~ by Cherish D'Angelo (aka Cheryl Kaye Tardif)
A woman's naked body, wrapped only in a thin veil of mist, rose from the shimmering stillness of the lake. Her long legs, half-submerged in the water, were gracefully slender. Rich auburn hair cascaded down her shoulders swirling over the peaks of her firm breasts. Her jade-green eyes gleamed with such yearning and expectancy.
Sultry and seductive, her siren's call radiated infinite promises.
The mist rose from the lake in spiraling tendrils like fairy hands grasping at the woman's body. The wind whispered in hot, humid breaths. Water trickled from the falls above, showering the plants with glistening moisture.
And from the depths of the lush green forest, a bird called to its mate, inviting her to share in nature's beauty.
The woman in the mist appeared to be waiting for something. Or someone...
“It’s a lovely painting, isn’t it, Miss McLeod?”
Rhianna spun around at the sound of Higginson’s voice.
“She looks quite a bit like you,” the butler observed.
She chuckled. “That’s what you said eight months ago when I first arrived.”
They stood side by side, each thinking of the dying man upstairs, the man who meant so much to both of them. It was this man, whose life was slowly slipping away, who was responsible for Rhianna’s first day at Orange Valley. And it was here at Lance Manor that she first discovered the meaning of family―even though she and JT were not related.
Memories. That’s all I’ll have one day. No one knows how much time JT has left―three weeks, three months, maybe more.
He had taught her the value of memories. It had been difficult at first, watching a grown man trying to remember simple things like how to tie his shoes. JT was like the father she had never had.
Orphaned at birth, she had been sent to live with her mother’s sister, until Aunt Madeline and Uncle Bernard died in a car crash when she was twelve. After the funeral she went to live with a foster mother, Mrs. Emerson, who later decided she didn’t want Rhianna anymore. From there, she wandered from home to home until she was sent to live with Gwen and Peter Waverley. She spent three long years there―three years of hell.
Some memories are best left alone, she thought miserably, remembering the accusations, the guilty looks, and the hatred in the couple’s eyes.
Glancing curiously at Higginson, Rhianna noticed a single tear had escaped down his cheek. Higginson cleared his throat, trying to compose himself as he focused on the painting. He was a loyal employee, more like a companion and dear friend than a simple butler. He had been with JT for over twenty years. He’d often argued with JT over business matters, yet JT always respected him, which won Higginson’s devotion.
Turning her attention to back to the Lady in the Mist painting, she noticed that the canvas seemed to glow with a life of its own. The painter had captured the sensual yearning in the young woman’s expression. A sense of desperation, torment and passion echoed in her hauntingly beautiful eyes. Every detail in the painting was precise, except the artist’s signature. It was difficult to make out.
I’ll have to remember to ask JT who painted this, she thought.
She slowly peeled herself away, ignoring the magnetic pull of the painting. Looking back at Higginson, she watched him for a moment, remembering the day she had first seen the enchanted painting of the Lady in the Mist. The day when JT had found out about her past―a past she had tried desperately to forget.
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P.S. The cover above is a mock book cover I created for inspiration only.