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Watercolors in the Rain

esKape Press

Heat Rating: STEAMY
Word Count: 130,668
Available Formats
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Mobi

When graphic designer Eve St. Aubin walks into an art exhibit and finds herself in a heated kiss with world renowned artist Kyle Sebastian, her memories whisk her back to the summer they’d shared five years earlier. He’d been her mentor in more ways than one… until he left without a word. Now she has nothing to say to him… or at least that’s what she keeps telling herself.

When he met Eve, Kyle’s career had been in the tank. Lighting the fuse on her talent had rekindled his own artistic ability. Loving her, watching her blossom as a woman had inspired him to new heights. He'd had to let her go back then, but he always knew he'd see her again. Now that he has, he's not prepared for the edgy woman she’s become, nor did he expect he'd still be in love with her.

When explanations aren’t that simple, and no common ground seems to be had, how will they overcome their past to create a future? Or can they?
WARNING: Adult themes and contents.

Excerpt

“Love is a canvas furnished by Nature
and embroidered by imagination.”
~Voltaire
CHAPTER ONE
HEAVING A DRAMATIC sigh her mother would be proud of, Eve stood at the base of the concrete steps and studied the ancient building currently known as Sinclair Galleries. Gargoyles stared back at her from the roof. She squinted up at the closest one, an ugly sucker with a downturned mouth and jagged teeth — had the serpent caught in its talons just writhed?
Shuddering, Eve lowered her gaze to the heavy doors spinning like a mad carousel at the top of the steps. Another sigh slipped out. All the staring and procrastinating in the world wasn’t going to make the evening any easier.
Come on, Cinderella. You’re already late for the ball.
With a touch of regret for missing out on the long soak in her garden tub as she’d originally planned, she sucked in a deep breath and pasted on a smile, then sprang lightly up the steps Cinderella style, pushing through the knife-sharp pains in the balls of her feet brought on by the unaccustomed wearing of four-inch heels.
Tim waited at the top, one-half of the couple she was meeting. Tall and slender, with well-tanned skin, he had one of those amazing bodies that only the truly athletic possessed. With his white-blond hair, he looked more like a professional surfer than one of the best ad men around. He was definitely out of place on the streets of Detroit. Once Eve would have enjoyed sketching him, maybe even painting him. But that part of her was long dead.
As she approached, he rolled his wrist and pointedly checked his gold Armani watch.
“I know, I know. I’m late.” She crested the staircase and found herself on a crowded concourse. All around them people streamed through four separate revolving doors like ants heading for a picnic. She skipped across the few feet between them bent over, with her finger tugging on the heel strap of her right shoe. “You’re lucky I got here at all. I was working out a sticky point on the McAdams account.” She scanned the nearby crowd. “Where’s Val? Did he go inside already?”
Tim offered his arm with nothing more than a raised eyebrow. “Shall we?”
Eve stopped short, ignoring the muffled curse from the man behind her as he adjusted his course to move around her. “Tim? Where’s your fiancé?”
He sighed, not quite meeting Eve’s eyes. “His function got changed. He’s stuck in Atlanta.”
“I could have stayed home. Why didn’t you call me?”
Tim lifted a shoulder. “I didn’t want to come alone.”
Eve sent him a long glare.
“Come on, what can it hurt?” His grin subtracted years from his already boyish face, and he extended his arm again.
She didn’t return the smile, but she did put her hand in the crook of his elbow. “You know I don’t want to be here.”
“So you’ve said for the last week, sweetie.” He guided them toward one of the revolving doors.
“It’s not my scene, you know. Fine art.” The strap on her shoe slipped again.
“But it could be.”
She stopped and clung to Tim’s arm while she adjusted the strap with a bit more care. When she put her foot down on the ground again, she swept her gaze up to meet his hopeful, pale blue one. It was a hope she was about to kill and she intended it to stay dead this time.
“No. It couldn’t.”
With a shrug, he aimed them back toward the ancient revolving door performing its perpetual slow-motion spin with an intimidating whop-whoosh.
