Word count: 99,000 words
In 1900, a minister's daughter becomes muse and confidant to an ailing, married painter and discovers the only way to save the man she loves is to destroy him.
If asked which of the Niles daughters would one day be immortalized in a hundred paintings, all eyes would have fallen upon my sister. I was easily missed at eighteen, a short brunette with a small bosom and no grace whatsoever. I knew better than to aspire to be a Gibson Girl.
Visitors to my childhood home would have found me sitting on the fringes of any room, head bent over a sketchbook, pencil scratching. I drew everything then, recording life rather than living it. Odd Martha. The unfortunate girl born between Beautiful Helen and Clever Ned. The only time anyone paid me any real notice was when I sang. I was a soloist in church and for the past few years had performed at all the local weddings. Good enough to be on a phonograph record, I once heard a neighbor tell my mother. She was right, it turns out, though no one actually expected me to try.
Though neither Mother nor I spoke of it, the memory of my fingers being pried from her petticoats at four-years-old was not easily erased, nor were the thousand days I spent waiting for my family to fetch me from my grandmother’s. I had no recollections of Father, who came home in a long, narrow box. The woman and children accompanying him were strangers. Perhaps Mother felt she had relinquished the right to choose my life’s path when she left me behind. I asked for little from her and she refused me nothing.