“We’ve been doing everything we can,” the private investigator said in defense of himself. He looked pointedly at Geoffrey Callaghan, hoping for some support.
“I’ll double the reward if you find her in the next three months,” said a husky male voice. “Put more men on her. Do whatever is necessary. I’ll pay the extra cost.”
The PI nodded once and quickly made his exit, not wanting to hear the or else, which was implicit in the order. He had never been inside that room. It was the first time in years that he had to deal with a person other than Geoffrey, who was scary enough.
“They will find her,” Geoffrey said.
“If I were a suspicious man, I would wonder why you didn’t have more men searching for her.” Bluish-white smoke rose from the corner, which would be completely dark if not for an orange glow. “Or why you weren’t more careful that night.”
“You were the one who chose her.” A faint smile touched Geoffrey’s wrinkled, thin lips. “I told you she was a freak.”
He had no answer to that. “GO! Leave me alone.”
“That’s exactly what you asked of me years ago. Look what happened.” Geoffrey smirked.
“Leave me alone.” He grabbed the nearest object—a Baccarat ashtray—and flung it at Geoffrey’s head, who despite his old age, ducked, avoiding being hit by the crystal but not by being showered with butts and ashes from the homemade cigar.
“Don’t do that again, my son.” He shook his bald head at the once handsome man sitting in the dark. “Don’t forget who gives the orders here.”
“Do I ever?” A fury raced through the man’s blood. There had been a time when many things could tame his unruly desires. Not anymore. He had become dependent on the old man in front of him.
“I will go.” Geoffrey smirked. “But you need to relax. I’ll send a cup of Yagé and a devotee for you to fuck.”
The man stayed silent for a moment. “Send the Yagé and the devotee.”
“A wise decision. Be at peace,” Geoffrey said before he closed the door behind him.
The orange light glowed brighter as he dragged deeper. He imagined he could see her face and body take shape in the smoke as he exhaled.
She had become the reason he arose every day, breathed, and endured pain. She had become his obsession.
He would find her. Touch her as she had touched him. Make her scream as he had.
Until he tired.
Until she begged.
Then, only then, he would kill her.
Some had wondered if after the war Tavish Uilleam Davenport MacCraig had become asexual. He would say he had, in a certain way. His calm, easy behavior churned to intense and controlling; his unsmiling face keeping others away. He had tried to date, but failed miserably; had not even managed to form as much as a friends-with-benefits. Therefore, he usually abstained from sex, or masturbated. But giving pleasure was one thing he couldn’t go without: it was one thing he rejoiced in, and he couldn’t well do it alone.
Tonight, he was there to give. Anything, from oral to anal, from missionary to kink would do, minus violence. He’d experienced enough violence to last the rest of his life.
Sprawled on the butter-rich leather covered sofa, Tavish sipped his whisky, observing women and men as they made passes at each other in the dimly lit bar, or made small talk in comfortable corners like the one he was in.
No one had approached him so far, but he knew it would only be a matter of time. He didn’t like to be chosen, however. He was the hunter, not the prey.
He had seen women—and men—looking at him and checking his membership profile on their iPads, reading a brief description of his body, imperfections and all, his assets and sexual preferences, and the other customers’ reviews of him.
He fixed his gaze on a brunette sitting on a stool by the bar. She would do.
In her late thirties, her hair was cut short with styled bangs falling over her forehead. With sultry made-up eyes and bright-red lipstick painted mouth, tall and more on the plump side, she wouldn’t feel breakable in his hands.
She caught him watching her and checked the iPad near her elbow, scanning for his profile.
He didn’t bother to do the same. He had already decided. He just waited for her consent.
She raised her head with a smile on her lips.
His lips didn’t even curl up in response, yet his member got hard as a rock. He unfolded to his full height, and walked toward her.
“Hi, there.” Her smile widened when she took a closer look at his face. “You should change this photo. You’re gorgeous this close.”