Eve narrowed one eye. Tim had given up the fight way too easily. She stepped through the door with him, emerging on the other side with a feeling of having stepped into 1920-something. A pair of wide, curving staircases with plush maroon carpeting presented a choice of directions; one curving to the right, the other to the left. Both offered teak balustrades anchored to mahogany paneling with shiny brass fixtures and the promise of an elegant climb to the second floor. Between them the mirrored wall added an illusion of space to the lobby.
Tim nudged his chin upward, and Eve traced the motion. Intricate oak crown molding outlined a mural of early 1900s Detroit painted on the ceiling. The detail was so complex and fine, the rendition so crisp the painting seemed to reach down with the threat of transporting her to the days of brick roads and trolleys. A shiver rippled through her. From the right, another patron passed, jarring her from dark memories that threatened to spoil the evening.
She suppressed a snicker. Right, like it had ever promised to be anything but spoiled.
Her precariously perched ankle gave up and twisted, pitching her into Tim.
In an instant, his strong hands found her elbows and staved off the face-plant into the carpeting.
“Thanks,” she murmured, willing her heart to steady itself. One more thing, just one more, and I’m out of here.
“Captivating, isn’t it?”
“Breathtaking,” she replied, careful to keep the emotion welling in her throat from entering her voice as they began walking again.
“You’ve done a street scene similar to that, haven’t you? I saw it in your apartment.”
“Oh! I knew you gave up too easily.” Eve dug her heels into the carpet, yanking on Tim’s arm so he had to stop and look at her. The crowd divided and flowed around the two of them, some of the people casting angry looks at them, but she didn’t care. “Stop pushing or I’m out of here right now, and you’re on your own.”
Tim lifted one shoulder. “You can’t blame me for trying.”
“Yes. I can. I don’t do this kind of art, and I don’t like you pushing my buttons.” She started toward the coat check window, pausing briefly when she noted the discreet bar at the other end of the room. “I’ve a feeling I’m going to want to stop there.”
Tim confirmed her suspicions when he silently glanced away from her.
“Right now I hate you, you know,” Eve murmured around a smile she put on solely for the benefit of the people edging past them.
A row of even white teeth flashed as Tim returned the smile. “I’ll live with it.” He put his arm around her shoulder. “Come on. It’s for charity.”
“I gave at the office.”
“You do every day, babe, but this is a different kind of charity.”
Guided by the politeness learned at her mother’s knee, Eve shrugged out of her burgundy velvet cape and handed it to the attendant. She accepted the check with a smile and slipped it into her small beaded bag.
When she turned around, Tim’s shocked gape greeted her.
She raised an eyebrow. “Now what?”
He said nothing, but made a spinning motion with one finger, indicating she should turn around.
Eve complied, looking over her shoulder at the same time, trying in vain to get a look at the back of her white satin gown. “Did I get something on my dress?”
“Something on it? No.” A soft chuckle accompanied his headshake. “You, um, seem to have left part of it somewhere else. Where’s the back?”
“Really? You’re going to object to my choice of couture now?” But she smiled. The dress had been designed for promises of a spectacular finish to any date. She’d bought it on a whim a couple years earlier when she thought blatant sexuality would make her seem more sophisticated. And had left it hanging in her closet ever since. Until Tim’s invitation to the art show. That had seemed to call for extremes.
“Well.” He paused, appeared to be struggling for words, his face as crimson as the cape she’d just checked. “There’s no back and, um, you can see… curves.”
“You’re supposed to be able to see curves, idiot.”
Tim shook his head. “You realize you’re going to get a lot of attention tonight, don’t you?”
She smiled, knowing full well it didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m sure you’ll fend off any unwanted suitors.”
“They’re all unwanted these days,” he muttered.
Eve’s smile widened on its own. “Well, that ought to make your job easier, then. You won’t have to weed any out.” She pushed her hand into the crook of his elbow again and tilted her head. “Shall we go inside?”
A pair of ornate carved oak doors stood open in front of them, attended by a doorman in a black tuxedo and white gloves. The trembling began the moment Eve crossed the threshold and noted the lighting, multiple spotlights in a darkened room. Each step she took intensified her dread. This was the world she’d left behind, the world she had avoided for the past five years.
