THE COPPER WITCH
by Jessica Dall
Adela Tilden has always been more ambitious than her station in life might allow. A minor nobleman’s daughter on a failing barony, Adela’s prospects seem dire outside of marrying well-off. When Adela catches the eye of the crown prince, Edward, however, well-off doesn’t seem to be a problem. Thrown into a world of politics and intrigue, Adela might have found all the excitement she ever wanted—if she can manage to leave her past behind.
Adela Tilden held as still as she could force herself to be, her eyes sliding over every now and again to study the man sitting in front of her.
Antony looked up from the easel and released a breath through his nose. “Hold still.”
“I am,” she said, barely moving her mouth.
He gave her a dark look.
Adela exaggerated a sigh, dropping her eyes again to the side, staring at the same patch of grey stone as she had been for what felt like years. “I want to see what you’re doing.”
“You’ll see when I’m done.”
She fidgeted, glancing at her dress. “Can’t we make the neckline just a little lower?”
“Your grandmother doesn’t like it as it is,” Antony droned, the same answer yet again.
“Well, of course she doesn’t,” Adela said, barely refraining from rolling her eyes and getting yelled at again.
“Drop your shoulder a little,” he directed, “and hold still.”
So she’d get yelled out either way, it seemed. Adela shifted, still attempted to freeze.
Antony shook his head, running a frustrated hand through his brown hair. “No, drop…not… You know what?” He moved to her.
Adela watched him carefully, making no effort to help as he straightened the line of the dress where it stopped around her shoulders. If a little too thin to be called well built, she had to admit Antony Fletcher was an attractive man with his dark eyes and square jaw. It was a shame he has staged her looking away. She wouldn’t have minded the excuse to spend her time studying him right back.
He pressed her shoulder down lightly with the end of his paintbrush. “Can you hold that now?”
Her eyes remained on his face. “It’s hardly acrobatics.”
Antony’s eyes flicked up as he offered a weak smile, sliding away just as quickly as he adjusted the oblong pearl in the headpiece Adela’s grandmother had pulled out just for the occasion. He paused, finally moved a strand of the hair that had been left out of the braids at her crown and placed it over her shoulder. He stepped back, looking at her just a little bit too long, starting when he met her eyes. “There. Much better.”
The way he backed away, almost making it look like a retreat, made Adela smile. She watched Antony settle himself before tilting her head back the way it had been. “I don’t understand why Grandmamma wants a portrait of me anyway. It’s not as if anyone is going to see it. No one ever comes out here, you know. I’m surprised you’re here and you’re paid to be.”
“She’s trying to make sure that no one gets any funny ideas about your financial situation, I believe, Miss Tilden.” Antony didn’t look away from the easel.
“Even if they’re completely correct.” Adela heaved a sigh.
She couldn’t help glancing again, looking away when he glared. “How old are you, Antony?”
He paused momentarily. “Does that matter?”
“I was just curious,” she said. “You’re much younger than the painters we used to have come here.”
“I’m not as well-seasoned as them, I would think,” he said. “And I imagine I’m quite a bit cheaper.”
“Oh.” She fought away a smile. “So I shouldn’t be surprised when my nose comprises the better part of my face, then?”
“I think I’m skilled enough to keep that from happening,” Antony answered, continuing under his breath, “Anyway, if I were going to make a feature too large it would much more likely be your eyes.”
Her eyes slid over to him again.
He met them for a second before looking away sharply. “Stay still.”
“You just started painting, then?” She looked down and away again.
“I’ve been painting my entire life,” he said, seeming relieved. “Just finished my apprenticeship a year or so ago.”
“So you’re what then?” Adela did the math in her head. “Twenty? Twenty-One?”
“Something like that.”
She smiled. “You don’t know which one?”
“Relax your face.”
She took a breath, forced off the smile. “Is it a secret?”
Exasperation leeched into his voice. “Is what?”
He released a breath. “I just don’t see how it’s relevant.”
“I asked,” she said. “That doesn’t make it relevant enough?”
“I don’t believe that’s the way it works, Miss Tilden.”
She shifted. “Can I please move. I’m going to freeze in this position if I have to keep it up much longer.”
Antony set down his brush, holding his hands up, motioning his surrender. “We can take a break.”
