Friday, January 5, 2018

Mad World at Swoon Reads

Here's something I'm trying...

During one of my searches to find yet more books to read, I stumbled across the website SwoonReads. Not only did I find some upcoming releases to add to my Wishlist, but I learned that writers could submit their manuscripts for a possible book deal with Macmillan. Basically, writers submit unpublished works for readers to read, rate and comment on. If the writer receives enough reviews, the manuscript is considered for publishing. I thought this was pretty amazing.

From the Swoon Reads “FAQ” page

“Swoon Reads publishes young adult and new adult romance novels. Writers can submit their original, unpublished manuscript to the Swoon Reads website, and readers who sign up can rate and comment on manuscripts to help us [editors] choose which titles we want to publish. Swoon Reads is an imprint of Macmillan publishing under Feiwel & Friends and was founded by Jean Feiwel.”

Swoon Reads is all about finding swoonworthy titles, so I decided to submit MAD WORLD. Below you'll find the description along with the first chapter. If you find yourself intrigued, I hope you'll visit the  
MAD WORLD page and continue reading. It's totally free!

Ruby Grismer has been raised in the shadows. Kept hidden from the world in order to keep her safe. And to keep others safe from her.

All Ruby wants is to be like everyone else. Normal. Human. So one night Ruby sneaks out. And she is seen. Her innocent outing leads to her first meeting with Sebastian Blackwell. The handsome new boy in town with a family secret of his own.

A secret that could destroy Ruby.

Like a moth to a flame, she can’t stay away from Sebastian. Torn between her safety and the need for his company, Ruby must decide...will she continue to walk with danger? Or will she fight the pull toward this boy and ultimately sacrifice her heart?

Chapter One

There is a large picture window in my house. It is located upstairs, centered at the end of the hallway. Everyday, while my guardian, Drusilla is napping; I sit at that window and stare at people as they walk by. Some straight to their homes if they are close, others to their cars, which dot the street. Regardless of their means of transportation, I watch them. Wishing that I too could escape the confines of home each day and mingle among them.

But I don’t. I can’t.

Drusilla says I’m different. Special. She home-schools me and insists that I learn much, much more than I would at the local high school. So I settle for sitting at the window, curled up like an old house cat, staring outside. Seeing others while remaining unseen.

Today is a dark day. The usually casual saunters are more purposeful as they break for shelter. The sky opens up and releases its worst. The rain glitters against the passing car lights. And then, just as quickly as it all begins it is over. The streets are once again still and all is quiet. Save for the lone clap of thunder and the splashing of raindrops against the lawn. My stomach quivers with excitement. How I long to run outside and tip my head toward the sky. To feel the rain against my skin just once. But I am not allowed outside.


Movement in the mirror catches my eye. My breath tangles in my throat and a teardrop of cool fear races up my spine. I step closer, squinting in the half-light cast across the room from the window. The figure moves with me. I breathe out a sigh of relief.

It’s only me.

I look toward the glass knowing what I will see. Bright burgundy blinks back at me through porcelain skin. An off sort of eye color, but then again what do I have to compare it with? Thick ribbons of raven black hair twist from the crown of my head down to the middle of my back. Not a scratch can be found. Not a hair is ever out of place.

Perfect. Just like Drusilla expects.

A stirring in the hallway reaches out and swipes my attention. Drusilla is coming. My time is up sooner than I would like. Just like every other day. I bolt away from the window, swiping my copy of Grimm's fairy tales from the small table as I drop into my designated armchair.

The one located beyond the reach of the window.

Drusilla appears at the end of the hall. Her face is pinched into a forced smile; her hair is as it always is. Long locks, smoothed to perfection. One side is tucked behind her ear. No nonsense. She is wearing a plain white blouse secured in smart black trousers. The only adornment visible is the emerald-green pendant thrumming at the hollow of her throat. A separate entity, yet something she is never without.

“You should be finished with your reading.” She doesn’t ask if I am ready, simply turns on her heel and expects me to follow.

I do.

It’s the same routine every day. She leads me back to my room, just like I’m a small child that needs to be watched at all times. From their photos on the wall, her ancestors’ eyes follow my every step. I’m an unwelcome stranger in their beloved daughter’s life. The occasional sconce lights our way as we continue. Drusilla remains silent.

After a few beats she turns to me and smiles. It’s that same far away, head in the clouds smile she gets sometimes. It can be a little frightening. “Do you like your new reading area? I thought it would be a nice change for you to get out of the basement.” A small giggle escapes her lips. “It has been days now and you have not said a word.” She doesn’t seem right. Something small that I can’t quite put my finger on seems to be off about her today.

I count to three and shake it off.

One. Two Three.

“I love my new space,” I begin. She doesn’t understand. I can’t remain locked up. Not anymore. “It’s so dark in the basement…I wish--”

“What darling?”

