Sep 262011
 

We here at Soul’s Road Press are delighted to announce our very first short story collection!

KISS ME HELLO is the first collection from legendary erotica heavy-hitter Andrea Dale. Prepare to be both aroused and charmed by these ten tales of lesbian erotic romance, which appeared in such lauded anthologies as The Sweetest Kiss, Lesbian Cowboys, and Best Lesbian Romance. In KISS ME HELLO you’ll find out why Cleis Press calls Andrea Dale one of the best in the genre of lesbian erotica.

Includes the following stories:
• Queens Up
• Just Be
• Subtle
• After the Rain
• Devouring Heart
• From Bitter to Sweet
• I Need a Man
• Finding Perspective
• Your Gift to Me
• In Flight
• Frozen

Available in print and in a variety of electronic formats
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Kobo

Jan 072011
 

Happy New Year! To kick off 2011, we want to give you a present! Here’s the first chapter of Andrea Dale’s spicy romance novel In Her Hands, just for you! Enjoy!

IN HER HANDS

by

Andrea Dale

copyright 2010, Andrea Dale / Published by Soul’s Road Press

Chapter 1

Sarabeth licked her lips in anticipation as she gazed at the male perfection that awaited her.

She slipped an Evanescence CD into the stereo and cranked the volume. The pulse-pounding beat wasn’t the only thing that made her hips twitch as she walked to where he stood.

Waiting for her.

She was in complete control. It was a heady, empowering feeling. She could touch him in any way she wanted.

But she teased herself, putting off the first contact. Instead she walked slowly around him. She’d molded each faint bump of his spine already, cupped her hands around those taut cheeks. Teased the dimples that cut into his hips. Traced the juncture where buttocks met thigh.

She walked back around to face him. God, he was beautiful. Her hands trembled, ever so slightly, when she reached up and rested them on his firm chest. Smooth, and faintly cool. He would heat up soon enough under her touch.

Sarabeth dipped her hands in the bowl of water and raised them again. She trailed her fingers along the ridges of muscle, outlining them, defining them. Nipples bloomed to life beneath her fingertips. She circled the hard nubs, fingernails tweaking ever so gently. Her breath hissed between her teeth.

Oh, yes.

A drop of water trailed down, hesitating at the crease of his thigh, and she longed to follow it with her tongue. She licked her lips again, and flicked the droplet away from the crisp hair with her thumb.

Teasingly, she tickled his belly button, smoothing her fingertip around the indentation. Beneath it, a treasure trail of hair pointed down. But she wasn’t ready to go there yet.

Not just yet…

Another douse in the water, and her hands slipped along his narrow waist, resting briefly on the sharp hipbones. He had a birthmark on his left hip. She touched the crescent moon shape like a blind woman reading Braille, sensitive skin sending distinct signals to her brain.

Erotic signals.

Was it getting hot in the room? She felt sweat trickle down her own back, but she was too intent on the body before her to stop and open a window.

She outlined the six-pack muscles of his abdomen, her own stomach fluttering at the touch. She longed to have him touch her in the same way, to feel his strong hands caress her flesh.

Evanescence’s lead singer wailed about her immortal.

He was her immortal, Sarabeth thought. He consumed her senses. But right now, she was the one with the power.

Now.

Now was the time to touch him, really touch him. Touch him for the first time. She’d been waiting so long. Her hands trembled again, from anticipation and the barest frisson of fear. So long she’d waited. Another moment, and there would be no going back. Some women could, but she couldn’t. Once she started, she was committed, all the way to completion.

She pressed against the hard muscles in his thighs, closed her eyes, imagined. Then she dipped her hands in the water again and closed them around his manhood.

She coaxed, gently at first and then with more assurance, bringing him to life between her palms. Long, firm. Not too thick. She wrapped her fingers around him, analyzing the circumference. Stroking his length from end to tip, she marveled at how perfectly he fit in her grasp.

