A new trilogy
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter Two of Immortal Beloved, due from Little, Brown in Fall 2010.
So, the whole immortal thing. You must have questions. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how many of us there are. I’ve met hundreds over the years, and simple math says our numbers must be increasing all the time, right? New ones are born, old ones only very rarely check out. You’ve probably run into quite a few yourself, without realizing it. Basically, immortals are humans who just don’t die when we’re supposed to.
Most of us believe that there have simply always been immortals, just as people who believe in vampires think there have always been vampires. (In fact, if you look into old vampire myths, you’ll see some overlap with the “living forever” theme.) I don’t know how we began, or where, or why, but I’ve met immortals of most races and ethnicities. It does take two immortals to make new little immortals, so when an immortal hooks up with a regular person, their offspring won’t be immortal—but in a lot of cases, those are the people who live weirdly long lives, like over a hundred years. There was that woman in France—and there’s a town in Georgia (the country, not the state), where an odd proportion of people live to be over a hundred years old. They attribute it to their healthy living and yogurt-heavy diet. Ha! It just means there was an immortal there who really got around.
We do age, but in a different pattern than humans. Most of the time, until you’re about sixteen, it’s a year = a year. After that, it’s usually about a year = a hundred human years. I’ve seen immortals who have aged a lot faster or slower, but I have no idea why. The oldest person I’ve ever met was about eight hundred. He’d been awful, so full of himself, mean and evil. What’s odd is meeting an immortal who’s still only about forty or fifty—it hasn’t really sunk in for them, the reality, and they feel like adults but still look like teenagers. It leaves them in a weird limbo, and they kind of don’t know what to do with themselves.
For myself, I was born in 1551, a nice symmetrical number. Four hundred and fifty years later, I still get carded in bars. Before you think Oh, awesome! let me tell you what a pain in the ass that is. I’m an adult. I’ve been a grown-up for forever. But I’m locked in an eternal twilight of adolescence, and I just can’t move past how I look. But then, many teens seem to feel immortal, as though nothing can touch them. The concept of danger or death is completely foreign, without weight or reality. So maybe I am still a teenager. Okay, I know: Cry me a river.
And speaking of River . . . I’d come to America just for her.
Four hours, three espressos, and a bag of Chips Ahoy! later, I hit West Lowing. I drove straight through the town in less than ten minutes. Not a major metropolis. I turned around and drove back into it, cruising the neighborhoods, following the winding roads around the town’s outskirts. I didn’t even know what I was looking for. A sign? Either a literal sign, like River’s Edge, turn left, or a metaphorical sign, like a burning bush or something, a bolt of lightning pointing me in the right direction.
Two minutes later I was out of the town again. I pulled over, leaned my head on the steering wheel, and slammed my palms against the dashboard.
“Nastasya, you are an idiot. You are a stupid effing idiot, and you deserve this.” Actually, I deserved so much worse, but then, I’m pretty easy on myself.
After several minutes of thought and consideration, I got out of the car and walked into the woods by the side of the road. No cars had passed me in a while. About twenty feet in, hidden from the road, I knelt on the ground, putting my hands flat. I said a bunch of words, words so old that they sounded like a string of unrelated syllables. Words that had already been ancient by the time I was born.
Words that reveal hidden things.
One of the few spells I knew. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d used it. Maybe to find my keys, back in the nineties?
I closed my eyes, and after a minute, images floated into focus. I saw a road, a turn, the shape of a maple tree, its leaves sprayed with autumn’s colors. I saw where I needed to go.
Taking a deep breath, I stood up. Where my hands had been, the leaves and twigs were powdered, dry, disintegrating. Bits of late clover were withered and dying, their cells sucked dry of life so I could work my baby spell. Two handprints of destruction marked where I’d gotten my power. Because that’s how immortals do it—to make magick, we rip the power away from something else. Most of us do it that way, at least.
I got back in the car and drove again down winding roads that led through and around the small town. I started looking carefully, trying to feel where I was. I knew I had been down this road just ten minutes before, but this time I examined every tree, every unpaved turnoff.
There it was: an unmarked road, a maple tree aflame with color, its wide branches forked into a V, as if hit by lightning years ago. I turned. My tiny rental bumped over the unpaved drive—I bet it would be almost impassable in a heavy snowfall. I was starting to feel chilled, so I cranked the car’s heater. I felt hyped up on caffeine and sugar and was suddenly overcome by the supreme ridiculousness of what I was doing.
I was insane. This was the stupidest thing I’d ever thought up. Part and parcel of my panic, my nervous breakdown, I supposed.
Abruptly, I stopped the rental and rested my head on my hands on the steering wheel. I’d come all this way to look for a woman named River. This was so incredibly asinine. What had I been thinking? I needed to turn around, return the car, and go home. Wherever I decided home was going to be, this time.
When had I met her, River? Like, 1920? 1930? All I remembered was her face, smooth and tan, and her hands, strong and slender. Her hair had been gray, very unusual for an immortal. Innocencio had wrecked his first car—and I do mean first. As in just invented.
Had it been . . . 1929? That sounded right. Innocencio had bought himself a truly beautiful Model A, sort of a dusty blue. It was one of the first Model A’s that Ford shipped to France. Incy had it a couple weeks, and then he crashed it into a ditch on a road near Reims. Another car stopped to help us. It was night. I’d been thrown through the glass windshield and had landed in the ditch. My face was shredded—this was before safety glass, before seat belts. It was freezing.
Innocencio and Rebecca had been thrown out of the car. Rebecca had a bunch of broken bones. She was a regular human and probably ended up in the hospital. Imogen was dead—her neck had broken when she hit a tree. Innocencio and I were messed up but could walk away. We’d met Imogen and Rebecca only the day before, at a party. They were both pretty, rich, and ready for fun. Unfortunately, they’d met us.
