Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker

By Leanna Renee Hieber www.leannareneehieber.com
Leisure Books / Dorchester Publishing
Historical Fantasy (Gothic Paranormal Romance) - $6.99
ISBN: 978-08439-6296-3
Release: 8/25/09

The year is 1888. London is ghostly and gaslit.
What fortune awaited sweet, timid Percy Parker at Athens Academy? Considering how few of Queen Victoria’s Londoners knew of it, the great Romanesque fortress was dreadfully imposing, and little could Percy guess what lay inside. She had never met the powerful and mysterious Professor Alexi Rychman, knew nothing of the growing shadow, the Ripper and other supernatural terrors against which his coterie stood guard. She knew simply that she was different, haunted, with her snow-white hair, pearlescent skin and uncanny gifts. But this arched stone doorway offered a portal to a new life, an education far from the convent—and an invitation to an intimate yet dangerous dance at the threshold of life and death….


Percy’s latest recurrent vision was a hazy one where she was standing in the middle of a circle, surrounded by shafts of light. Music—inhuman, beautiful, incomprehensible—was everywhere, playing inside of her and out. This music, which she had no words to describe, lingered on in faint strains throughout the day.

It was while Professor Rychman was in the midst of a tutorial lecture of particular eloquence that Percy roused from the vision to find him snapping his fingers in front of her face. She started, fumbled an apology, wrung her hands. “Oh, Professor! I’ve no d-doubt that your patience for me is at an end,” she stammered. “But I swear on my life that I listen to your every word and—”

The professor sighed. “Miss Parker, I wish you felt more at ease here. If you did, you might take to things with more surety.”

"I am, sir. At ease, I mean. Well, I … Oh, dear.” Feeling a fool, she looked away.

“At ease. Indeed?”

Percy folded her hands upon the desk. “I suppose not. Forgive my timidity. It undermines any hope I have for collected composure.”

“Your composure, Miss Parker, is nearly regal,” he replied. “That is, it would be if you stopped hiding.”

Percy blinked through her glasses at him. “Hiding?”

“With your shrouds and your shields I cannot tell when you are comprehending what I say. It is common knowledge that the eyes are the window to the soul, but your windows are shuttered. What they have to say has been muted.”

“But sir, the sun, the light—”

“Does the sun shine here, Miss Parker? You told me you were comfortable.”

“Well, I am, sir. Here the room is perfect but, outside, people stare and—”

The professor interrupted without pity or pause. “Do you include me in that number, Miss Parker? I would hope you realize that I have more important things to do than gawk as if you were a museum piece.” He leveled his gaze at her before returning to transcribing notes from a text.

“Of course, sir,” Percy replied. “Of course I realize that.”

“I call it hiding,” the professor repeated.

Percy let out a brief sigh, knowing she had no choice but to muster a bit of courage. She feared his reaction more than she could say, but he left no other option. “Very well, sir,” she remarked with quiet resolution. She rose from her chair, turned her back to him and began to remove her barriers.

She had not realized the entirety of the feeling of security they gave until she was confronted with her protections’ removal. After her careful hands removed glasses, gloves and long scarf, Percy felt naked. Vulnerable. Indecent. Yet, she reminded herself, it had not been her idea to lower her defenses. If the professor was to be disgusted—which was her greatest fear—it was through no fault of her own. The thought brought no comfort.
Tresses of lustrous, snow-white hair tumbled from their clothbound imprisonment, streaming like snowfall down the girl’s back. In an effort to make his student more at ease, Alexi did his best to appear wholly disinterested as she carefully removed her protections with delicate, private ceremony. But then she turned to face him, clutching those items that had held her unusual features in mystery. He forced his eyes to his book.

“As you would have it so, Professor, here is your pupil in all her ghastliness.”

Alexi looked up. Though Miss Parker’s hands clearly trembled, her voice did not.
His furrowed, generally disapproving brow rose slightly, and he leaned back in his chair and took her in. Luminous crystal eyes held streaks of pale blue shooting from tiny black pupils. A face youthful but devoid of colour, smooth and unblemished like porcelain, had graceful lines as well defined and proportioned as a marble statue. Her long, blanched locks shimmered in the candlelight like spider silk. Upon high cheekbones lay hints of rouge—any more would have appeared garish against her blindingly white skin, but she had been artful in her application. Her rosebud lips were tinted in the same manner.

