From international bestselling author Vina Jackson comes the seductive story of a love affair that spans the globe
Growing up, Aurelia was haunted by the mysterious death of her parents when she was very young, and she has always longed to know the truth about her past. At eighteen, she meets a man who will change her life forever, and when he disappears before she can learn his name, she vows to find him again.
Thanks to an unknown benefactor, Aurelia travels to America to continue her education. There she comes across the existence of an exclusive ball that has been held every year for centuries. The decadent celebration of the senses travels from country to country, cropping up in secret locations and including only a very selective list of guests.
Caught up in a world of passion and intrigue, Aurelia soon becomes one of the ball’s star attractions. But little does she know that as her involvement with the festivities increases, she is coming ever closer to discovering the truth about her mysterious benefactor, her own past, and the identity of the one man she has ever truly loved.
About the Author
Vina Jackson is the pseudonym for two established writers working together. One is a successful author; the other a published writer who is also a financial professional in London.
Read an Excerpt
Mistress of Night and Dawn
An Eighty Days Novel
By Vina Jackson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 Vina Jackson
All rights reserved.
They were surrounded by noises, smells, movement and light. It felt like this early part of the night was merely a prelude to even bigger and strangely wonderful events.
Siv turned to Aurelia.
'Isn't this magical?' she asked her friend.
'It's better than magical,' Aurelia replied, glancing around in wonder as one strange thing after another caught her attention. There was something a touch askew about the evening, as if the atmosphere they were bathed in was having an insidious effect on her mind.
The ordinarily plain stretch of grass had been transformed and was now peppered with tents, each of them brighter and more flamboyantly decorated than the last.
From close up Aurelia could see that the temporary structures that housed the fair's attractions were made of simple canvas and steel and that the flashes of red and yellow and blue that flicked into the sky from the roofs of the big-tops like dozens of fluorescent tongues were simply fabric streamers. But from afar it appeared as though a plague of rainbow-coloured mushrooms had sprouted all over the heath overnight and she half suspected that the whole thing might disappear again just as quickly right before their eyes as if the fair had grown out of nowhere and not been placed there by design.
The toffee apples that they had purchased at the ticket gate were the size of small pumpkins and the candyfloss that she had sampled from Siv's paper bag was so light and fluffy it could easily have blown away before she managed to get it into her mouth.
Children, their faces half lit by the fairy lights that were woven over everything, ran unsupervised between the tent poles like pixies on a rampage. Even the sounds of sausages sizzling and machinery whirring and popcorn popping seemed sharper than usual.
Once they had passed through the hedgerow that marked the funfair's entrance, everything had been magnified, right down to the feathery touch of the gentle breeze that wafted over Aurelia's skin and sent a pleasant shiver all the way up her spine.
Aurelia felt on edge, both elated and terribly curious. Like tiptoeing on the edge of intoxication even though she hadn't yet had a drop to drink.
Which was not the case for Siv, who had brought along one of her father's thin silver hip flasks, which she had filled with gin and some mixer before they left the house and had regularly refreshed herself from it on the train taking them to London.
'When I grow up,' Siv remarked, 'I think I might run away with a circus.'
'You are grown up,' Aurelia replied. They would both be celebrating their eighteenth birthdays soon, just a few weeks apart.
'I mean properly grown up, and all that,' Siv responded, as they walked past a stall selling cheap souvenirs and glow sticks. The old woman running it hailed them as they passed, loudly advertising her wares, but they ignored her and continued towards the circular marquee where the dodgems had been set up and loud sounds of mechanical mayhem and laughter rose all the way to the plastic roof.
A gaggle of teenage boys rushed past them, running in the opposite direction, still exhilarated from their turn on the cars. The smallest of the group, who could not have been more than thirteen and wore a combination of school blazer, blue Chelsea FC football shirt, ripped jeans and heavy steel-capped working man's boots, brushed against Siv as they passed.
'Watch it,' Siv shouted.
The boy froze in his steps and gave her a dirty look, struggling for the right riposte but the sight of Siv standing there, legs apart in a confrontational pose, her tight denim shorts stretched against her thick black tights, an expression of provocative rage spreading across her lips, silenced him.
