Today’s Snippet Saturday theme is “Something Odd.” Of all my characters, I can think of no one more odd than Catullus Graves. Catullus serves as the Blades of the Rose’s resident mechanical genius. Like members of the Graves family before him, Catullus designs and builds all the wonderful gadgets the Blades take out into the field.
Of course, mechanical geniuses are seldom ordinary, and Catullus is no exception. He’s got more than a few quirks, including a mania for collecting waistcoats, a fondness for women with freckles, and an inability to comfortably converse with said freckled women. He’s also Anglo African, which makes him something of a perpetual outsider.
In today’s snippet, from REBEL, Catullus reflects on his life as an eccentric genius.
By the light of the fire, Catullus examined his Compass. No one had made alterations to the design, not since Portia Graves’s time, and it seemed about due for some improvements, incorporating innovation and new technology. Lately, he’d been thinking about adding a means of measuring distance and possibly height. Such options could prove useful for Blades in the field.
He looked up briefly when the breeze carried the sound of a soft moan. Astrid. Out there in the darkness with Lesperance.
Catullus was forty one years old. He knew precisely what Astrid and Lesperance were doing.
Bending back to his work, Catullus took a small screwdriver from a slim case and began to carefully remove the front plate of the Compass. He knew what he’d find within the Compass, having disassembled his own hundreds of times. Whenever he found himself in the field, away from his workshop, and needing a distraction for his busy mind, he invariably dismantled his Compass to search for ways of refinement.
Yet the mechanism and magnets could not hold his attention tonight. He didn’t want to think about Astrid and Lesperance making love, but, for all the attention his brain received from the world, he was still a man, with a man’s needs.
Penelope Welham. The last woman he’d taken to bed. That was…six weeks ago? Eight? A prosperous mercer’s widow in Southampton, Penny had a longstanding arrangement with Catullus. When he was in town and found time away from his workshop, he made semi-regular visits to her bed. Neither Penny nor Catullus expected fidelity from the other. In truth, they expected nothing more than a few hours of sex. Conversation was kept to a minimum. Neither inquired about the other’s life. They were convenient for each other, and that was all.
Catullus forced himself to concentrate on the Compass. Such a simple device, yet he knew it could be made better with only a few small adjustments.
He was happy for Astrid, truly. He could not resent her moving forward. And that she had found love not once, but twice, astounded him. Catullus had spoken truthfully when he told her he’d never once been in love. He felt like an alchemist, hearing tales and seeing with his own eyes the transformation of lead into gold, yet unable to make the metamorphosis himself.
When it came to sexual experience, Catullus had his fair share. But beyond the physical act of making love, he was nearly as green as a youth half his age. He found that, when out of bed, he and his lovers barely understood one another. The women were fascinated by either his skin color or his intellect, finding him to be an intriguing enigma but not truly a man. Conversations were awkward, stilted, and he never truly knew what to say. The women were largely blank. His mind drifted back to his work. At least there, he found something that stimulated more than his body.
A growl unfurled from the darkness. Somewhere between a man and an animal. But entirely carnal, utterly erotic.
Catullus gritted his teeth together at the sound. He couldn’t fault Lesperance and Astrid for making love this night. Quinn’s death hit them all hard, and it was natural to affirm life, and love, through the joining of bodies. Yet still, bloody irritating to be reminded that, while Astrid and Lesperance had discovered love with each other, Catullus was deeply, profoundly alone.
Usually, he could combat those feelings being out in the field. Not this time.
He came from a venerable line of intellectuals, all blessed—or cursed—with extraordinary minds that perpetually churned out ideas and inventions as readily as most people ate. And almost everyone in his family, with the notable exception of odd Aunt Sabrina, had managed to find spouses or long-term romantic partners. Some of the marriages were more successful than others, yet, for the most part, domestic felicity had been attained by generations of Graves. The very fact that he was alive attested to this.
Why was he different? Were his standards simply too high? Should he try to make himself more accessible to the average woman?
He didn’t want the average woman. He wanted a woman with whom he could be fully himself, in all his peculiarity, and who engaged him on every level. He knew it would be nigh impossible to find a woman whose brain worked as his did, constantly at work on dozens of inventions simultaneously, his mind picking apart the world and searching eternally for the whys and wherefores. That would be excruciating, for both of them. Yet there had to be a woman out there, somewhere, who wasn’t silly and wasn’t dull or strident or insubstantial or pedantic or…ordinary.
Such women did exist. They were Blades of the Rose. But he learned early the important principle that female Blades were for friendship and the shared goal of protecting Sources. Not lovers.
Oddly, the flame-haired Miss Murphy from the trading post popped into Catullus’ mind like an errant spark. She had a luscious figure, it was true, but he’d seen something in her bright blue eyes that attested to a depth and energy he’d seldom found outside of the Blades. He remembered how she took in the dilapidated saloon, missing nothing, alert to everything around her. Including—nay, especially—him. Intriguing.
He would never see Miss Murphy again, and, even if he did, it would not matter. He reminded himself of this as he closed up the Compass. He, Astrid and Lesperance were on a desperate bid to protect the Earth Spirits’ totems and Astrid herself. Already, their search had cost one Blade his life. And, should they succeed, the Heirs still held the Primal Source and would be unleashing it upon an unsuspecting world—soon. Very soon. Nations and the lives of millions hung in the balance. There wasn’t time or room for Catullus’ to brood and feel sorry for himself. The sorrows of his heart held no place here.
Yet, as he waited by the fire for Astrid and Lesperance to return from their nocturnal tryst, Catullus wondered only half in jest it he might be able to replace his heart with one made of clockworks. A mechanical heart could never feel lonely.
Awww. It doesn’t hurt to imagine Idris Elba as Catullus, too.
I can’t lie—though I love all of my heroes, Catullus remains one of my favorites. Don’t worry, though. Catullus gets his own happily ever after in STRANGER, with a heroine every bit as unusual as he is.
Be sure to check out all the Snippet Saturday blogs!