I’m thrilled to welcome Melissa Belle to Diary of an Eccentric today with an excerpt of her novel, Austen’s Independence Day, which I will be reviewing soon. Melissa also is generously offering a giveaway of the book. Please give her a warm welcome!
Lifelong friends with occasional benefits, Macey Henwood and Morgan Thornbrush are at a crossroads. After Macey tells Morgan in no uncertain terms that she will never marry anyone, especially him, Morgan gets engaged to another woman and is heralded as the Mr. Darcy of their small town of Austen, Texas. In the following scene late one night at the town lake, Macey is blackmailed into giving an interview with Skip, an out-of-town, nosy reporter, about how Jane Austen’s ghost ended up in Austen, Texas. Skip also wants to know exactly what is the deal with her and Morgan? Macey ends up giving Skip more than he bargained for…
Excerpt from Austen’s Independence Day
Skip presses record as I watch Morgan and Gigi laughing together. I swallow down the jealousy and take several large sips of beer.
“I can’t remember a time when my mother wasn’t consumed by her.” My gaze passes over Skip to the dark woods behind him. “By a ghost, for God sakes. Because Mama used to say Jane never asked to be Queen. ‘A true heroine never does, Macey. A true heroine just is. And Jane Austen’s ghost certainly never asked to be jailed against her will and kept apart from her soul mate.’ But whether the whole thing is true or not, one thing I know for sure—the spirit of Jane Austen is no ordinary ghost. And my position at the Cowherd is no ordinary bar job. As my daddy once said to me, ‘Darlin’, running the Cowherd Saloon & Chapel isn’t like running your normal, run-of-the-mill bar. It’s like adding gasoline to whiskey and trying not to let it catch fire.’”
Skip nods solemnly as he pushes the phone closer to my mouth and types vigorously into his iPad.
And I keep talking. “But the legend of Austen, Texas didn’t begin here. It started all the way across the Atlantic, where town founder and first mayor Frederick Woodholm Howells was still living in England with his new bride, Vivian Elmstock Howells. That’s when Frederick strayed with another woman. And that’s when the facts get fuzzy and the legend gets louder. It’s widely believed that an outraged and humiliated Vivian agreed to still sail with him across the Atlantic and settle in the Texas Hill Country part of America he’d visited and fallen in love with two years prior on one condition—that he name their landing place after the author who wrote about romance, and that he kidnap that same author’s spirit from her peaceful resting place in the north aisle of Winchester Cathedral and bring her to Texas. Jane Austen wasn’t even that famous yet, but literary people already respected her writings. And of course, soon she would become known the world over.”
“What about Pride and Prejudice?” Skip asks. “How did the greatest love story ever written play a role?”
“Well,” I say. “One evening Vivian found an open copy of the novel alongside an unknown bottle of perfume in her husband’s private study, and she put two and two together. Rumor has it there was hell to pay when he returned home from the local bar. But Vivian didn’t just yell at her husband—she also picked up that copy of Pride and Prejudice and read it cover to cover. And she decided Jane Austen’s romantic touch must have been the X factor in her husband choosing another woman over her.”
“The X factor.” Skip nods vigorously and continues typing. “Of course.”
“Desperate to keep Vivian’s affection, her husband agreed to her terms. He hired a witch to cast a spell and draw Jane’s spirit out from the grave and trap her in ghost form. The witch gave the ghost to Frederick in a bottle, to be opened inside jail cell number one in the Austen Jail, a cell that the founder was to instruct no one ever to use. But even if the cell were opened with a key, Jane’s ghost would still be trapped, because the witch had put a spell befitting Jane: only when she is witness to the coming together of true soul mates will the spell break and Jane will return to Great Britain and her soul mate.”
More beer. My eyes focus below the cypress tree, where Dunce puts his arm around Ginny’s shoulders as she leans her head against him. Maybe they will make it. Maybe Dunce really will grow up.
“But what came of Vivian through all of this?” Skip asks me. “Why did she get even more embittered?”
“Vivian became obsessed with Jane Austen’s message of love, but as hard as she tried, she was never able to rekindle that former magic with her husband. The way I see the legend is as a parable. Vivian was trying to hold onto something she’d lost—her husband’s love—by holding onto or imprisoning a symbol of true love, in Jane Austen’s ghost.”
I gulp down the rest of my beer and Skip does the same with his.
“This is heavy,” he says. “So Vivian never had the happy ending she craved.”
