Jonathan Huxley, a homeless boy living on the streets of Mecca, meets a wealthy gentleman who offers to take him in as an adopted son – if he’ll wed the daughter of a family friend. But all is not as it seems in the world of wealth and power, as Jonathan is soon forced to make a decision between a secure future or forbidden love. While he fights to keep hold of what little is left of his innocence, the events surrounding him are shaping him into the notorious mercenary he will soon become.
I am proud to say that Picture Perfect is now available for all of you to read and (hopefully) enjoy. Although it’s taking a bit of time to populate properly on the Nook, Sony Reader and Kindle sites, you can head to Smashwords and grab a copy for your ereader right now, and the best part – it’s free for a limited time! When you go to check out of Smashwords with Picture Perfect in your cart, just enter coupon code – XZ96L – and you’ll get the book free of charge.
The coupon code for Smashwords expires March 4th, so grab it while you can. After that, the novella will be available for 99 cents. In the next few days, the novella will be populating on the appropriate ereader websites for 99 cents as well. Enjoy!
And here’s a glimpse of the first chapter from Picture Perfect –
A Happy Birthday
Tuesday, December 18th, 1990
The cold wind on the night of his eighteenth birthday ripped at Jonathan Huxley’s bare skin like hounds’ teeth, pulling at the small hairs on his arms and the back of his neck, threatening to tear him apart. His nose reddened with the cold, and his eyes watered, making it hard to see the bottom of the trash can he was bending into.
The dim light from the streetlamp cast its eerie glow across the otherwise dark alley, while gusts of wind moved the light pole back and forth with an uncanny creaking sound.
Jonathan pulled himself out of the trash can, half of a rotten banana dangling from his frostbitten fingertips. He placed the fruit on the ground for a moment while he struggled with the frozen zipper on his jacket, trying to get it up to his chin. The coat had holes in it to begin with, making it easy for the pins of chilly air to sneak in and attack him here on the streets of Mecca. He managed to get the zipper up and then quickly shoved his fingers into his mouth to warm them up. The taste of banana, stale coffee, and wet chewing tobacco coated his taste buds, forcing him to spit toward the can.
He glanced down to see where he had put the banana and watched a large rat scurry toward him, grab the banana peel in its mouth, and take off down the alley, into the darkness, safe from the faint glow of alley light.
Jonathan cursed under his breath, angry that he had sought that prized item for the last hour and had been so foolish as to place it on the ground.
He kicked the garbage can, watching with some satisfaction as it fell over and vomited its contents across the dark puddles in the asphalt. That was the last trash can he was willing to search through this evening, so he accepted the fact that he was going to have to go without food today. The last item he ate was half of a stale turkey sandwich coated in some white sauce, which he guessed had been rotten milk, for dinner the night before. This meant he would have to find food in the morning or he would be in danger of starving.
He walked out of the alley and into the streets. The bright, neon lights of the closed shops glistened under the spell of the midnight hour. Up above him, a thick fog blocked the moonlight from reaching that level of the city. Jonathan walked hastily, hoping nobody had taken over his home for the evening. He was tired and hungry, but fatigue overrode the urgency to eat.
He passed by another alley, the last he would see until he reached his destination. Down at the end of the alley, stood a couple of tall figures surrounding a female in a violet-colored dress. She was backed up against the wall, her arms in front of her in defense to whatever they were trying to do to her. He shook his head and moved on, knowing it would not be wise to sacrifice his own life for another’s, especially in this cold. He already learned that harsh lesson once, and that was enough to deter him from attempting it again.
He reached an abandoned cement staircase that led down to a grimy door. He glanced around the area to make sure nobody was watching him and then pulled out an iron key, which he used to unlock the door that led into a wide, well-lit stairwell. He shut the door behind him and locked it, finding some warmth in the empty space.
The key was a mystery to him, given by a complete stranger who was wandering the streets like Jonathan only a few weeks ago. Jonathan was extremely grateful to the cloaked female but had been unable to find her again to thank her for her generosity. Generosity was a currency not easily found here in the “bottom docks” as they were called, the slums of the inner city.
He made his way down a flight or two of the silver-painted stairs and sat in the corner of the landing. The sounds of the large gears a few flights down would lull him to sleep in no time, as they had each night over the past few weeks. He loved the click and clack of the large gears, the city’s energy generated by their perpetual movement.
His eyes slowly sank lower as his mind replayed events of the day in a blurry, jagged stream of consciousness. It was his birthday today, wasn’t it? He couldn’t remember all that well. A stale banana was all he got? Was he eighteen now? Yes. How long had he been on the streets? He couldn’t recall. Was the woman in the violet dress okay? She won’t be for long. How long had he gone without someone to celebrate his birthday with? In his drowsiness, all he could remember from his childhood was a large, circular angel food cake that his mother had plastered with chocolate frosting and topped with ten birthday candles. He had blown them all out with a single breath but never got his wish. His mother had given him a birthday kiss on the cheek…
Jonathan succumbed to sleep in a matter of minutes.
