When I was eighteen, I had the great privilege of being able to go on a ten day trip to the California Coast. You may remember me talking about that trip in my earlier blog post about how I came to love wine. Well, this trip also inspired something much more than a love of wine.
One day, we went cruising along the highway, and ended up at the gorgeous place called Ragged Point. I was fascinated with it–the secluded beauty of it, the fog, the ocean breeze–everything. I could see stories in that place, in all of the amazing beauty surrounding me.
And I did.
Several years later, I wrote one of my favorite books to this day. It takes place in Big Sur, CA, the place I had become so enamored with, and it became home to one of my all time favorite characters. Even now, when I think of Big Sur, go there, or see pictures, I can see Traevyn Whitelaw emerging from the fog. I can see his Gothic mansion. I can feel his pain, as well as his salvation. I know he lives there, even if it’s only in my imagination. He lives because I live, and he is my muse and creation.
There is something very magical in that.
With that, I would love to share with you a small excerpt from one of my favorite books, Dark Masterpiece, inspired by my love of the ocean and my trip to Big Sur. Why not give it a read? Maybe you will fall in love as well 😉
Evie was beyond irritated. She had been driving for hours, gotten lost three times and, to top it all off, she had her annoying seventeen-year-old brother popping gum in the passenger’s seat. She scowled at nothing as her fingers gripped the wheel tighter.
Her brother heaved a dramatic sigh. “Seriously, Evie, just let me go back home. Why do I have to come on this lame trip with you?”
“For the last time, Seth, Mom and Dad are going to be gone all summer and there’s no one to watch you.”
“I’m seventeen!” he cried. “I don’t need a friggin’ babysitter! Why couldn’t you just leave me at home?”
Evie met his eyes for a moment. “Need I remind you of the last time you were left alone? Mom and Dad came back early and found two of your friends having sex in their bed while another lit up a joint in the bathroom!”
Seth huffed. “Is that going to be held against me forever? At least I wasn’t doing that stuff!”
She rolled her eyes. “No, you were drunk and passed out on the sofa. Look, I’m not too thrilled about having to tote you around either. This is my chance to work with the greatest artist of all time, and I have to bring my little brother along! I’m not jumping for joy here, but Mom and Dad had no one else. I called my professor and he said it should be fine if you come with me. I have no other option and neither do you so shut up and help me look for this turnoff.”
Seth sat back with an agitated scowl. Evie sighed. She was not happy about her parents dumping her brother on her at the last minute. This was the chance of a lifetime. The last thing she needed was Seth hanging around all the time. He was a moody teenager. He would just be an annoyance. She glanced at him with his bleach-blond hair and leather jacket. He looked like Billy Idol. She was sure that would make a great impression. “Please, Evie, you’re our only hope.” Why did she always fall for that? She was sure there had to be somebody, anybody else who could have taken Seth. Yet, here she was, stuck with him all summer. It figured.
She guided her car down the winding coastal highway and turned onto the remote dirt road that was practically non-existent. They were somewhere in Big Sur, hours and hours away from Ashland. She felt like she had been driving for eons and the last portion of it had been on Highway 1, which was only a two-lane highway right next to the ocean that twisted and curved for miles. She had been battling Seth for control of the radio for half the journey, and he had appealed to her about five times to let him go back home. She just wanted to get where she needed to go so she could be away from her brother and away from the road.
The road took her down toward the cliffs overlooking the ocean, and the trees began to get denser and more foreboding-looking, their thick branches jutting out in awkward positions that looked like gnarled fingers. Wisps of fog slithered through the branches like serpents and Evie suddenly felt like she had ventured into a horror movie. She continued to drive, the fog getting thicker as she went along.
“Dude, Evie, this is kind of creeping me out,” Seth muttered.
Evie rolled her eyes. “It’s just fog.” But she did have to admit, everything felt dark and ominous.
Without warning, the road widened out and an enormous, Gothic-looking house came into view. Evie gasped in surprise and slowed the car to a stop as she stared at the structure. It was nestled in a grove of eucalyptus trees, sitting like a lonely sentinel. The architecture much resembled that of a sixteenth-century manor and she briefly felt like she’d traveled through time.
“Holy crap,” Seth said. “What kind of guy is this? A friggin’ warlock or something?”
Evie shook her head to regain her senses and unbuckled her seatbelt. “Come on, he’s an artist. It makes sense that his home would be artistic.” But she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something horribly lonely and tormented emanating from the dark edifice.
She got out of the car and started toward the front door, shivering as the eerie ocean breeze blew gently across her skin. She heard the forlorn cry of a seagull as she approached and, behind it, the rhythmic pounding of the ocean waves. The breeze rustled through the leaves of the eucalyptus grove. Evie had to take a deep breath to calm her nerves before she knocked on the heavy oak door.
“Seriously, Evie, let me go home,” Seth whispered, stuffing his hands in his jacket pockets. “I can hitchhike, or take a bus, or something. If you want to stay here in Edgar Alan Poe land, that’s cool, but I’d rather not if you don’t mind.”
Evie scowled and shushed him just as the door swung open. She raised herself taller and prepared a smile, but it promptly faded upon seeing the man in front of her.
He was very tall and had thick, black hair that fell in shining strands all the way to his waist. His hair alone made her stop and marvel. She had never seen such long hair on a man. At least not on a man who wasn’t a sleazy old biker, or a Native American. Then again, maybe he was Native American… She wouldn’t know… And his hair wasn’t frizzy and scary like those eighties rockers. It was shining ebony that looked like silk.