“I wish I could stay out all of the time. Have a room upstairs? I need fresh air, sunlight, other people--” I realize my mistake the moment the words tumble out of my mouth.

All manner of calm is gone now. Siphoned from the air. Drusilla reels on me. Her face is that of a ghost. Pale and pallid. Her hands find purchase on my own. She squeezes. Hard. The heat of her skin on mine should be a welcome change from the customary chill. She never touches me. And when she does-it’s like this…suffocating. At the same time intoxicating. The edge of her anxiety scrapes at my sanity. I can’t bear it.

But her grasp is relentless. “Did you go outside?”

“No, Drusilla.”

“Go to the window?”

“Of course not.”

A sigh escapes her and the color returns to her face. Her eyes soften and her cheeks brighten. “I’m sorry to be so bothersome, my darling, really. But you have no idea what dangers lurk outside the walls of this house. Not one single clue. Were something to happen to you--” She rubs at her temple. “I cannot even think about the consequences were someone to find you.”

“I know –you’ve told me.” Repeatedly. I lower my eyes. I don’t dare look at her. I hope I’m convincing. She can’t find out that I have broken one of her cardinal rules. I must remain hidden away like some skeleton in her closet. A deep dark secret that would ruin her if I was to be discovered.

I wish I knew why.

We resume our forward movement and arrive at the staircase. After wrapping my fingers around the wrought-iron banister, I place one foot in front of the other. Nice and steady. Just like I’ve been taught. Drusilla follows a few beats behind me. Always watching.

“I hope you know how very important you are to me. I couldn’t bear it if anything were to happen to you.”

Lucky me, I’m as important as an antique doll tucked away in a cabinet. “Nothing’s going to happen to me.”

“Of course not because you will stay inside at all times. No matter what.”

“Yes, Drusilla.”

I risk a glance behind me. Her head is shifted to the side. A thoughtful expression clouds her face. “That’s my good girl.”

Before I know it, we reach the bottom of the stairs. The door to my bedroom lurks in front of me. Large wrought iron and dark chocolate oak that blends with the rest of the castle-like ambiance of the house. With a curt nod Drusilla beckons me forward.

“Go on now. I need to run to the store,” she urges, tossing me a pasted on smile. “I’ll see you at supper.”

She waits for me to step over the threshold. I only have time to set one floor on the ground beyond before the door closes behind me and the sound of the lock sliding home echoes off of the walls.

She just wants to keep me safe. That’s all there is to me remaining under lock and key. Safety first.


I can’t rid myself of the feeling that there is more to her actions. Some method of obsession I’m unaware of. Not all girls are hidden away from the rest of the world like a stain on the good linens.

I look around the large expanse of my room. I know Drusilla cares because it’s adorned with the finest of everything. Lavishly decorated like something I would see in the pages of my favorite magazine. My room boasts beautiful satins and silks in various shades of purples and plums that drip from the ceiling and surround my bed. There is even a small seating area with plush couches covered with beaded throw pillows. On the wall rests a huge flat screen TV surrounded by built in bookshelves, displaying rows and rows of poetry books as well as novels by my favorite authors. I cannot ask for more.

And still. I do-want more. So much more. I fall down onto the couch, chewing at my nail. A nasty little habit that Drusilla has vowed to break. Though she does not mean it, her actions are cruel. Does she actually think she can just lock me away in the basement? Only letting me out when she wants company?

I curl up in a ball and close my eyes as the loneliness sets in once again. It’s an awful feeling that bites away at me. Makes me feel empty. It’s as though someone has taken some sort of sharp instrument and hollowed me out.

I just want a friend. Someone to talk to.

Time moves slowly here. How long I remain in my pathetic cocoon I can’t say. But enough is enough. Desperate for a distraction…an end to my little pity party, I separate myself from the couch.

Crossing the room I begin by straightening my books. They’re already in perfect order, faced even across the entire shelf. Each one exactly where it should be. And that is how they must remain, along with everything else in my room. A place for everything and everything in its place. I can’t function otherwise.

I move on to my small workspace. The shell of a necklace I have been working on lays flat against its bed of velvet. Each jewel has already been hand-selected and waits nearby to be placed in its new home. It’s an odd little hobby, but aids in the long passing hours when I’m locked away in my room. Creating something beautiful also calms my jagged little nerves when the devil inside threatens to run astray. Thank goodness Drusilla is more than happy to indulge me.

My workstation is located in the far corner of my room. It’s nothing fancy. But I have everything I need whenever inspiration hits. My eyes glance over the desktop and I notice my sketchpad is shifted the wrong way. I straighten it, along with the pastels that sit next to it. It’s not until I reach the jars housing my crystals that I notice it. My bedroom door. There is just the smallest sliver of light peeking through. To me it’s like a gleaming beacon welcoming me home. How is this possible? I am certain Drusilla locked the door.

