Friday, June 17, 2011


While making a movie about Giovanna Russo’s life in Victorian London, Astrid Leclair and Dylan Shaw steam up the screen with their passionate scenes.
Two men desire the beautiful artist’s model, Giovanna Russo. One intends to make her his mistress and the other wants her dead.
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Excerpt: 1

"I say, there's Lord Ogilvie, Earl of Douglass," Horace Atherton said, raising his voice above the clinking of glasses and the murmur of table talk.
Blair Dunleavy searched through the pall of cigar smoke at the checker-board of black tailcoats and trousers, white waistcoats and bow ties. He located the earl, sitting amongst the industrialists, merchants and bankers, all here to view the risqué art.
Blair smothered a yawn. He was here under sufferance to keep Horace company. Two months spent in London was proving to be too long. He had to admit he'd stayed longer than usual just to pique his mother. He had sent a letter off this morning to advise her of his imminent return.
Despite his annoyance at his mother's demands, Blair was eager to return home to Ireland. The estate didn't run itself, despite what his friends might suggest. After he had solved the problems his bailiff would have for him, the woods waited, full of red deer and grouse, the river stocked with salmon and brown trout.
He turned his attention back to the room as conversation fell away. The auctioneer had taken his place at the podium.
The first painting appeared. Once placed on the stand, complete silence came over the room bar the odd, sharp intake of breath. It was an explicit portrait of a woman's body from the waist down, in perfect, biological detail. Each black pubic hair carefully wrought, the rounded thighs parted.
"What do you think of that, eh?" Horace whispered. "Rather well done. Like to buy it?"
"I prefer the real thing in my bed," Blair answered dryly.
The auction took off with an offer of fifty pounds from Charles Ogilvie, Earl of Douglass, a ginger-haired, hollow-cheeked Scot, known for his questionable tastes. Blair found the man as cold as the climate of northern Scotland where he resided in an ancient castle. Soon others joined in, quickly raising the stakes to eighty pounds.
After the gavel came down and the painting went to Ogilvie, another, entitled Death of a Christian, by Harold Schiller appeared. In this painting, a young woman was bound to a post, the bonds seeming to cut into the soft flesh of her arms. Blair thought it lacked beauty, but the emotive work drew a lively response, going to a fellow, Blair didn't know, for one hundred pounds.
The next painting to emerge from behind the curtain was Aphrodite, by Milo Russo, a Pre-Raphaelite work. There was no denying its sensual beauty, but there was something more personal, a tenderness from the artist's brush, a sort of reverence for his subject. In an Ancient Grecian setting, a young woman reclined on a couch.
Blair found himself holding his breath as if waiting for her to raise her hairbrush to her waist-length, red-gold hair. Her robe had slipped off one smooth, creamy-skinned shoulder, its folds outlining the perfect curve of her waist and hip. On the table beside her sat a glowing, red apple, just like the one Eve had bidden Adam eat. Did she await a lover? The languidness of her pose suggested he had just left the room.
Blair leaned forward in his chair. The painted, silky gown gave a tantalizing glimpse of the girl's full, rounded breasts. Her slightly raised knee left to the imagination of the observer what had been so carefully detailed in the previous painting. To Blair, it only made her more desirable. This girl was no milk and water English miss. The nostrils of her strong nose flared slightly, and her luscious, full-lipped mouth parted in a half-smile. Her magnificent eyes, somewhere between green and brown, seemed to both invite and disdain the onlooker's gaze.
"My God," Blair said softly.
"Reminiscent of Manet's Olympia," someone behind him muttered. "Another superb painting of a courtesan."
"Eighty pounds," called Lord Ogilvie.
Blair raised his hand. "One hundred."
Heads turned to look at Blair with knowing faces.
"One fifty," countered Ogilvie in a challenging voice.
"Two hundred," Blair countered.
"Two fifty." Ogilvie's eyes narrowed and he turned to glare at Blair.
"Four hundred pounds," Blair said coolly.
There came a collective gasp from the fascinated onlookers.
Ogilvie stood so quickly his chair fell to the floor. Ignoring it, he threw down his catalogue and stalked from the room.
"Going, going …."
When no one else bid further, the auctioneer's gavel dropped. "Gone! To Mr. Dunleavy for four hundred pounds."
"Aah," Horace said, clapping Blair on the back. "Not totally immune to good art, eh?"
"Not at all, my friend," Blair replied, leaping to his feet. "I intend to find that model."
Knowing laughter followed him from the room. Behind the curtain, Blair arranged payment and had the painting wrapped. It would be perfect for the boudoir of his London townhouse where he could enjoy it-until he found the real thing. He couldn't delay his return to Ireland for even another few days. Damn, he wished he hadn't sent off that letter.
Returning to the foyer to collect his silk top hat, cane and overcoat, he found Horace retrieving his cloak. Horace favored a certain poetic style of dress that required an ill-tied cravat and a waistcoat held together by one button, his curly hair, wild and unbrushed. He had a good stock of quotations from the poets and even dashed off some poetry of his own, which unfortunately, was rather bad. He had the grace to admit it, and it did make him popular with the ladies.
"Not so wise to humiliate Ogilvie a second time, d'you think?" he asked Blair.
"That wasn't my intention."
"Nevertheless, he took it that way. Damned peculiar fellow. You accusing him of cheating at that card game has brought him unstuck, y'know."
"It's no secret he's been cheating for years."
"Trouble is, young Blackeny was there."
"Ogilvie was courting his sister, Lavinia. That's not going to come about now."
Blair shrugged. "Luckily for Lavinia."
"Ogilvie needed the infusion of funds that marriage to Lavinia would bring him. He's seriously strapped for cash. That castle of his in Caithness is crumbling into the sea."
"Can't say I'll shed any tears over it," Blair said. "Have you seen the way he treats his cattle? Saw him whipping his poor horse in the park, the man's a monster."
Horace shook his head. "Wouldn't care to have him against me." He ran his fingers through his curls and put on his hat. "A few of us are going to the theatre. We feel the need of a little feminine company. I trust you are coming?"
"No." Blair tucked his cane under his arm and pulled on his gloves. "I think I'll pick up a cab at Hyde Park Corner and go home."
Horace looked askance at his handsome, dark-haired friend. "Home? It's only ten o'clock. You aren't sickening for something, are you?"
Blair laughed. "Not in so many words, Horace."
"It's that painting." Horace stared at the wrapped parcel. "That's not like you. I declare, I believe you to be bewitched. Remember, it is the spectator and not life that art really mirrors."
"Are those your words, my friend?"
Horace chuckled. "I am sadly not known for such erudition." He gestured to the painting. "The artist may well have taken poetic license with his subject. It's doubtful the real flesh and blood woman will measure up to his concept of her."
Blair raised an eyebrow. "If we must lapse into literary quotations, here is one that is surely apt: Life imitates art far more than art imitates life."
Horace waved his silver cane. "Touché! Shall we have a bet that my premise is correct, should you find that model?"
Blair smiled. "Why not indeed."
"A hundred pounds."
"Done." Blair shook Horace's hand.
"And should I be proved right, don't despair. There are many beauties in London," Horace added.
"I'm well aware of that. Have I not accompanied you on your sojourns these two months past?"
Horace laughed. "I'm not sure what it is about that painting that has captivated you. Women of the demimonde are ruthlessly self-seeking. They will tear a fellow's heart to pieces should you become too fond of them. Treat 'em lightly or you'll pay a high price with your heart and with your pocket."
"You are indeed a good friend, Horace." Blair patted him on the back. "I wish you a good night."
"Then sadly, I must relinquish your company," Horace said, "And hope to see you restored to sanity at the Athenaeum tomorrow. I'd like to spend some time with you before you disappear back to that big, rambling house of yours in Killarney."

