong topic sentence, four to five supporting sentences, and a good concluding sentence.

 12:15 pm: Until The Fox fell and broke his arm, we had been sending the boys to the playground for their physical activity while I tidied up the apartment and Dawn worked. That’s changed now, but I still have to load the dishwasher, wipe down the counter, hand wash dishes, do laundry and hang dry the previous load, clean the bathroom and handle whatever other household chore that needs tackling.

I whip up an easy lunch like peanut butter and jelly, re-heat leftovers from the day before, or give them some money to buy sandwiches at the patisserie around the corner.  After lunch, we head out for our day’s activities.

One of the boys favorite activities – riding the Metro. Pudge is an expert navigator and loves plotting our journey.

 7:00 pm: Dinner – we’ve been trying not to eat out as much since the boys arrived.  First, because while our boys behave well in restaurants, sitting through a typical two-hour-plus French dinner is tough. Second, it’s expensive feeding five hungry mouths every night in a restaurant.

This means, I’ve been cooking dinner.

It’s honestly been hit and miss.

Taco night was a failure. You’re probably saying, “Bug, why in the world did you try to cook tacos in Paris?”  You are wiser than me.

I bought taco seasoning, hard shells and all the fixings. I whipped up some kidney beans and corn with salsa for the vegetarian. The boys were good sports and ate it up, but both Dawn and I thought the taco season was gross.  I’ve made pasta with a bit more success and I’ve bought some good pre-made food at the local grocery store.

After dinner,  we may walk to the park a few blocks away where The Fox attracts all the French girls despite his limited French. Other nights, we stay in and play 10 Days in Europe which is a big hit in our household.

After showers and tooth brushing, I shut up the windows and shades while the boys put on their PJ’s.  When everyone’s in bed, I read the day’s history lesson. Once it’s over, we do our normal nighttime tuck-in ritual.

And then, finally then, the day with the boys is over. Dawn and I get to talk and spend some time alone without the boys.

I’m ashamed to say, until this time away, I’d never read anything Dawn wrote. I had no idea she dedicated Larkstorm to me, or included me in the acknowledgements.

But now, many evenings, Dawn and I read together. I was privileged to read Nightingale out loud to her, while she took notes.It’s been fun becoming more involved in this aspect of her life and learning what goes into writing a book.

Like being a mom, it’s not as easy as it looks.

After Nightingale, we read a beautiful contemporary story she wrote that I hope someday the world will get to read. I know I’m biased, but the voice is amazing, the story is beautiful, and there were several parts that made me cry (yes, I cried). Maybe because it’s a boy’s point-of-view, or maybe because I identify with the main character, but I’m now reading that story a second time on my own.

So there’s a typical day for me as Mr. Mom.

I thought I appreciated everything Dawn did, including her writing. But I’ll be honest. I don’t think it was possible to appreciate it until now because I had never taken the time to walk a mile – actually it seems like a marathon – in her shoes.

I can never repay Dawn for all she does for us, but the next time I say, “thank you,” or let her know how much I appreciate what she does, I at least will be saying it from a place of better understanding.

One of my favorite pictures of Dawn. A reflection in a mirrored table under the Printemps dome.