She was attuned to even the most minuscule response. Her merciless, hypnotic gaze found his and she frowned. “You see, Professor, even you, so stern and stoic, cannot hide your shock, surprise, distaste—”

“Distaste?” he interrupted quietly. “Is that what you see?”
If Percy had taken the time to truly consider his response, she would have noticed that his tone was far from distasteful; it was, in fact, flattering. But she plowed on, choosing hurt. “What else can one feel when they behold living flesh that looks dead?”

"You assume ghost and not angel?”

Those words in regard to herself made Percy’s heart convulse. Surely he could not have intended a compliment. “I … I would never presume to liken myself to anything heavenly, Professor.”

“Indeed? Then it would seem that you, Miss Parker, are more modest than I.” If there had been an admiring look in his eye, it was quickly gone. The professor blandly donned his glasses. “Now, come take your seat. No more hiding, not in this office. Never again.”

“That is still your wish?” Percy asked.

“It is.”

Percy put down her things with a sigh. But as the lesson continued, she began to relax, seeing that he looked at her with no other quality but the expectation of fastidious attention. Once his lecture was complete, she was excused with an assignment and a curt nod. Percy donned her scarf, her gloves and her glasses with delicate deliberation, preparing to walk out again into the world. But halfway to the door after bidding the professor a quiet farewell, books in hand, she stopped and turned around.

The professor, busying himself at his desk, could evidently feel the weight of her stare; he looked up after a moment. “Yes, Miss Parker?”

“Thank you, Professor.”

“For what?”

“You are … the only man who has not made me feel as if I were on display.”

The professor blinked, his face expressionless. “You are a student and not an exhibit, Miss Parker. Good day.”

Percy curtseyed in response. Exiting the office, she felt heartened and keenly alive. Her blood murmured strangely in her veins. She wasn’t sure she’d ever been so happy.
As soon as the door closed behind Miss Parker, Alexi opened a drawer, withdrew his notebook and hurled it onto his desk. His pen flew. He did not allow himself to think of the implications of this previously unknown anxiety that was building inside.

“Miss Parker,” he said aloud as he wrote. “A ghost? Not my goddess in colours, but in fact the mirror opposite. Colourless. And yet, uniquely beautiful. Could her ghostly yet angelic appearance actually be a warning? Is she to be trusted or avoided? Why am I not dismissing her entirely, as I ought? She is a student! Why dare I even consider her? More the goddess is that ineffable Miss Linden, with her own clues, all those familiar words … And yet I sense in Miss Parker a gentleness similar to my goddess of two decades past. Which of them is the true seventh—if indeed either? Neither gentleness nor beauty, no matter how unusual, make Prophecy!” He slammed the book closed, knowing the fate of the world rested on his shoulders.

Releases 8/25/09, first in the Strangely Beautiful series
Pre-order The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker from
Barnes & Noble: http://tinyurl.com/strangelybeautifulbn
Borders: http://tinyurl.com/strangelybeautifulbd
Dorchester: http://tinyurl.com/sbdorch
Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/strangelybeautifulaz
Watch the Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFclwoZGhtY

I hope you've enjoyed the excerpt and will become a part of the Strangely Beautiful family!

Contest / Giveaways:
Be sure to drop by the Strangely Beautiful Haunted London Blog Tour launching 8/22 through September for a new ghost story every Tour Stop and a chance to win a signed copy of the book! Schedule posted here: http://www.leannareneehieber.com/haunted-london-blog-tour-book-giveaway/ Then on 8/25, stop by my contest page and find out how you can win one of two lovely prizes just by brushing up on your Shakespeare! Details here: http://www.leannareneehieber.com/contest/

Leanna Renee Hieber
2009 Prism Award Winner: DARK NEST
Upcoming from Leisure Books / Dorchester Publishing:
THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER - the ghostly, Gothic, Victorian fantasy begins 8/25/09!

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