She pressed her thumbs along the smooth ridge of his proud head, shaping the smooth mushroom cap. The veins beneath caught her attention, and the ridge just below the head. She caught her tongue in her teeth as she worked her ministrations.

Leaning in so close that she could smell him, she cupped the twin sacs, massaging gently. But he distracted her, and she couldn’t stop herself from gently stroking him again.

Her breath came in shorter gasps as she neared completion.

God, he was perfect.

Sarabeth stepped back and beheld her creation, what she had brought to life with her own hands.

She glanced out the window at the billboard that stretched across the building opposite: an advertisement for Noir for Him cologne. The model regarded her with eyes filled with sensual promised. He was shirtless, his jeans unbuttoned just far enough and the bulge below outlined just enough to tantalize the imagination of any straight woman between sixteen and, well, dead.

Her eyes flicked between the billboard and the clay torso on the pedestal in the middle of her studio. She didn’t think she’d taken too much artistic license by making him nude—and hard.

*

Michael was early for his date with Jill. The mâitre d’ took him to a table in the brick courtyard, which was framed by palms that shaded the diners from the sun but still allowed some peeking by the rabble on the street.

It was just the type of place Jill would choose. Just the type of place Michael preferred to avoid like the proverbial plague.

He didn’t have to wait long in the dappled Los Angeles sunshine before Jill arrived. He rose as she approached the table. The statuesque redhead turned her head slightly, allowing him to kiss her cheek while at the same time showing her best profile to any fans on the street, any paparazzi with cameras she hoped would be trained on them.

He felt her coolness. He knew before his butt hit the chair again that they were over.

“You do understand, don’t you?” Jill laid a hand over his. Intimate, but not too intimate.

“I do,” he said. He waited for sadness to come, perhaps even anger to sting, but all he felt was a small hint of regret.

He’d met Jill when his face, if not his name, was already a household feature (it was the jeans ad spread in Esquire that had done it, paired with the beer commercial during the Superbowl that had more women watching football than ever before) and she had been a rising star.

Now he was still a household feature, but her first movie (in which she’d played the ingénue sidekick) had fired the public’s interest, and her second, which she’d just finished filming, had everyone abuzz.

Jill toyed with her salad fork. Most of the salad remained in her dish. He’d tucked into his grilled ahi without a problem—a guy still had to eat. The teriyaki-wasabi sauce had been exquisite.

“We had some good times, didn’t we,” she asked, her smile fond.

“We did,” he agreed. “Next you’re probably going to say that you hope we can be friends, and—” he held up a hand to forestall her “—the answer is, yes, we can.”

He’d known, all along and deep down, that at least part of what attracted her to him was that on his arm, she would be noticed. At his side, her career had the chance to bloom. Despite that, towards the beginning of their relationship he’d thought that they might have had a chance at something bigger.

The sex had been great. They’d had a fine rapport out of bed, sharing a taste in movies (even if she’d dragged him to every premiere in the hopes of camera time), imported beer, and antique glass.

But her latest movie shoot had been on location in Prague for nine months, and every time he’d offered to visit, the timing had never been right for her. He’d started to wonder…

Lunch over. Relationship over. Their goodbye kiss was on par with a handshake ending a business transaction.

No sadness. Just regret, and a level of weariness, like a heavy comforter threatening to smother him.

Was it too much to ask for a woman who wanted him for him, not what his celebrity status could do for her? Someone who could see beyond the hunky male model?

He walked Jill to her new, cherry red Jag, then left the parking garage alone.

Ah well. It left him with the afternoon free to go for a run on the beach before he getting ready to meet Brad for another art gallery opening that his friend was dragging him to.

*

“Well, how do I look?”

Sarabeth danced out from behind the carved teak screen that separated her bedroom area from the living area of her loft. She posed, preening, one hip thrust forward to accentuate her leg.

