Chapter 1

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"All these years, you've lived but you've never had a life." - The Age of Adaline, in theaters April 24th

No one is born of starlight and dreams.

We all start somewhere dark and small and uncertain except for the pounding of that other heart that makes ours beat in a matching rhythm.

Destiny is, after all, a matter of destination, not of origin.

I was born in the stifling summer heat at a servant's shack along the Mississippi River, on the outskirts of the great Belle Terre, one of Louisiana's grandest plantations. According to my mother, my wail stirred currents in the swamps, as if proclaiming the incontestable truth of my birth and protesting the means by which it came about. My father, the despicable, dishonourable and dissolute youngest son of the Barrineau patriarch, had forced his attentions on my mother, then lady's maid to one of the family's three daughters, discarding her as soon as he'd caught his breath. Mama lost her post as soon as her belly showed and it was only at the mercy of one of the many slaves in the plantation that she'd found herself a roof over her head.

I was a baby with skin the color of cream, hair as golden as that of corn and eyes as vivid a turquoise as that of the Barrineau family. There was no doubt in all of Belle Terre who'd sired me.

My mother worked in the plantation, laboring along with the other slaves for a bit of food and as soon as I was old enough to be of use, I accompanied her, unaware that the elegantly dressed men and women I caught glimpses of here and there when they toured their vast property were somehow linked to my creation and destruction. I could scarcely avoid their notice, as blue-green-eyed and as fair as I was, even with the sprinkling of freckles that marred my already lightly bronzed skin. My father, finally married to another planter's daughter, barely acknowledged my existence but his wife, vindictive and vicious Marcellina, couldn't dismiss the similarities.

When I was fifteen, I applied to work as a lady's maid in the great house, confident of the little things that my mother had taught me. She had long warned me to stay away from the family but I insisted that the only way up the ranks was to find a position in the household.

Marcellina hired me and it didn't take long for me to piece together her mockery and insults and understand why she loathed me with fervor. It infuriated her more when I let her ridicule bounce off me. I steeled my heart as I did my backbone.

I was four days past eighteen then and just a few hours before sunrise, one of my father's guests stumbled accidentally into my quarters and insisted that I be accommodating to his needs. I accommodated such needs with a heavy, polished oak branch I kept under my bed. Clutching a sizeable swell on his head where the skin broke and bled, he screamed the house down and not long after that, I was tossed out to the back in nothing but my ratty shift, my hands and feet bound with thick rope.

The sun was rising, pink and gold streaking across the soft blue of the skies, when I felt the first lash of the whip, cutting cleanly across my skin. I shivered at the burn of the leather and the numbness that soon settled in as Marcellina's hand created its masterpiece on my back. I eventually passed out, eyes dry and mouth tangy with blood from the screams I bit down, seeing nothing but prisms of sunlight and smelling only the rich earth.

I was in a fever for days, the wounds on my back festering. The moment my fever broke, Mama dragged me out of the bed and into the back of a wagon. She said we had to leave before Marcellina could pass down my death sentence for surviving her beating and that my father had given her some money to send us away.

We headed north, aiming for the free states and a life that would never be the same for me again. Danger shadowed our entire journey and culminated at a dusty roadside just outside of Augusta, when a band of men demanded our meager possessions. I was still very weak but when my mother tried to seize back the pouch of coins one of the men had filched and got in the way of his gun, I leapt to my feet and pushed her down.

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