printed copy

A Breath of Eyre: Unbound #1

Eve Marie Mont

ISBN 9780758269485
Publish Date 3/27/2012
Format Trade Paperback
Categories KTeen , Young Adult

In this stunning, imaginative novel, Eve Marie Mont transports her modern-day heroine into the life of Jane Eyre to create a mesmerizing story of love, longing, and finding your place in the world…

Emma Townsend has always believed in stories—the ones she reads voraciously, and the ones she creates. Perhaps it’s because she feels like an outsider at her exclusive prep school, or because her stepmother doesn’t come close to filling the void left by her mother’s death. And her only romantic prospect—apart from a crush on her English teacher—is Gray Newman, a long-time friend who just adds to Emma’s confusion. But escape soon arrives in an old leather-bound copy of Jane Eyre

Reading of Jane’s isolation sparks a deep sense of kinship. Then fate takes things a leap further when a lightning storm catapults Emma right into Jane’s body and her nineteenth-century world. As governess at Thornfield, Emma has a sense of belonging she’s never known—and an attraction to the brooding Mr. Rochester. Now, moving between her two realities and uncovering secrets in both, Emma must decide whether her destiny lies in the pages of Jane’s story, or in the unwritten chapters of her own…

“Captivating and heartrending... Definitely one for the favorites shelf." --Kelly Creagh, author of Nevermore

“A rich, wonderful, smart adventure, steeped in romance. I fell into this book in the same way Emma falls into Jane Eyre and I didn’t want to fall back out again.” --Lesley Livingston, author of Once Every Never and the Wondrous Strange trilogy

Eve Marie Mont lives with her husband, Ken, and her shelter dog, Maggie, in suburban Philadelphia, where she teaches high school English and creative writing. Her debut women’s fiction novel, Free to a Good Home, was published by Berkley Books in 2010. Visit her website at www.evemariemont.com.

Chapter One

There was no possibility of taking a swim that day. My stepmother had planned a sweet sixteen party, and the guests were about to arrive. I’d told Barbara at least a dozen times that I didn’t want a party, but she insisted, saying if I didn’t have one, I’d regret it later. And now that the day was here, setting a record for heat and humidity that summer, the only thing I regretted was that we didn’t have central air- conditioning. That voice inside my head began to call me, that invisible cord tugging at my chest, drawing me to the ocean. But it was almost noon. The swim would have to wait.

Reluctantly, I threw on a tank top, cut-off shorts, and flip- flops and headed downstairs. The first thing Barbara said when she saw my outfit was, “You’re not wearing that, are you?”

I looked down at myself. “It would appear that I am.”

“No, that won’t do,” she said, clicking her tongue and studying me as if I was beyond hope. “Go upstairs, honey, and change into something pretty.”

I raised my eyebrow at her, taking in the sight of her dramatic eye makeup and her piles of well-sprayed blond hair. Barbara had been raised in the rich and fertile soil of Georgia, fed a steady diet of debutante balls, diamond jewelry, and Dolly Parton hair. Her favorite color was yellow because “it’s the color of sunshiiiine!”

“I’m perfectly comfortable in this,” I said. “Besides, it’s, like, a gazillion degrees in here.”

“Honey, you don’t know heat till you’ve been to Savannah in summertime. Anyway, that’s even more reason to dress in something that’ll make you feel pretty.” Pretty being the end- all-be-all of life. “Gray Newman’s going to be here,” she sang.

Oh God. Gray Newman was coming to my party. Gray of the soulful hazel eyes that fooled me into thinking he had hidden depths, when really he was just a spoiled rich kid who spent his summers lifeguarding and seducing the sorority girls. At least, that’s what I’d heard; we didn’t exactly travel in the same circles.

His mother, Simona, had been my mom’s roommate in college and later became my godmother, so Gray and I had been thrown together a lot as kids. Since my mom died, we only saw each other once or twice a year when we got dragged to each other’s milestone events. The fact that he was going to be here in my house for my party mortified me. I didn’t want him to see what a loser I was, to know that I had no friends, that I wasn’t popular like he was. The urge to cut and run grew so strong I could feel it in my bones.

Reluctantly, I went back upstairs to change. On a whim, I put on my bathing suit underneath the green-and-white summer dress I’d chosen. I glanced at myself in the mirror and made a quick assessment. Face: too pointy. Hair: too flyaway, and not at all helped by this humidity. Body: too pathetic. I pulled my hair off my neck and scooped it into a ponytail, partly because it was too hot to wear down and partly because I knew it would annoy Barbara. “Ponytails are for horses,” she’d say, or some other ridiculous gem of Southern wisdom.