“Can I help you?” he queried.
Evie opened her mouth, but nothing came out. He was absolutely breathtakingly…beautiful. Beautiful like art, like the covers of fantasy books with the rugged, manly, yet gorgeous hero. His features were harsh, all hard lines and sharp angles, undeniably masculine, but there was a strange, elegant beauty around his sensual lips and light green eyes that made Evie feel like she was looking at a living masterpiece.
Seth cleared his throat discreetly, which brought Evie out of her stupor, and she gave a nervous cough. “Excuse me, I am looking for Traevyn Whitelaw,” she murmured.
His facial expression remained impassive, and he merely shifted his weight in a lazy manner. It was a languid movement, like a jungle cat stretching. He sighed. “And you are?”
“Um…I—I’m Evelina Austin,” she stammered. “I’m—uh—supposed to be studying with Mr. Whitelaw for the summer… As his apprentice.”
His pale eyes seemed to look her over for a moment before they fixed on her own. “I am Traevyn Whitelaw,” he stated.
“Who is your companion?”
“Oh, this is my brother, Seth.” She flashed a nervous smile. “My parents dumped him on me last minute. There was no one else to watch him all summer. I called Professor Roth and he told me it should be okay if I brought him with me.”
His dark eyebrows drew together and he stood up straight. “Oh he did, did he?”
It was almost a snarl. Evie retreated a step as his presence seemed to suddenly fill the entire world.
“It is most certainly not okay,” he spat, his voice a menacing growl. “Let me make one thing perfectly clear to you, Miss Austin. This apprenticeship program was not my idea or my doing. Professor Roth approached me with it, and it was out of respect and gratitude for him that I reluctantly accepted. If not for him, I would never have made it to where I am now. So, yes, you will be my apprentice. I will teach; you will learn what you will. What you do with that knowledge is entirely up to you. It is not any fault of mine if you fall flat on your face in your desired career. Professor Roth recommended you, so you must have some talent, but I want to get one thing straight, Miss Austin. I have better things to do than entertain a starry-eyed college student and her delinquent brother.”
Seth frowned. “Hey,” he protested.
“I am doing this out of obligation,” Traevyn finished, “not by choice.”
Evie stared at him, dumbfounded. He moved quickly, making her jump, and motioned her inside. She hurried to obey, grasping Seth’s wrist and hauling him in after her.
“Follow,” Traevyn commanded, shutting the door.
Evie trailed behind him up a staircase, her hands shaking horribly. The entire house was full of mahogany, black leather furniture, and wrought iron. She could even see a few tapestries on the walls, but her chance to take a look was limited as she hurried after Traevyn.
He led them down a hallway to a door, which he opened. “This will be your room,” he stated. “The boy can have the one across the hall. You will find it slightly less prepared as I was not expecting him.” He fixed his eyes on Seth.
Seth retreated behind Evie.
“The kitchen is downstairs and the guest bathroom is at the end of the hall. If you have a problem that you can’t seem to solve on your own, my room is at the far end of the other hall, if you make a left at the top of the stairs instead of a right. When I feel like teaching, I will find you. Otherwise, please do your best to stay out of my way.” He turned and strode back down the hall, disappearing around a corner.
Evie stared, acutely aware of her own heartbeat drumming in her ears. She swallowed, her mouth dry.
“Evie!” Seth hissed. “Dude, I told you!”
She blinked and looked at him. “That was not what I expected.” She poked her head in her room and turned on the light. There was a queen-sized bed with a headboard and footboard of rich oak, and a vanity made of the same. The curtains were a deep purple, as was the bedspread. On one wall hung a thick tapestry of a Celtic pattern in black and gray. “I feel like I walked into a Bronte sister novel,” she whispered.
“That guy is freaky,” Seth muttered.
“Seth, go get our bags,” Evie demanded as she fingered the tapestry.
His eyes bulged. “Are you out of your mind? That guy probably has a dungeon and a torture chamber. If I get in his way, he’ll do awful things to me!”
Evie scowled at him. “Then don’t get in his way!” she muttered through clenched teeth. “Just go, Seth! I’m not going back home! This is an opportunity for my future. I don’t care how much of an ogre that man is, I’m staying. Now go!”
Seth threw his hands up in the air and started to grumble incoherently as he made his way back down the hall.
Evie heaved a sigh and flopped down on the bed. Her hands were still shaking. She was good at putting on a front for Seth that she didn’t care how evil Traevyn Whitelaw was, but the truth was, after that display, she had no idea how she was going to survive the next three months. This was not at all what she had expected. She’d pictured Traevyn Whitelaw as this insanely passionate, yet somehow normal man who would be patient, show her his technique, and share his life experiences with her. She had not expected a devastatingly handsome Heathcliff with no desire to have her in his home at all. The way he had spoken to her, like she was an intruder in his entire universe, made her uneasy. How was she supposed to learn anything when her teacher didn’t even want her there?
Barrett deBoer’s insensitive words flooded her mind and made her frown. Maybe she could just get by on her intelligence, but she doubted it. This man seemed much worse than Barrett, if that was possible. Maybe if she was some gorgeous supermodel he would have reacted differently to her presence.
She all but groaned aloud. What she had imagined was going to be an amazing experience, she was now convinced was going to suck horribly.
It was going to be a long summer.
If you want to read more, find Dark Masterpiece here: