Title: My Heart to Fear
Author: Lulu Astor
Release Date: September 16, 2014
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Book Cover (Attached)
Devious. Dangerous. Demonic. Damien.
People were either slavishly devoted to Eric Damien or they jealously hated him. Sometimes even both.
Eric Damien hunted and fed off shyness and innocence. Ali Spencer was a sitting duck.
He would learn all of her secrets while he had her locked in his rooms and at his mercy. Appeasement of all of his desires was his own personal manifest destiny—he honestly believed that was true.
~Welcome to Hell~
The two women, one blond and one brunette, stood in the gallery of the Colorado University Art Museum gaping at the depictions of hell in front of them.
“Damn, this triptych is scary. I’m going to have wicked nightmares,” the pretty blond woman named Shea exclaimed as she stared at the Hieronymus Bosch painting.
Standing right beside her, Ali shuddered as an icy chill tore straight up her spine. “Nightmares maybe, but, oh my God, Shea, these are unspeakably beautiful, too. I never thought I’d be able to see them up close and personal.”
Shea shook her head at Ali’s assessment of the paintings and looked around. Noticing an elderly man with a sourpuss face give her a dirty look, she dropped the volume of her voice to a whisper. “It’s amazing that the curator was able to round up so many of them in one room—they’re normally all over the world, right?”
Ali nodded. “Yeah, I know. The Prado in Spain loaned Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” although I think I’d rather have an excuse to go to Madrid, frankly,” Ali whispered back, unable to tear her eyes from the work. Her grandparents had a place in Madrid and she’d been aching to go there for a long time.
“Now you’re talking! Hey, we should plan a trip this summer together.”
Ali smiled. “I told you art can be fun.”
Grimacing, Shea retorted, “Yeah, especially when it’s being taught by a sizzling hot bloke like Blake.”
Ali hiked an eyebrow. “I like that alliteration. See, you can be trained.”
Holding up a perfectly manicured finger in protest, Shea said in a loud whisper, “I’ll admit that the liberal arts holds its fair share of hotties, but I happen to like the corporate kind. Nothing says man-candy like a well-cut suit filled out perfectly… and enormous power is the most potent aphrodisiac.
But Ali was not paying attention to Shea prattling on and on because she was riveted to the painting, a study of Dante and Virgil in Bouguereau’s hell, bearing witness to the damned stealing each other’s identities through vicious biting.
“You’re not even listening to me, are you? Ali!”
But now something had distracted Shea and she was craning her head to scan the large gallery. “Is the professor here? I see a commotion by the entrance.”
Ali again didn’t respond.
Shea elbowed her. “Do you think he actually believes he’s related to the Blake who created the Divine Comedy illustrations?”
Ali giggled at the idea. “I can almost hear the Aeolian harp accompanying him as he strolls about the gallery.”
Shea looped her arm through her friend’s, as Ali continued to gaze at the painting. “Are we meeting Sal for dinner tonight?”
“Not sure. He said to call him when we were done here. He had a big exam today in his civil and environmental engineering class that he was totally angsting over. I’m sure he’ll ace it—he always does. The man is annoyingly brilliant.”
“Is that why he’s in love with you, Ali?” Shea hip-bumped her friend.
The dark-haired young woman shook her head dismissively.
Ali tugged on Shea’s blond hair affectionately, as they moved on to the next painting. Shea was working toward her MBA while Ali was about to attain her prized MFA, so they were never in the same class but Shea had an elective to burn and took the art history class with Ali for fun. They both wanted in on Professor Blake’s Hell in Art seminar, if only to gape slack-jawed at the divine beauty of the professor. The man was incredibly handsome but also easily the most arrogant snob on campus: erudite, even brilliant, true, but sorely lacking in personal charm.
In truth, though, Ali would have taken the course if anyone decent were teaching it. The topic fascinated her, stretching across centuries from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, focusing on depictions—the most terrifying ones—of hell and the demons who inhabit it. This seminar was actually predicated on this specific exhibit at the museum so students would be able to view all the works in question in a single room, a coup in and of itself amazing. In one gallery stood the masterpieces of Blake, Bosch, Bouguereau, Grunewald, and Goya.
Shea turned and confided in a theatrical, singsong voice, “Speaking of crushing on you, look what the cat just dragged in. He is so ogling you, Ali.”