“My room or yours?” he asked curtly.
They were there with the same goal: sex. They had all filled in the forms, passed the obligatory exams, knew the rules, and paid loads of cash in advance for the open bar, attentive service, and a comfortable suite upstairs.
Her smile faltered and died.
Jesus! She’s not a pro. “I’m sorry. Let’s start again.” He flexed his broad, tense shoulders, and amended, “Would ye like a drink?”
She rose from the stool and stared up into his eyes; raising the stakes, she cupped his groin. “They don’t serve the one I’m thirsty for.”
He hissed through his teeth.
“I’m Eva.” She tightened her grip. “Your name?”
“Call me God.” He smiled ironically at her. “Because that is what you will be screaming all night.”
“God! Aren’t you arrog—” She stopped at his raised eyebrow and laughed.
For the first time since he arrived at the club, his lips curled up. “Shall we?”
Exhausted, Tavish dropped in his bed. Eva, or whatever her name was, proved to be a demanding tigress in bed. When he left her, there was a satisfied smile on her lips.
Tavish never slept at the club, not even alone in his suite. The shouts from his nightmares would disturb the other members.
He closed his eyes, hoping for some peaceful hours of sleep, but after a mere two hours, his head was already tossing on the pillow, his legs kicking away the coverlet and sheets as he fought a nightmare to no avail. Unbidden, distorted images formed, dissonant sounds filled his head; too many sensations overwhelmed him.
His breathing changed.
The candle burned lower. The shadows on the walls of the cave grew larger and darker, engulfing the light on Johanna’s eyes and smile until he almost couldn’t see her. An eerie laugh resounding off the walls. When he looked up through strands of his long, filthy, ink-black hair, he saw a black-hooded figure advancing.
On all fours, he struggled painfully to crawl in her direction. I’ll save her, even if it’s the last thing I do in my life. His eyes locked with hers. “I won’t let him hurt ye.”
His muscles strained with effort, his tendons rippling. His wrists and legs felt laden with iron shackles. One of his shoulders popped out from its socket. His breaths were squeezed out of his lungs as each inch he advanced tore and flayed his skin.
“Me, take me!” he shouted desperately, not knowing what to do anymore. He struggled against his holds, even though he knew it would be useless. Blood trickled down where the cuffs cut him. “Please, no’ her!”
A cadaverous face showed from the darkness of the hood, as a sickening, pleased voice said, “You had your chance.”
Nae. The retching feeling churning in his gut impeded him from saying the much needed words. I’ll do whatever you want. I will.
With a swift movement of an incongruously heavy-muscled arm and skeletal hand, a shining silver scythe sang in the cave.
The hooded figure vanished. She grimaced. And the wan light of the candle was snuffled out. Soft bright rays of the morning sun entered the cave, chasing away the darkness.
As though commanded, a spray of thick blood filled the cave as the woman’s head rolled from her neck. He plastered himself onto the rough wall, not wanting to be bathed in the blood, to be touched by what he had held many times in his hands so dearly. But his lover’s head sailed in a dark river to stop between his fingers.
Tavish shot up, sitting in bed, heaving and choking on his breath.
He put his head in his hands until his heart rate had calmed. Knowing he would not get any more sleep, he went to the bathroom.
The image that greeted him in the mirror was of the identical tall, handsome man of a few years ago, with a few minor cuts here and there and superficial wrinkles around the eyes. But he was not the same since he had been to war and been a prisoner for six months in Afghanistan, and that angered him, making him want to destroy something. He fused his eyes, looking at himself through his black lashes with enough contempt that he could easily hear the mirror creaking and ripping him open, like a crack in a castle of glass.
Turning swiftly away from his reflection, he walked to his living room and grabbed a tall glass and a bottle of eighteen-year-old Laphroaig Islay whisky, despite knowing that not the whole bottle—not even two, or three—would ease his mind or dim his pain. His dry laugh echoed on the walls as he served himself, and its sound irked him.
