Not Your Childhood Peter Rabbit

I’ve had a few people express interest recently in my work-in-progress. Thank you! I promise there will come a day when I will speak about it, probably to the point you’ll throw money at me in an effort to shut me up. 😉 At present, though, if I don’t diffuse creative tension by talking about my WIP, I find my writing production is higher. Crazy as it sounds, I want to talk about my fiction in the context of being signed by an agent and then a book deal.

If you are curious, however, here’s a small piece. It’s not entirely representative of my work for two reasons:

1. I wrote it in response to an online prompt. The assignment: to write a back cover blurb and two pages of a romance featuring an alien vampire bunny as a significant plot element.

2. I was fresh off an Anne Stuart binge. If you are not familiar with her fiction, she’s big on dark, atmospheric romances with gothic elements: huge power imbalance between hero and heroine; a monstrosity of a house; a hero who has convinced himself he’s unlovable and unloving. You’ll see some of these elements in this piece. Yet at times — and it makes me laugh to see them — you’ll see bits of utter Jan peeping through. (At least what I think is utter Jan.)

I’d really be interested to know if you like it overall or your impressions. Anyway, without further ado, I give you 24-Carrot Wedding Ring:

Summoned to a French magnate’s house to perform an allegedly routine haircut, Maggie McGregor is stunned by what she finds: a boy haunted by a traumatic incident, a father as overprotective as he is lonely, and a secret that keeps them trapped behind gated walls. But it isn’t long before she discovers her presence is no accident. The McGregor and Lapin families have been bound to one another by an alien-inflicted curse. Unless she can find a way to break the spell, she might live with the man she’s come to love, but under less-than-desirable circumstances.

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Maggie had gone through security for wealthy clients in the past, but the intensity of this particular gatehouse guard was starting to spook her. He’d spent ten minutes verifying her documents and now a good five examining her vehicle’s undercarriage – overkill, considering she drove a Smart Car. All this so she could perform a haircut?

By the time he’d finally granted access to the tree-lined drive, some of his sombre mood had rubbed off on her. She shivered despite the warmth of the summer evening and wished she’d asked Georges more questions about the reclusive Mr. Alexandre Lapin. She’d heard the words “family friend” and “trustworthy”, and after hearing the size of her fee, forgot to be curious. Maybe that had been a mistake.

The uniformed maid waiting for her on the chateau steps didn’t reassure. She led the way through a dimly lit marbled foyer, up two floors of spiral staircase, and down an oppressive corridor. Their footsteps made an echoing, lonely sound in the cavernous space.

Just when Maggie had decided upon retreat, no matter the cost to her reputation and cheque book, she was ushered into a brightly lit room. She had the sense of a book-lined area, inhaled the pleasing scents of polish and of a birchwood fire. Then the maid murmured introductions before slipping out and Maggie found herself alone with quite the most handsome man she’d ever seen.

He sat in a leather swivel chair behind an expanse of oak desk and regarded her from coffee-colored, inscrutable eyes. Eventually he waved her into a chair opposite with a languid gesture. Then he tented his fingers and repeated her perusal. The silence dragged. His mouth compressed. The subtle sign of disapproval decide her. She might be a mere hairdresser while he was an international magnate, and clad in khakis while he wore a silk suit, but she had given up an evening with friends to be here. He owed her.

She stood, held her arms out at shoulder height, and turned as if on a dais.  “This is it. This is me. One squat American who loves reality TV and Cheetos. Can be we done with the inspection now and get down to business, Mr. Lapin? Or should I prepare for a body cavity search?”

She’d meant to intimidate him with her directness, but a gleam came into those dark eyes. For long moments, the silence ripened with a peculiar tension. Then it was gone and she found she could breathe again.

“You seem to have questions, Miss McGregor.”

“Maggie.” She took a deep breath. “Just call me Maggie. And yes. What’s this all about? Why the super-spy routine?”

“I’m told you are good with children.”

She blinked. Would her client be a child? Relief rocketed through her at the knowledge she wouldn’t have to touch her employer’s thick mane of hair. “I’d like to think so.” It was her policy to take whatever time was required to earn the trust of her young clients, but he’d know that, if his research was half as thorough as his security. “What’s this all about?”

He plucked a Rubric’s cube from the desktop and rolled it between his palms. “My son was abducted two years ago, Miss McGregor. He was returned somewhat…worse for wear.”

