“Now.” Master Sterrino stepped toward me, grabbing my arm and pulling me forward until I stood in front of the canvas. He jabbed a finger at the blank expanse. “This is your one chance. This is it. So I suggest you take it! If you are so convinced that I should spend my time teaching you instead of a worthier candidate, then prove it!” My chest rose and fell as I battled my emotions. I fought for poise, for dignity. I fought for the righteous indignation I had felt only moments before. But his words screamed through my head, over and over until all I could hear were the words Tobias had spoken to me. What’s pathetic is that you have one chance. And this is it. I—am it. I’m your one chance to choose, and you won’t take it! It had been a long time since I’d felt this kind of burning anger, and I hated it. I hated that Sterrino had found a way to fling me back into the muck that I’d been in throughout my youth, that he could make me feel isolated and unwanted. What did he want? For me to paint something angry and disgusting? To tear open my healing heart and smear my own blood all over the canvas? I had put up with Dante’s provocations—his odd mood swings—all in the hopes of having a chance to work with this man, to show him what I could do. Now as he stood there, mocking, I couldn’t make myself move. “That’s what I thought,” he said with grating satisfaction. “Brilliance comes from experiencing life, from true love and true loss. I didn’t expect a privileged member of the royal family to be acquainted with either.” He raised one eyebrow as a final challenge. True loss? He wanted to know what my loss looked like? “Fine.” I stalked over to the paints. “You want me to paint something you’ll understand?” I ignored the brushes and thrust my hand directly into the bowl of deep black, scooping out a handful and slapping it onto the canvas in globs. I grabbed a rag and smeared the paint until it spread in uneven, clumsy strokes across most of the canvas. But I couldn’t leave the black uncontaminated, so I grabbed two more rags, dipping one into the gray and the other into brown, smearing them on top of the black, mixing everything into a muddy mess. If pain and angst was all he wanted to see, then I could certainly give him that. I had spent so much of my life pushing people away—afraid that any close attachments would make me weak, that having fun with my sisters would make me less worthy of my title. I knew what isolation, anger and fear would look like. I threw the rags aside and curled my hands into claws, then dragged my fingernails over the canvas, slashing through the paint, criss-crossing in jagged, broken stripes. I scrubbed my hands on my skirts, forgetting that I had abandoned my apron, and moved on to the bowl of red. The final touch would speak of blood because that had been the ending of my tragic story. The story that I would just as soon have left behind but which Sterrino seemed determined to drag out of me. I grabbed a jar of linseed oil and dumped some into the red, mixing it until it was thin and fluid; then, cupping my hands in the bowl, I filled them with crimson liquid before flinging it at the canvas. It splashed across the surface, dripping down in rivulets. I shook my hands forward, splattering the edges with the excess paint from my hands, then took two steps back, my breathing labored as I took it in. What I had created was angry, torn, and ugly. Exactly what I had wanted. Exactly what I thought Master Sterrino deserved. I swallowed the lump in my throat, trying to tamp down the burning in my chest caused by the blatant reminder of the pain I used to cling to so desperately. I tore my gaze away, refusing to claim it as my own and spun to face Master Sterrino. He was staring at me, his eyes intent but unemotional. I flung one paint-caked hand toward my work. “There you have it,” I declared. “Enjoy.” I sank into a mocking curtsey, but as I did, it reminded me too much of the way I used to treat people, of the way that Tobias used to taunt and humiliate, and I hated myself for stooping to such depths. I turned without meeting his eyes and stalked out of the studio.
Blog Tour Sale!! Grab a copy of Just Ella for 99 cents!Author Annette K. Larsen I was born in Utah, but grew up in Flagstaff, Arizona and St. Louis, Missouri, the fifth of seven children. I attended Southern Virginia University and Brigham Young University, where I studied English and Theater. I now live in Idaho with my husband and four children. I have Charlotte Brontë to thank for the courage to write novels. After being bombarded with assigned reading about women who justified abandoning either their families or their principles in the name of love, I had the great fortune of reading Jane Eyre. And that was it: finally, a heroine who understood that being moral and making the right choice was hard, and sometimes it hurt, but it was still worth it. After rereading it several years later, I realized that if I wanted more books to exist with the kinds of heroines I admired, then I might as well write a few myself. My books are about women who face hard choices, who face pain and rejection and often have to face the reality of sacrificing what they want for what is right. The consequences are often difficult or unpleasant, but in the end, doing what’s right will always be worth it. I believe there is no substitute for good writing or good chocolate. Fortunately, one often leads to the other.
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