Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked. - Saint Augustine
Elizabeth stood with her elegant silhouette backlit by the city at night. One hand absently held an empty champagne flute; the other toyed with the heavy curtains that framed a view of the heart of Paris. Her brown eyes lingered over the city as she stretched her sculptured body in a feline motion that sent black hair falling down her snowy back in a silken rush. Over her shoulder, on the edge of the tangled bed, the girl dressed, pulling boots on her long legs. She was tall, young, and radiant, possibly Czech, a honey blonde in her late teens. Her looks were natural and fresh, but unfinished, where Elizabeth was a classic dark beauty with a commanding presence that only breeding and maturity could grant. Money could buy the appearance of wealth but not the assurance to wear it like a second skin. The girl’s beauty would command the eyes of men wherever she went, but Elizabeth’s would bend their will even as she entered a room. Even a fool could see that the blood of kings flowed in her veins. Standing in heels, the girl met Elizabeth’s height, eye to eye.
Around the women, furniture of rich wood gleamed with the luster of wealth. Upholstery, flawless from disuse, covered the beautifully framed items that were tastefully scattered across the rooms. Each room of the suite spoke of money and taste. Even the single lamp that threw muted light from the corner was a model of understated style. The immediate area was in the disarray of harried intimacy. An empty wine bottle, berries on a bone china tray, and the scent of perfume and damp linen testified to the activity of the previous night. At least some Europeans still respected a Do Not Disturb sign, regardless of noise. The sign had also allowed them to sleep the day away, a dreamless sleep of joyous exhaustion. She looked at the girl, who now had her luggage near the door.
“Before you go, are you ready? Do you need anything?”
In the girl’s purse rested a first class ticket to Miami and credit cards, all with no limit. Elizabeth’s tone was light but warm. The girl reddened slightly from the remembrance of the previous week and the life that she was about to begin. She was also flushed from her internal struggle as her body began to change.
“No, I have everything. Thank you. Thank you a thousand times. This is . . . ,” she trailed off as Elizabeth gave the smallest of frowns.
“Something is missing. Here. This.” She held the girl’s hand and slipped a delicate ring on her finger. The diamond was framed on either side by a strange stone deeper than oxblood. Light swirls of silky color danced in the gems. The antique platinum setting was graceful and worn, like an heirloom.
“I cannot -,” the girl started.
Elizabeth shook her head slowly. “It was my daughter’s. Wear it, and, when you have a daughter you love, give it to her.”
To a girl of such youth and beauty, children were far away where she was going.
“But what if I have no daughter?” she asked. Elizabeth looked briefly at the window.
“Petra, your life will be one of gifts, giving. And receiving. Men will want you. They will try to own you. All of them, drunk with lust, an endless line of their eyes shining with greed,” Elizabeth gave a wintry smile. “You will appeal to their vanity even as they feed you. Savor it. There is no other feeling like it.”
She kissed the girl on the cheek in dismissal and turned to the champagne bottle settling in the silver urn.
“Whether you want to or not, you will be a mother of sorts. Many daughters, I think. And when you find one who meets your mettle, you will give her the ring as a gift. In the meantime, the gift you will give is yourself.”
Born in 1968, I discovered fishing shortly after walking, a boon, considering I lived in South Florida. After a brief move to Kentucky, my family trekked back to the Sunshine State. I had the good fortune to attend high school in idyllic upstate New York, where I learned about a mythical substance known as "snow". After two or three failed attempts at college, I bought a bar. That was fun because I love beer, but, then, I eventually met someone smarter than me (a common event), and, in this case, she married me and convinced me to go back to school--which I did, with enthusiasm. I earned a Master's Degree in History and rediscovered my love for writing. My novels explore dark fantasy, immortality, and the nature of love as we know it. I live near Nashville, Tennessee, with the aforementioned wife, son, and herd, and, when I'm not writing, I teach history, grow wildly enthusiastic tomato plants, and restore my 1967 Mustang.
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