I thought since my official book release is sneaking up on me (only 1 week away now!) I would post little snippets and sneak peeks of my novel beforehand. What better way to waste away a few minutes this Tuesday morning than by reading? (I suppose I could think of a handful of other things, but for my own ego, let’s pretend this is it). So I thought I’d share Chapter 1 with you! For information on my giveaway, let’s see if you can get through the first chapter 😉 (Again, it’s probably not that long, just the blog format) Hope you like it!
Chapter 1, Gifted, a Donovan Circus Novel
“Donovan Circus,” a deep voice answered on the third ring.
“Hi. Um…is Sheffield Donovan there?” Knots in my stomach, my grip tightened on the phone. For a brief moment, I worried I would set the receiver on fire by accident.
“Sheffield, it’s Lucy Sullivan. When can we arrange a meeting?”
“What does your mother think?”
I stared at the wall, willing my voice not to crack. Heat flushed my skin pink in the effort. “She, uh…she died a couple weeks ago.”
“Shit, I’m sorry, Luce.”
“Can I come by soon?”
There was a brief pause and then: “How’s tomorrow afternoon?”
“I’ll be there at two if that’s okay with you.”
“See you at two o’clock.”
I hung up and stared at the phone. Would it really be that simple to walk back in? Could I even do it without my father there to guide me? Wait—did I just join the circus?
That night, I packed my bags. I didn’t sleep much between the nerves and my brain’s unyielding thought process. I clearly had no idea what lay ahead of me. I was entirely too old to be this nervous, but it was the first time I’d ever really had a chance to do something for myself without my parents there to supervise me. Now that they were gone, I had no other choice but to do it on my own.
The Donovan Circus was known for unusual acts, feats that seemed unlikely for humans. This was truer than we could admit to outsiders: a large group of gifted, those with remarkable powers, showed off their talents night by night, all the while bringing in curious humans who had no idea about us. I wanted to use my gift and be with other people like me. I wanted to be normal amongst the freaks.
The next morning, I headed to where Donovan Circus had settled a day ago. When I saw the tents in the distance, my palms began to sweat; I tried to keep fire from escaping them. As I got closer, I couldn’t even talk myself into a motivational speech. I stared open mouthed at my surroundings, like a guppy in the fish bag at one of the game booths. Donovan Circus was more than a handful of tents; it also had game booths, a few small rides like the pastel carousel, and a large, bright Ferris wheel. The lot wasn’t completely set up yet, but already I could see several people prep the grounds.
Only circus vehicles like loading trucks and clown cars were allowed on the actual grounds. I found the employees’ makeshift parking lot maybe a quarter of a mile from the tents and parked. On a mostly gravel dirt lot, it sat close to a small wooded area. I debated on taking my bags with me, but there was always a chance Sheffield wouldn’t have me. The only thing worse than hearing him deny my participation would be carrying all that shit back to the car, clumsy and defeated.
I tried to hold my head high and prayed my shoulders didn’t do that nervous twitch they sometimes did. The grounds were maze-like and I passed the same game booth at least twice. The tents were red, white, or black, and all made from the same heavy canvas material to prevent weather damage. After getting lost by the animal fences, I managed to stumble upon Sheffield’s office camper. I thought it would be more elaborate, but the only discerning detail from an otherwise everyday trailer was the large brass nameplate across the door that read “Sheffield Donovan.” I looked at my watch: 2:01 p.m. I hated being late. I hurried to knock on the door.
I walked inside, turned to my left to face Sheffield Donovan. Late fifties, surprisingly fit, with a blonde coif and an impressive handlebar mustache that could easily be featured in a bare-knuckle fistfight, he looked every bit a ringmaster. Were I into older men, I could even describe him as a classic sort of handsome.
He sat behind a large, old desk swallowed up on either side with posters and file cabinets. A shiny black top hat sat by his hand, ready for a hasty exit. His costume—black tuxedo pants, white shirt, gold cummerbund, and red jacket with black trim and tails—hung neatly on the closet door to my right.
“Good afternoon, Sheffield.”
“Hi, Lucy. Have a seat.”
I sat in one of the two battered wooden chairs across from him. He motioned at a coffee pot as he filled his own mug and I shook my head, more worried about wearing the coffee than drinking it. He spoke first.
“I’m so very sorry about your mom. How are
“I’ve certainly been better, but thank you.”
“Not to pry, but what happened?”
I looked down to see my hands drumming an incessant rhythm against my knees. I glared at my ripped cuticles, having recently been gnawed off in my stress. I kept my head down as I answered Sheffield.
“She had a pulmonary embolism or something. She was breathing pretty hard in the grocery store and collapsed in the cereal aisle. Died in the ambulance.”
“Jesus, I’m sorry, kid.” He set his mug down on the desk, his gray eyes clouded with sympathy. My fingers drummed faster on my thighs.
“So am I. She wasn’t the same after Dad died, though. So at least they’re together now somewhere.”
“I’m sorry I haven’t been by to see you since your dad’s funeral; I meant to come by and time slipped away from us.”
I shrugged. “You’ve got a business to run, I understand that.”
“I’m glad you called. I’ve wanted you back here for a long time.”
“There’s not much else left for me out in the human world. I always figured I’d make my way back.”
“Lenny was one of my best friends. I should’ve looked out for you more. I was glad to hear from you.”
“The only reason I didn’t say yes right away to your offer at the funeral was my mom. I couldn’t leave her alone so soon, but I knew I’d take you up on it eventually.”
“We’re lucky to have you back. You ready?”
“I’m a little nervous, but I’ll get over it. I guess a lot has changed since we left.” I shifted a little in my chair.
