Fateful - Claudia Gray

Claudia Gray - Fateful

Claudia Gray

young adult/fantasy/romance/werewolves

Chapter 1

APRIL 9, 1912

It’s not too late to turn back, I tell myself.

As a group of sailors leer at me, I cross my arms in front and wish my coat weren’t so shabby. Though the spring days are warm now, the nights are cool, and the sea-sharpened wind cuts through thin cloth.

The streets of Southampton darken as the hour grows late, not that I can see the sun or anything so cheery with all these tall buildings surrounding me. My feet, accustomed to either the dirt roads of my home village or the polished floors of Moorcliffe, stumble on the cobblestones. I like to think of myself as a steady sort of girl, but the unfamiliarity of everyone and everything around me has put me off balance. The city seems dangerous, and dusk here seems more forbidding than midnight at home.

I could go back to the hotel suite, where my employers await. I could just say that the shop was closed, that I wasn’t able to purchase the bootlaces. Miss Irene wouldn’t mind a bit; she didn’t want to send me out on my own in the first place.

But Lady Regina would be furious—even over something as trivial as my not being able to purchase extra bootlaces for the trip. Lady Regina’s fury would spill over into Mrs. Horne’s punishment. I’m afraid of being out in a city on my own, but I’m more afraid of getting sacked before I reach America.

So I square my shoulders and hurry along the road. My servant’s dress, long and black, complete with white apron and puffy linen cap, marks me as lower class and insignificant. But it also says that I am employed by a household wealthy enough to have servants run the errands. Maybe that keeps me safe. The men around me know that I work for people of quality, and that if anything were to happen to me, those people might be upset and demand justice.

Luckily, these men don’t know Lady Regina. Her only reaction to my death would be annoyance at having to find another maid who could fit in the same uniforms, so she wouldn’t have to pay for new ones.

Something dark swoops overhead—a seagull, I think, and I lift one hand above my head to ward it off. I never saw a gull before this afternoon, and already I’ve come to despise the loud, greedy things.

But it’s not a seagull. I don’t get a very good look at it, fast as it goes by, but I see the sharp angles of the wings, the quick flutter. It’s a bat, I think. Even worse. That reminds me of the gothic novels I’ve sneaked peeks at in the Lisle family library—Frankenstein and Dracula and Udolpho, all the scary ones that were so much fun to read in a warm, well-lit room but seem far too plausible when I’m alone as darkness falls.

I wouldn’t have expected to see a bat flying through the streets of Southampton, but then, what do I know of the world beyond Moorcliffe and my home village? Only once before in my life have I ever been anywhere else—and that but for a day, just because Daisy needed me very badly.

And now I am planning a greater journey yet—

You mustn’t think of such things right now. You can worry about all that after you get on the ship.

After it’s too late to turn back.

Resolutely I continue on my path toward the shop. The sailors thin out a bit, though the streets still seem crowded to me. I know I’ve got to get used to it, because we’re traveling to New York City, which I understand makes Southampton look like a small town.

All the same, it’s a relief to turn off the main road and take what I hope is a shortcut toward the shop. This alleyway is so old and worn down by time that the stones dip into a V in the center, and my hobnail shoes make me clumsy as I continue on my way. Oh, for a pair of Miss Irene’s dove-gray boots, of such soft leather they would never blister, and light on the feet instead of heavy—

The bat swoops overhead again, so close I think it’s diving for my cap.

Though I feel a chill, I don’t let my imagination run away with me; instead, I focus on the practicalities and clutch my cap to my head. If some fool bat steals part of my uniform, the Lisles will