Excerpt 2


A knock came on Astrid's dressing room door. "Enter." She continued to remove her makeup at her mirror her hair held back by a white band.
Dylan came in, ducking his dark head slightly. A gesture she recognized, one of a tall man used to living in old houses.
She met his gaze in the mirror, the brilliant blue of his irises had caused women the world over to fall in love with him.
"I'm sorry we didn't have a chance to chat before rehearsal," he said. His voice had an attractive, Irish lilt. "I did hope to, but the flight was delayed."
Astrid swung round to face him. "Only two takes. I thought it helped in the end, kept it fresh. Did you feel it went well?"
"Good for me. The more takes I do, the worse I get." He grinned. "Frank Sinatra refused to do more than one take. I think he had something there."
She expected him to be arrogant, not unassuming, or was this part of his charm offensive? If so it was disarming. Aware her face shone with cold cream she turned back to the mirror. Grabbing a tissue, she quickly wiped it off.
"You look great without makeup."
"Oh please!"
"No. You do, honestly. Like a kid."
"I'm supposed to like that?" She pulled the Alice band from her long hair. "French women are not afraid to grow old."
He laughed. "You hardly need to worry about that. Are you over here in England on your own?"
She dropped the tissue into the waste basket. Her hairdresser had been right. She would have to be careful. "I am. Why?"
Dylan leaned against the wall, his arms folded. A smile pulled at the corners of his well-shaped mouth. "I read somewhere that you and Philippe had broken up. I was going to offer my condolences."
"That article in The Truth? Pure fabrication. Philippe considered suing them, but in the end we couldn't be bothered." She picked up her hairbrush. "We are still together, and very happy, thank you."
"Then I pity all the young men," he said, his hand on the doorknob.
Did he disapprove of Philippe? Some men did resent older men dating young women, she knew. "You are an actor who likes to mix work with pleasure, yes?" she said mildly. The inference that he slept with all his leading ladies hung in the air.
He frowned as he opened the door. "Not usually."
The door closed behind him. She'd been rude, and she wasn't sure why. She usually made an effort to get on with co-stars. It could get quite difficult if you didn't. She shook her head. After all, he'd only been flattering her, and that might have been his way of breaking the ice.
And why had she lied about Philippe? Was it because she wasn't ready to let him go? Or was it apprehension at the effect this man had on her. She trembled when he came near her with the same sexual thrill she felt driving through the Bois de Boulogne.

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