Every once in a while, we as writers create something we’re extraordinarily excited about. It could be that the piece was a challenge to write, or that it reflected a personal moment that’s stuck with us a long time. It might be a new idea we never thought to brave before, or, it could simply be that something about the story tickled us to the core. Either way, baring the part of our souls that made it important to us is why it ends up being so much more exciting when other people finally see it, too.
That’s why today’s news feels super enthralling. Just a little bit ago, The Sexy Librarian’s Dirty 30 came out, and now it’s officially available in audio, too. What makes this collection special (besides an all-star lineup) is not just that it includes one of those dear stories I described above—and I can’t even believe how lucky I am to say this—but it has two!
Since I have so much to say about both pieces in this fantastic new collection from the lovely Rose Caraway, I’ve decided to split this post into a two-part series. Today, I’ll talk about and give an excerpt for “The Bells,” which is a dark alternate history piece. Tomorrow, I’ll focus in on “The Doll,” a story that thrills me in a hugely different, more personal way. I hope you’ll join me for both posts, as I can honestly say these stories are two of my very favorites.
So, let’s see, before I say anything more about “The Bells,” let’s have a look-see at the ridiculously sexy audiobook cover:
Hot, right? I’m still dancing over here because I love it so! There’s been a slight (and possibly temporary) tweak to the ebook cover, but I’ll show you that one tomorrow.
For now, I’d like to tell you a bit about “The Bells”…
I have to start with a confession on this one: I am not a history buff, and it was my absolute worst subject in school. However, there are certain themes and topics that have surprised me along the way. For example, I’ve always been fascinated by powerful female leaders (or pseudo-leaders, anyway). My first glimpse of this was in reading The King’s Way by Françoise Chandernagor as a teen, and then a few years later, getting sucked into Philippa Gregory’s The Virgin Lover. It seemed to me these ladies were flexing a LOT of power despite being the historically underrated female, and so in the back of my mind I thought playing with that might be fun in a story one day.
Let’s cut to another historical topic that captivated me: Henry VIII and his herd of wives. I know it’s history and that was understandable for the time, but this one feisty man getting all the ladies and cutting off a third of their heads just because of a little adultery never quite sat right with me. It’s a crime against love and loins, dude, not a threat to your throne.
It’s this tidbit that actually leads to the third historical topic that revved my engines—the punishment methods of our past. I’ve always been bizarrely fascinated by this stuff, but in college, I stumbled upon a course called The History of Crime and Punishment. I promptly enrolled in it, obsessed over it, and aced it like a champ. I got so into this course, in fact, that my boyfriend at the time grew unnecessarily worried over how often I wanted to watch scary old late night documentaries depicting means of torture and really cruel things we did to one another in the name of justice. But, I mean—drawing and quartering? Wheel breaking? The Judas Cradle? Ducking stools? Loss of ears? What the hell is wrong with us that we came up with these things?!
So put all that background on simmer, and many years later, along comes Rose Caraway’s Dirty 30 call. She’d already bowled me over by putting Soundscapes on her tremendous Kiss Me Quick’s podcast, so I knew the plot could get way out there if I so wished it. I didn’t know what to write, but for some reason I kept having this persistent image of bells ringing. It was outdoors, in a dusty arena, and they just kept clang clang clanging.
As I was toying with what to do with this image, randomly, a certain unfortunate Queen I’d once learned about popped into my head.
I guess it was the perfect storm; the merging of all these ideas had me at the computer the next day in full trance-style—hyper-focused, phone off, fingers flying over the keyboard. The image grew darker and darker, because I kept wondering what if, what if, what if it had gone this way instead?
Annnnnddddd…that’s where I have to pull the brakes on my back story, because my intention is not to blow the plot for you—that wouldn’t be fun for any of us. Fortunately, I do have an excerpt to whet your appetite.
From “The Bells”:
Catherine remained still. The bells she wore about her ankles were permanent instruments, but it was the rest of the adornments that paled poor Helen’s face as she worked, her lips pursed tight when she drew the box from beneath Catherine’s bed and focused on the entirety of her lady’s body.
First, she circled her wrists with multiple strands of bells, creating bracelet upon bracelet of noise. The next strand she fastened around Catherine’s bare waist, the bells resting against her alabaster skin and jingling as Helen checked each one in turn. After came the clamps, which she held in the air with a wince before securing them to Catherine’s nipples. Immediately, Catherine felt the burn, the sting of teeth gripping her as Helen did what she’d been instructed to do every week prior—flicking them to ensure they made their respective and appropriate sounds.
Catherine closed her eyes. The clamps drove her mad, sending heat through her breasts and into her belly. Her heart pounded in ways neither Helen nor the King could possibly have anticipated—for they had all assumed after he walked in on her, catching her in her treachery, that this sort of ceremony would bring her the ultimate shame.
“Are you all right, my lady?”
Catherine opened her eyes with a nod.
The first time Helen had adorned Catherine, she’d spoken her instructions aloud. Her voice had quavered in the bitter tears of youth as she affixed the many bells to Catherine’s naked form. But Catherine had found irony in soothing the girl, finally cupping her cheeks in her palms and silencing her with the same sentiment she’d boldly pronounced at her sentencing.
“This is the fate I have chosen for my crimes, because I would never choose to die.”
Catherine knew the girl had found some solace despite the sorrow wrinkling her brow. But even now, knowing Catherine’s choice, knowing her fate, Helen held her face in the stubborn conviction of a girl foolishly protecting her former Queen.
“Well? Hurry on, then,” Catherine said.
Helen scooped the last of the adornments from the box: a single bell on a chain that Catherine was to wear as a necklace. This lone bell would make the most noise throughout the ceremony, but at this moment it rested, quiet and benign, aligned with the rising throb of her clamped nipples.
Helen gave Catherine her final inspection, then nodded in the grave way she usually did before calling for the guard.
“She is ready.”
Catherine held her head high when he arrived. The man opened the cell with a leer behind his mask, and yet he made no comment, no move to take advantage of her state. Instead he merely stepped back, careful of her bare feet as Helen took her hand and escorted her down the winding hall. The bells on Catherine’s body chimed with every step, the reminder of her crime and the next round of punishment to come. Her cheeks burned, but the weight of the clamps and the sound of the bells sent her heart clattering in wild bursts.
When they arrived on the platform, Helen arranged Catherine behind the curtains as she’d been trained to do: her arms and legs splayed, fastened to the far corners of the proscenium by long cords of bells that attached to her bracelets. This was temporary—because beyond those thick, velvet sheets, loud shrieks beckoned for a show. Theirs was a kingdom of eager viewers, crazed with a hungry fervor that sent chills through Catherine’s arms as Helen shifted her about. Her body vibrated with the energy of the arena, and her legs shook beneath her when Helen nudged her torso forward. The pitch of her chest allowed the bells to dangle from her neck and nipples so they would trill with each movement she’d make.
“Good luck, my lady,” Helen said.
And then she was gone.
I have not yet had the opportunity to hear the amazing Rose Caraway read either of the stories I’ve got in this collection, but I have no doubt she’s going to completely rock my world, and hopefully yours too! The book is available on Audible right here, or if you prefer it, on Amazon right here.
Either way, I do hope you’ll please come back tomorrow, when I share some back story and an excerpt for my other story in this collection, “The Doll.”
Until then, thanks so much for reading!
N.B. You can now read about “The Doll” right here.