Quiet feet lead the way. The door creaks as I open it. Just a little, but enough to make me think twice. The promise of freedom, however short-lived far outweighs the risk of being caught at this point. I keep going. Up the dark stairs I go until I reach the top. It’s there that I wait. And listen.


Golden, gleaming silence.

Drusilla is gone. Thunder claps and the rain continues to taunt me. With hope fluttering in my chest, I head for the back door. I grasp the handle, turn it and smile.


Just as I had hoped. Drusilla’s confidence in her ability to keep me locked away is working to my advantage-beautifully. The door swings open with a soft groan. I pull in an anxious breath and step over the threshold.

At first I stand under the canopy of the lower deck, happy to enjoy what this experience has to offer. And then I throw caution to the wind and walk to the middle of the yard. Raindrops whisper against my cheeks, coil down my arms, like newly found acquaintances excited that I have finally come out to play.

The air out here is ripe with moisture, filled with the heady perfume of rainfall. I have only caught glimpses of the fragrance and those tiny snippets didn’t do it justice.

I throw my arms out to my sides and let my head fall back. My hair is nearly drenched at this point, but I don’t care. A giggle escapes my lips and I spin around and around until my legs threaten to give way.

“Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to play in the rain?”

A cry leaps from my chest. I turn and hit a wall-no I run into the owner of that voice. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard-rich and velvety. The ground rushes up fast and furious. My hands splay out to break my fall, but just as I brace myself for impact, strong hands twine themselves around my waist and pull me to my feet. It’s like being attached to some sort of bungee cord. One second I’m heading toward the ground and the next I find myself back on my feet.

Where his hands touch me a trail of sizzling heat sears straight to my core. The trees and everything around them turn to smears as a dizzying buzz resounds in my head. I pull in a ragged breath. Release it. The world rights itself and he comes into view.

He is huge. Thick muscle cords his arms where my hands are clutching on for dear life. At well over six feet tall, he towers over my measly five foot three frame. A force not to be reckoned with. And yet there is something sweet in his demeanor. His eyes are kind. Soft chocolaty brown. Lovely. He continues to stare. A lazy, crooked smile that could melt ice-caps spreads across his face. Oh my goodness. There are dimples. Heaven help me he is perfect.

His beautiful, handsome face. His cheekbones and jawline are sculptured to perfection and his lips are full and dark pink, the bottom one slightly larger than the top. “Are you okay?” I’m unable to formulate words. I’ve never seen another living being-not this close. Aside from Drusilla.

Fear surges then blends with my curiosity as I stare up at him and nod. I know I should turn and run back to the house before this creature has the chance to hurt me. Forget this ever happened. But as I turn to leave I cast another glance at the stranger. Something in me changes. It’s small, unrecognizable but altered all the same. He is just so pretty.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I just-my family just moved to town and when I saw you out here--”

His words jar something loose. Drusilla. She will be home soon and here I am soaked to the bone talking to a stranger. A--a boy! “I--I have to go.”

“No wait-please.” He reaches for me and I cower away.

“I’m sorry,” I say. I move back toward the house with erratic haste. What started out as a small infraction of the rules has now blown up into a full-fledged disaster. Drusilla is adamant that no one finds out about me. The consequences could be disastrous. So she says.

Slipping back into the house, I pull off my shoes and lock the door. Weakness in my knees forces me into a kitchen chair. My head falls against the table and I pull in several ragged breaths. Wait for the beating of my heart to slow. When it does, I stand, creep back to the window. I peel back the curtains, just a crack-and stare into the yard, hoping to catch one last glimpse of the beautiful stranger. He’s gone. A dark abyss of loneliness creeps into my subconscious.

It’s for the best I tell myself.

Careful not to tread any water on the wood floors, I return to my room where I ready myself for dinner with Drusilla. All the while hoping that this little mishap does not come back to haunt me. Even though I would give anything to see him again. Consequences be damned.

Drusilla follows the same routine everyday. Dinner. Wine. Bed.

Dinner is a scheduled event in which I am required to attend. I do not complain because it is one of the few times I am permitted to leave my room. And I do enjoy Drusilla’s company. The food is always amazing too. The downside is the wine. Oh, my goodness the wine-her sauce as I like to call it, is to numb the pain or stress of some unseen burden Drusilla has yet to share. And of course bed will follow. Once she has had her fill of both food and drink there is no other course.

So every day we follow the script. Always in that order. Never deviating in the slightest. I have watched her. And waited. Waited for the moment when I’m certain I can get away. Not to be missed. Undetected.

At least for a little while.

I enter the room and take my seat at the long dinner table. Just like yesterday. And the day before that. Drusilla enters the room. She’s a vision in lavender. The dress she wears fits her perfectly. Just like the clothes she chooses for me.