Adela rolled her shoulders, standing quickly to stretch her legs. She turned. “Can I see now?”
He looked up from straightening his paints.
“I’d like to see how you’re painting me,” she continued at his silence.
Antony hesitated. “I prefer people not to see what I’m painting until I’m done.”
She moved closer. “I’m paying for it. I’d think you’d want to know if I’m unsatisfied in any way.”
He opened his mouth, cleared his throat before starting. “Your grandmother’s paying for it, Miss Tilden. Maybe I should show her.”
Adela pouted. “Please?”
He looked at her for another moment. Finally, sighing, he backed up for her to take a look.
Adela moved quickly, her soft slippers barely making a sound on the stone floor. And the painting slid into view. Unlike the other china-doll portraits in the manor—with every inch of the women in them softened, pale—the picture in front of her looked as though he had taken her reflection and pressed it onto the canvas. She studied herself, fascinated for a moment before collecting herself. She pulled herself straight. “You’re using a lot of red in my hair.”
His eyes lifted to her scalp. “Well, there is a lot of red in your hair, Miss Tilden.”
She twirled a strand absentmindedly around her finger, didn’t dispute it.
“Satisfied?” he finally asked.
“You are quite talented,” she said, looked from the painting to him. “I don’t think you have my lips quite right, though.”
She picked up the mirror on the mantel, studying her face before looking back at him. “Don’t you think? My bottom lip is fuller.”
He looked at her lips for a moment, slid his eyes away, nodding. “I’ll fix it when you sit back down.”
She looked at her reflection for another moment before tilting the mirror down to fix the neckline of her dress.
~Buy THE COPPER WITCH:
AN INTERVIEW WITH JESSICA
-What inspired you to become a writer?
I have always been a writer in some ways, even if it was just writing a couple lines here and there as a kid (I used to drive my mother crazy by taking a piece of paper, writing a sentence or two on it, and then leaving it around my room to collect dust). I didn’t think about writing professionally, however, until college. Junior year I both got an internship at a small press and roomed with an English major (who had known she wanted to write professionally since she had become literate more or less) and all of a sudden it clicked that I could actually turn my stories into something more than scribbles I left lying around/shared with a couple of friends.
-What draws you to your genres of choice?
I actually tend to find myself writing anything that pops into my brain. The Copper Witch is my first historical novel. Previously I have written primarily Fantasy/Science Fiction but have also snuck some contemporary fiction in there as well. If a story strikes me, I’ll write it.
-What’s a fun or interesting fact you learned researching this book?
Scotland has the highest proportion of redheads in the world (apparently something like 13% of the population when only 1 or 2% of humans in general are redheads). I don’t remember exactly what I was looking up that got that fact (probably something with having a redheaded protagonist…), but there you go.
-Which of your characters would you go out for drinks with?
Antony, likely. He’s a sweet guy, if he does have a pretty rough time of it now and again. He’d also probably insist on picking up the tab simply out of good manners even if there’s no reason for him to.
-For aspiring writers, any tips?
Don’t compare your writing to others, especially not early on. I see a lot of new writers who get discouraged because their rough draft doesn’t sound as good as whatever they’re reading at the time. First, you should never ever compare a rough draft to something that’s already in print. Rough drafts are meant to be, well, rough. Published books are meant to have been edited about five-thousand times by the author, beta readers, and professional editors before it goes to print. Second, every book you write should be a little better, but you’re only going to get better by practicing. So what if your first novel sounds awful? I think most successful authors have an awful first story they keep buried in the depths of their desk/hard drive, only digging it out to see how far they’ve come. Lord knows I do.
-Is there a genre you could never write? Which and why?
Horror. I’ve edited horror stories before, but I don’t especially like being scared so I’m not sure I’d be much good at writing something for readers who want to be scared. I perhaps could do a “psychological thriller” type of horror novel, but I don’t believe straight horror stories will ever be in the cards.
Jessica Dall finished her first novel at age 15 and has been writing ever since. She is the author of such novels as Grey Areas and The Bleeding Crowd, the Broken Line Series, and a number of short stories which have appeared in both literary magazines and anthologies. When not writing, she works as a freelance editor and creative writing teacher in Washington, DC.
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