Terrible, gruesome images kept him awake for hours.
He couldn’t sleep in the total dark anymore and it was impossible to get inside a pool. The hours of waterboarding had destroyed any pleasure he could possibly feel under the water. He had turned to heavy workouts, jogging and then running until his body and mind didn’t succumb to the depression swirling around him.
I could take the rest of the week off.
The Blue Dot, the art gallery he owned and oversaw, was running smoothly since it had opened years ago, and his brother or his partners could deal with whatever came up. What good would it do? Wherever I go, my nightmares follow.
He sat sipping his whisky, watching as the sun wedged its first light over the darkness.
Laetitia Galen was not her name.
In fact, before she became Laetitia, she hadn’t been anything but her, herself and she.
For sixteen years, she had been a no-one, a nothing, a shadow who hid in the dark as much as she could, having learned from her childhood that it was better that way. Until one night, almost eight years ago, when she decided she deserved to be someone.
Several meows filtered through her bedroom door. She stretched and jumped out of the bed. Cataloguing what she had to do for the day, she washed the remnants of sleep from her face, braided her hair, and changed into a turquoise maxi-dress and flats.
Another loud meow made her rush, climbing down the stairs to find Cleopatra, her cat, waiting for her at the bottom.
“Good morning.” She dropped on her haunches and caressed her head. “I’ll fix your breakfast.”
They took a turn from the front hall into the living room, where Laetitia stopped to throw the curtains open. A gray morning saluted her through the French windows, the glass wet from the frizzy rain of the previous night. She stood there for a moment, soaking in the renewing of life with the first rays of sun gleaming on the dew, before moving to the kitchen.
As she put a slice of bread in the toaster and water on the stove, Cleopatra devoured the food on her plate and lapped fresh water.
Working as a housekeeper for the eleventh Baron Beardley, Laetitia inhabited a world not dissimilar from that portrayed in Downtown Abbey.
The Baron had slaughtered his younger wife many years ago when he discovered she was having an affair with their gardener. After serving his time in prison, he returned home where his sister and her children had decided to gravitate to him, waiting for him to die and inherit his fortune.
Of a staff of twenty full-time employees who worked on the estate, she and three others worked in shifts, on weekends and bank holidays, so the Baron always had servants.
Marcella Langley, Baron Beardley’s sister, didn’t make her wear a uniform, but determined she could only dress in black, plain serviceable clothes and shoes. Laetitia hated black clothes. Yet, she never let herself think about them: having the job that required her to wear them meant she was safe.
No one told Laetitia that where she was going to live was on the other side of the property, in a lodge had once been the stables and the stable staff accommodations; nor they mentioned that the adjourning building she used as her studio had been the carriage house, and that both were in a state of disrepair. Laetitia had to spend part of her salary to make them habitable. And again, she didn’t mind. With the help of the estate staff, in a few months, she had turned them into her home.
Their morning ritual completed, Cleopatra bumped her head on Laetitia’s leg.
“We are in a hurry today, aren’t we?” The cat purred at her. “Have a nice stroll.”
They exited by the lodge’s back door at the far end of the kitchen, which opened to the back garden, each one going their own way, Cleopatra to the park and Laetitia to her studio.
Sitting on floor-easels, there were four big canvases, with amorphous stencils of card planks taped over them.
The idea for a new painting series had been developed after she discovered the Baroness Beardley’s erotic diaries hidden in the gardener’s toolbox.
She’d labored on the drawings and masks for months. Then tubes and tubes of oil paint were transferred to the expanse of the canvases partially covered by the stenciled drawings.
Her small studio was the only place where, in the safety of solitude, she could open up to the well of creativity inside her mind and heart, letting life’s symbols of wilderness, banality and darkness out; bending the dichotomy of too harsh physical reality and its imagery to her will. With colors and strokes of brushes, she reduced them to nothing more than matter in a canvas.
