Lancelot's Lady 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 and swirled 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.
The Lady 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.”
It was the dying man upstairs who was responsible for her relocation to Miami, and it was here at Lance Manor that she first discovered the meaning of family―something she’d always remember.
Memories. That’s all she’d have left one day. Her job here could end in a heartbeat. Not even the doctors knew how much time JT had left. Three weeks, three months, maybe more.
JT Lance had taught her the value of memories. It had been difficult at first, watching a grown man try to remember simple things like how to tie his shoes. JT was like the father she’d never had.
Orphaned at birth, she went to live with her mother’s sister, until Aunt Madeline and Uncle Bernard died in a car crash. After the funeral, she went into foster care and remained there until she was sixteen. The last place she was sent to was the home of Gwen and Peter Waverley. She spent three long years there―three years of hell.
She shook her head.
Some memories are best left alone.
Flicking a look at Higginson, she noticed a single tear had escaped down his cheek. The man was a loyal employee, more like a companion and dear friend than a well paid butler. He’d been with JT for over twenty years. They often argued over business matters, yet JT always respected him, and that had won the butler’s eternal devotion.
Higginson cleared his throat. “There’s something magnetic about her.”
The canvas glowed with a life of its own and she often felt the woman in the painting was watching her. The artist had captured the sensual yearning in the young woman’s expression, a sense of desperation, torment and passion that haunted her beautiful eyes. However, there was one thing that stood out―a flaw of sorts. The artist’s signature was difficult to make out.
She recalled the first time she'd seen the Lady in the Mist. The day she arrived in Miami. The day JT found out about her past―about a secret she had tried desperately to forget.
* * * * *
Rhianna was so mesmerized by the painting in the foyer that she didn’t hear footsteps approaching.
“It was painted by a talented young artist.”
She let out a startled yelp and spun around.
“My goodness,” said a tall, dark-haired man with wrinkled eyes and a kind smile. “You look just like her.”
“The Lady in the Mist.”
“Maybe there’s a bit of a resemblance,” she admitted, thinking it odd that she hadn’t noticed until he pointed it out.
“I’m sure you didn’t come here to look at paintings. What can I do for you?”
“Your housekeeper let me in. Are you Mr. Lance?”
“No, no,” the man said with a chuckle. “I’m Higginson, the butler. Mr. Lance is resting at the moment. Perhaps you can leave your name.”
Rhianna blinked back tears. She couldn’t be turned away. The trip to Florida had taken most of her savings and she didn’t have enough money to fly back to Maine. Besides, if it weren’t for Mr. Lance’s letter, she wouldn’t even be in this predicament.
“But Mr. Lance is expecting me. I’m Rhianna McLeod, the palliative nurse he contacted. In his letter he said I’d have the job if I came here.”
“Oh, I’m dreadfully sorry, miss, but Mr. Lance already has a nurse.” The butler shook his head. “You must have been mistaken.”
“But I don’t have anywhere else―”
Suddenly, a commotion broke out in the hallway. Something shattered, and she heard a muffled curse. Then a terrible wailing, like an injured animal, reverberated through the stately mansion.
The butler groaned. “Oh, no. Not again.”
He rushed off in the direction of the noise. Rhianna had no choice but to follow him. When they passed through a doorway, she saw an elderly man dressed only in a bathrobe. It gaped open in the front, threatening to reveal more than just a hairy chest. Beside him, a plump woman in white scrubs was trying her best to calm him down, even though she was dripping wet and very upset.
“Mr. Lance’s nurse,” the butler said.
As they approached the dueling pair, Rhianna tried to remember everything she could about her employer-to-be. In the past year, the tabloids had been filled with stories of billionaire JT Lance and his fight against an aggressive disease, a cancerous tumor that made him an unruly and difficult patient. From what she could see, the rumors were true. Once exuding strength, confidence and perhaps a touch of arrogance, JT now looked frail and helpless as he leaned against the wall for support.
“JT?” the butler called out.
The older man smiled. “Higginson, please get this woman a towel. She spilled my water.” Totally unaware of the broken glass, water and pill bottles on the floor, he staggered toward them.
“Sir!” the butler said with some force.
“I did not spill it,” the nurse snapped. Turning to the butler, she said, “Mr. Lance refuses to take his meds. Now he’s having a temper tantrum. Look! He threw a water pitcher at me.”
JT’s eyes flared. “That’s because you keep trying to poison me, you old bat!”
“I am not trying to poison you,” the nurse sputtered. “The medication will help―”
“How the hell do you know what will help me? You keep me so drugged that I don’t even know who I am when I look in the mirror.”
The old man turned to leave, then abruptly whipped around and gaped at Rhianna...
* * * * *
©2009 Cheryl Kaye Tardif, writing as Cherish D’Angelo; all rights reserved. No copying, displaying or printing of this material in any format without written consent from author.
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