“Like you’re going to bring men to their knees tonight,” her best friend, Anya, said. “Damn, you’re hot enough to turn a straight woman.”

The corset top, purple satin covered with black lace, molded to Sarabeth’s figure, while the attached short, flippy, purple chiffon skirt showed off her legs to great advantage and hinted at the lace tops of her black thigh high stockings.

“Oh, as if you’re not wearing your prowling outfit,” Sarabeth retorted. Her friend had gone the Goth-punk-schoolgirl route, with a short, pleated plaid skirt, fishnets, and boots; perversely, she smelled of White Shoulders.

But Anya was already, as usual, distracted, disappearing into Sarabeth’s studio space.

“I want to see the latest—the one you said had you all hot and bothered,” Anya’s voice came through from behind the white sheets that hung to bisect the loft.

“I’m not quite ready to show it to anybo—”

Anya screamed in delighted horror.

“—show it to anybody, but I take it you’ve already found it.” Sarabeth pushed aside the drapes and found Anya in front of the sculpture.

“Oh my god oh my god! I can’t believe you did that!”

Sarabeth grinned. “Yeah, well, it was kind of an afterthought.”

That could never be an afterthought.” Anya ran to the window and stared out at the billboard lit against the darkness, then came back to where Sarabeth and the lifelike sculpture stood. The statue was just the torso, but if Sarabeth had given it a head—the head atop the neck, that is—they would have been staring into each other’s eyes.

Lustfully.

“It’s your best yet,” Anya said. “Are you really going to show it? I mean, it really looks like him. The birthmark is a dead giveaway.”

Sarabeth blinked herself out of her reverie. At this rate, she was going to have to change her thong before they left for the gallery opening.

How many times had she made herself come while staring at his image, while imagining his touch? She treated her videotape of his beer commercial like a porn flick.

Fantasies could be dangerous, but she’d thought this one was safe enough. Until all of her work started looking like him.

Until this piece, where she’d taken it farther than ever before.

“I don’t know,” she said, finally answering Anya’s question. “I know I’m pushing it with the birthmark. I could cover it up, I suppose.”

She didn’t want to. She wanted to press her lips to the curved moon, and feel the tremble of hot flesh.

Anya’s hand hovered over the statue’s erection.

“No touching. It’s not dry,” Sarabeth warned.

“When it’s dry, could I touch it, oh pretty please? I could put this to good use.”

“What if it broke?” Sarabeth asked reasonably.

“Dildo!” Anya shouted, spinning around in a giddy circle.

Sarabeth’s brain clicked off as she imagined a dildo shaped like her fantasy man.

Yep. Definitely time to go change that thong.

*

“She really dumped you?” Brad looked appropriately sympathetic. “Sheez, if she’ll dump someone like you, I don’t stand a chance.”

“Nope,” Michael said. “You don’t have nearly enough Hollywood clout for her.”

The art gallery was Brad’s baby; he handled the displays and special shows while a semi-silent partner dealt with the money matters. Brad’s tastes tended towards classical art, but he still allowed for a variety of styles, just to be fair.

The gallery was in a former Hollywood hotel, retaining much of its Art Deco décor. The grand lobby—now the main exhibit space—had etched glass and terrazzo floors, and graceful arched metal women flanking the fireplace. Ferns hung in gilt baskets; light jazz filtered from hidden speakers.

To go with the theme, Brad favored a white waistcoat and black bowtie. It somehow worked with his close-cropped blond hair and grey eyes.

“It’s because you told her you want to quit, isn’t it?” Brad asked.

“I never told her that.”

Brad was, in fact, the only person that Michael had told. When you’d been friends from someone since childhood, you had that kind of rapport. He’d never really had the chance to tell Jill, anyway. Which said something right there about their relationship.

It wasn’t as if he wanted to completely quit modeling. It wasn’t awful, and the money was, in fact, incredible. He liked that a lot. But more and more, he wanted to be behind the camera.