Although small in size, Siv, with her blond hair cut short, oozed menace. It was as if she was itching for a fight. The boy lowered his eyes and moved on, running after his companions to escape her stern gaze.
Once again Siv and Aurelia were blanketed by the sounds of the fun fair in full flow. Laughter, shouts, muffled melodies of antediluvian pop tunes duelling between the steady thwacks emanating from the coconut shy and the hiss of flames meeting paraffin as a man juggling fire sticks stopped to refuel and gave them a theatrical flourish. Aurelia winked at him and was rewarded with a wide grin before he returned to painting the night sky with streaks of light.
'No need to be so aggressive,' Aurelia chided Siv, who was still glaring after the boy. Aurelia had long grown used to her friend's bursts of temper. There was a core of revolt lurking inside Siv, her against the world; it had been present since their first years together in primary school, an anger against the status quo, the state of things, that Siv used to compensate for her size and deceptive frailty. As a result, and although Aurelia had always been taller, now by almost a full head, Siv had from that early stage assigned herself the role of protector to her friend, and would have fought to the death on her behalf had any bullies crossed their path. Which they never did, as Siv's pugnacious reputation rapidly began to precede her.
Aurelia remembered an occasion, just under ten years ago, when she had been wrongly accused of some minor misdemeanour in class, and tiny Siv had stood up with a roar of indignation and confronted the teacher, red in the face, crying out 'That's not fair!', which had landed both of them in detention. The event had cemented their friendship once and for all.
'Can't let these uncouth Londoners get the better of us country girls, can we?' Siv said with a grin.
Aurelia smiled back at her but deliberately left the question unanswered, not wanting to let a spat interrupt the happy mood of the afternoon. They'd been planning this for ages, the culmination of their half-term break, and they'd mulled over at least a dozen celebratory possibilities before deciding to travel to London for the day and then spend the evening at the fun fair on Hampstead Heath.
They had promised Siv's parents that they would arrive home by midnight. Although they were old enough to stay out as late as they liked, together they had developed a reputation for mischief and both Aurelia and Siv had long ago learned that their home lives were more pleasant when they kept their parents pacified or at least informed about the length of their intended absences.
Other girls from their class had been to the fair over the Christmas break the previous year and sung its praises but, before Aurelia had arrived, she couldn't imagine that it would be any different to the various fairs she had on occasion visited on the south coast and nearer to home. Maybe the Ferris wheel would be larger, the carousels faster and the rides more colourful, but none of that could explain the overwhelming desire she'd had to visit the fair on the heath rather than go dancing at a string of clubs in the West End with the ID cards that Siv had borrowed from friends who had already turned eighteen. So why in her heart and the pit of her stomach could she feel that sense of excitement and repressed expectation?
They reached the dodgems pay kiosk manned by a sullen white-haired man dressed all in black and Siv purchased tokens for three rides with coins fished loose from her pocket. Then they waited for their turn to embark on the car they had picked out, metal red and gleaming, bruised steel, parked at the other end of the floor, unreachable until the current session ended.
Aurelia was lost in a daydream, the sounds of Taylor Swift's 'I Knew You Were Trouble' punctuating the regular rhythm of random dodgem collisions unfolding in front of her eyes.
'Those boys are staring,' she heard Siv say, although at first it felt as if her friend's voice was coming from behind a padded mirror. She snapped to attention.
'Which ones?' she asked, distracted and quite unconcerned by the attention they might be getting.
'Over there? Can't you see?'
Aurelia followed Siv's nod of the chin. Three skinny teenagers at the opposite end of the track, all wearing jeans and flannel lumberjack shirts in various combinations of colours and cleanliness, were gazing at them with undisguised hunger in their eyes.
'Oh ...' Aurelia said.
'I like the one in the middle,' Siv pointed out. He was the scruffiest and was slouching in a rakish way. His two friends were shorter and unremarkable, both holding bottles in their hands.
'Not my type,' Aurelia said.
'They're never your type,' Siv interjected. 'You don't seem to have a type.'
Aurelia knew that Siv had, on several occasions, been with men. She'd had to listen to the fascinating if excruciating details with a mixture of awe and amusement. Of course, she sometimes felt attracted to boys, but never those whom Siv chose for her and she had always shied from moving any step further than holding hands or a formal goodnight kiss on the cheek. It was a combination of shyness and the simple fact that every time she had been involved in any kind of romance things had gone awry in often embarrassing ways.