After a few hours, the careful slashes of the brush against the canvas, midnight-blue, grayish-blue, and finally a cold-teal-blue, blending or standing alone, made the image come together.
She stared at the painting, giving the sky a last stroke. It was supposed to be an erotic, expectant scene. It was not her first intention to give it an alarming perception.
Under a roiling thunderstorm, a naked lascivious woman, camouflaged by trees, watched a muscular man, bared to the waist, trimming the branches with a garden scissor.
Yet, it was the menace of the active man and his instrument that struck a chord, which threatened to resonate with the past inside her, but it took just a second for her to root her thoughts back into the present.
“Good job, Laetitia.”
She cleaned her painting utensils, put everything in order and crossed back to the lodge to get ready for her day.
As soon as she had donned her black clothes, a pitched screech coming from the intercom speaker made her jump.
Before another scream pierced the air, she replied, “Arriving in a sec!”
As she hitched up the hem of her skirts and hurried in a fifteen-minute headlong dash, Laetitia had no idea that, in the months to come, the world would discover her.
And then judge her.
“Powerful.” Tavish stepped to the back of the room to better access the three paintings one of his partners, Maddox Vaughn, had brought to the gallery this morning.
In one, done in blackish-brown hues, there was a well-built man on his knees, surrounded by circling, playful, skin-and-bones children, reaching out but unable to touch them.
On the other, gray sky darkened a charcoaled ghosted town, while its dark river flowed calmly by, full of pale-gray dead bodies resembling leisure boats.
In the last, the most banal landscape he had ever seen burst from the canvas.
He watched, stunned and awed, as the images struck him anew. They all reminded him of live hallucinations, worldly nightmares.
The figurative paintings done with dense, contoured and concentrated paint were nearly three-dimensional. The layers and layers of paint appeared to have been piled, smoothed, and only then carved; the hues of dark chosen color worked in a dynamic vibration upon the canvas with its lighter tones; each glowed separately and then fused together, barely standing on their own.
They punched Tavish in the gut so deep his soul was shaken. He shook his head and blinked, turning to Maddox. He had but one word for it, “Powerful.”
“I thought so too. Contemporary touch, political sense, from banal, ordinary scenes to extreme psychological situations without losing its permanent tension. The technique has a style reminiscent of…hmm…the impressionists?” Maddox was so excited he was toying with his Dupont cigarette lighter between his fingers. “He promised me three more by the end of this week. I don’t know how no one has discovered her before.”
He looked at Maddox, a small frown between his eyes. “Her? But you said he charged—”
“The artist’s name is Laetitia Galen and she consigns her paintings in a very small gallery in Leam,” he explained, giving Tavish a business card. “Mr. Belmont, the gallery owner, charged me three-hundred pounds per linear meter, after I bargained for a discount. She is probably receiving thirty-five, forty percent of it.”
“It barely covers the material,” Tavish whispered to himself. “We have a great potential on our hands.”
“Do you think Alistair will approve?”
“If she is half as good as I’m imagining, for sure he will.” Tavish’s gaze was drawn back to the image. “If he won’t, I already have.”
A firm knock on the door frame made Tavish turn his head from his computer screen.
The older version of himself, his powerful entrepreneur brother, Alistair MacCraig, was leaning on the threshold of his office.
Tavish rose from his chair and circled his table to embrace him. “It wasn’t that urgent.”
“Your voice had a catching tone,” said Alistair, with a smile on his face. “I couldn’t resist seeing what took my brother from his ever so calm and brooding state.”
“I don’t brood.”
“Nae, you sulk,” Alistair replied deadpan.
Tavish rolled his eyes heavenward and opened the connecting door to the showroom, turning on the lights. “Here.”
Alistair stepped to the three canvases hanging on the farthest wall, scanning the images. After a few minutes, he whistled low and turned to Tavish. “There’s an innate, hidden ambiguity to this work. I’d say it’ll be the new rage, if it has consistency.”