He knew his photographs were good. Brad had been bugging him to do a display at the gallery, but he wasn’t ready for that yet. He didn’t want to feel that he’d gotten the showing because his friend co-owned the place. He’d do it when it felt right and he felt ready.

“You can do both, you know,” Brad said. “Look at Viggo Mortensen—you know, that Aragon guy.”

“Aragorn.”

“Whatever. Apparently he also paints, writes poetry, yadda yadda. A real medieval man.”

“Renaissance man.”

“Whatever.”

“I suppose.” Michael snagged a flute of champagne from a passing waiter’s tray and sipped it. Good stuff, he thought appreciatively. “People already took him seriously as an actor, though. It’s different with me. They tend to assume I don’t have a brain in my pretty little head.”

“Most guys don’t have brains in their little heads.” Brad snorted into his champagne. “Sorry. I know you’re being serious. So prove ‘em wrong—show them you’ve got an MBA and artistic talent to boot.”

“I’m thinking of doing it under my real name. At least that would be one good thing to come out of the pseudonym.” Michael hated that he’d naively caved in to his agent’s pressure and taken on a “stage name.” She swore it would ruin his career if he changed back to his own name. He wasn’t sure he believed her, but he knew the transition would be tricky.

“And then, when you’re famous for the photography, you can come out,” Brad continued. “Well, not like that, but you know what I mean. Use both names, like John Cougar Mellencamp did.”

“Brad,” Michael said carefully, “what’s my public name?”

“Michael Steele.”

“And what’s my real name?”

“Michael Barr.”

“And what happens if you put them together like John Cougar Mellencamp?”

“Michael Steele Ba… Oh.” Brad pressed his lips together, obviously trying not to laugh.

Michael shook his head and took another sip of champagne.

And nearly choked when he saw her.

He’d thought he’d been sexually attracted to Jill. Compared to his reaction to the woman across the room, his feelings for Jill had been as if he’d been a Puritan. And she’d been his Puritan sister.

His mystery woman—and, amazingly, he already thought of her as “his”—had a certain resemblance to Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Chicago”: similar black bobbed hair, just a little longer; ripe, dark, kissable lips; sultry eyes that, even though they hadn’t turned in his direction, were enough to pierce through him. But he would walk right by Ms. Zeta-Jones (whom he’d met once, at a party, and who had been positively delightful) for the woman across the room.

The top of her dress harkened back to the Victorian era, but there was nothing prudish about how the corset, with its satin-and-lace straps, hugged her waist and pressed her breasts upward like a creamy offering.

Michael wanted to pour champagne down her cleavage and then rescue every drop with his tongue. In the fantasy, he could hear her gasp with pleasure, could taste the mixture of champagne and flesh, could envision her tossing her head back in abandoned ecstasy.

At this rate, Michael thought, easing behind a sculpture of twisted metal, he was going to have to pour the champagne down his own crotch to relieve his sudden, aching erection before he got thrown out of the art gallery for indecency.

Unfortunately, that thought led to the fantasy of the woman drinking the champagne off his cock, and that was no help at all in relieving the erotic pressure in his pants.

“Are you okay, man?” Brad asked.

Michael started to answer, but his response came out as a strangled gasp. He cleared his throat and tried again.

“Just admiring that woman over there.”

Brad followed his gaze. “Oh yeah, her. Isn’t she a cutie? I think she’s in a band. God, I love that schoolgirl-punk look.”

“Not her, her friend.”

“Oh. She’s hot, yeah, but she’s…I dunno, tall. And I’ve heard she’s kind of…”

“What?” Michael’s stomach dropped. She was a lesbian. Brad was going to say that she was a lesbian. Damn.

“Uh, creative. Inventive,” Brad said.

Michael’s hopes soared again. “Meaning?”

“She’s not averse to…variations. Kinks, maybe.”