I shake my head and glance toward Morgan.
“Both of these couples have a shot to make history.” Skip glances at Morgan and Gigi and then over at Ginny and Dunce.
I look for an extra beat at Morgan.
“It’s never as easy as boy meets girl, is it?” he says. “No matter what century.”
I guess not.
“Over to you now.” He returns to his iPad. “Why did you vow to never marry?”
“You know, Mama was obsessed—obsessed—with Pride and Prejudice. Calls it her Love Bible. And she means it.”
“It’s the greatest romance novel ever written,” Skip concurs.
“So she used it for all it was worth. Even made me memorize the most important parts. Like when Darcy tells Elizabeth, ‘You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.’”
Skip sighs ecstatically.
“Mama would sigh just like you’re doing now. ‘Would you listen to that?’ she’d say. ‘THAT is true love. THAT is a man showing real love and respect for a woman.’”
“So you’ve been sitting around waiting for your Mr. Darcy to show up in Texas?” Skip asks me.
I never should have had a beer. I certainly shouldn’t have practically chugged it. I already had that half a bottle by the cooler, and I’m just not a drinker. One drink is enough to loosen my tongue. It always has been.
“No. Maybe when I was little. But once I became a teenager, I knew that marriage just wasn’t for me.”
“But now Morgan, your best friend with benefits, is marrying somebody else and he’s the town’s Mr. Darcy. How does that make you feel?”
I clear my throat and look down at my beer. “Relationships aren’t for me.”
“Why not? What makes you different than anyone else?”
Maybe if I’d stayed completely sober I wouldn’t have answered Skip’s question with—
“Love is always hard, but when you’re supposedly cursed it throws a whole new wrinkle into it. I’d always vowed to be the opposite of my mother in romantic relationships—you know, I never wanted to lose myself in a man and in needing that man to be my everything. I didn’t want the world to go cold if he wasn’t there to keep me warm.”
“Beautifully said.” Skip types hastily. “But what do you mean—cursed? That sounds serious.”
“My mother’s word. She thinks I’m cursed.” I hold out my arm and show him the inside of my wrist. “A freak accident that gave my mother proof I’m destined to share the ghost of Jane Austen’s fate. Unless the soul mates unlock the ghost, Austen Macey Henwood’s heart will stay locked as well.”
“And she believes this why? Sounds like she’s a bit theatrical.”
“She is. Who else would steal a page out of Vivian’s diary and make her oldest daughter hide it for fear of the town finding out she’s jinxed? Yeah, sure, the page says something about the eldest daughter of the jailkeeper and a scar she bears, but so what? The whole thing’s stupid.”
Skip drops his phone onto the table. Unfortunately, it stays intact, because I’ve just realized what I gave him. The hook of all hooks for a hungry reporter looking for a story.
“Oh, no.” I put my head in my hands.
“Oh, yes,” Skip’s excited voice says next to me.
About the Author
Melissa Belle writes steamy romance novels where the hero and heroine are passionate, independent, and good to each other. The first romance book she read (and fell in love with) was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Melissa wrote her first novel riding through Europe on the train, and she travels with her husband (and first reader of all her stories) as much as possible.
Melissa dances in a belly dance troupe. She is a professional tarot and oracle card reader. She also loves songwriting, hooping, and her two rescue kitties. And cupcakes.
About Austen’s Independence Day
What if you don’t find your Mr. Darcy… until you’ve already lost him? It is universally acknowledged in the tiny town of Austen, Texas that Macey Henwood will never get married. When your hometown is obsessed with freeing Jane Austen’s ghost from the local bar, staying single feels like the only way to stay sane. But then Morgan Thornbrush, her lifelong best friend with benefits, gets engaged out of the blue, and it drives Macey crazy, especially when the town anoints the new couple Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. Now she’s smack in the middle of a wedding she wants no part of. From “bonding” with Morgan’s bombshell fiancé to helping him let go of their complicated past, Macey’s forced to face the truth—the perfect arrangement she had with Morgan is over. But when the pages of an explosive diary ignite fireworks between her and Morgan as his July fourth wedding approaches, Macey must make a life-changing decision. Can the town’s version of Mr. Darcy really be the man for her after all?
Melissa is generously offering an e-book version (Kindle, Nook, or iBooks) of Austen’s Independence Day to one lucky reader. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address indicating what intrigues you most about the excerpt. This giveaway is open internationally and will close on Sunday, July 31. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!
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