A car had stopped. A woman and two men ran over to help us. The men carefully loaded Rebecca into the backseat of their car, and they discovered that Imogen was dead. The woman checked Innocencio, who was already starting to shake it off, mourning the loss of his beautiful car. Leaving him, she came and knelt by me, where I was climbing out of the icy ditch water. In French, she told me that everything would be fine, that I should lie still, and she tried to check my pulse. I brushed my sodden hair out of my eyes, pulled my fox-fur collar closer around my neck, and asked her what time it was—we were on our way to a New Year’s Eve party. Imogen was dead, and it was too bad, a shame, really, but it hardly registered on me. Depraved indifference. Incy hadn’t killed her on purpose, after all. Humans seemed so . . . fragile sometimes.
That was when the woman looked at me. She held my chin in her hands and really looked into my eyes. I looked back into hers, and we recognized each other as immortal. There isn’t a distinguishing characteristic. It’s not like we have a big I painted on the backs of our retinas. But we can recognize each other.
She sat back, looking at the scene: the ruined car, the dead girl, Innocencio and I already starting to pull ourselves together.
“It doesn’t have to be like this,” she said in French.
“What?” I asked.
She shook her head, her warm brown eyes sad. “You can have so much more, be so much more.”
That was when I started to get belligerent, wiping blood out of my eyes and standing up.
“My name is River,” she said, getting up also. “I have a place, in America. In Massachusetts, up north. A town called West Lowing. You should come there.” She gestured at the ruined and smoking car, at the men gently carrying Imogen’s body to their own car. She gave Incy a glance that seemed to sum him up in an instant as a wastrel, a good-time guy, the proverbial rock that seeds of wisdom would die upon.
“I’ve been to Massachusetts,” I said. “It was straitlaced. Snooty. And cold.”
She gave a brief, sad smile. “Not West Lowing,” she said. “You should come, when you get tired of this.” Again she looked at the car, at Incy. “What’s your name?” Her eyes were sharp, intelligent—they seemed to memorize the planes of my face, the curve of my ear. I drew my fur closer around me.
“Christiane.” She nodded. “When you get tired, when you want to be more, come to West Lowing. Massachusetts. My house is called River’s Edge. You’ll be able to find it.”
The woman named River got into the car with the two men, with Rebecca and Imogen’s body, and they drove off, leaving me and Incy and his ruined, beautiful blue car. Eventually someone came along and we hitched a ride, then took the train to Paris, and then down to Marseilles, where it was warmer. It was a beautiful spring in Marseilles, and I put River—and Imogen—completely out of my mind.
Until two days ago. Now, eighty years later, I was deciding to take her up on her offer. Eighty freaking years later, as if she would still be here, her invitation still good. As you might imagine, immortals move around a lot. To live in the same village for fifty years, your looks not changing—well, it would arouse suspicion. So we rarely stay in one place too long. Why would I assume that River would still be here? It was just . . . she had seemed so timeless. A pointless cliché for an immortal, I know. But she had seemed—unusually rock solid. Like if she said she’d be there, that I could come anytime, well then, by God, she would be there, and I could come any freaking time.
The espresso and sugar made my hands shake, my insides churn. What to do, what to do?
There was a tap on the window of my car, and I jumped, barely able to stifle a scream.
My frantic eyes focused, and the man leaned down to look at me.
Almost-hysterical laughter tickled my throat, and I had to swallow it. A Viking god had tapped on my window, was looking at me with concern—or suspicion. His golden handsomeness was breathtaking, as if a mythical figure had come to life, had warm blood flowing through his veins.
In the next moment, I squinted at him—his face was familiar. Was he a male model? Had I seen him in an underwear ad, forty feet across, in Times Square? Was he an actor? On a daytime soap? I couldn’t quite place him as I rolled down my window. Please, please be some sex-starved nutcase who wants to kidnap me and make me your love slave, I begged silently.
“Yes?” My voice sounded dry, cracked.
“This is a private road,” the god said, looking at me disapprovingly. He was, maybe, twenty-two? Younger? Did he like teenage girls? I blinked at him, feeling again, at the edge of my consciousness, as if I’d seen him somewhere before.
“Ah . . . um, I was looking for River? River’s Edge?”
His topaz-colored eyes flared in surprise. It occurred to me she might have cloaked her place from neighbors. If she was still there at all.
“Do you know anyone like that?” I pressed.
“You know River?” he asked slowly. “Where did you meet her?”
Who was he, her personal guard? “I met her a long time ago. She said I could come visit her,” I said firmly. “Do you know if her place, River’s Edge, is around here?”
Too fast for me to react, one strong hand reached through the car window and touched my cheek. His hand was warm, hard and gentle at the same time, and I knew that my skin felt icy under his touch.
He was immortal, and he now recognized that I was, too.
I tilted my head to one side. “Do I know you? Have I met you somewhere?” If I’d met him, surely I would remember him with much more clarity, much more intensity. No one would forget that face, that voice. Still, I’d pretty much crisscrossed every continent too many times to count. Maybe he wasn’t that old. Or—
He was one of them, the other kind of immortals. The kind I had nothing to do with, nothing in common with, avoided like the plague, mocked with my friends. The kind I disdained almost as much as they disdained me.
The kind I was hoping would . . . save me. Protect me. The Tähti.
“No,” he said, drawing his hand away. I shivered, feeling colder than ever.
“It’s down this road here,” he said, sounding reluctant. “Down this road. It curves to the left. Take the first left fork. You’ll come to the house.”
“So River is still here, then?”
I couldn’t read anything in his expression. His face was closed.
Read the rest of the book this coming fall!