His brain flashed more images: The woman in leather. The woman with her hands bound, writhing beneath him and begging for release. The woman in front of a large window at night, daring somebody anonymous to watch. The woman…

It wasn’t really anything he’d spent a lot of time thinking about until now. He’d had partners with whom he’d played the naughty-librarian game, the I’ve-been-a-bad-girl game. The games had been fun, but they’d been games.

Now he was thinking about it. Just standing over there, she made him think about it.

He hailed a waiter and exchanged his empty glass for a full one.

“How in the world do you know that?” he asked Brad.

His friend grinned. “She’s an artist, and it’s my job to know about artists. In fact, she’s doing the next show here. Her friend, the blonde, is on our mailing list. You going to go talk to her?”

“The blonde?”

“No, bonehead, the tall one. The one that has your knickers in a twist.”

The woman in question turned suddenly, causing her sassy purple skirt—a well-placed contrast to the corset—to flare out. Michael caught a glimpse of lace at her thigh.

His mouth went dry.

“In a minute. I need an opening line.”

“‘I’m a world-famous male model’ isn’t good enough for you? How about, ‘I’ve got an amazingly big d—’”

“Why don’t you use that one on the blonde?” Michael suggested.

He stared across the room. Around him, conversation ebbed and flowed. It was a coup for the artist that someone of his stature attended the gallery opening, but really, he couldn’t find it in himself to care about the art, or even the artist, right now.

He wanted her.

As he watched, she plucked a cream puff from a tray and popped it into her mouth, slowly sliding her fingers back out between pursed lips to catch any crumb. Her eyes closed in an expression of sheer carnal delight.

Would she look like that when her lips were wrapped around his cock? Would her eyes close helplessly when he entered her, or would she stare at him, pupils dark and dilated with passion?

Her tongue flicked out to secure any remaining cream.

She turned, and saw him.

Her tongue remained poised on her lower lip, inviting, glistening.

A long moment. Michael forgot what breathing was like. His vision narrowed. Sound faded.

And then she smiled.

*

Sarabeth was reasonably sure that someone had slipped a hallucinogen into the utterly divine cream puff she’d just eaten.

That couldn’t be him over there, not really.

He was staring at her with so much…hunger. Her nipples hardened, pressing almost painfully against the satin of her corset. Just from the look he was giving her. Never in her wildest fantasies had she imagined him fixing such a predatory look on her.

Her wildest fantasies promptly got more detailed and wild.

If this was a hallucination, then she might as well run with it.

Just to make sure, she smiled at him.

She saw his nostrils flare as he sucked in air. Oh, he’d seen her, all right. No hallucination.

“Holy crap on a stick,” Anya said.

Sarabeth jumped. She’d practically forgotten Anya was standing next to her. Hell, she’d pretty much forgotten what her own name was.

“That’s him, isn’t it?” Anya hissed.

“I believe so, yes,” Sarabeth said, not taking her eyes off him.

“Jesus, he looks just as good with his shirt on,” Anya said appreciatively.

Sarabeth had to agree. He wore a royal blue button-down shirt that she suspected might be silk. Oh, she wanted to find out if it was silk. Wanted to run her fingers along the front of it. Wanted to peel it slowly off of him and suggest he run it along her naked body.

Then she could put her hands on his chest for real. Not cold clay, but hot, yielding flesh.

She stifled a moan.

“What are you going to do?” Anya asked.

Anya probably knew exactly what she was thinking, but if she spoke it out loud, her friend would never let her live it down.

“I’m going to…”

She had been about to say that she was going to go talk to him, but the decision has been taken away from her. He was heading straight for her.

He wore black pants that fit him oh, so very well. His thighs pressed against the material as he walked. She wanted to feel those hard muscles trapped between her legs as she rode him to completion…

Anya said something about not being a voyeur and darted away, leaving Sarabeth standing alone.

This is what a wounded gazelle must feel like when the lion’s stalking her. Trapped. Bracing herself to be devoured.

