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Authors: Shelagh Mercedes

Highland Portrait

BOOK: Highland Portrait
13.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub






Highland Portrait

Shelagh Mercedes







Dedicated to all those who say ‘no’ with the understanding that at some point you will have to acknowledge ‘yes’.




Copyright  2014 by Seat of My Pants Publishing – all rights reserved

Chapter One


Stella pulled her pickup truck into the driveway, turned it off and slumped over the steering wheel as the engine gasped, lurched forward and died.  She leaned her forehead against the steering wheel, rocked back and forth and patted the dash board.

“Yeah, baby, you did good.  Rest awhile and I’ll take you to visit the mechanic soon.  I promise.  I swear.”  Stella threw her keys into her tote, grabbed her shopping bag of paint tubes, and got out of the truck, gently closing the door. She leaned her head against the hood listening for clues to the problem.  Would the engine hiss or knock if it was broken?  Would it smell bad?  Was there some kind of sensory path to mechanical diagnosis?  A smell, a sound, a taste?  She patted the hood as she listened, feeling the heat coming up from the overtaxed engine.

“Don’t die, Sweetie, you’re all I got.  Just a while longer, OK?”  She stared at the hood wondering if there were magic mechanical words that would make her truck understand how much she needed him. 

She had dubbed it a ‘him’ from the first day she bought it four years ago from an older gentleman who could no longer drive.  She thought of it as a rescue truck, like a dog taken from the pound, and she was there to nurture it and give it a forever home, but now it was time for the vet.  Or rather the mechanic. 

This was going to hurt, mechanics cost money and she was in short supply at the moment. With a last pat to the engine hood she turned to go inside.

Before Stella got to the door she heard Casper barking. Like a foghorn on a foggy night Casper was her reassurance that all was well, that she was in a safe harbor, she was home. 

Opening the front door she was greeted with a flash of flying auburn fur.  Dancing on his hind legs Casper was jubilant to see his mistress return, chuffing and whining, all fifty pounds of him jumping into her arms.  She caught him and half carried, half dragged him into the small dining room.

“Hey good boy!  Did ya miss me, honey?  Of course you did.  Give mamma a kiss.”  Stella knelt to hug her dog and he obliged her with that affection and excitement that only a dog can render to a beloved human.

“Oh yeah, Casper, Best. Kiss. Ever.  Good boy, now go outside and play.”  She opened the back door and Casper flew off into the yard, ready to do battle with squirrels.

She threw her bag of paints on the small dinner table and went to check her messages.


“Stella, Andy here.  Wanna catch a movie this evening?  There’s a foreign movie at the Deluxe 8 and I know how you love subtitles.    Is there some practical reason you refuse to get a cell?  You are the only person I know that has a phone with a cord.  Call me.”


“This is Kyla White from the Meade Agency.  I have a possible commission for you.  Please give me a call.  Thank you.  Bye.”


“Stella, this is the Bliss Street Gallery.  Just wanted you to know that the buyer had to back out on purchasing your piece ‘Stonehenge’.  Sorry.  I guess the economy is hitting even the very elite.  Give me a call at your convenience.  By the way, do you have a cell number?”


“Stella, hey, this is Andrea.  I’ve got the horse trailer lined up for Wednesday.  We leave out of Turner’s Ranch in the Hill Country and follow the Pedernales River about 15 miles.  It’ll be a great ride.  Call me.”


“There are no new messages.  You have 15 saved messages and 36 messages that will be deleted unless you...”

Stella scowled and turned off her machine.  Scoundrels!  How could they back out on a sale?   She needed that money.  Disappointment was quickly dispelled, however, by the thought of another commission. 

“Oh, please,” she prayed to the Celestial Committee, “let it be, let it be, let it be!  I need this, my truck needs this.  Please, please, please.”   She hurriedly dialed the Meade Agency and asked for Kyla.

“Kyla White, can I help you?”

“Kyla, this is Stella McKenzie, I’m returning your call.”