“In twelve years, yes; I imagine you’ll be in for a few surprises. I have no doubt you’ll handle them fine.”
“Do you think I’ll be able to keep up?” I kept my voice even, refusing to let any fear betray me.
“Kid, I’m more concerned if they can keep up with you. Your dad was an incredible Firestarter, but he always said you could be ten times his talent.” He took a gulp from his coffee mug and chuckled. “You know, he often told me the proudest day of his life was when you set the couch on fire. You were only two and it was a complete accident; you started to cry and then fire came out of your hands. He said your mother almost had a heart attack, but Lenny, he was damned proud.”
I smiled at the memory; my father told that story a lot. I took my chance to ask a question that had bothered me for years. Surely if anyone had the answer, it was Sheffield.
“A few years before he died, he forbade the use of firepower. I guess he told you that?”
He gave a slow nod. “He said he didn’t want either of you to be caught training by humans, to reveal us to them.”
“That’s what he told me, too. We used to find abandoned lots or fields and practice everyday. Then one week, he came here to consult with other Firestarters, went home and put his foot down—no fireballs, no flames, no more training. He practically threw out any lighters in the house. Did something happen here to make him do that?”
Sheffield’s eyes didn’t leave his mug. “He had his reasons, I’m sure. He only worried for you.”
Silence grew between us. Sheffield was hiding something, of course, but he stayed quiet. After a long pause, I cleared my throat.
“Well, just so you’re aware, I didn’t always abide by dad’s rules.”
He looked up at me and the corners of his mouth twitched.
I shrugged. “I knew I’d be back here someday. Can’t let his reputation down, so I had to keep up somehow.”
I gave a calm smile, kept my well-practiced poker face up. I was done with our casual conversation. I wasn’t here to talk about my personal life. He read my expression and after another beat, kicked his feet up on his desk and lit a cigarette. His tone suggested nothing but business.
“Now look, this is gonna be new experiences for you. You were young when you were here last. Do you remember anything about our touring from before?” he asked.
“Not really. I mostly did whatever Dad told me to and played with the other kids.”
“Probably a lot of them are gone now. It’s three weeks of the show, a handful of days for travel and setup, and every few cities we take a two-week break. There are about eighty of us from all over. We travel year round, work hard and stay together. We have very talented folks here, but it’s a young group. Many are still developing their skills and have years of training ahead of them.”
Sheffield talked fast and already I could tell he expected a lot out of his employees.
“Here we prep in the day, open the gates at five sharp, start the performances exactly at seven and are usually done no later than midnight. We’re a bit faster on shutting down the lot than a human group.”
“I understand. I know it’s been a while but I’m ready to be thrown in. I can pick it up. This is where I want to be, if you’ll keep me.”
He nodded as I spoke. His impressive smoke rings enveloped me and the camper became smoky with each exhale as he hammered out his words.
“I wanna give you a chance, but you gotta earn your place around here. Strangers aren’t easily accepted, and I’ve already got four other Firestarters that may not take kindly to the new kid, especially since you’re a girl. No offense, but it’s rare.”
“We all have different levels and talents. I won’t step on any toes.”
“Let’s see how you feel about being here in a few months. You’ve got a lot to deal with right now, so you’ll start out an assistant to everyone else. It’s less pressure on you this way. If you decide later you’re in over your head, you can walk away without any complications. It might not be for you and that’s okay. Stick with it and you’ll move on to something else, if you want. You have any problems or questions yet?”
I shook my head.
“How about with your gift? Are you having any trouble?”
“I get headaches. I get tired quicker than I’d like and if I’m distracted, it’s all over. I’m definitely gonna need the practice. It’s been a while since I gave it my all.”
“Not a problem. The headaches happen to every Firestarter, depending on how much energy you’re using. Train in your free time; I want you in the show. Meet the other Firestarters and study, push yourself more than you’ve ever done. You can do that here now, away from human eyes. As far as the next couple months, you’ll run errands, help out as needed. I had a fireproof costume made for the shows in case we need you on the floor. You need to arrange a fitting today with wardrobe.”
“Wow. You didn’t have to do that for me.”
“Think of it as a uniform—certain people need certain outfits that also work with their gifts. The other Firestarters have them, too.”
“Oh,” I whispered. I felt silly but relieved; I’d die if people thought I got special treatment from the owner and ringmaster.
“Miss Nance in the trailer next to mine is in charge of everything non-show related: payroll, marketing, schedules. She’s helped me run this place since its formation and is damn good at what she does; she’s extremely efficient. It’s only us, no big staff folks to do everything. We don’t need that here. That being said, you go to her for your paycheck; anything else, you come to me.”
I nodded. Our world was a secret and the circus was a great cover. Most gifted beings banded together, though others did join the human world like my family did. Sheffield wouldn’t employ too many outsiders. He wouldn’t jeopardize his gifted clan with distrust.
“I put you with Delia in camper 238. It’s a good match; she’ll help you get around and introduce you to folks. If you’re ready, get your stuff and load in. Got here yesterday, so tents are goin’ up; familiarize yourself with things and it’s opening day tomorrow.”
I jumped up and headed out the door. “Thank you! I’m really excited. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
“You need anything, let me know. Now get outta here and wow your new coworkers,” he said with a wink. He rummaged through his desk as I let myself out and practically skipped back to my car.
So I hope you liked Chapter 1 of Gifted! I’m doing a giveaway of 3 paperback copies (as soon as I get them in my hands) to be mailed out to the winners! All you have to do is enter via Goodreads here-no catch (unless you need to join Goodreads first, in which case, authors and bloggers, you better get your bookish butts on there stat!). I’ll post Chapters 2 and 3 later this week.