The thought of his teeth scraping against her skin made her legs tremble.

Then he was right in front of her, so close she could smell his strong, masculine scent.

“I’m not the artist,” she said. At his confused look, she continued, “I saw you looking at me, and thought you must have assumed I’m the artist.” She indicated the sculpture display. “I didn’t do these.”

“Do you know the artist?” he asked.

His voice was like melted chocolate dribbled down her spine in anticipation of his tongue licking it all back off.

She shook her head. “No, I’ve never met him.”

“So, what do you think of his artwork?”

She tore her gaze away from him and glanced around at the twisted lumps of metal.

“I think,” she said carefully, “that it’s not so much art as scraps leftover from high school shop class. Not so much art as…leftovers. If that’s what he was going for, then I’m afraid he lost me in the process.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” he said. “I was hoping it was just me.” He held out his hand. “Michael Barr.”

Too many sensations. The warmth of his flesh, the firmness of his grasp—oh, where she wanted him to grasp her, and caress her!—the tingling sensation on her palm as he drew away and his fingertips trailed across her nerve-heightened skin.

Your love slave, she thought, but thankfully she managed to answer aloud correctly. “Sarabeth Delaney.”

“And you’re an artist, Sarabeth?”

His voice lingered over her name as if tasting it. Savoring it. She wanted to hear him say it, husky with passion, as she tasted him in turn, pressing her lips against salty….

“I’m a sculptor,” she said. “And you?”

“Photographer.”

Did she sense the slightest hint of hesitation before he answered? And, she mused, he’d introduced himself with a different last name.

He probably didn’t want to be recognized, she decided. That was common enough in Hollywood. Stars were people, first and foremost, and an evening was far more enjoyable if they could have normal conversations and not be fawned over.

Fair enough. If that’s the way he wanted it, that’s exactly how she’d handle it. He didn’t need to know she was already obsessed with him.

As long as she didn’t give herself away by tearing off his clothes and jumping him in the middle of the gallery. Because lord knew her hands were trembling to do exactly that.

“Have I seen any of your work?” he asked.

Oh honey, just wait ‘til I have you naked and I’ll show you my work. “My first big show is the next one on the schedule here. In two weeks.”

His eyes, blue pools she wanted to luxuriate in, showed appreciation. “That’s wonderful. You must be very excited.”

He couldn’t know how excited. How her entire body craved another sample of his touch. How if he touched her between her legs, he’d find her hot and wet and on the edge of explosion.

What turned her on the most was that he obviously wanted her, too. She could see it in the darkness of his eyes, in the way his nostrils flared again when she took a sip of champagne, and in crotch.

She tried very, very hard not to stare at the obvious thickness pressing against his trousers.

She had to clench her hand into a fist just to keep herself from reaching out and touching…

He dipped his head close to hers, and when he spoke, she could feel his breath tickling her ear, an erotic, warm breeze. She stifled a moan.

“So, Sarabeth Delaney the Sculptor,” he murmured, “why don’t you show me the rest of the gallery and tell me what you think of the art?”

To give herself time to get her legs to find the strength to move, she toyed with the choker at her neck. She was gratified to see his eyes drop to her cleavage, and linger there.

He, too, seemed to be struggling for control.

What an aphrodisiac that was.

She’d never been one for one-night stands, for anonymous sex. Despite her long-standing lust for this man whom she’d never met prior to the last ten minutes, she didn’t know anything about him. He could be…dangerous.

Oh, she already knew that he was dangerous. She’d had no idea that she’d react to him so completely, so totally, upon being in his presence.

That she would be willing to throw all caution to the wind just for the chance to be closer to him. To press against him. To feel him.

Rational thought fled. All she knew was that she wanted him, and he wanted her.

She could cope with dangerous, she decided. It would be worth it in the end.