Once inside, the ant stream fanned out and dispersed. Eve stopped again. If she was going to reenter the art world, she didn’t want to do it on Tim’s arm. She would go it on her own, the way she usually did everything. She forced another smile. “I’m definitely going to need something from that bar.”
“Are you kidding? Now?”
Eve angled a silent, narrow-eyed glare in his direction.
Tim caved with a sigh. “You want to wait here?”
No, she didn’t want to wait there. She wanted to run for the front of the building and maybe even hail a cab to take her home. She wanted a do-over of the moment she’d agreed to go to the damned function with her friends — correction friend, since she now wondered if Val had ever been planning to attend. “Yeah, sure. Just get me something to hold in my hand.” She swept her gaze down at her ghostly pale dress and considered the jostling crowd. “Better make it white wine.”
Eve drew in a long breath and blew it out slowly, willing the staccato beat of her heart to slow to a more reasonable rhythm. She watched Tim weave his way through the small clusters of people gathered at strategic places around the foyer. With another deep breath to shore up her courage, she took a step in the direction of the main gallery, then another.
The knives stabbing her arches had numbed her feet, and she almost couldn’t feel them beneath her as she edged her way past the black-clad string quartet playing a sensuous rendition of Vivaldi’s Summer. Why did they have to play that particular piece? She tried to ignore the music, but it wasn’t possible. As the lilting melody enveloped her, drawing her into the art world, she became aware of voices around her, the hushed conversation of reverent art patrons. Snatches of dialogue buzzed as she wandered among the crowd.
“…use of color is brilliant…”
“…conveys such emotion…”
“…won’t talk about his inspiration.”
“I heard it was…”
“…disappeared for a couple of years…”
“No one knows…”
“…met him a year or so back…”
“Darling, it was a huge scandal.”
“…surprised you never heard about…”
“…centerpiece of the entire show.”
“Eve Awakening was his…”
Tension tickled its way along Eve’s spine and nudged at her awareness. A phantom itch developed at the back of her neck, and it had nothing to do with the stray tendrils of hair escaping from her upswept do. She shouldn’t have come. She wanted no part of a world where people intruded, speculated, and criticized, as though they knew what they were talking about when they were clueless.
As those oblivious bits of humanity encroaching into her personal space began sharing her air, she was unable to pull in enough oxygen. She stifled a cough against a particularly cloying perfume and began plotting an early escape. Just as she turned to go back the way she’d come, the single set of double doors to the inner gallery exploded open, and the crowd began to funnel through, carrying her along with the flow.
Once inside the main gallery, she hugged the perimeter, her mind on one thing: how to circle back to the exit so she could get the hell out of Dodge. The throng of art patrons and pretenders herded one another like cattle to slaughter, and she had no choice but to go with them. As the crowd thinned, she still saw no direct line of flight, but an open space off to her left looked promising. The crimson carpet cushioned her steps, almost like walking on a cloud.
The group of landscapes she passed had been painted with a vaguely familiar technique. Interested in spite of her determination to leave, she found herself drawn in the direction of the display. She pulled her eyebrows together, searching her mind to put a name and face with the style. But she had removed herself from the so-called “serious” art world when her life had fallen apart just about five years before, and she hadn’t kept up with the artists who had once enthralled her with their ability to create magic with brush on canvas.
Impatient with her fading resolve, she turned and found herself face-to-face with an old man, a Native American, resting against a rock in the desert. Fine lines gracing his face told the story of his life, showing strength of character and a sense of peace with the world. He’d seen plenty of hardship, but for the moment, he was content. The profusion of color was muted, the entire portrait a celebration, as a full and rewarding life drew near its close. No tasteful sign was posted nearby detailing the artist’s name and bio. Was this a solo exhibit, then?
Her desire to leave once again battled with curiosity and lost. She leaned forward, seeking a signature, finding it, and laughing softly because it was illegible. Still, that style, the technique… it was hauntingly familiar, like she’d seen it before and yet… not. The itch at the back of her neck became a tingle, then a little electric charge spreading beneath her scalp and moving inexorably toward her temples.