She takes her seat and the wait staff begins to serve. Dinner is delicious. As usual. The salad arrives first. There are bits of fish and slivers of almond with a hint of creamy dressing.

We talk of current events and she fills me in on the bits of her day that I’ve missed. Inside me the battle of loyalty and jealousy surges on. I do love this woman that has cared for me, but a part of me cannot help but feel that slight twinge of envy when she talks about her little outings to the book store, the mall, and for goodness sake coffee. If I didn’t know any better I would swear she was purposefully trying to hurt me.

But I do know better and she would not be so callous.

Before I realize, the final course has been cleared and dessert has arrived. Double chocolate cake. Like a sweet, creamy dream, it melts in my mouth, pulling a smile at my lips. I don’t dare eat the entire piece. It would not do to lose my girlish figure.

Whatever. Who is it that I need to impress? Soon I will be escorted back to my room. The moment the last dish is cleared. The last morsel of food eaten I will be returned to my cage for the remainder of the evening. The thought sends a shudder down my spine. The bite of cake I’ve just taken tastes like ash in my mouth souring my mood.

Drusilla’s forehead wrinkles. “Is everything okay?” Her fork hovers in the air mid-bite.

I nod. A customary response. “I’m fine. Just a little tired.”

“Are you sure? I had cook make this cake especially for you.”

As if that alone could chase away my loneliness. I will not be consoled by food. The sudden urge to be away from her slashes through me like a razor. “Can I be excused?”

She watches me. Really watches me as if my face holds every answer she is seeking. “Okay,” she says with uncertainty. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Drusilla.” I throw the comment over my shoulder as I exit the room. I don’t look back as I hold tight to the railing and descend the stairs to my room. Without a second thought, I throw myself onto the bed and cry myself into a hazy stupor.

Sometime during my fit I must have fallen asleep. I open my eyes and my sheets are all askew, my clothes a mess. Pushing myself out of bed, I cross the room to my closet. Might as well put on something more comfortable.

When I get to the closet I notice something off. It escaped me at first because I just didn’t look that way, but after a second glance I see it.

The door to my bedroom, open. Again.

I smooth my hair into a low pony as I walk. With innate caution I move. The only sound in the vast stairwell is the rustling of my hoodie and the scuff of my shoes against the ceramic tile. When I reach the top of the stairs I find the house dark, uninviting even. Not a thing is out of place. This alone should bring me comfort. But something is not right.

I amble through the living room taking in every insignificant knick-knack. Every ornamental frame. Not one single picture of me exists in the entire house. There are pictures of every other relative Drusilla has ever had. Pets. Her dad even. But not one single picture of me. It should not bother me. But it does.

I shake off the feeling of neglect that has webbed its way through my veins and move toward the stairs. As customary I grip the rail with all my might. Walking I have down pat, stairs however are another chapter in my unfinished book.

By the time I reach the top and relinquish my grip, my knuckles are a morbid white. Drusilla’s room is the last door on the left. Slowly, slowly I creep down the hall. The door is cracked open and the muted light from the television echoes on the walls. For a minute, all I do is listen. When all that greets me is the mumbling of an infomercial and silence, I push the door open and slip inside.

Drusilla is in bed. Fast asleep. Her hair, which is usually scraped into perfection, is cast wildly across her pillow. A sheet of ebony ribbons draped in a haphazard manner. The peace that shrouds her beautiful features makes the shame in my heart ghost over me. I wonder how I could ever have such selfish thoughts about this woman.

The guilt almost drives me back to my room where I should have stayed. I know better than to wander the house unchecked. Drusilla is after all only looking out for my best interests. But as I look between the open door and the sleeping form before me, an idea fires to life in my mind. Small at first, but gaining momentum as the seconds tick by.

I could slip out again. Go for a short walk this time and return before I’m missed. Drusilla would never dream me capable of doing such a thing. There lies the beauty of this very rare and intriguing situation.

Do I dare? Excitement gurgles in my stomach, tingles clear to the tips of my fingers. Yes. I think I do.

Crossing the room, I grab a spare down comforter from the divan. Drusilla often speaks of growing cold in the night and her covers have already been kicked free. Piled on the floor like silken rubble. I spread the blanket over her and move to the door. Sparing one last glance at my creator, my caregiver before I progress into the hall and pull the doors closed behind me. There is a whisper and a click and I’m as good as alone. My hand rests against the oak grain of the bedroom door.

“Sleep well, Drusilla,” I whisper.

The excitement in me mounts as I walk down the hall toward the front door. Momentary freedom is so close I can taste it. The lock slides free with silent effort. Thank goodness. I slip over the threshold and into the night. The moon hangs overhead as if welcoming an old friend home at last.

I smile and close the front door.

What harm will a little outing do?


Want to know what happens next? You can find all of MAD WORLD on my page at Swoon Reads. I will be forever in your debt if you leave a rating and a review!  

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