I’m feeling generous. So here is a sneak peak of not only what my first drafts look like (I.e. as it fell out my head onto the page. I’ve not even spell checked this yet so overlook any typos you find 😅) and yes, I know people tell you NEVER to show anyone your first drafts, but frankly, I do this my own way despite the general consensus. So sue me 😅
This excerpt is from the beginning of a chapter called Beauty in the Beast, and revolves around Jack’s point of view. Last we saw Jack (in The Highland Queen) she narrowly escaped an attack by a rabid dog that had been let into her cell. It was killed by Baby, the familiar of Jacob Darrow or Doctor Death as Jack calls him. This is the first time we rejoin this character in Book 5.
Feel free to make comment and ask questions in the comments section.
Beauty in the Beast
Jack shuddered where she stood.
No area had been left untainted by the rabid dog’s rampage through the cell and Jack had stood motionless for days, just hoping Doctor Death would finally walk through the door and rescue her.
Part of her mind acknowledged how absurd that notion was; after all, she was no more than a seemingly fascinating play thing to an insane genius, and that was never a good thing to be. The other part of her mind clung to the fact that whenever she was in danger, he always stepped in to prevent her coming to harm — she would take Doctor Death over his wife any day.
A metallic scraping above signalled Baby’s arrival just moments before her head and neck appeared through the vent space in the roof. She looked around the cell, at the festering body of the rabid dog and the flies that were buzzing furiously around its putrid smelling flesh, before turning her amber gaze on Jack. ‘You are weary.’
Jack gave a soft nod in response. It was not usually her style to admit weakness of any sort, even to her closest friends and especially not to the enemy, but the creature before her had a strange quality about it that encouraged compliance — though not through fear as she might have expected.
Baby’s forked tongue flicked between her lips a few more times before she lowered her massive bulk into the cell.
‘Wait,’ Jack called just before she hit the floor, making the snake pause and tilt her head. ‘You risk infecting yourself if—’
‘I am immune,’ she cast in reply with a soft hiss. ‘You, on the other hand are not, and you need ressst.’
Gently lowering herself the rest of the way to the floor, Baby slithered slowly toward the upturned bed and inspected the mattress. ‘Uselesss,’ she hissed in disgust, slithering instead to the area by Jack’s side, raising herself up so she was at eye level. ‘I would sooner have you use me as a bed, than risk that mattresss.’
Jack watched as she began to coil her long body to form a thick nest of her smooth scales. When she was satisfied she looked expectantly at Jack. ‘Ressst. My master is taking longer than exssspected to return.’ When Jack hesitated, Baby gave a harsh hiss, ‘Mussst I give you a nip and force you to sleep?’
Jack sighed. ‘I will be too heavy.’
Giving an amused hiss Baby swung her large head round to knock Jack off balance so she stumbled and fell onto Baby’s coiled body. ‘He dropped a building on me and I did not break — your weight is nothing to me.’
Baby had been careful to keep her belly area tucked behind each loop of coil so the area where Jack lay was clean. She was grateful for her care; in her scramble to get away from the rabid mutt, she had picked up a nasty graze on her arm, and had spent every moment since, paranoid that she would get herself infected.
Beneath her, Baby’s body pulsed softly, making a mesmerising ripple flow through her smooth, cool scales. Jack couldn’t help but run her hand along the length of one of the coils following one of the ripples. A smile teased her lips as a shiver ran through the enormous snake in response to her touch.
Baby regarded her with a trademark cock of her head.
‘Why did he drop a building on you?’
‘To gauge how much force and pressure it would take to tear my skin and break my bonesss. He is yet to find his answer, and when he eventually does… he will make me ssstronger.’
Baby didn’t reply, the only hint of confirmation that the snake also considered Doctor Death’s actions cruel, was a gentle huff of breath and a slow sinking of her head onto one of her thick coils. ‘Ressst,’ she hissed softly, before closing her eyes and relaxing her coils a fraction more, making Jack’s living bed even softer to lie on.
Curling herself into a ball, Jack shuddered anew. She was exhausted and cold, and not at all sure she would be able to let herself drift to sleep, curled — as she was — in the coils of a deadly beast.
‘Close your eyes, and go to sssleep,’ Baby hissed softly without opening her eyes. ‘You need your strength to survive his testsss. And perhapsss… when the time comes… you will crush his wife and ssset us all free.’
Surprise at Baby’s remark coursed through her, but rather than question the snake, she tucked her words at the back of her mind, closed her own eyes and was rewarded when the drift of slumber came to her quickly.
She awoke to a gentle flicking of Baby’s tongue against her cheek.
‘My master returnsss,’ she hissed as Jack sat up and rubbed sleep from her eyes.
She was about to ask Baby how long she had slept when the shrill screech of Doctor Death’s wife touched her senses. The tumult grew louder until the lab door opened and the Doctor himself stepped into view, and stopped short when his gaze fell upon the festering carcass of the dog and the devastation it had wrought before its demise.
‘Oh,’ his wife exclaimed in disgust as her gaze fell on Jack. ‘How fortunate for you that your little pet survived.’
