P R O L O G U E
Seven lay on her floor in a small patch of sunlight. The air outside was warm, and the happy thrum of rural life nudged at her. Birds sang. Crickets cricketed. Bunnies probably surreptitiously hopped around the bushes outside.
She hated it.
She hated the normality. She hated the predictability. She hated life as a person. A normal person.
She hated it.
A book lay beside her, and despite the dust that coated her room, the ink that stained the carpet, and the cat hairs that stuck like a small forest from the floor, this book was pristine. She stroked a finger along it.
The name reverberated in her head like the tolling of a silver bell. Dorian Gray. Dorian Gray. Dorian Gray.
Seven stood, hunched slightly as her bones clicked into place. A note lay where she had previously, written in a shaky hand, smeared slightly.
She hated it.
She hated this boring, boring life.
So she jumped out the window with a rope around her neck.
C H A P T E R ~ 1
“Here,” said a rough, nasally voice from what seemed like a reasonable distance away. “Why on earth don’t you keep your men back? Spoiled my shooting for the day.” Then there was a rustling.
Seven would have thought something asterisk-worthy, but thought seemed a little out of reach for her at that moment. She twitched her fingers.
Ah. So she wasn’t dead.
But as she was dragged through prickly undergrowth and out into bright sunlight, she realised that she probably wasn’t in hospital either.
“Well I’ll be- it’s a girl!”
Seven blinked. Coma? Probably. Or maybe she was dead. Yep, she was definitely dead.
How else could she have ended up on the lush green grass of a manor house, surrounded by men in breeches with guns, and women in dresses with handkerchiefs clasped to their mouths?
Another voice. “But look at its clothes… probably an urchin. Get rid of it, Sir Geoffrey! Get rid of it at once!”
Geoffrey. Snazzy name.
Voices began a cacophonous roar, melding into one mattress of sound.
Seven glanced up. The man who’d been called Geoffrey grasped her collar between arthritic fingers. He was large, potbellied, and ruddy-faced, with a piggy sneer on his face that matched the nasally voice she’d heard earlier. Overall, he was rather un-impressive.
Seven eyed his gun, then glanced around her once more. No one was paying much attention to her, being too absorbed in an exciting argument.
She twisted herself out of his grasp and set off across the lawn.
An angry sound wave pushed her along, lengthening her strides, making her run faster than she’d ever run before.
She reached the manor house that she’d seen before; squat on the lawn like a fat, lazy frog. Up close, it was more intimidating. She dashed up the steps, swung round the door, and glanced around, panting. Cupboard? Too obvious. Left? Seven looked left. Dead end. Stairs?
Seven set off again.
As she ascended the stairs at a speed that seemed almost blasphemous, Seven took a moment to think.
She’d committed suicide, and ended up being chased by little fat men with guns in a weird parody of post 20th century England.
She decided she’d mull it over later. For now, there were little fat men with guns to outrun.
Seven stopped on a landing, and rattled the handle of the nearest door. It refused to open. She bashed her palms on it, kicking it with her foot.
Steps sounded on the stairs.
Sweat sticking to her forehead, Seven pulled frantically at the door-
It opened easily, almost nonchalantly. An outward opening door usually did, she realised.
There was no time to celebrate her victory. She slammed the evil door behind her, leaning against it, panting once more.
The footsteps became louder, accompanied by angry voices.
“Get the little urchin! I shall not have a gypsy in my house!”
Gypsy? I’m a red-head, dude.
The footsteps were coming closer ever second. Seven held her breath. Closer… closer…
“Shoot it if you find it!”
Closer… closer… please don’t let them look in here, please please please…
Gone. The echoes of heavy boots reverberated around her ears like a flat symphony. Seven let her breath out in one big huff. Time to pull the backstab.
She swung open the door with the express intention of running down and out and possibly to the nearest liquor store.