Each night he dreamed of the same things, scattered along the plain of his subconscience differently: the many alleys he had scrounged through, the bits and pieces of food he found himself shoving down his throat each day, the women dressed in slutty outfits, giving their bodies over to poverty and every type of sexual activity. Every now and then, he would dream of his parents, or what he could remember of them. They passed away when he was ten, so his memories of them were faint, but they were good memories and they warmed him on dark, cold nights such as this.
Every morning, the city gears sounded a little bit louder, as if raising their voices at the sight (or thought) of dawn on the topside. They woke him around the same time each day, dragging him out of his dreams and into the real world again—a world he didn’t really want to wake up in.
He opened his eyes, and depression hit him. He quickly attempted to push it out of his mind and heart, having learned how to control his emotions to a decent degree. Usually if the streets didn’t kill someone, the insanity of living on them would. He wasn’t going to let that happen to him. He wanted to make something of himself someday, not die down here in the slums or cave into becoming a professional thief.
He shuffled out of the corner and strained to get to his feet, the gears louder than ever now. He stopped and listened for a moment, noticing another sound other than just the gears. Someone was pounding on the door at the top of the stairwell. His mind raced. If it was the police, they weren’t going to be kind to him, not if they found him down here. Tinkering with the city’s gears was cause for imprisonment and most times, from what he heard, death.
His gaze wandered down the stairwell, down to where the soft glow of lighting merged into darkness. He knew he couldn’t escape down there. Rumors ran rampant through the streets about unmentionable things that occurred to those who wandered into the gear rooms. He heard of creatures there that didn’t want to be disturbed and would make a meal out of you if they were. He could have sworn he could smell rotten flesh wafting up from the shaft while he mused about these awful things.
He shook his head as the knocking quickened. He knew he better open the door. Infuriating the police wasn’t the smartest thing to do.
He climbed to the top of the stairs and unlocked the door, swinging it open to a figure covered in blue armor. An Anaishan Sentry. His giant blue helmet and blue face shield glimmered in the morning light breaking through the dispersing fog.
“Jonathan Huxley?” a mechanical voice questioned from the helmet.
Jonathan still wasn’t sure if these sentries who patrolled the streets were human or mechanical robots.
The sentry moved to the side to reveal an older gentleman in a black tweed overcoat. Gray hair covered his face. He wore a tall hat and carried a cane in his left hand. All of his weight seemed to be pressed on that cane, causing him to lean to the left a little.
“Who are you?”
The old man scowled. “Do not speak to me, boy, until I have spoken to you. That is the rule of age.”
“Who are you?”
“Hmph.” The old man turned to the sentry and nodded. “Thank you. I will take it from here.”
The sentry stared at them for a moment, then turned and left.
The old man turned back to Jonathan and sneered. “Listen, young man. Listen very carefully to me because I will not repeat myself, not even once. I am going to give you the opportunity of a lifetime. I am going to give it to you once. If you decline, you will not have a chance at this again. Not by me, and I certainly doubt you will get another chance by another individual as generous.”
“You still haven’t answered my question. Who are you?”
“My name is Reginald Arthur the Third.”
“To you, it shouldn’t matter.”
“You’re right. What do I care who you are?”
“Hmm. Disrespectful, are we? I guess that can be attributed to your time on the streets since your parents died.”
Jonathan glared at him. “What do you know about my parents?”
“I know much, but that knowledge is not relevant at this point in time. The offer I am going to make to you is simple. I will take you into my home and provide food, shelter, all of the amenities you could possibly desire. All in return for one thing.”
Jonathan stared at the man, watching him shift his weight to the right a little.
“I want you to marry my friend’s daughter in a week’s time, to secure the legacy of my family.”
Jonathan laughed. “Yeah, right. That’s what you want from me? To get married?”
The man nodded. “You have approximately one minute to make your decision. After this minute, which has already started, if you have not made your decision, I shall leave this place and you will never hear or see me again.”
“How can you expect me to make a decision like this that quickly?”
“You are homeless, boy. What is there to decide? I told you what I am offering. You have fifty seconds.”
“Who is this girl? Is she attractive? What kinda rules are you going to make me follow while I’m in your house?”
“I am sure, in this case, that your need to survive would greatly outweigh any inquisitive ponderings you may have. I can assure you that this girl is considered attractive in almost every circle through which she has passed. Who she is, is irrelevant at this point in time. And of course, as with all things in life, there are rules to govern right and wrong. There are no rules that would be outside your capacity to follow, though.” He glanced down at his watch. “Thirty seconds. Don’t try and convince me that you really have a hopeful life down here in the bottom docks.”
“That’s a bit insulting.”
“So is the amount of time you are taking to accept my generous offer.”
“Why do you need me? What makes me so special that you came all the way down here to find me?”
“I need someone to carry on my family legacy. My wife and I cannot have kids together. I already know you are a thief and a liar, so I know what to expect. If I were to adopt from the orphanage, I wouldn’t know what or who I would be dealing with. Twenty seconds.”
Jonathan thought for a moment. He remembered that thieving rat from the night before, running off with his stale banana. That was his banana. He was tired of digging in the trash, tired of watching women get raped. He was on the brink of becoming someone he didn’t want to be just to survive.
He nodded. “Fine.”
The old man nodded in reply. “Very well, Jonathan. Come with me, and I will show you your new home and explain the rules of the Arthur household.”