When I got back downstairs, I saw that Aunt Trish, my cousins, and Grandma Mackie had all arrived together. Next came the neighbors, Bill and Rita, followed by Cassie, a woman I’d made friends with at the real estate office this summer. And yep, that was it. Saddest sweet sixteen party in history.

I went around saying hellos and collecting presents and cards, beginning to hold out hope that the Newmans weren’t going to come. But around 12:30, their oatmeal-colored Subaru pulled up in front of our house, and my stomach fell. I watched Gray get out of the car, pick up his little sister Anna, and give her a piggyback ride to the door. Mr. Newman came in carrying an organically grown zucchini the size of a small infant, and Simona held out my present, which appeared to be wrapped in tree bark. They both hugged me, Simona clutching me for so long it was uncomfortable.

“Happy birthday, Emma,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “You look more like Laura every day.” I never knew what to say to this.

Gray squatted down so Anna could dismount, then gave me a slow, uncomfortable perusal, glancing briefly down at my chest, I suppose to see if anything interesting was happening there. It wasn’t. Despite nightly pleas to a God I only half believed in, I remained a disappointing five foot three with barely any curves. Gray was even taller than the last time I’d seen him, and he’d definitely filled out. With his close-cropped hair and slightly broken-looking nose, he looked hard and proud, but also sort of haunted—like a medieval saint trapped in the body of a Marine.

Anna ran into me, hugging my legs so I was staring down at her long red hair. “Hey, beautiful!” I said. “You’re getting so big.”

“I just turned seven,” she said.

“And I just turned sixteen.”

“I know,” she said. “Gray told me, like, a million times.”

“So give Emma her present,” Gray reminded her.

His voice was deeper than I remembered. A few years at a private school had chipped away at his Boston accent, but a hint of it remained. I found it irritatingly sexy.

Anna handed me a small package and demanded that I open it immediately. “Okay, okay,” I said, laughing and making a small tear in one corner. When I pulled off the last of the wrapping paper, I was holding a turquoise leather journal inscribed with my initials. “Wow,” I said.

“Do you like it?”

“I love it!”

She broke into an embarrassed smile, and then, mission accomplished, went running off to see if there was anyone to play with. I must have looked a little stunned because Gray felt it necessary to add, “Before you go getting all touched, it was my mom’s idea. She remembered you used to write.”

“Oh,” I said, wanting to slam him into something sharp and hard. Why did guys have to be like this? Was it possible for them to admit they had any feelings other than the sports- induced grunting variety?

“So,” he said, “are you still?”

“Still what?”

“Writing?”

“Not so much.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. I guess I haven’t been inspired. What about you? Are you still lifeguarding?”

“No.”

“Too busy doing keg stands and scoring with fraternity chicks?”

He glared at me, and for a moment, I thought he was going to punch the wall. “I don’t do that anymore, Townsend.”

“Which one?”

“Either.”

I studied his face for traces of sarcasm. Even if he was being sincere, it was sort of an unwritten rule that Gray and I had to give each other a hard time. When I was five years old and he was seven, I kissed him under the apple tree in our backyard. He responded by giving me a bloody nose. We’d been sparring ever since.

After a few seconds of awkwardly staring at each other, I rolled my eyes and went to join the rest of the party in the kitchen. Everyone was hovering by the whining air conditioner except my poor dad, who stood outside on the deck in front of a hot grill. Why Barbara had planned a cookout for the middle of a heat wave, I had no idea. Grandma Mackie was sitting at the table, sipping her old-fashioned, content to be ignored even though she was probably the most interesting person there. I noticed her drink was getting low, and Grandma didn’t like her drinks getting low.

“Can I make you another?” I said.

“A small one,” she said. “Just tickle the glass.”

“I think you’ve had enough, Elspeth,” Barbara drawled. My grandma was eighty-three years old and had been drinking old-fashioneds since practically World War II. I didn’t think one more was going to kill her. “And Emma, you know I don’t like you making alcoholic drinks for your grandmother. It isn’t appropriate.”

“Dad always lets me make them,” I said, playing the “real parent” card.

“I know, but he shouldn’t. Elspeth, let me get you a nice sweet tea.”

“If I wanted tea,” Grandma said, “I’d go to the Four Seasons. Right now, I’d like to have a drink at my granddaughter’s birthday party.” She winked at me, then made a waving motion with her hand, ushering me down to her level. “Who’s the David?”

“Who?”

“That beautiful Michelangelo statue,” she said, pointing at Gray.

I covered her finger with my hand. “That’s Gray Newman, Grandma. You remember. Mom’s godson?”