“Stella!  I’m so glad you called. I think I have something that might interest you.  I know how you love historical pieces, and I have a book cover that is rather extraordinary.  It’s got to be done on a large scale, because they want to display it at the author’s book signings.”

Stella’s ears perked at the word historical.  She leaned into the conversation.

“A book cover, that’s great. What kind of book?”

“This is a romance, Stella.”

She was immediately deflated, the life sucked out her.  Her buoyant hope was dashed like a plate thrown against the wall, shattered and broken. 

“A romance cover?  Kyla, you know, I don’t really…”

“Stella, I know you don’t generally do the ‘heaving bosom’ kind of thing, but this is a big deal.  This author is one of the best selling romance writers and her books fly off the shelves. The commission on this is plum and I think if you overlook the fact that it’s a romance you might want to do this.  The author has seen your work and really likes your realism.  She would really love for you to do the cover.  And it’s simple, just a picture of a Highland warrior and nothing more.  No heaving bosoms.   You could probably do it in your sleep.  Would take no more than a day or two for you, and the pay is great.”

Stella closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Day or two?  Did people think her images just appeared magically?  Well, maybe they did, but that wasn’t the point.  But a romance book cover?

Her mind wandered back to the day she made a commitment to make her living doing what she loved best, what she could do best, and that was art.  She was a good artist and she wanted to spend her life creating images that would live in the hearts of others.  Her talent was in recreating the world in different dimensions and levels and she was good enough that she could interpret someone else’s thoughts and dreams and give them substance.  Her sci-fi work had won accolades and sold millions of books.  She had a least 100 or more images on the net, video games and book covers, all accurately depicting the feeling of another age, another planet, another world.  She regularly displayed her work at ComicCon and was making a name for herself.  Her dream of supporting herself with her art was becoming a reality, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to risk that with a cheesy romance book cover.   But there was her truck to consider.  She had not sold a painting or had a commission in a month and she was getting nervous.  Her truck was on the verge of collapse and she was down to her last couple hundred dollars.  And then, of course, there was board and feed for Arwen which wasn’t exactly cheap.  She didn’t seem at liberty to be too choosy right now.

“Gee, that sounds
, Kyla? What’s the money on this?”  Stella felt like a prostitute being reeled in by a well heeled John. 

Kyla’s figure was a bucket of cold water. “Wow!  You’re kidding!”

“No. Not kidding.  The author was very specific about what she wanted and her agent agreed.  This author is good, she is a researcher and knows her stuff. Her romances are realistic and she has an HUGE following.  This latest book is expected to hit the best seller list within minutes of publication.  This really is a good opportunity for you, Stella.  Whattaya say?”

There is a point in everyone’s life when they have to weigh the seriousness of their convictions against the elements of survival.  Stella felt that this was one of those times.  She had been relatively successful with her art, but computer generated art was exploding on the market, leaving traditional artists, who worked in oil and acrylic, in their dust.  Computer art was fast, easy to deliver, easy to change, and didn’t need ‘drying time’.  Stella sometimes felt like a Tin Lizzy in a space ship world.  She knew her stuff was better, it had more ‘character’, but computer art was fast.

“You know, Kyla, that it will take me more than a day to do this…”

“Stella.  The reason she chose you is because of your skill.  She’s not too hot on the CGI thing.  This is an historical romance and she wanted something very traditional, not cranked out of software.”  There was a silence on both ends until Kyla murmured, “A good piece of change, here, Stella…”

Stella hesitated only long enough to kiss her ego goodbye.

“Ok, I’ll take it,” she said. “What do you want?”

“This is a Scottish Highland romance with a real life character.  Although the story is mostly fictional, the main character, Robbie MacDougall is real.” Kyla continued, “the time is circa early 1600’s, so we’re talking the late middle ages.”

“Actually, it’s mid-Renaissance, Kyla, but that’s just me being anal.”

“There!  See, you’re the perfect one to do this because you understand the time.  You will achieve what an artist without your knowledge would miss.  So we’re looking for a highly romantic figure, Highland Laird kinda guy, tartan, kilt, claymore.  The whole thing, ya know.”

