Masterpiece (The Masters of The Order Book 1)

Masterpiece (The Masters of The Order Book 1)
Verne, Jillian
Jillian Verne (2014)
Welcome to The Order, an elite and secret society of powerful brothers bound by social status and sexual tastes. Come. Play dark games with us.
Master. Lover. Submissive. Muse.
When Julianne Giroux, an aspiring artist with a dark secret, apprentices with Nicolai Stavros in his Paris gallery, she finds far more than a passion for art. She finds herself. The masterful artist with forbidden tastes strips away her reserved veneer to reveal the daring, darkly passionate woman beneath and introduces her to the erotic world of The Order.
A celebrated artist, an indulged heir and a sexual Dominant, Nicolai has it all…except what he needs. In Julianne, he finds his muse. Nicolai crafts the ingénue into his living masterpiece and through the arduous process, finds himself re-created. With Julianne as his inspiration, Nicolai aspires to become something greater than he has been.
But in an erotic world where powerful players enjoy dark games and buried secrets bite, love comes at a high price.

JILLIAN VERNE

 

Copyright 2014 Jillian Verne

ISBN 9781310894053

 

 

Other Titles by Jillian Verne:

Paradise
(Masters of The Order #2)

Godsend
(Masters of The Order #3) (coming 2015)

Master. Lover. Submissive. Muse.

 

When Julianne Giroux, an aspiring artist with a dark secret, apprentices with Nicolai Stavros in his Paris gallery, she finds far more than a passion for art. She finds herself. The masterful artist with forbidden tastes strips away her reserved veneer to reveal the daring, darkly passionate woman beneath and introduces her to the erotic world of The Order, an elite and secret society of powerful brothers bound by social status and sexual tastes.

 

A celebrated artist, an indulged heir and a sexual Dominant, Nicolai has it all…except what he needs. In Julianne, he finds his muse. Nicolai crafts the ingénue into his living masterpiece and through the arduous process, finds himself re-created. With Julianne as his inspiration, Nicolai aspires to become something greater than he has been.

 

But in an erotic world where powerful players enjoy dark games and buried secrets bite, victory comes at a high price.

 

To my husband--

Here's to another day in the gravel pit.

Thank you for keeping my eyes fixed on the sky.

 

To my daughters--

You are and always will be my inspiration.

Welcome to The Order
,
an elite and secret society of powerful brothers bound by social status and sexual tastes. We band together with a blood oath:

 

For our integrity and common benefit, from this day onward, we are brothers, honor bound by the precepts and traditions of The Order and loyal to one another until death. I pledge my fealty to you, brother mine, as I would to my own blood so that you shall do the same for me. Wrongs done to you shall be mine to avenge. Should I betray my pledge, let the justice of The Order reign over me. With a faithful and devoted heart, my constancy is sworn.

 

Come.

Play dark games with us.

 

1

Meet Your Master

“Inspire me.”

Two simple words that are infinitely complex.

Nicolai infused those words with as much disdain as he could muster, a considerable amount given his expectations for the task today. Gavrael eyed him and pointed to the lone chair in the middle of the gallery.

“I’ve picked ma favorites,” the young Scot said, “narrowed it to the top twintie-five.”

“Only twenty-five, Gavrael. Not much of a connoisseur, are you?”

Gavrael deflated.

“I was teasing. I apologize.” Nicolai backtracked with a good, hard mental kick in the ass. His protégé wasn’t jaded. Not yet anyway. But the all-time champion sadist, Life, would change that soon enough and he'd be damned before he’d help. He pulled the easel into one of the spotlights and sat. “Let’s begin.”

Gavrael placed the first painting into the light.

It was crap. Complete crap, but he held his tongue. This was going to be excruciating.

After eighteen more assaults to the eye, Nicolai raised a hand to stop the pain. “Enough. You would think les Beaux-Arts might have one student who could inspire me.”

“Och, Nico. Ye’ar bein’ too harsh. Some of them are guid."

The brogue always thickened when Nicolai got uppity. So of course, he ignored it. Buttoning his jacket, he stood and turned his back. “You were a student there,” he said, flicking a hand into the air as if to bat the canvases away, “and you wouldn’t present any of these.”

“Nae, except one. It’s ma pick as the winner.”

“Then why the hell are you torturing me with the others? Let’s see it.” He whirled around and threw both hands into the air with an exaggerated huff.

A bit theatrical perhaps, but
ahh
. He was.

Gavrael cleared his throat to suppress the smile skimming the corners of his mouth and slid the last painting from the back of the stack. “They deserved a fair look.”

“That’s one perspective,” Nicolai countered, then laid a contrite hand on Gavrael’s shoulder. “Exceptional talent comes rarely. You’ve spoiled me, Gavrael. I’m going to miss you.”

His former apprentice nodded once with a quick flash of eyes before moving aside, just the barest hint of gratitude for the praise of an exacting teacher. “Ye never know what ye might find, Nico. If ye look fer it."

Ahh, oui
. Gavrael was grateful, but never enough to let him be.

“I’ve seen it all, Gavrael,” he insisted and fixed his focus on the new image.

His breath caught.

He stepped back and looked again.

Then his hands took another trip to the heavens. “
Enfin
. Forget everything I just said. I’m not going to miss you at all. Who is my new apprentice? What’s his name?”

“No one’s seen it all,” Gavrael said as his lips curved into a self-satisfied devil of a grin. “Your lass’s name is Julianne Giroux.”

“A woman?"