Baby puffed herself up and raised her head high in response to the woman’s presence, flattening out the skin of her neck as she was, she took on an appearance similar to an angry cobra, only far larger and with far more teeth.
Doctor Death’s wife paid Baby no head and turned her attention back to her husband. ‘You must be thrilled,’ she oozed as she slipped past him to pace slowly around his workspace. ‘Though I have no idea how it managed to escape unscathed.’
Doctor Death’s gaze never waivered from his wife’s. ‘I had Baby watching her, Marjorie. I always do.’
His wife stopped her pacing by his desk, and lifted the bundle of papers she had rifled through during her previous visit. He took a step forward and froze, arms by his sides but one hand gently reaching toward his work. Jack thought his expression took on a hint of panic as he looked from his wife to the papers in her hands.
His wife flicked through the crisp leaves of paper, glancing down every so often, though she mostly kept her wicked gaze on Doctor Death. One page in particular caught her eye and she paused to study it before raising a brow and regarding her husband once more. ‘You have quite an obsession with this one,’ she noted, casting her cold gaze to Jack for the second time. She crumpled the sheet in her hand and Doctor Death gave the quietest moan of desperation.
‘Marjorie…’ he said, his voice almost pleading.
She gave a wicked grin and strode toward him. ‘You really are twisted little freak. If only people were as important to you as your precious research, you would be easier to control.’ She grinned and tossed the pile of papers in the air to flutter to the floor, scattered all over the room, pulling a pained gasp from Doctor Death. ‘But I know exactly which buttons to push to make you squirm,’ she said as she sauntered past him and out of the room.
Doctor Death stood motionless as the door swung slowly closed. Even from this distance Jack could see that he was shaking, his breath now coming in softly snatched gasps, his hands repeatedly clenched and released as his gaze darted frantically around the room at the scattered papers.
‘He looks terrified,’ she cast to Baby who shivered again in response to Jack’s attention.
She glanced at Jack before unlooping two large coils and stretching her body across the floor. ‘The vent… climb,’ she hissed.
Jack tread slowly across Baby’s length, flinching every time she felt the body move beneath her until she was below the vent. She glanced at Doctor Death, who hadn’t moved since his wife had left the room and then she leapt; only just grasping the sharp edges of the opening and struggling to get enough grip of the smooth surface to pull herself up.
Baby’s strong head and neck pushed her upward and she clawed her way into the vent.
‘Take two leftsss,’ she instructed.
Jack blew out a breath and then dragged herself on her belly down the cramped space. The metal walls and roof of the vent were covered in deep scratches. She must only just fit in here. Taking the two lefts as she had been instructed, Jack found herself in the vent above Doctor Death’s desk. Pulling back the grate she slid into the room, landing as softly on the desk as she could manage.
‘Harm him and I will devour you,’ Baby hissed.
‘I don’t doubt that,’ she replied as she dropped from the desk and skirted the scattered papers. ‘What’s wrong with him?’
‘What isn’t?’ she hissed, lowering her head and neck into the space but not dropping to the floor. ‘Massster?’
His brows pinched and he dragged his gaze to Baby but was unable to keep it there for long. ‘I… uh… I don’t know where the first one fell.’
‘Why does that matter?’ Jack heard herself ask as she scanned the mess and then flinched when she looked up and met the Doctor’s haggard gaze.
‘It matters, because I need to collect them in order,’ he replied, his quiet voice tight and his jaw clenched.
‘Can’t you just reorganise them when they’ve been lifted?’ she muttered to herself as she bent to scoop up a pile at her feet.
‘No!’ he pleaded, grabbing her wrist to stop her movement.
She stared at his hand around her wrist, noting the deep shudder that was running through him and the way his breath came fast and shallow. When she looked to his face his eyes were shut tight.
He swallowed hard and held his other arm out towards Baby. ‘Baby.’
‘Just a little nip… Please, Baby.’
With only a moments hesitation, Baby surged forward and sunk her fangs into his arm, then withdrew but remained close.
The Doctor’s breath began to slow and confusion overtook the panic in his expression. ‘This is not what I asked for,’ he breathed as he swayed where he stood, using his grip on Jack to keep his balance before he toppled.
Jack had to catch him and lower him to the floor. ‘What did you—’
‘I gave him what he needed,’ Baby hissed softly, her gaze on her master’s face. ‘He would have spent weeksss sifting through the pages to collect them in order — that would have been more detrimental to him than making him sleep off his panic and asking you to collect and order the papers before he wakesss.’
She frowned as she looked down at the Doctor. Seeing him this fragile was as sobering as it was unexpected. It made him almost seem human in comparison to the meticulous insanity she was used to seeing from him.
She lifted her gaze to meet Baby’s.
‘That’s the first time anyone has called me by my name.’
‘It is the first time anyone has cassst to me as though I were their equal.’
They considered each other for a moment, and it struck Jack that the supposed monster had a softer side than many of the soldiers from her troop.
‘Pleassse,’ she hissed again.
Jack gave a single nod, turned and lifted the Doctor’s limp body, placing him on his desk before she began to collect the huge number of scattered papers, sketches and charts.