“Aye,” he said, his stare fixed on one of the images. “It has something unique. This carefulness, thoughtfulness of the drawing, and yet it comes out as a vibrant, restless scene.”
“This artist could be a fucking genius, Tavish Uilleam,” Alistair said, still admiring the paintings. “How have you contacted him?”
“Her. Maddox and his assistants couldn’t find any contact info for a Laetitia Galen. I called the gallery that sold her paintings, probing for information, but they were evasive.” Tavish made a vague gesture in the air that puzzled Alistair as his brother was one of the most straightforward people he knew, always economical with gestures and even more so with words. “I never thought I would be asking you this, but there’s always a first time in life.”
The words left Tavish’s mouth with the certainty ingrained by his sharpened military and medical instincts. “I’m going after this artist. I want her address, even if it takes Baptist to get it.”
“Oh-ho, Brother!” A wicked smile opened on Alistair’s face and he fished his iPhone from his inner jacket pocket, dialing the number of one of the best private investigators in Britain. “Alistair MacCraig here. I need you to find someone for me.”
“The gentleman asked for a discount, which I gave, of course,” Mr. Belmont said with a smile, counting the notes to pay Laetitia her share of forty percent.
Laetitia bobbed her head twice. “Of course.”
“I charged three-hundred pounds per linear meter,” he said. “Here. I split the discount between us. We are interested in you consigning more.”
Laetitia almost touched her chin to make sure she wasn’t gaping open-mouthed at Mr. Belmont.
“It’s rather a shock, I gather?”
“Yes, rather,” Laetitia uttered, thrusting the stack of notes in her bag, not sure if she was exhilarated or what.
“Your work has reached a more mature level, Laetitia,” said Mr. Belmont. “You didn’t believe me when I said you were a natural, did you?”
“No, not really.” When she was a child, and later, as a teenager, she’d used whatever material was available. After she started working on Beardley Manor, she had been able to invest in better media and online courses but she did it more for herself than because she thought she was talented. “As you know, I have more work stacked than I have sold.”
“Selling your paintings has been difficult because of their motifs, not because of their quality. They have a crudeness and intensity which didn’t leave the buyer impersonal to them.” Mr. Belmont pushed a contract sheet in her direction.
Laetitia read the clauses and looked at the old man. “You want me to sign a different contract. Why?”
“We need your authorization to market you and your paintings on our website. We can sell more that way.”
“I’ll think about it.” Laetitia folded the sheet and put it in her bag. “How many shall I bring next time?”
“I’ll send transportation. We want those.” He pointed to six photos from her file on his iPad. “I sold three others to the same buyer.”
She walked out of the gallery in such a giddy daze, she almost forgot to stop in the supermarket to buy the goods for the party the Baron’s nephew was throwing that weekend. She would work her fingers to the bone until Sunday.
Then she would think about the repercussions of having her work spread across England.
After following the highway and crossing the small town of Royal Leamington Spa, Tavish was now halfway past the even smaller neighborhood of Cubbington, almost in the middle of nowhere. Even though he was familiar with the region as two of his best friends had an ancient country house and farm nearby, she lived further outside the city limits. And even with Baptist’s directions it took him a while to find the turn-off.
There was a tall, heavily-wired fence with signs warning of electric shock, and a video camera with an intercom, however, the iron gates were gaping wide.
Dense woods bordered one side of the road, with yew trees on the other. The wheels skimmed over the loose gravel that covered the long, one-lane road that ended in a cul-de-sac, where sat a two-story, centuries old house, partially hidden by a garden, which in contrast with the greener trees and seriousness of the building, was an explosion of colors.
Kashmir Rowans, with eye-catching white berries hanging in clusters from the spreading branches, surrounded by Creeping Blue Blossoms still full of pale-blue button flowers florets and Red Maples striking scarlet leaves scattered here and there over the grass.
The sun glinting over just added drama and reminded him of her paintings.