Stella held her breath for a moment and closed her eyes.  Could this get any more cliché?  She opened her eyes and gazed out the dining room window.  Casper was chasing a squirrel across the yard and trying to jump up a tree after it.  The squirrel looked down from his branch, chittering at the dog.  Casper, correctly interpreting the chittering as mockery, barked his most aggressive and inflammatory bark.   He was incensed that rodents were posing threats to his yard.  The squirrel, in turn, was incensed that the dog was keeping him from traveling through the yard to gather and store food. 

Food.   Hard to buy without dinero.  She turned away from the domestic turf war and lowered her standards yet another notch.

“Ok, Kyla, no problem.  When do you want this?” 

“Actually, the question is ‘when can I have it?’ The author is scheduled for a book tour in about six weeks.  Can we have a life-size canvas done by then?”

Stella thought about the time it would take to rough out some sketches, and get the image executed.  “Uh, that’ll be close, but I think I can manage it. I just happen to have a couple of large canvases primed and ready.  Is there an image of this MacDougall guy that I should use?”

“God no, Stella.  The real man probably looked and smelled like a bear.  We want an image of a noble, romantic warrior, sans facial hair.  Handsome, lusty and muscle bound.”

Stella quietly laughed at the expectations of a world without a clue.  Handsome, lusty and muscle bound.  “Ok, Kyla, no problemo, I’ll start in the morning.”

After hanging up Stella walked to the small dining room window and watched Casper. He was sitting at the base of the tree his whole body alert, his sharp nose pointed skyward looking for the squirrel, daring it to come down. Even though he was being thwarted by a bushy tailed rat Stella knew that he LOVED this.  He lived for this.  Chasing squirrels was life and breath to him.  He would rather chase a squirrel than eat, than get a belly rub and most assuredly more than a bath.  He was committed to the chase.

And so was she, she supposed.  Committed to the chase.  Get the job, do the work, get the check.  She couldn’t remember the last time she had done a piece of work for herself, just to hang on her wall and say, ‘Yes, that’s my So and So piece.  I did it during my green period when my life was in transition, in flux.  It reflects how I felt about change. It’s my angst, my upheaval. Blah, blah, blah.’  She could dish the creative genius crap with the best of them, but what she was doing was definitely not creative genius kind of stuff.  It was prostitution at its most edgy.  How fast, how much?

She leaned her head against the window pane and closed her eyes.  “I am an art whore,” she said.  Shaking her head she opened the fridge to have herself a glass of wine. 

“It is not natural to drink wine from a box,” she mused aloud to nobody in particular as she poured herself a generous glass and grabbed some leftover spring rolls from one of many Styrofoam to-go boxes in the frig.

She thought about returning messages but didn’t feel the inclination strong enough.  She admittedly was a fair weather friend in most situations and only searched out company when she wasn’t busy or otherwise engaged in something that fascinated her.  She enjoyed riding with Andrea, going to the movies with Andy, and having lunch with some of her artist friends, but generally she withdrew from social occasions unless she absolutely needed to be there. She loved her friends just fine, but she wasn’t really into that whole BFF, Facebook, or social media thing. That would require a computer and she did not like the idea of electronics so she kept her techno gear at a minimum.  She had a landline phone and a radio.  No computer, no cell phone, no IPad or tablet of any kind.  She was in rebellion against the onslaught of pervasive technology.  She didn’t even own a television. 

Stella headed for the living room and settled into her favorite chair - her dad’s old La-Z-Boy recliner she had literally stolen from his house.  She reclined back in the brown leather chair and gazed at the ceiling. She had taken the chair two years ago and he still hadn’t noticed it was gone.  He was not the type to sit anyway, hardly ever being at home, so Stella imagined he did not miss it.  She wasn’t really sure why he even had it because a recliner was an indication of a soul at rest and that was not her father.

BOOK: Highland Portrait
13.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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