“I don’t remember him looking like that,” she said, polishing off her old-fashioned. “Delicious.” I didn’t know if she was talking about her drink or Gray Newman.

My cousins were eyeing him with interest, too. Ashley and Devin were thirteen-year-old twins who resembled the creepy sisters from The Shining movie, especially as my aunt insisted they dress in the same outfits. I shuddered to myself and went into the den to make my grandmother’s drink. Gray followed me in and watched me from behind, presumably with the intention of making me nervous.

“Quite a party you’ve got here, Townsend,” he said. He always called me Townsend, like I was one of his swim team buddies. “Your parents, my parents, and a bunch of relatives.”

“You forgot to mention yourself,” I said, “which should make it fairly obvious that I didn’t write the guest list.” He laughed and nodded an unspoken touché. “I told Barbara I didn’t want a party.”

“You have to have a party on your sixteenth birthday,” he said. “But you could have invited some friends. I was expecting a room full of teenage girls.”

I was about to tell him I didn’t have any friends, but it seemed too naked a statement to make to Gray. Like leaving raw meat out for a wild dog. “So sorry to disappoint,” I said, turning away from him and tugging at my necklace. I could feel the heat rising to my face, and I hated myself for it.

“You’re not playing this right,” he said. “The more people you invite, the more presents you get.”

“But there’s nothing I want.”

“Nothing you want?” he said, feigning shock. “You’re not a very good Lockwood girl, are you?”

Lockwood Prep, the school I attended, had a reputation for girls with trust funds and designer wardrobes who received brand-new SUVs on their sixteenth birthdays. Gray was right: I was not a very good Lockwood girl. And he would know. He’d been dating Lockwood’s poster girl, Elise Fairchild, for six months. She was as Lockwoodian as they came.

“So,” I said, trying to steer the conversation away from me, “this is your last year at Braeburn.” Two years ago, Gray’s parents had transferred him from Sheldrake, the public school in Waltham, to Braeburn Academy, an alternative school that was all about kumbaya and kindness.

“If I have to sit through one more ‘harmonic huddle,’” he said, making made air quotes with his fingers, “I’m gonna impale myself with a drumstick.”

“That might be a little extreme,” I said, extracting a tiny smile from him. “Have you thought about where you’re going to college?” I poured two inches of whiskey into my grandma’s highball glass.

“I’m tired of thinking about it, actually.” His eyes darted restlessly, like it was paining him to have to talk to me. My mouth went rigid, and I retracted, turtle style. I was thinking of something cutting to say when his cell phone rang. He reached into his pocket and glanced down at the display. “I have to answer this,” he said and abruptly left the room.

For some reason, I felt embarrassed and enormously disappointed. What had I expected, for Gray Newman to engage in hostile banter with me for the duration of my party? I stayed in the den for a few minutes so it wouldn’t seem like I was chasing after him, then went back out to the kitchen and gave Grandma her drink. Everyone was engaged in conversation, so I stepped outside to see if my dad needed help at the grill.

“Hey, kiddo,” he said when he saw me. “Ever eat a tofu dog before?”

“Can’t say that I have,” I said, smiling.

I sidled up next to him, relishing this brief time alone with my father. For the past few years, we’d grown distant. Well, really, he’d grown distant. He’d be standing right in front of me smiling, but I’d know that his mind was somewhere else. He was a fisherman for the local fleet, handsome in a Gary Cooper way, meaning he could look rugged or elegant, depending on the context. In the middle of summer when his skin was almost bronze, he looked like a weathered lobster- man, but around Christmas when he wore a tuxedo to take Barbara to the Boston Pops, he looked like a movie star. Now, with sweat staining the back of his shirt and a damp, sunburned face, he looked like the browbeaten husband he’d become.

“Why don’t you let me finish up out here?” I offered. “Go inside and cool off.”

“That’s okay,” he said. “You’re the birthday girl. Go back and talk to your guests.”

How could I tell him this was the last thing I wanted to do?

Reluctantly, I went back inside. Nobody seemed to care that I’d returned, so I ended up wandering around the first floor, feeling like I was at someone else’s party. In her zeal to keep the chip baskets filled, Barbara stumbled upon me in the living room and seized the opportunity to give me a lecture on feminine wiles.

“What happened to Gray?” she asked in her irritating drawl, her heavily mascaraed eyes wide with alarm.

“He got a phone call.”

“Well, honey, take this opportunity to go upstairs and reapply your makeup. Your face is all splotchy and your hair is a disaster. Go now, while Gray is occupied.”

I wanted to scream at her, to tell her how awful it made me feel when she looked at me like I was some kind of mutant. Why could I never be good enough for her? Why could I never please her?

