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Friday, March 20, 2015

They Called Me Lucky by Crystal Collier

Killing your darlings is a brutal and sad experience. Today, I’m excited to share one scene that got the ax in my latest release, SOULLESS (Book 2 in the Maiden of Time Trilogy). 


This excerpt takes place in the world of 1770 where people can heal with a touch, kill with a scream, or rob a person of their memories.

Darkness filled the world beyond the torches. No moon lit the sky, which meant the Soulless were prowling tonight, searching for Edward Hampton and his companions through any of their negative emotions. The festive music and dancing felt forced, but it alleviated the gloom and kept them hidden from the Soulless. 

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Edward plied his fiddle in time with the Master’s guitar. He found it difficult to focus with his wife, Ethel, twirling in the crowd and enticing him to chase after her, but he had a duty to fulfill. The music wouldn’t play itself.

A member of their company occupied the shadows beyond their frivolities, and Edward escaped the constant temptation to join Alexia at the perimeter of light, keeping focus on his instrument’s rhythm as he moved.

“Mister Edward Hampton, are you running from your wife?” Alexia teased over his fiddle’s romp.

He chuckled. “I am glad you finally know about us.” 

“You are most lucky.”

His smile thinned, eyes turning to the dancers. “You are not the first to accuse me of that, though I hope for Ethel and I’s sakes you are a better prophet.”

She clasped both hand in front of her and kicked at the ground. “I do dream the future.”

He laughed.

“But what do you mean? How are you not lucky beyond measure?” she asked.

He stilled his bow and touched it to her shoulder. “None of us are lucky, Alexia dear.”

The Master glanced over, but continued to play. Alexia’s brows squeezed together in an unspoken question. She had certainly heard tales of her mother’s misfortune, but Edward doubted she understood how universally applicable her family’s experiences had been.

“I was an orphan.” Edward leaned on a fist. “I lived at an orphan house in London. No one had claim on me, and I had claim on no one.” He rubbed his bottom lip. “At ten, I ran away and worked the streets for money, begging, pick-pocketing, whatever I had to do. I had no idea of my unique…heritage.”

“None?”

He shook his head. “One day I asked a gentleman for a farthing. ‘I shall give you a farthing,’ he said, ‘if you can tell me how many coins are in my fist.’ And he gave me a brief glimpse. ‘A shilling, three pennies and a farthing,’ I told him. He eyed me skeptically before examining the coinage and finding—of course—I was correct. He reached into his purse and changed the amount. ‘A ha’penny if you can do it again.’ He tried several more times, owing me at the end three pennies. Impressed, he quizzed me about this talent with numbers. I continued to share my calculations and observations: the number of bricks in a wall with only a glance, how many times a beggar woman had twiddled her hair while we spoke and what it meant she was thinking, the maps of the city I’d created in my head… The fellow, Larkins, took me under his wing. He put me up as the youngest clerk in a small bank he managed and paid me next to nothing, but with room and board, I could not complain. He included me in his business dealings, using my observations of his competitors or potential clients to guide his decisions. The bank thrived. His wife fed me like a son, and Emily—his only living daughter—became my sister and best friend.”

Alexia grinned. “You sound lucky indeed.”

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He plucked at his sleeve. “Despite his disregard for me as a person, I was the most devoted servant. Larkins taught me etiquette and showed me off to his friends, bragging about the deal he’d discovered on London’s streets. Several rivals offered more pay, better conditions too, but I turned them all down primarily for one reason.” He pulled a laced handkerchief from his pocket. The initials E. L. shimmered in pink thread.

“Emily Larkins,” Alexia surmised.

“She fell in love with me. I cannot blame her, after all, I had come of age.” 

Alexia’s cheeks reddened. Edward recognized the shame and anger she harbored from her recent experience of blossoming into maturity, how she’d changed physically from her parents’ greatest embarrassment to the most sought-after prize of the community. 

“I was nineteen before I found the courage to ask for her hand.” He toyed with his ring finger, tracing a circle around the bare skin. “—Without speaking to her father, of course. We both knew he saw me as little more than a slave. ‘Go to him,’ she urged me. ‘Perhaps he will see your merit and increase your salary. If not, we shall run away.’ ‘And how will I provide for you?’ I asked. ‘You are intelligent. A hundred men in the city are begging you to switch employ.’

“I told her simply that her father had given me a chance, a home, and a future. I could not turn on him. Years we argued before I took her to Fleet Street. We married quickly and secretly under aliases. I continued to work for her father, and she grew steadily angrier about my unwillingness to confront him, thus adding to my own dissatisfaction.”

Alexia placed a hand on his sleeve. 

He pulled back, ashamed for the truth he must now share. “She left to live with her aunt when her wardrobe could no longer conceal the swelling of her womb. She bore for me a daughter, a daughter I never saw.” That cold place opened up in the center of his chest, the hollowness time would never heal. “Emily had grown tired of the deception. I was away on errand for her father when, without a word to me, she left our child in the care of friends and begged her father to marry her off. He did, and she went willingly.”

“Oh, Edward…”

“I followed after them. I had to, but she would not see me. Her new husband warded me off with the law.” He set the violin aside. “Lucky they called me. Luck exists only in games of chance.”

Alexia’s eyes glistened with unshed tears. “What became of her—your wife, your daughter?”

He smiled sadly. “I…I finally forced my way in and confronted her husband. He called me a brigand and liar, despite the marriage certificate. I could not prove the aliases were true. We had a scuffle.” 

“And?” she whispered, cringing.

How to admit the tragedy that had changed him forever? “I took it all—everything in his mind. He no longer knew how to walk, how to breathe…”

“Edward!”

He ducked, unable to face her terror. “I had never before taken a memory. I did not know that I could. I acted in rage.” He lifted his gaze. “And I wish I could say I stopped at that, but the moment was an epiphany for me. I could have anything I wanted.”

“Did you take what you wanted?”

He exhaled and nodded. “For a time. The law could not stop me, but the Master did.”

Alexia glanced at the Master. New reverence for the man surfaced in the softening of her frown, the warming of her eyes. Good. The positive feelings would win over whatever sorrow she felt for Edward. 

Alexia licked her lips. “Emily, is she still alive?”

He covered his face. “The Master drew me away from society to learn control over my gifts, and her father placed her in an asylum where she died nine years ago. My fault, again.”

“How?”

“My Emily saw a great many things I never could explain, and forgot so many it drove her to madness.”

“You altered her memories.” Alexia took a slow, deep breath. “And your daughter?”

“She answers to the name North, Elizabeth North. She does not know me, nor will she ever, though I hope to one day find the courage to bestow upon her her mother’s keepsake.” He folded the handkerchief and tucked it back into his pocket. “She is forty and two years of age.”

“Oh Edward…”

“We all make mistakes, Alexia.” He nodded toward Ethel. “But tonight I count myself blessed, for I have been given a second chance. Perhaps you are correct. I am most lucky.”


Crystal Collier is a young adult author who pens everything from dark fantasy, historical, and romance tales, to inspirational stories. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, three (soon to be four) littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. 

Check out her Maiden of Time series, published by Raybourne Publishing, or a number of anthologies containing her short stories.