The silence managed to displace the quiet rumble of his black Range Rover.
Tavish killed the engine and observed the surroundings.
Her neighborhood—or the lack of it—pleased him. There was no background noise of traffic, much less of people. No far off yells or shouts. No one around.
There was only the sound of birds chirping and trees rustling as the soft, gentle breeze fluttered through the branches. He could even hear the soft, lulling, gurgling sound of Leam river.
He got out of the car and closed the door without making much noise. He wanted a moment to look around before he knocked on her door.
The unusual sound of a motor rumble coming from the security system broke into Laetitia’s concentration, making her frown at the new stencil.
On the camera she saw a car, its license plate unknown, coming down the lane toward the house.
Damn! I forgot to close the gates and turn on the alarm. Again!
Her carving knife clattered on the ground of the studio as she ran out. Pulling off her gloves, she entered the house by the kitchen and hurried to the hall.
A man was crossing her pebbled driveway and entering the front garden.
Laetitia knew that there were things in life that took their attraction from intricate symmetry, delicate structure, and innocent nature: Rare orchids, unbroken seashells, and icy snowflakes; and those which were irresistible for their great power, refusal to be tamed, and dangerous potential: Active volcanos, huge waves, and craggy precipices.
And there were things that were simply too immense, too savage, too intense to be contained in a single image, or explained in mere words, even if there were a thousand of them.
The tall, powerfully built giant of a man walking toward her door belonged in the latter category, she was sure.
Wearing a tailored blackish-charcoal three-piece-suit, a baby-pink shirt and a dark gray tie, he was frighteningly male, terrifyingly beautiful, and vitally domineering.
His skin was an exquisite shade of the lightest coppery-gold. His mane was made of the darkest midnight-black silky locks, which shimmered under the soft sun. Wind-blown strands brushing against his forehead and wrap-around glasses did nothing to diminish the sharpness of the man.
Who are you? By his firm strides, he wasn’t lost, which in her suspicious mind was not a good thing.
A funny flutter began in her stomach when he climbed the three steps to the double doors. His forehead creased for a moment, his ink-black brows going down, as if carefully weighing his next move.
Laetitia didn’t move, breath held, waiting for him to leave, as did whomever came probing for information—when and if they came.
She didn’t know if she was afraid or excited, when using one of the old iron lion knocks, he banged twice and called, “Ms. Galen?”
Even muffled by the old oak-carved doors and thick-brick walls, his voice was a deep baritone, rich and sensual. It seemed to wash over her like warm rain on a summer night.
Damn. He knows me. She frowned and walked stealthily to the front door.
Cleopatra entwined around her calf, purring as if approving of the man outside.
Laetitia debated with herself: she had been careful ever since she had left Ireland in the dark of night and she’d never had contact with such masculine power, yet there was her matured innate sense saying that the danger he posed was not the one she feared.
Cleopatra tilted her head at her and lazily walked back to the kitchen, giving her a last look, encouraging her to open the door.
“Traitor,” she whispered, yet agreeing with her in some measure. She wanted an opportunity for a bit of unruly emotions to let her un-thawed heart beat again.
He knocked again, and called louder, “Ms. Galen.”
There was a quiet command in his deep voice. It compelled her.
Laetitia opened her door. “May I help you?”
Tucking his sunglasses into the inner pocket of his suit, Tavish looked down and froze, staring at the woman in front him as if he had never seen one before. Infinitely fragile. And equally arresting.
The white-blonde hair framed delicate traces of her heart-shaped face of creamy skin where lively violet-blue eyes shined under light brown arched eyebrows and velvety plum-rich lips.
Then she smiled.
Not exactly a grin, but not just a polite smile.
It was more like an uncertain, questioning smile teeming with a checked desire to blossom.
It was as fresh and delicate as the rest of her, and it gave her an angelic air.
He had been sure he hadn’t been alive, but merely living as days passed by in a blur of unending physical and psychological pain that he had learned to mask.