The music ground to a halt and with it the deliberate whirlwind of dodgem cars sliding across the steel floor of the attraction.
Taking her eyes off the admiring boys, Siv seized Aurelia's hand and led her to the metal red car they had spotted earlier and they sank into it, squeezing themselves onto the driving seat.
Aurelia noticed out of the corner of her eye two of the boys who had been watching them earlier make a beeline for a blue car full of dents. The third one had remained in place, and was now smoking a cigarette. As Siv took the simple steering wheel in both her hands, Aurelia detected a touch of malice in the watching boy's eyes.
The loudspeakers roared into life again, the music beginning slowly, as if stretched like an elastic band until it reached a full crescendo. It was the same Taylor Swift song. The dodgem car twitched and Siv put her foot down on the pedal and it took off as if stung by a bee.
Siv glanced around her as she gripped the steering wheel, seeking out possible targets. But there were only half a dozen somewhat forlorn cars spread along the steel floor of the attraction. Before she could select a victim, there was a heavy jolt as the dented blue car driven by the two boys from earlier made a crunching contact with theirs, and their aggressors let out a whoop of frantic laughter.
'Women drivers!' exclaimed one of them, with a pronounced Brummie accent.
Siv quickly manoeuvred herself into reverse and with one deft movement swung around and before the boys could respond again she had pressed her foot flat onto the pedal, slamming the blue car against the side of the track. Aurelia lurched forward in her seat as Siv chortled and raced away again, the boys hot in pursuit. She managed to evade them for the rest of the ride, which came to a halt much earlier than they'd expected.
Extricating herself from the car, Siv extended her hand to Aurelia to help her out. 'That'll teach them,' she said proudly, glancing back at the car to check the two boys' reaction. They remained in place, already seeking out their next targets when the ride came to life again and apparently impervious to Siv's attempts to get their attention. The third boy, the observer, had already faded away, seemingly bored with watching them.
Siv frowned, visibly losing interest in the dodgems as her target spun off in another direction without a backward glance. 'We'll use the other tokens later,' she said. 'Let's see some of the other attractions.'
Siv and Aurelia stepped onto the grass. Away from the noisy cars, it now felt colder. Aurelia sniffed the air.
'I think the weather is turning,' she said.
Within a few minutes, the wind was rising in gusts and battering the tents that covered the green fields, sending the strings of beads that covered the nearby tarot reader's awning clattering against each other in a tangle of multicoloured plastic. The Ferris wheel creaked and strained like an ancient behemoth struggling to tear itself out of the bolts that held its iron arms together and escape, octopus-like, across the open areas of the heath.
Aurelia raised a hand to her face and brushed away the strands of auburn hair that had uncurled from her hair band and were whipping out into the breeze like reeds in a stream. The wind felt like a cool pane of glass against her cheek. She fought the urge to lean against it, relax, and let it catch her or send her falling straight to the ground. Instead she turned her face into the cool air and opened her arms as if embracing the tempest that swept against them. She laughed.
'Can you feel it?' she shouted to Siv over the weather. 'There's something loose in the air tonight. It feels like Halloween.'
Siv laughed with her. The sound caught in the current and turned into a whistle. She hadn't bothered to gel her cropped blond hair and the wind had pushed it up into tufts on her head so that she looked even more gamine than usual. Any other girl might have been offended by the number of people who mistook her for a boy. Not Siv. She delighted in her androgyny.
'Let's get back indoors,' Aurelia added. 'It's going to rain.' She dropped her arms to her sides and pulled her fringed black shawl tightly around her shoulders, though the thin fabric did little to protect her from the elements.
'Come on then,' Siv took Aurelia by the hand, pulling her along as was her habit, and they entered the nearest tent, an enormous dark-green tower that, despite its size, blended into its surroundings so well that they nearly walked straight past it. The canvas door flapped open and then closed again immediately behind them, swallowing them up.
Unpleasant smells of sweat and damp and month-old candy permeated the cavernous structure and left a bitter, metallic taste in Aurelia's mouth, as if she had been sucking a penny.