Coming to the exhibit had been a huge mistake, and she’d make Tim pay for it later. Val, too, for not showing up. They both knew how she felt about art galleries. At the moment, though, she had to get out of there before full-blown panic set in. Eve twirled in a circle, scanning the room for her friend.
A child caught on the verge of womanhood trapped her gaze. Seen in profile, she stood amid a glorious array of fragile lavender flowers, her hair spilling about her shoulders in thick, black waves. A pair of greenish-white cabbage butterflies flitted among the lilacs. The woman-child’s eyes were closed, fine black lashes fanning high cheekbones. Her lips curved gently upward, as she obviously savored the sweet smell of spring. Crafted with eloquence, the details made the portrait. The flowers were done in lighter tones, with less detail, making them appear ethereal by comparison.
A chill hugged Eve’s spine. She no longer had any need to look for a signature. She should have known. If she’d been more open to the possibilities, she would have. The technique itself was the signature. She’d probably been aware on some level from the first landscape, but hadn’t wanted to face it; hadn’t wanted to remember… him.
As if she could ever forget.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” The voice at her elbow carried just a hint of French accent. “This is called Eve of Innocence.”
Eve wrinkled her nose. Why had he named it that?
She glanced at the man who had appeared at her side. He was shorter than her by a few inches, and a bit round in the middle, but rather handsome in the manner only a Frenchman could be. His hair, just beginning to recede, was otherwise thick and nearly as dark as hers. His blue eyes danced with delight behind black wire-rimmed glasses.
It would be rude to ignore him and run out of the building. But it wasn’t a desire to remain polite that kept Eve’s feet from following her mind’s urgent directive.
“It’s quite a nice work,” she murmured.
“Truly impressive,” he agreed. “However, I am afraid this particular piece, like a few others here tonight, is not for sale.” The little man’s voice was tinged with regret, accompanied by a dramatic sigh. “There are several other pieces by this artist that you will undoubtedly find as memorable as this one.”
I hope not. Eve tempered her ready sarcasm just slightly. “Yes, this one is… quite memorable.”
“Please allow me to introduce myself, mademoiselle,” continued her new companion with a little flourish. “Preston Sinclair at your service.” He didn’t bow and place a kiss to the back of her hand, though the courtly gestures would have suited him.
Understanding dawned, and his interest in her became clear. Preston Sinclair, owner of the Sinclair Gallery.
“It’s very nice to meet you, but I really didn’t come here tonight to make a purchase, Mr. Sinclair.”
Seemingly not offended, he smiled and offered his hand. “Nonetheless, it cannot hurt to look, can it, Ms…?”
Conceding a point to Sinclair’s persistence, a wry smile formed on her lips and she extended her own hand. “My name is…” Eve St. Aubin. “…Alexis Harper.”
Clasping her hand, Sinclair held on as he spoke. “Ah, a beautiful name for a beautiful lady. Perhaps you would like to meet the artist, then, Ms. Harper? He is here tonight for the opening of his exhibit.”
Words of protest formed in her brain but never made it to her lips before Sinclair was guiding her into the thick of the crowd. Hurt and anticipation raced neck and neck along sensitized nerve endings. Any hope that the room would be too packed to traverse was quickly squashed. The horde of people parted like the Red Sea for Preston Sinclair.
The artist stood across the room, his back to her, apparently unaware that he wasn’t alone. Eve struggled with the knot of emotion pulsing in her throat. Sandy brown hair skimmed the collar of his black tuxedo. Examining the portrait in front of him, hands clasped loosely at his back, that was a pose she was well familiar with, and it usually meant trouble.
Eve’s eyes strayed to the portrait, and her steps faltered. It had been a while since she’d seen it, and it had looked quite different back then. She angled her head and studied the painting.
A woman reclined on a Grecian couch that was upholstered in red velvet. Held captive in the slanting morning sunlight, her black hair fanned in contrast across the white satin sheet draping her body. One creamy shoulder tantalized, as did hints of curves beneath the sheet. A sultry expression emanated from smoky eyes, set in a heart-shaped face. Full red lips parted in invitation, their color matching the rose petals scattered like drops of blood against the white satin. A gold chain with a tiny charm glinted at her neck.