It was on days like this that I missed my mother most, even if I could barely remember her. In my mind she was bright and beautiful and wild—an orange poppy or a beautifully plumed bird. Summer mornings, we used to rush down to the beach to go swimming or build castles, and summer nights we’d catch fireflies until it was too dark to see. The ocean was the place where I felt closest to her. I clutched at her necklace— a silver dragonfly with blue and green glass wings—and felt an ache for her that took my breath away.

I had to get out of there. I had to go to the beach and swim—swim until my head cleared, my muscles ached, and my skin went numb—until I couldn’t feel anything at all. I knew it would be rude to leave my own party and I’d probably pay for it later, but at that moment, I didn’t care. It was almost as if I had no choice.

While the guests were eating their veggie burgers and tofu dogs in the kitchen, I snuck out the front door, determined to walk to the stony beach at the end of our block. The only thing that shook my resolve was seeing Gray Newman sitting on my curb, staring down at his phone like it had just bitten him. I intended to walk right past him and continue with my mission, but he shouted, “Yo, Townsend!”

Startled, I turned around. Yo, Townsend? Really?

“Where are you going?” he asked. He looked stunned, like he couldn’t believe I was leaving my own party.

“To the opera,” I said. My sarcasm was a defense mechanism. Truthfully, acting cool and aloof all the time exhausted me, particularly when the last thing I felt about Gray was aloof. His face hadn’t registered my joke, and he was still looking mortally wounded. “Are you okay?” I asked, getting serious for a minute.

His eyes crinkled, like he was working something out in his head. “Yeah, I’m okay,” he said. “I just keep choosing the wrong girls.”

His face looked so sad and earnest, but I couldn’t help feeling a sense of joy at this confession. He stood up and walked over to where I was standing. Barbara’s earlier pronouncement about my splotchy face and messy hair echoed through my head, and I felt sweat beading at my temples. Somehow even in the full glare of the sun, Gray managed to look cool and unflustered. “You got a boyfriend, Townsend?”

My face grew even hotter than before. “There’s a constant stream of them coming in and out of my house, haven’t you noticed? I have to beat them off with a stick.”

He laughed out loud, and I was surprised by how good this made me feel. Then he knitted his brow and stared at me. “You know, our schools are, like, five minutes from each other. It’s weird that we never see each other.”

“Yeah,” I said, wondering where he was going with this.

“Do you ever go into town?”

“Waverly Falls?” He nodded. “No, I don’t drive, remember?”

“Oh, right. Are you going to get your license soon?”

“Eventually,” I said. “My dad’s not a huge fan of the idea. He’s afraid if I get my license, I’ll take off and never come back.”

“Is that a possibility?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s tempting.”

“You don’t like Lockwood, do you?”

I paused before answering. “No, not really.” Understatement of the century.

“Why not?”

I couldn’t very well say, Because of people like your girlfriend, so I just shrugged and said, “I don’t belong there.”

It was an honest answer, and he gave me an honest response. “I know.” I was wondering whether to be offended by this, but I got the sense he’d meant it as a compliment. Then he added, “I don’t belong where I am either,” and I knew my instinct had been correct.

We stood staring at each other for a few seconds, but instead of feeling awkward like it had before, this time it felt heavy and meaningful. I didn’t want to stop looking at him, and then the staring contest grew too intense and I actually felt a little breathless. Finally, because I didn’t know what else to do, I said, “Well, I’m going to go now.”

“You’re really leaving?” he said, his face an open book of disappointment.

“Just going for a quick swim,” I said, clutching my necklace. His glance flickered briefly to the pendant, then rose to meet my eyes.

“Be careful, okay?”

“I will. My dad’s a fisherman, remember?”

“And my parents own an organic food store. That doesn’t make me a vegan.”

I laughed and nodded. “I’ll be careful.”

He smiled, but his face still looked sad. I think it was because his eyes turned down at the ends. “Happy sweet sixteen, Emma,” he said. Sincerely. Without a trace of sarcasm.

Feeling a little rattled that he’d called me Emma and not Townsend, I turned toward the beach and felt his eyes on me as I walked away.

The beach was practically deserted. The TV and radio had been airing warnings to stay inside, but there were a few brave souls sitting with their beach chairs in the surf. I took my shoes off and stepped onto the pebbly sand, feeling my feet scald the moment they touched ground. I ran to the water for relief.

The tide was running high, the ocean churning up foam and seaweed. I breathed in deeply, inhaling the briny air as I watched a sailboat skim along the horizon. I imagined it was sailing somewhere exotic: Bermuda, Jamaica, St. Croix. Somewhere with soft trade winds that carried the scent of jasmine and hibiscus. I longed to be on it.

