CHALICE OF BEAUTY

Book One of
The Righteous and the Wicked
A Spiritual, Sexual & Creative Odyssey

This novel covers the life of Kieran Russell's great-grandmother, from her training as a seamstress to her life as a model for Aubrey Beardsley, Alphonse Mucha and other artists, as well as her involvement with the Golden Dawn.


PROLOGUE

Paris
1903

"Comment est-elle, docteur -- how is she, doctor?"

The concern in Count Petr Vargas's voice was evident, even if the stoic look on his face didn't reflect it. He stared into the doctor's eyes, pleading for an honest response.

The doctor, Henri Réchard pursed his lips, and then said, "It does not look good, M'sieur Vargas. Your wife, she has lost too much blood, and I'm afraid that although we have saved the child--your daughter--Madame is close to death."

A flicker of fear and sadness crossed Petr's face, but he quickly replaced it with the unemotional mask once again. "I see. Merci, docteur. Thank you. May I see her?"

"Bien sur! But, of course! I shall be here, if you need me."

Petr entered the lavish bedroom suite with its carpeted floors, curtained walls and windows, gilded furniture, silver cutlery and plates with a half-eaten meal, a high canopy bed and intricately woven brocade hangings.

Sunlight streamed through a west window and almost seemed to illuminate the woman on the bed, her face ashen, thin, and so very tired looking.

Charnelle Vargas gazed up at her husband as he drew near. She smiled weakly. Only twenty-one, the sunken appearance of her cheeks and eyes made her appear much older.

"Have you seen her?" she inquired in English. "Our little Runa?"

Petr shook his head. "Not yet, dear. I wanted to see you, first."

"She's so beautiful," returned Charnelle.

"Just like her mother," replied Petr, truthfully. For, beneath the wan look, he knew his wife to be one of the prettiest women in Paris.

He sat on the side of the bed and took one of her hands in his own. The coldness of it startled him considering several blankets covered her.

"The doctor told you?" she asked.

Count Vargas frowned at his wife, not sure exactly what she meant, but not willing to reveal what he already knew. "Told me? Told me what?"

The woman shook her head. "Petr, Petr," she chided. "He's told you I'm dying, hasn't he? You may hide things from everyone else, but you can't hide them from me."

Petr nodded. Then, suddenly, the mask dissolved, and the tears flowed down his cheeks as he sobbed. His body shook, the movement trembling the bed. "Sssh," soothed Charnelle. "I'm not afraid to die, my dear. You know what I believed, even if I haven't practiced it all these years.

Her husband stared at her through watery eyes.

He knew what she meant.


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