Eve lifted a hand, her fingers seeking the chain that lay against her skin — the one she never took off. Directing her attention back to the man in front of her, she allowed the memories to swamp her. Then he turned around, and eyes the color of dark Baltic amber glided over her. The flare of heat in his gaze threatened to singe her, even though he was still several feet away.
~*~*~
SHE COULDN’T BE standing there, hair all swept up, looking older, more polished than he’d last seen her. The white satin of her gown fell from her long neck to the tips of her toes, lovingly clinging to her curves, too reminiscent of the satin sheet in the painting for her to be real. He closed his eyes, knowing when he opened them, she wouldn’t be there.
But she was. An arc of exquisite pain electrified his heart.
Smoky gray eyes, wide and staring. The hair piled on her head, already with strands escaping. She never had been able to keep her wild hair confined for long. His fingers ached for the feel of that dark silk. His body thrummed with longing for that petal-soft skin.
She took a tentative step toward him, then another. Because it felt right, he opened his arms. Her lips parted the way they always had before she’d kissed him, and he knew she’d just drawn a tiny expectant breath. When she entered his embrace, he eased her closer. In a fog, his mind registered the glide of his hands over the soft skin he’d just been pining for. Then she melted into him the way she always had, the way that still felt too right to be wrong.
It was as if time itself had stopped, and immediately he was thrust back to when the most natural move in the world was to brush his lips lightly across hers. They still tasted as sweet, still made him yearn for far more than a kiss. With a gentle sigh, she moved her lips against his, and he was lost in the sense of coming home.
He took possession of her mouth without asking as he ran his fingers along her spine. She could still steal his breath. Her lips gave beneath his, enticing with the promise of more… so much more. She skimmed her hands along his chest, stopping at his shoulders. As he angled his head to deepen the connection, she finished her upward slide and fisted her hands in his hair.
Next to her, Preston began babbling some form of introduction. “Ms. Harper, may I present— Mr. Kyle Sebas…tian.” Awkward silence fell, and Sinclair sighed. “Ah, but I see the two of you have apparently… already met.”
Any points Kyle deducted for Sinclair’s prattling, he gave back when the gallery owner tactfully excused himself.
Easing out of the kiss, Kyle kept his hands at Eve’s waist as he took a half step back and surveyed her face. Her eyes were still the amazing shade of campfire smoke, and they still reeled him in. Her lips, though fuller, still enticed. They were the lips of a woman who’d been well kissed in her lifetime. She was still slender, yet also with more curves. She’d been a girl on the verge of womanhood when he’d met her. Calculated awareness flashed in her eyes, a cold edginess that hadn’t been there the last time he’d seen her. His heart ached for the journey they’d started but never finished.
Eve drew herself up, her face taking on a reserved maturity that completely obliterated the outgoing, impetuous girl she’d once been.
The craving that had never been satisfied yet never faded rose within him, threatened to overwhelm. He closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath, but it was far from calming. The fragrance of summer flowers filled his nostrils, bringing his awareness of her fully back to life.
“Kyle,” she murmured, the coolness in her tone belying the silver sparks in her eyes. “It’s — been a long time, hasn’t it?”
So she was going to play it cool… even after her fiery response to his kiss. Determined not to give in to the urge to tip her over his shoulder and carry her off to some private place, Kyle broke contact and stepped back. “About five years.”
“Here you are.” The young blond god approached from behind her.
She’s not yours. The words roared through Kyle’s mind. Though he hadn’t spoken them aloud, he wanted to knock the guy’s head off.
For a split second, relief mingled with the doubt in her eyes. Then she hid all trace of emotion behind a neutral expression. The smile she turned on the approaching man was the same one she’d once saved only for Kyle.
“The crowd moved, and I got caught up.” She accepted the glass of white wine from her companion. “Thank you, darling.”
Jealousy slashed at Kyle’s gut like shards of glass. Meeting her again had been inevitable. They moved in the same world. He’d been waiting for her to surface in the same place as he for years.
But he’d never pictured another man in the scenario.
Cramping fingers alerted Kyle that he’d fisted his hands. Just breathe. He consciously relaxed with his next breath.
