Bittersweet Obsession

By: Tess Oliver

Chapter 1

The bitter wind whipped his face as Angel gazed down and briefly wondered how quickly death would come if he threw himself off the edge of the steep cliff to the rocky coast below. A cloud filled sky gave the water below a black, almost sinister, quality. The tide was still withdrawn far enough that the jagged rock formations jutted through the endless crush of waves. The bone breaking fall might bring a moment of agony but surely death would come briskly. And that was all he wanted. Death would bring relief from the constant pain in his side where the French soldier’s bayonet had punctured a hole so cleanly the physician swore he could see right through it. Death meant relief from the haunting visions of dying soldiers’ horrified expressions as they waited for the freeing comfort of heaven. And death meant relief from having to live under the roof of a madman, a madman who’d taken it upon himself to play God.

“Angel.” The voice tore into his suicidal musings and he pulled himself from the brink and turned around slowly.

His father glowered down at him from his massive horse. White puffs of steam rose from the animal’s nostrils and black coat. “Hell’s blood, Son, I must have called your name ten times before you heard me.” The long white moustache that framed his thin lips vibrated as he spoke. He glanced almost nervously over the side of the cliff and looked back at Angel as if he’d read his son’s dark thoughts. With a tilt of his head he motioned to Angel’s horse, Titus. The animal had found the one small patch of weedy grass not obliterated by the blanket of snow and now stood lazily munching it. “Get on your horse and come with me to town. It will be good for you to get away. I’m expecting a post from Baron Rowntree.”

Reluctantly, Angel left the precarious yet oddly comforting precipice he stood on. “Ah yes, the Right Honourable the Lord Rowntree, a man so vain he has convinced himself that he must live forever because the world cannot stand on its own without him.” Angel knew his statement would anger his father, but that was his reasoning behind it. Enraging the old man helped alleviate the torture flaming inside him.

“Without Baron Rowntree’s generous donations to my work, we would all be out in this snow foraging for roots like your horse.”

Angel had no reply. Father’s obsession with his experiments had helped squander much of the family fortune and brought the family near to ruin. And now his father, Dr. Colin Van Ostrand, the once renowned and highly respected scientist, had to prey on rich men who hunted for the one thing money and power could not afford them— immortality. And he’d found his victim in Baron Rowntree, a man with more money than he knew what to do with and a profound cowardice when it came to his own demise— a greedy, slovenly man who refused to accept that he could not buy eternal life.

Angel pulled himself into his saddle. His leather gloves provided pitiful protection from the intense cold as he grabbed the reins and pushed his Hessians against his horse’s sides. In spring, the lush and varied landscape of alders, purple willows, and bluebells provided diversion for a rider, but deep in the throes of winter, with the exception of the crystal pink icicles that hung from the bare branches of the trees, all color had been wiped away. Every bit of foliage was shrouded by snow, a monotonous lack of color so blindingly white it nearly hurt the eyes.

Angel kept his chin dropped low behind the collar of his top coat hoping to escape the stinging wind. His father trotted ahead, but both horses needed plenty of prodding to move their hooves through the newly fallen snow. They rode past Greystock Manor, Angel’s home since birth. The once magnificent estate had been built by his great-grandfather, Arthur Van Ostrand, a wealthy immigrant and land owner who’d married a well-to-do English girl. It was a place filled with fond childhood memories. After his mother died of an infection when Angel was twelve, the life of the house seemed to die with her. An unshakeable melancholy had pervaded the cavernous hallways and rooms ever since. The stately manor’s deterioration had accelerated while Angel had been away in Spain helping to deal the final blows to Napoleon’s army. Father had allowed the once grandly appointed manor to fall into disrepair.

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