This is an excerpt from the novel that I’m currently working on, working title “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.” It’s the 2nd novel in The Ella Bandita stories. Although the photo above is not of the characters, I liked it because they are doing a dance with each other. To see the other excerpt I’ve put in already, click here.
“So what do you think of my Vanity Gallery, darling Shepherd?”
The creamy voice of my hostess caught me off guard. But I liked how she sounded. The Courtesan retained the sweet tones of a younger woman.
She stood above me, halfway down the stairs. The candles and crystals from the chandelier cast a warm glow over her lovely features, and her golden eyes sparkled in the incandescent light. The Courtesan was even more breathtaking in person than she was in her portraits.
She smiled and leaned her head to one side when I hesitated to answer.
“May I ask what you’re thinking?” she said. “I adore the way you’re looking at me just now. But your expression is rather singular.”
“I’m wondering how the devil I ended up here, if you must know.”
She chuckled softly.
“The devil may well have had a hand in this. My home is far and away from the natural wilderness where you usually roam.”
My heart ached when she said that. In that moment, I yearned for open space. People and society made life difficult, painful even. I longed for the solitude, for the peace of having only my flock for company. Even though it was snowing hard, I would have given anything to be outside, the cold air stinging my cheeks as I searched for a thick copse of trees near water, listening closely for the soft babbling of a creek that ran beneath the snow. That would have soothed my weary spirit after a day like this.
“Shepherd, you seem distressed. Is there anything you need?”
“Not at all. You’ve been very attentive to our comfort, Madame.”
“Please call me Adrianna,” she replied. “Madame is so priggish. I only allow my Butler to address me as such.”
“I don’t know you to address you by your Christian name.”
The Courtesan smirked, and cocked her right brow.
“There’s nothing Christian about any part of my name. Would you be more at ease with ‘Mi’Lady’ like the other servants? Those are your only choices.”
I paused, knowing how foolish that would be. I was a guest in her Casa, and I had no doubt the Wanderer wouldn’t hesitate at the informal address of her first name.
“As you wish, Adrianna.”
Her smirk broadened to a smile.
“Before I forget to mention it, I ran into your friend. The Wanderer said he would catch up with you in a few minutes. He also said to tell you he didn’t want to interrupt your reverie of my portraits.”
Adrianna smiled impishly, while the heat rose to my face. The Courtesan glided smoothly down the stairs, evoking a sense of leisure with each step until she came beside me. It was a shock that she only stood to my shoulder. I know I’m very tall, and her average height would make her appear diminutive next to me. But with her startling presence, I expected such a woman to be rather tall herself.
Apparently our differences in height didn’t intimidate her, while Adrianna unnerved me immediately. She took my hands and turned me to face her. The gesture was personal, if not intimate. Then Adrianna held my arms to my sides and, with no attempt at discretion, she looked me up and down.
“What are you doing?”
“My dear Shepherd, you’ve had the advantage of seeing me naked at every age, and from every angle for the better part of an hour. I would simply like the pleasure to really look at you.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I want to take in your form for a few minutes, if you don’t mind.”
“I mind very much. You openly display your portraits and I believe posing nude was your choice.”
She glanced at me and winked, her golden eyes mischievous as she squeezed my hands.
“Please,” she murmured. “Be a darling and humor me, Shepherd.”
She had me so off balance I didn’t have the presence of mind to continue to protest. I nodded reluctantly, and that was all the permission Adrianna needed. There was nothing lascivious in the way she looked at me. She simply examined me as she would for the quality of a gown, the elegance of a piece of furniture, or the beauty of a work of art. Even though I had clothes on, I was exposed, even more naked than Adrianna had been in her portraits.
“How I adore tall men,” she purred. “Especially those who have such lovely, long limbs.”
She ran her hands along my shoulders and down my arms. The intimacy unsettled me - especially from a woman I had only met that afternoon. Yet there was nothing quite like the thrill of a woman’s touch. It had been a long time since I had last enjoyed that. The tingles along my skin made me shiver. Adrianna smiled slightly, her gaze sharp as she continued her appraisal in a buttery voice.
“You’re lean with a strength that is felt rather than seen. Tanned skin may not be the fashion of the Capital, but I love rugged men who weather well.”
She even took my chin in hand. Her grip was gentle, but I flinched. She stopped her assessment, the haze gone from her eyes when she saw into me.
“How uncomfortable does this make you, Shepherd?”
Adrianna still held my chin as she asked.
“That sounds unpleasant. Do you want me to stop?”
“I do. But go ahead and finish what you started.”
Her eyes glazed over again as she returned to her examination, turning my face each way.
“Salt and pepper hair becomes you nicely, and I like your brow, Shepherd. You have what I call an intelligent brow, the brow of a man who loves to think and reflect. Do you?”
“Maybe a little.”
“High cheekbones,” she continued. “Beneath your beard, I can see a strong jaw. Straight nose. How fine and chiseled your features are.”
The Courtesan then looked at me, her gaze open and penetrating at the same time. She smiled slowly.
“And your eyes,” she said in a singsong tone. “Clear green and piercing, as if you could see inside my soul. Can you, Shepherd? See to my deepest thoughts and feelings so you can know my secrets?”
“Not at all. But I suspect you can see into mine.”
Adrianna let go of my chin. She threw her head back and roared with laughter. The sudden shift in mood startled me. Her manner of laughing was surprisingly masculine from a woman with an excess of feminine wile. But the mannerism was also familiar. She stopped laughing with same abrupt manner that she started.
“Time has been extremely kind to you,” Adrianna concluded. “You are the most handsome man I’ve seen in a long time.”
Then she brought a palm to my face and stroked my cheek. Her expression shifted to that of wonder, even wistfulness.
“You must have been so beautiful when you were young, Shepherd.”
The sudden tenderness touched something buried deep inside. I struggled to breathe and froze. I couldn’t do anything but gaze into those large, feral eyes.
“I can’t say I’ve ever thought much about it.”
I was relieved when words finally came out of my mouth. Adrianna also seemed relieved, but I couldn’t be sure when she smiled.
“Of course you wouldn’t,” she replied. “Isn’t that part of your charm?”
“Are you always so personal with men you just met?”
Adrianna paused for a moment, her hand still resting against my cheek.