For now, though, it did make sense to get to talk with him more in a public place. Get to know him as a person. See how riled up she could get him, with the flirting and the teasing. How much she could get him to want her. To need her.

But, God, the things she wanted to do to him.

She wondered how long she could hold out. How long before she broke down and excused herself to the ladies room where she could relieve the aching need that threatened to consume her?

“I’d love to,” she said.

*

Michael dragged his gaze from her cleavage and his mind away from the fantasies regarding her cleavage, and struggled to remember what he’d just asked her that she was so willingly agreeing to. Please, let it be something good.

Then she was hooking a hand through his arm and leading him into the next room, out of the rotating gallery collection and into one of the permanent displays. The motion restarted the blood flow to his brain enough so that he recalled they were going to look at more art.

He didn’t want to look at art; he wanted to look at her.

But he was willing, for a while at least, to settle for being with her.

Her light touch on his arm sent his senses tingling. Her fingers rubbed the silk of his shirt against his flesh, a maddening sensation. She was close enough that he could see the light glinting off her blue-black hair. The perfume she wore—something flowery, but not cloying—brought his cock to attention again. How could something so simple affect him so strongly?

All he knew about her was her name, and that she was a sculptor.

He didn’t need another relationship right now.

Or did he? Granted, she hadn’t batted an eyelash at his introduction, so maybe, just maybe, she didn’t recognize him. Maybe he had a chance at developing a rapport with somebody who didn’t want him for anything bigger—

Although his cock was getting bigger by the moment, and that just had to be tamped down before he hurt himself or those around him.

“Now, this piece, I like,” Sarabeth said.

Michael forced himself to concentrate on her words. Not the husky timbre of her voice. Not how that voice would sound when she cried out his name in the heat of passion, as he brought her to—

Damn. Must…pay…attention.

She indicated a metal sculpture, this one in bronze. It was a stylized horse, rearing up, head thrown back in abandon.

“There’s movement, even in something as solid as metal,” she said. “You can feel the wildness, the pass—” she coughed, recovered “—the passion.”

“As if the horse is going to leap off the pedestal,” Michael said.

She turned appreciative eyes on him. “Exactly.”

“This one’s sad, but beautifully done.” Now she stood before a painting.

Michael considered it. It showed an empty, rumpled bed. What he took to be the morning sun shot through a window at the head of the bed, a sunbeam bisecting the bed in a streak of red-gold. To either side of the bed, however, the room got darker as it extended away in either direction. Michael looked at the plaque beside the painting. It read, simply, “Separation”.

“I know the artist on this one,” Sarabeth said. “She did it just after she and her husband split up. The pain’s there, in every stroke.”

Michael looked more closely. On either side of the painting was a doorway, each shrouded in shadow. Faintly, he could see the form of a person in each doorway: on the left a man, on the right, a woman. They each were looking back over their shoulders, but it was obvious that the darkness and the gap were too overwhelming. They were already too far apart to have a hope of reconnecting.

“You’re right, it is sad,” he agreed. He thought, fleetingly, of Jill. He couldn’t drum up a fraction of the emotion that was found in the picture. If he had loved her…well, in his way, he had. But it was gone, and the door had shut.

“I didn’t mean to bring us down,” Sarabeth said softly. “Let’s go look at something else.”

“I think I’m getting a sense of what you like in art,” Michael said. “Emotion.”

“Honest emotion,” she agreed. “A piece of artwork can be technically perfect, but that’s not enough in the end. A vase of flowers is one thing. A vase of flowers that look like they’re about to flutter in a breeze, that a petal is going to drop…that they were given by a lover to apologize for a misunderstanding…”

“It takes a lot of talent to create something like that.”

“It does. Talent, and—”

“Passion?”

He said it to tease her, but the word caught on his lips as it had on hers.

“Oh hell.”

He wasn’t sure which one of them swore.

He was pretty sure they both lunged at each other simultaneously, meeting midway in a searing kiss.

End of Chapter 1

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