'Is there anyone here?' Aurelia whispered into the dark. A light bulb crackled and flashed. Both girls jumped and clung onto the other's hand tightly.
'Sorry,' said a young man who was now visible at the counter. 'Mechanical failure. With the light, not the ride,' he added hastily. 'Do you want tickets?'
A green rubber monster's mask was pushed onto the top of his head and his messy ginger hair fell across his forehead. The elastic band that was designed to hold the mask in place over his face dug into his chin, leaving an angry red welt. Aurelia wanted to reach out and loosen it, but instead, she dug into her tote bag and withdrew the quilted coin purse with the gold clip that she had received from her godmother for her birthday.
'What ride is it?' she asked. The inside of the tent was bereft of signs or any other identifying information. They could have been anywhere.
'The ghost train,' replied the young man, in a perfunctory manner, as if he were announcing the departure of the next express service to London.
He stared at Aurelia's fingertips as she counted out the change for two tickets. She had painted them that morning, a dark, rich navy blue that gleamed against her pale skin. Siv's were bright green, the colour of the fresh limes she liked to add to her gin when she wasn't drinking it straight from a hip flask.
Aurelia took the ticket stubs between her fingers. The young man held onto the slips of white paper a fraction too long before letting go. The nails of his right hand were bitten to the quick. The nails on his left hand were of ordinary length, and neatly filed. Aurelia was a keen observer of people, and she noted this snippet of information with interest. She wondered what other parts of the boy were frayed at the edges on only one side.
'Through that door,' the boy said, pointing to a thin black veil behind him, without taking his eyes from Aurelia for a moment. A grinning plastic skeleton hung over the opening; its once white bones now discoloured from old age and overuse. It emitted a mechanical wail when Siv pushed it impatiently to one side to let them through.
'He likes you,' she said matter-of-factly, punctuating her statement with another swig from the silver flask and nodding her head towards the ticket collector whose faint outline was still visible through the thin curtain, as if to confirm that she was referring to him and not the skeleton.
Aurelia shrugged. It wasn't that boys made her nervous. She just happened to find the idea of romance uninteresting, and the few times that she had tried it, always as a result of Siv's meddling, things had gone wrong in ways that seemed unbelievable in retrospect.
The first boy who had ever tried to kiss her had tripped as he had moved in to make contact, fallen flat on his face and broken his nose on the pavement outside her house. And only last year, at the school's end-of-term disco, her date had managed to inadvertently lock himself in a broom cupboard, and hadn't been discovered until the caretaker cleaned the hall the following morning.
Excerpted from Mistress of Night and Dawn by Vina Jackson. Copyright © 2014 Vina Jackson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Hunting Ghosts,
2. Great Expectations,
3. A Prick of Blood,
4. The New World,
5. The Fantastic Aerialists,
6. A Beating Heart,
7. The Island of Doctor Wells,
New Orleans 1916,
8. Story of A,
9. A Game of Two Halves,
New Zealand 1964,
10. A Congregation of Pleasure,
11. The Illustrated Woman,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I liked the interesting aspects of this book. It is definitely an X adult read. Yet it is not what I would consider a "dirty" book. I will say that it jumped around a lot and I always felt like I had to catch up. I enjoyed the characters as they were mostly helpful to others although I thought one would cause all kinds of trouble near the end. You have to read to see what happens . If you enjoy BDSM you should enjoy this book. If you read vanilla then pass right over this book. Enjoy either way.
I received a copy of this book for an honest review. And that's what I intend to give! This is a great book. When I read the blurb for it, the fact that it was compared to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern caught my eye. And there are some definite similarities in the way the story flows and the concept. I loved Aurelia's character and felt that she was beautifully written. The story flowed well and kept me intrigued and interested all the while entertained. That's what I look for in a book. The "wanting to finish it part". And I definitely wanted to finish this one. There was always enough going on to make you ask "what next". Great read!
I'm not usually a big fan of books with period/historical pieces but this one drew me in from the beginning. Although I understand it's part of a series I didn't feel lost. My first read from this author and I look forward to reading the rest of the collection
TOTALLY PORNOGRAPHIC---NOT ENJOYABLE.