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from One Fine Beast by Elizabeth Courtright

Chapter 1

August 1885

The walls of the hospital corridor were stark white, blindingly so, but they didn’t bother him anymore. Neither did the tangy, overpowering smell. He was used to it. He’d been here five long months. This morning they’d taken his bandages off for good. This afternoon he was going home.
Leaning heavily upon the round-handled, mahogany cane given to him by the hospital, Gabriel Drayton continued his labored progress down the endless white hall. He’d been doing the same trek three times a day for the last two weeks. The two weeks prior, he’d done it two times a day, and before that once a day. His doctors had told him he would never walk again, but he’d proved them wrong. Then they told him he would always have a limp and he would always have pain. He told himself he could live with the limp, and the pain would hopefully lessen in time. He refused to accept that he might spend the rest of his life confined to a chair.
He’d been racing down the stairway of his home when the ear-splitting explosion threw him. He remembered hurtling through the air, caught up in the wind and debris of it, twisting, landing hard on his right side. He remembered the sharp cracks and rumbles of heavy stone and wood breaking apart and falling, and the harsh jolts of things crashing down on top of him. There were seconds of searing agony, but he didn’t remember anything after that.
When he’d woken, he’d been lying on his back and all he could see was white. He was shrouded in it. Everywhere his eyes darted—white, so much white. He had no idea where he was.
“Charlotte! Charlotte!”
He remembered thinking it, but he didn’t remember shouting it the way a nurse later told him he did.
He remembered feeling like he was going to cry. He hadn’t cried since he was ten years old. He never cried. The white turned blurry, like fog. A fly—he was sure it was a fly—landed at the corner of his eye and skittered across his temple into his hair. It itched.
He remembered hearing a voice saying his name, but he didn’t know who it was.
“Where is she? Charlotte! Baby!”
He remembered thinking he needed to get up, and he tried to.
The second time he came awake, he was still smothered by white, but it wasn’t solid. It was moving. A face appeared in it—a woman’s face. The mouth told him where he was, and then said he should lie still. It wasn’t possible to move his left arm, but he could move the right one. He reached up and felt bandages covering his face, his head. There was pain, so much pain. Everywhere pain.
The woman—a nurse—kept talking to him. She was kind, her touch feathery. She took his arm and laid it back on the bed. He tried to speak, but his voice didn’t sound like his own. It was raspy, whispery. “Where’s my daughter?”
“She’s with your cousin, Alex, and his wife. They’ll keep her until you’re well again, until you can go home,” she told him.
Charlotte was okay! Before he drifted away again, he remembered thinking it was strange how the pain didn’t matter. All that mattered was Charlotte was alright. She was safe. She was alive!
The whole concept was completely foreign to him. It made no sense. He didn’t like Charlotte. He didn’t want to have anything to do with her. He remembered well the day Charlotte had come into his life. A lady he assumed was her mother came to his house early one Saturday morning. She pulled the bell repeatedly, rousing him from slumber. It was too early for his butler to be in attendance. Growling in fury, clad only in a dressing gown, he’d raced down the stairs and yanked open the door. He didn’t know the lady, or at least, he didn’t remember her. She was strawberry-blond, and pretty, in a delicate way. Her dress, however, was shoddy, not typical for a caller to his home. And she held a funny looking ball of pink in front of her. Before he realized what she was about, before a word was spoken, she thrust the pink thing at him. He recoiled, but then had to grab it. She would have dropped it had he not caught it. He held it up in front of him, under its arms, surprised by how little it weighed and how tiny it was. Its bonneted head flopped forward.
“She’s yours. You take care of her,” the lady said. “I don’t want her.”
“And you think I do?” he snapped.
The lady threw papers at him. They fluttered to the floor at his feet, and she stomped off, leaving him standing in his doorwa...

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