She gaped at him, sank to her chair as her legs grew boneless.  No wonder he had the place hermetically sealed. With his wealth and history, he was probably terrified his child would be targeted again. Then she recalled her taunt of moments ago and heat rushed to her cheeks. “I-I’m so sorry. I—”

He waved her apology away with one pale hand. “I’m not interested in anything but your competence and discretion. You see, my son’s been left with a number of challenges. For the most part we’ve learned to manage.” A half-smile twisted his beautiful mouth. “Haircuts would be a notable exception. It’s the scissors. They terrify him. He cannot be rushed.”

“And if I push him too hard?”

His smile held no mirth. “He’ll bite. Efficiently and without remorse.” He dropped the cube to his desk with a thump and uncoiled his limbs to rise. “Naturally, I won’t subject him to restraints so you’ll have to charm him. Are you capable of charming an eight-year old, Miss McGregor?” Because you certainly haven’t done the same for me. He didn’t voice his thoughts aloud, but they hung in the air all the same.

Maggie lifted her chin. “I make no promise, except that I’ll try.” Silence while he presumably measured her sincerity. Then, as if she’d passed an invisible test, he nodded. “Now,” she said briskly, “tell me what to expect.”

“The deformities are rather minor – one bump on either side of his head. If you’ve any acumen at all, you’ll easily avoid them. He has a nervous tic – a nose twitch. And his gait can be odd at times.”

Maggie shrugged. She had a niece who’d spent an entire year pretending to be a black panther, scooting around the house on her hands and knees. “And his name?”

Teeth flashed white against his skin. Whatever was coming was a source of deep amusement to Alexandre Lapin. “His given name is Lucien, but since his return, he insists upon being called “Pierre.” He watched as she connected the dots and gave a soundless chuckle at her reaction. “Yes, Miss McGregor. It is ironic, no? My son, who has given himself the French name for Peter Rabbit, being attended by a woman named McGregor? How very fortunate your services do not require use of a rake.”

17 thoughts on “Not Your Childhood Peter Rabbit

  1. I know what you mean about not wanting to talk about your WIP too much — I’m the same way. (Although I love to hear about others’ work, and I think I’m one who has been pestering you…sorry! 😉

    Regarding this bunny stuff…you are brave, woman. I read that prompt and thought, “WTH?!” These prompt writing people are reaching, methinks. But, you handled it wonderfully. Yes, I definitely see the tart in there. Love the dialouge, (“one squat American…”) and such lines as “sank as her legs grew boneless.” Fun piece!

  2. Ooh, Tracey, you know I hadn’t even thought of extending this, but that might be fun. 🙂 Thanks for the idea.

    amanda, no! You didn’t pester me in the least! You expressed a most flattering interest which I consider only natural, and a byproduct of interacting with a fellow writer. Nor were you alone. I’ve had a few people recently inquire.

    And thank you for the feedback! I’m not part of a critique group at present and it’s wonderful to hear comments. I’m quite okay if people are flummoxed by the piece or don’t get it. We all have different tastes. 🙂

  3. Ooh! Most terrifying rabbit story since Bunnicula! I love the blurb btw – would totally read that… Nice vibe in your setting descriptions too – you do get across the idea of this foreboding house. And I love the humor in the names too 🙂

  4. Rebecca, I loved Bunnicula. 🙂 Thank you for your comments. I’m especially glad to hear the blurb worked for you. Gotta work on those querying skills, you know?

    Lisa, Smart Cars have comedic potential in and of themselves, don’t they? Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your time.

  5. This was fun! LOL A great blend of humor and Gothic foreboding. And you really rocked that back-cover blurb. I’m kinda jealous. 🙂

    I don’t like to talk too much about my WIPs either. Another online friend teased that I keep my stories locked up tighter than the Jonas brothers’ pants. LOL

    1. Donna, thank you for the kind words. I can sometimes, somehow do these blurb kind of things when I’m in the right mood. I wouldn’t count on me being able to do it when it really counts, though. And ha about the Jonas brothers! Very funny.

  6. You’re going places, lady. Super pacing, excellent tension and characterization between our leading lady and her manly-man, and oh, a child to bring them together. I love the whole Peter Rabbit/McGregor reference, and your voice is beautiful! Oh, Jan, I can’t wait to see you in print. ;-D

  7. I’ve now viewed new facets of your humor and wit, Jan. 🙂

    I’m very hesitant to share my wips. It took years to be able to join a crit group and share my unpublished writing. I also don’t talk about my wips much.

    1. Yes, do! I love Maggie’s attitude, Cheetos and all. Nice details to establish character. And the subtle rabbitiness of “Pierre” cracked me up.

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