Tilting her head to the right, Eve smiled at her companion. “Tim Lanier, I’d like you to meet an… old… acquaintance of mine.” Her voice was tinged with the false sweetness the socially correct generally reserved for introducing someone of questionable nature. “Kyle Sebastian. The featured artist tonight.”
Kyle forced his lips into what he hoped was an adequate smile. The introduction left a nasty aftertaste in his mouth. Not friend, not former lover, but with that slight hesitation emphasizing “old,” he’d been relegated to the position of former acquaintance.
Lanier pumped Kyle’s hand with enthusiasm. “I’m a devoted admirer, Mr. Sebastian.”
Still watching Eve, Kyle caught a subtle flinch and a flash of irritation in her eyes, and his mood lightened when he realized she hated that her beau was a fan. It was a fight to keep from laughing out loud, but he forced an even tone. “Always nice to meet one of my admirers. I hope you find something to your… taste tonight.”
With a smile he wasn’t feeling, Kyle shifted slightly, and opened a direct line of sight from Lanier to the portrait behind Eve.
The younger man’s grin widened. “Now that’s one I wouldn’t mind owning.” His gaze faltered, swung to Eve, then back to the painting. “Holy mother of—! That’s you!”
A rosy flush crept up Eve’s neck and stained her face. “That was done a… long time ago.”
“And unfortunately, this is one of the pieces I can’t bring myself to part with,” said Kyle, crowding Eve just a little. In the mood to take a risk, he looped a possessive arm around her shoulders. “It evokes… memories.”
~*~*~
WITH A STRANGLED cry, Eve gulped the last of the wine in her glass. Memories was far too mild a word. The details of sitting for Kyle Sebastian were burned into her soul. The searing kisses that had awakened yearnings she hadn’t known existed. The warmth of his caresses. His unsteady voice as he told her how beautiful, how perfect she was… he’d even mentioned loving her.
But he’d never said that he wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. Because hints and innuendoes didn’t count.
“Earth to Eve?” Tim’s touch on her elbow brought Eve back to the gallery with an emotional jolt. “You didn’t tell me you knew Kyle Sebastian.”
Had she ever truly known Kyle? She flicked a glance at him, then back to Tim and lifted a shoulder. “It must have slipped my mind.”
Adjusting her features, she met Kyle’s even stare. The amused light in his eyes suggested he knew exactly where her mind had been. Touché. She cast him a demure smile and raised her wine glass in a silent toast.
“Actually, it’s a little more than knows.” That deep, smooth voice she’d once enjoyed now grated on her remaining nerve. “She offered me her body.”
A startled cry worked its way out of Tim’s throat. “Wait, what?” Poor Tim. Behind as usual.
“Yes, it’s true, I did. But if memory serves, he decided to paint my portrait instead.”
“That time at least…” murmured Kyle so softly she might have imagined the words if not for his warm breath on her neck.
Eve tilted her head toward the lady in white on the canvas before them. “It’s been… nice… seeing you, Kyle. I hope we see you again before we leave.” Within the next two minutes.
Kyle inclined his head. “Maybe I’ll see you after the auction. It’ll be nice to catch up.”
“Absolutely… Later.” Her lips had gone numb; she could only hope she was still smiling. Any moment now she was going to throw up. Laying her hand on Tim’s arm, she snuggled against him and pinched his wrist when he tried to jerk his arm away. “Shall we make the rounds, darling?” With a little purr in the back of her throat, Eve leaned on Tim until he followed her lead and began walking away. With a bit of distance between her and Kyle, she angled her face toward Tim and hissed in his ear, “Kiss me right now or I’m going to stomp on your foot with my incredibly spiky heels.”
Shock widened Tim’s eyes a split second before she planted her lips on his.
People murmured and gasped as they dodged past. With lips stuck to those of her best friend, Eve ignored everything but the artist across the room. Through slitted eyelids, she studied the man who had awakened her to love and then ditched her. He watched them for a moment, an indefinable emotion showing on his face. When he turned away, Eve waited for the thrill of the win.
Nothing.
And Tim was still kissing her. She pushed her hands against his chest.
“Blech. Stop. That was like kissing my brother.”
“Yeah, well it wasn’t exactly a thrill for me either.” He shook his head. “No offense, but you aren’t exactly my type.”