His chest tightened, and for a moment he was unable to breathe. I remember, Aingeal. I remember very well. With a painful slam of his heart, memories that had been lost and asleep were reborn and recreated to make him think of happy times long gone. It seems like yesterday. When I was a man full of life. When I had something to offer.
Time suspended into what seemed endless moments of breathless anticipation as a battle of unidentified emotions warred through him.
Not being able to distinguish between them as they were deeply marred by what he had been through, desire won.
It heated his blood, blazing it to an erotic inferno, and surprised the hell out of him. Immediate desire wasn’t his style anymore—especially not something as strong as this. What makes her so different?
He tried to figure out how old she was, but her appearance exhibited an interesting blend of youthful charm with a hint of worldly sophistication, as if she were an old soul cloaked in an ethereal fairy-like body. The flower-printed white turtleneck sweater over gray leggings highlighted her youth and efficiently hid the contour of her breasts and slender body.
He managed not to squint his eyes as his gaze wandered down, and need clenched its fist around him. Beautiful shoulders, a slim waist, sweet flare of hips and legs. Elegance, beauty, and understated sensuality combined. Skin—
When his eyes met again with hers, Tavish saw she was looking at him with arched brows.
Jesus Christ, Tavish Uilleam! “May I speak with Ms. Laetitia Galen?”
Sea-green eyes. Lost in the most amazing eyes she had ever seen, eyes that should have made her run back into the sanctuary of her home and lock her door, she didn’t answer. Turbulent greens. Tumultuous seas.
She felt herself caught in the storm of that tempestuous gaze and nothing would ever be the same for her.
Tavish’s eyes were a vivid color, between turquoise and intense green, framed by absurdly thick, long ink-black lashes. His rugged face was made of hard angles and fierce planes; high cheekbones, thin blade of nose that was not so straight anymore, and a squared jaw. His feathered lashes and incongruous sensual lips gave an otherwise austere countenance a touch of the exotic.
He had a masculine and solidly built body, but not overly muscled. His height and the width of his muscular shoulders and chest made her feel small and slight.
Laetitia’s mouth parted as she breathed deeper. She knew that in front of her stood a man to be reckoned with. An intrinsic force of Nature. Uncontrollable. Someone that can threaten my whole world.
Something stirred within Tavish, calling his name like a whisper on the cold breeze; a whisper which rustled through the fallen leaves caressing opened wounds and kindling extinguished flames; pleasure and pain; fear and desire.
He watched the tip of her tongue licking her bottom lip as if asking him to kiss her and he wondered how it would be to taste the sweetness of those lips.
For once in many years he felt pure, undiluted lust burning in his veins, which threatened his doubts about himself. Stop this. Just stop.
Stretching out her hand, in a husky voice, Laetitia broke the silence that had descended upon them, “I’m Laetitia Galen.”
With those three words she damned both of them.
“Tavish Uilleam MacCraig.” His warm hand enveloped hers and stayed there a second more than necessary. “I represent The Blue Dot Gallery from London, and I’m interested in seeing your paintings. I’m sorry to appear without previous notice but I’d like to talk to you about them.”
She didn’t stop to analyze why she missed its warmth when their handshake broke, or why, for once, a man’s touch didn’t feel wrong.
How did he get my address? “Ah…” Laetitia glanced up, trying to judge him better. She could not be called short at five-feet-five, but Tavish was extraordinarily tall with his six-foot-seven broad frame. “There is a gallery in Leam which already—”
“Ms. Galen.” Perturbed by his emotions, he didn’t let her finish. “I’m sure you’ll be interested in hearing what I have to say. Are you occupied? Could I come in?”
She took a deep breath, motioned with her hand to the right of the front garden, closing the main door behind her. “This way.”
It doesn’t match. Tavish rubbed his nape, not quite reconciling the painter with the collection of finished paintings lining the walls of her studio. She is the opposite of those images. Agreeableness versus aggression.