Ali rolled her eyes. Shea always believed that all the men were panting after her. Ridiculous, especially since Shea herself resembled a beauty queen on steroids, with a killer body and long corn-silk hair hanging in soft waves down her back.
“Incoming,” Shea whispered, “don’t look now but he’s at two o’clock and approaching.
Geoffrey Blake strode directly toward the two young women as Ali’s heartbeat took flight when she saw him. “Ladies,” he nodded. Keen eyes traveled over both girls. Blake’s eyes were so light and eerie they defied description, even one as basic as color. Were they blue? Green? Gray? The answer to all three questions was yes. Depending on how the light hit them, they appeared to change hue. One female student, in a sorry attempt to flirt with the man, had the temerity to ask him in front of the other students exactly what color his eyes were. Blake’s expression turned sardonic, his lip curling in sneering contempt, and he proceeded to rip her a new one.
“If you’re so blind as to be incapable of discerning the difference between green and blue, what are you doing in a graduate art seminar where color is a most important consideration when assessing and appreciating the art in question. Might I suggest you take up accounting?”
With that, he turned on his heel, gathered up his class notes, and stalked out of the classroom, leaving the poor girl standing there, mouth hanging open, and her cheeks ruddy with humiliation. Once she collected herself enough to move, she marched directly to the registrar’s office and promptly dropped the class.
Now he eyed Shea and Ali, his attention fixated on the students instead of the art with which they were engaged. “What is your opinion thus far, ladies?”
Ali blushed: when he looked directly at someone, the haughty professor seemed to focus entirely on that person to the exclusion of all else and now that intensity was trained on her. Clearing her throat, she answered his question. “Definitely planning on having some nightmares tonight.”
“Yes,” he agreed, his gaze locked on the slim brunette student. Lately he’d been having a very difficult time looking at anyone or anything else when Ali Spencer was in his lecture hall. The girl was simply exquisite, easily competing with all the masterpieces dedicated to feminine beauty. Her friend wasn’t half bad either, but Blake gravitated to Ali as if by siren call. He sighed when he realized that nothing could come of his infatuation, as it would violate the college’s fraternization policy. More’s the pity, he thought, as he wondered if the near-flawless peaches and cream skin on her face was repeated all over her body, and other much dirtier contemplations. It was time to leave.
The professor’s arm gestured across the gallery. “I hope all my students realize how exceptional is this exhibit and the level of difficulty the curator faced in procuring all of the works to bring it to the adoring public.”
Ali nodded, a small smile gracing her lips. “Yes, Shea and I were just speaking to that accomplishment a few minutes ago.”
Shea was staring at the professor. “All this evil in art. And what does evil truly look like anyway? Is it Goya’s interpretation or Bosch’s?” asked Shea.
“Very good question,” Blake said. “What do you think the devil looks like?” He directed his question at Ali.
She chuckled. “I think the devil comes in many forms. Then there are all the impostors.”
Blake looked at her, eyes discerning. “Yes, beware the many impostors of the dark prince. They come at you from every direction. We’ll actually be referencing that very idea in our next lecture. Enjoy the exhibit, ladies.”
Shea turned to look at Ali, raising her eyebrows and they both giggled. “Do you think he has a tiny dick?” she asked in a conspiratorial whisper.
Ali giggled again but then groaned. “Thanks for putting that image into my head,” she snapped at Shea but her friend only grinned in delight.
Author Pic: attached
Lulu Astor is a New York City girl, born and bred. She met her husband at a doggie play group in Tribeca in the ‘90s and together they embarked on adventures, moving first to Chicago, where their first son was born, then on to Santa Fe, New Mexico, followed by Los Angeles, Cali. Eventually they headed back to NYC where their second son made his debut shortly thereafter.
Beginning her writing career with nonfiction, she began writing short fiction (her first love) in grad school, moving on to longer works shortly thereafter. She wrote the Complements series in 2010, and it was published on KDP in 2013. Three and a Half Weeks was initially conceived as a short story but evolved into a full-length (very full) novel as time went on.
Immersing herself in fiction (whether reading or writing) every minute possible, she also teaches writing and literature as an adjunct professor in the New York-Connecticut area where she currently resides. Her books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and Goodreads. You can follow her on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter (reluctantly).
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