For a moment, she considered stomping his foot anyway, but the inclination passed, and she headed for the door. “Well, thank you for the sacrifice.”
Confusion clouded Tim’s eyes, but Eve didn’t care. She needed fresh air. She needed to leave the gallery and never come back. But as she reached the double doors, she paused and found her gaze straying across the room, seeking one last glance of…
Her breath caught as a petite woman stepped in front of Kyle and laid crimson-tipped fingers against his chest, tilting her head back and gazing into his eyes. Honey blond hair in a slick up-do flashed like spun gold under the various spotlights. A perfect smile formed on perfect ruby lips, and she laughed before she performed a suggestive little shimmy that left her draped against his body, her breathlessly parted, perfect lips in convenient proximity to his.
Eve’s stomach rolled as she forced herself to look away and push through the crowd gathered around the exit mumbling, “Excuse me.”
On the other side of the door, Tim caught up to her again. “What was all that about? You never told me you knew Kyle Sebastian.”
Too close! They had to get farther away before she would have that particular conversation. She tugged on his hand, urging him to step up the pace. “I’m leaving.”
“But the auction—”
“The last thing I plan to do is stay for that.”
“But you’re going to meet—”
At Eve’s glare Tim recoiled and snapped his mouth shut. But he subjected her to a long intent look.
“Take me home, Tim. Now.” She was being a bitch, and part of her knew he didn’t deserve it. But desperation to get away from Kyle drove her.
“Uh-uh.” He stood unmoving and unmovable, shaking his head. “Not until you tell me what just happened.”
Irritation sparked. Eve leaned in close. “You want to know what just happened? You just met the reason I don’t do this scene anymore. Now, are you taking me home or do I call a cab?”
~*~*~
HE WAS A coward, sticking to the shadows, watching her with a hunger that had never been sated. Seeing him had obviously spooked her, but she’d recovered well. He wasn’t so sure about her date, though. The kiss had appeared lukewarm at best. Then the argument had ensued. From a distance it had been impossible to discern what they were fighting about, but they were fighting, no question.
“Come on, darling, smile. This is your night.” Danielle, his date du jour, slid up against him, warm and welcoming. “If you play your cards right, I’ll even let you take me back to your place, and you can paint me… in the nude.” Her soft, lusty chuckle slithered over him, enveloped him like the squeezing embrace of a python. He’d swear his southern anatomy had just cringed.
“Maybe some other time.” He captured her hands and eased her predatory grip off his lapels. “The show’s going to run late.”
Danielle’s angled head and pouting lips were calculated to bring a man to his knees. “Did you bring me here to ignore me all night?” She aimed a kiss in his direction but he turned so she caught him on the cheek.
“Sorry,” he murmured, stepping back. Escorting her to his opening had been a mistake. Damn Preston and his half-assed ideas. He should have come alone. He did better alone. “Opening nights are always a bit… hectic.” That was an understatement. “Excuse me.” And he turned away, ignoring her exasperated huff.
Preston could send her flowers and an apology in the morning. Mental note: No more set-ups. They always left him feeling unsatisfied, empty, and more alone than when he was actually alone.
Kyle’s gaze roamed the room, seeking a head of dark hair.
But Eve was nowhere to be seen. She must have gone, leaving Kyle alone in the midst of strangers. Exactly the way it had to be.
He mulled over the changes. Preston had introduced Eve as Ms. Harper… So she’d gone back to using her family name. Not that it mattered what she called herself — she’d always be Eve St. Aubin to him. She was edgier, harder, more seasoned. Her frozen demeanor must make her mother proud. But she had a spark underneath that she barely controlled.
Was she seeing someone?
Not the surfer boy she was with tonight. He had none of the heat she would require to ignite her fire. Realizing he’d curled his hands into fists again, Kyle blew out through pursed lips and concentrated on relaxing.
He took in the faces of the people who had come to see his work without really seeing any of them as he fought for control of his heart. Time might heal, but apparently five years hadn’t been long enough for the process to begin. He wanted Eve St. Aubin every bit as fiercely now as he had the day he’d sent her out of his life.

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