Hello, and welcome back to Drifting Astray! A lot has been happening in my life of late, which doesn’t excuse, but perhaps explains the long hiatus.

I started my new job at Waitrose, quickly took on lots of overtime and spent my hours at home watching Bad TV instead of writing much. Bad TV is only enjoyable for so long before you start to crave something richer. Books, then, have also been filling my time, and Better TV. I’m currently reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which is enjoyably dark and subtle so far.

I’ve also been reading (although I’m yet to finish) Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, which has further opened my eyes to the possibilities of magical-realism and omniscient voice (which you can also find in the wonderful One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez).

I’m still toiling away at the WIP-novel, which is trickling along merrily, if slowly. I’m thankful for the fact that I seem to still be writing something, instead of nothing. A couple of years ago I might have abandoned writing completely, for several long months, after starting a new job. So I think I can say that although I’m nowhere near perfection just yet, I’m a better writer than I was back then. 🙂

I have a lot of people to thank, actually, for keeping me on the writerly straight-and-narrow. Twitter has been the safety net which has prevented me from falling off the edge of the communicating world completely, and I must give thanks to @squeakattack, @jenku70 and @atrinza in particular.

Your encouragement and wisdom has been of invaluable help, guys. 🙂

Now, in penance for neglecting you all, I offer up this short story for your entertainment …

Portrait of Lord Otto as a Young Man

“You may find this wine rather potent, Sarah. But it’s my birthday, and that calls for a special vintage.”

Lord Otto unstopped the crystal decanter and poured dark red wine into a slender cut-glass flute, which looked as if it were meant for champagne. Sarah didn’t say anything. Young lords were allowed to have eccentricities. Rich young lords, especially.

“Thank you, my lord,” she said, taking the glass and holding it carefully. Otto poured himself a glass and held it up to the light, turning it this way and that.

“Your health, Sarah,” Otto said, and took a delicate sip. Young, rich, and rather beautiful, Sarah thought. His nose was perfect and his mouth refined and sensitive.

Sarah took a sip from her own glass and her eyes widened. She hadn’t been expecting the sudden, dizzying heat of the wine. She had to set the glass down.

Otto watched her with a gratified smile. “It’s good, isn’t it?” he said, his voice soft like velvet.

Sarah cleared her throat and looked around the room, trying to think of something to say. She smoothed her skirt unnecessarily. It was mottled with mud at the bottom, she noticed. Laura had sold the carriage a month ago, so she’d had to walk through the dirty streets.

Otto leaned forward in his seat and smiled guilelessly. “You are very beautiful, Sarah. I am fond of beautiful women.”

She felt herself blush. “Thank you, my lord.” Thank you, my lord. Wasn’t that what she had said a few seconds ago? Was she some stupid parrot? Laura would laugh at her scornfully. Or perhaps she would slap her.

Sarah stayed quiet after that. Otto watched her. His eyes never left her. She fought the urge to fidget or touch her hair. He never even lowered his eyes past her collarbone. It was strange.

Then again, perhaps he was too much of a gentleman to stare openly at her figure. The thought comforted Sarah, until another idea popped into her head. Perhaps he was clever enough to keep his fantasies to himself. Perhaps he would be controlled up until the last second. Perhaps he would be rough with her …

Laura frequently scolded Sarah for indulging in flights of fancy. She said it made her look stupid and unattractive, the way she stared at nothing in particular when she was deep in thought. Sarah pulled her shoulders up, stuck out her chest and smiled at Otto in what she hoped was an alluring manner.

“Would you like to see my galleries?” Otto asked.

“But of course, my lord. How enchanting.” She took the arm Otto offered her and rose from her seat, feeling a little unsteady. It was the wine. She hadn’t had wine in a long time.

As she walked next to Otto through the halls of his mansion, she wondered how it would happen. Would he force her against the wall in the gallery and push up her skirts? Or would he take her to one of his private rooms? Would he want her facing him, when he did it? Laura had not told her very much about Otto, only that he was very rich and she should try to please him. If she pleased him, he would pay her more money. And he might invite her back again.

Otto’s galleries were full of beautiful paintings. Some dominated whole walls, others were small, sober portraits. Sarah could see that although different artists had painted them, the subject matter was uniform: Otto’s dark eyes stared from every frame.

Well, such a handsome and rich young man could afford to be vain.

“Perhaps you are wondering, Sarah, about my collection.”

“It’s magnificent.”

“But unusual, yes?”

Sarah nodded, and forced a smile.

Otto leaned forward and softly stroked Sarah’s hair. Laura had brushed it for her until it was smooth blond satin. Sarah felt the heat of the wine return as he pushed her gently against the wall. His lips went to hers lightly, briefly, like a moth’s wing.

“Every year I commemorate my birthday in two ways,” he whispered in her ear. His breath was warm and tickled her skin; her heart fluttered. “I commission a new portrait for my gallery.”

“But there are so many paintings here,” Sarah said uncertainly. “You must be much older than you look.”

“Yes,” Otto said. She shivered as his fingernails brushed against her neck. “Much, much older.”

“And the second way you commemorate your birthday, my lord? What is that?”

Otto’s answer was an exquisite touch on her neck, a hand on her waist. Sarah gave a soft cry. He was gentle with her, as he was with every woman whom he brought to his galleries. He held her until she was limp in his arms, until her eyes closed.

Laura came after dark. Lord Otto received her with courtesy and bid her sit in the chair where, hours earlier, her sister had sat, drinking wine from a slender crystal flute.

Otto’s dark eyes were full of concern as she asked if he knew Sarah’s whereabouts.

“Your sister was very charming, very charming indeed,” he said with a little moue of contentment. “But I’m afraid I haven’t seen her since she left.” He paused a moment in thought. “It was late afternoon. I offered her a carriage and chauffeur, but she preferred to walk. She talked of going to the market.”

“Oh,” Laura said forlornly. “Well, in that case, I’m sorry to have disturbed your evening.”

“Not at all,” Lord Otto said, smiling guilelessly at her. Then he leaned forwards in his seat. “The company of a beautiful woman is no disturbance at all.” He gestured towards the crystal decanter. “May I offer you a drink?”

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© Rosanna Silverlight 2010

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