I took off my clothes and waded into the water, feeling its coolness envelop me. After a few more steps I couldn’t resist diving in and swimming out a little farther. Once I was out past the breakers, I began a steady and relentless crawl, swimming like I was trying to reach the horizon. My heart was beating fast, but I felt tremendous. Alive. When I finally grew tired, I turned onto my back and let my head float on the water, looking up at a cloudless sky. My ears were underwater, so all I could hear was the magnified sound of my own breathing, hypnotic and soothing.

Somehow I could lose myself in the ocean the same way I could lose myself in a good book. Maybe it was because both involved suspension—a suspension of weight, a suspension of disbelief—a willingness to surrender to something greater than oneself. Cradled by this enormous sea, everything else melted away. I felt alone yet not lonely. I had felt far lonelier back at the house.

Time lapsed in that lazy way it can on the ocean, and after a while, I lifted my head and spun around to get my bearings. I’d never been out this far before, and never on my own. But I didn’t panic. I was a strong swimmer, and I liked a challenge. I turned onto my stomach and began swimming to shore, even though I was reluctant to return to my party and face the wrath of Barbara. When I felt my chest tightening, I paused and treaded water to catch my breath. The undertow was strong; I’d barely covered any ground.

I was feeling pretty exhausted already, and my earlier confidence was waning. I resumed my crawl, hoping I had enough energy left to make it back to shore. Cutting through the waves, I kept my eyes closed, praying that I’d open them to see the beach within range. But when I stopped to check, I’d made virtually no headway at all. The realization made me weak with fear. My breathing was ragged, and salt water stung my eyes and nostrils. My muscles burned from the effort of swimming against the tide, and my limbs felt rubbery and slack.

Panic set in as I tried to find the beach through wet eyelashes. My blood was pulsing in my ears as I took in the first few gulps of water, making me choke and sputter. My lungs burned in my chest, and this sent me into a panic spiral. I stopped swimming and did the worst thing I could possibly do: I began to flail. I could feel myself losing control, sinking under, and for one startling moment, I knew I was going to drown. I, Emma Townsend, on my sixteenth birthday, was going to die of extreme stupidity.

I could no longer see the beach, only water and darkness and foam. My brain suddenly went hot, and my mind grew very still and quiet—so quiet that I thought I heard chanting, an angelic chorus of voices calling to me from beneath the sea. I stopped struggling for a minute and floated, surrendering myself to the music. I knew that if I wanted to, I could let the waves overtake me and sink to the bottom to join those voices. It would be so much calmer down there without all this noise and tumult. It might even be peaceful. And I was so tired of fighting. Letting go would be easy.

It was human voices that woke me out of my trance. They were calling out to me, their voices crystallizing as I regained consciousness. One seemed to be calling my name. There was no panic in the voice, only a deep sense of purpose. Hearing it, I knew that I had to keep swimming.

Back at the house, I had told Gray that there wasn’t anything I wanted. But that wasn’t true. I wanted to go to Paris. I wanted to write a novel. I wanted to fall in love. I wanted so many things.

Buoyed by this revelation, I mustered all my remaining strength and resumed my swim toward shore, letting the voices guide me. I don’t know where this surge of energy came from—adrenaline, survival instinct—but I was swimming now with a power I didn’t know I had. The tide had carried me so far down the beach that I could see the lighthouse blinking out on the point. Just below it, the shoreline jutted out into the ocean like a bent arm, the tip curving toward me like a miraculous hand.

I swam with singular determination, my arms burning, lungs heaving, knowing I couldn’t stop. Not until my palms felt hard sand. As I neared the shoreline, I got caught in the heavy surf. Water came crashing over my head, spinning me under the water, dragging my back and legs along the rocky bottom. I clawed my way along the ocean floor and let the water barrel over me, so long as it was moving me closer to shore. Finally, a mammoth wave tossed me onto the sand, where I collapsed, sputtering water out of my nose and mouth and opening my eyes to the silhouette of my saviors, the beacon of the lighthouse flashing behind one of them like a halo.

About Eve Marie Mont:

As a child, Eve was a tomboy/animal lover/aspiring actress who staged lip-synched productions of her favorite musicals since she couldn’t sing. Her love for athletics and animals remained, but the acting bug was soon replaced by the writing bug. In fourth grade, she wrote her first chapter book entitled, The Only Tomboy in My Class, and she was hooked.

Now Eve teaches high school English and Creative Writing in the Philadelphia suburbs and sponsors her school’s literary magazine. When not grading papers or writing, Eve can be found watching the Phillies with her husband or daydreaming about her next story.


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