He’d never had a female apprentice. Most women shied away, intimidated by the explicit art and playboy reputation. Nicolai raised a thumb to his chin and looked at the painting with new eyes.

Subtle, secretive and so sublimely sexual.

“My, my,
Mademoiselle
Giroux. I cannot wait to meet you.”

 

*****

 

Some dreams do come true.

Julianne rushed along the boulevard, oblivious to the panoply that was Paris at its most posh. Not quite ladylike to skip, especially in heels, but to hell with decorum. Moments like this demand a giddy skip.

An apprenticeship with Nicolai Stavros -
the
Nicolai Stavros - was the opportunity of a lifetime. An initiation into the art elite. A pardon from the cultivated captivity of her privileged world. A liberating chance to open a door and step through to a new life.

Art was her only freedom. Today, it had become her escape.

Nicolai Stavros personified the
haut monde
yet raised a finger to the judgment of the high society he seduced. One of them but apart. Above. His talent lured them with their own prurient fascination while he tossed their mores back into their faces. They labeled his work “high art.” Some praising it as “dynamically erotic, provocative and innovative.” Others condemning it as “obscene, perverted and a corruption of moral boundaries.” Their critique nothing more than artifice, a false freedom to voyeur what none were bold enough to taste.

Nicolai was everything Julianne aspired to be.

And he’d chosen her.

Grinning at the tacit dare, she reached for the handle on the gallery door. The sentinel marking the threshold to Nicolai’s world was a nude male in brass. His female counterpart graced the opposite door. They were lovers. Frozen in time. Separated by inches.

Do you yearn for someone like that, Nicolai?

Discreet fingers lingered as she entered. “
Bonjour
,
monsieur
,” she called out, awed by another dream come to life through the artwork surrounding her.
Genius. There’s no other word.

The gallery's minimalist design created a perfect backdrop for Nicolai's art and the chic people who came here seeking it. Sculptures dotted the gleaming floor. Huge paintings hung on stark white walls. A floating staircase circled to an upper gallery where photographs were displayed. Bright light flooded down from high above. The room itself was a work of art.

“Come,” a man’s voice responded from the back.

Dabbing the sweat from her forehead and neck with the sleeve of her dress, Julianne hurried toward the voice. The clack of heels echoed off the hardwood floor. She cringed and lightened her step.

Calm down, Julianne. Make the right impression.

Nicolai didn’t greet her or raise his eyes from the papers on his desk as she entered his office. Good thing or he would have seen the shudder.

Mon Dieu
.

The masculine beauty in front of her eclipsed every treasure in his gallery. He was Botticelli beautiful, more beautiful than most women, and he dressed better than them too.
Ooh, the allure of a man in a suit, especially one who wears it like a second skin
. Wavy chestnut hair fell in loose tresses around the aristocratic planes of a stunning face. But what fixated her the most, were his hands. Artist’s hands, long and elegant.

Talented hands.

How would those hands feel drifting over…

Two quick taps of those long fingers snapped her back to attention.

His eyes captured hers. Cerulean blue honed by a thick brush of lashes, those eyes were far older than the face that held them and they were staring right through her as if her reserved veneer was as clear as a pane of glass.


Bienvenue
,
Mademoiselle
Giroux."


Bienvenue
,
monsieur
.”

His eyes lit with amusement. “You’re welcoming me? I thought this was my gallery.” Nicolai raised an eyebrow anticipating a witty comeback.

Why couldn’t she be one of those eloquent women? Right now, she’d settle for being able to speak.

Let me die.


Ahh
, she’s quiet,” he said with an air of indifference. “Most people make a horrible noise. Silence can be so much more appealing. And you did get something right,
mademoiselle
. While you are in
my
gallery, you will address me as
monsieur
or sir. Do you understand?”


Oui
.”

“Obviously not.” The tone was firm, but not unkind.

Clearly a man accustomed to getting what he wanted and uncompromising when he did not, yet Nicolai didn’t yell or mock or even raise his voice. He didn’t have to. Power doesn’t shout; it speaks with a whisper.


Oui
,
monsieur
,” she corrected.

His face softened and he smiled. “Much better."

Nice smile…oh, a smile. A smile is good
.

Julianne smiled back and glanced around. Like Nicolai, the office was polished and crisp. The furnishings were all sleek lines and contemporary, but the décor wasn’t simply modern. An antique Bukhara that belonged on the wall of a museum rather than the floor provided the only color. That and his books. Floor-to-ceiling shelves of art books occupied two walls. An intimate sitting area tucked between them gave the space a warmth that didn’t seem to fit the urbane atmosphere.

Is this room a reflection of you, Nicolai? Are you warm beneath that aloof exterior?

“You like my books?” he asked, shifting his eyes to the walls of shelves.

“I apologize, sir,” she replied, caught in the embarrassing gaffe of drifting away again.

“None necessary. I like them too. Inspiration comes from many places, but I find much of mine in them. Odd, I think, that someone else’s creativity allows me to create something uniquely my own, but it does. Where do you find your inspiration,
Mademoiselle
Giroux?”

“I, um, I...” she stuttered and blinked at him, unsure what to say.

Where does my inspiration come from? Have I ever created something uniquely my own?

The realization that someone who fashioned herself an artist could not answer such a fundamental question left her completely flustered. She looked to Nicolai and found comfort in his confident posture, encouragement in his unwavering expectation of an answer. She licked her lips and on a mere breath of sound, admitted that she didn’t know.

His eyes flared. “I can see that I have my work cut out for me.” Then gleamed. “And I do love a challenge, Julianne.”

A flush of excitement ran over her skin. She’d challenged him. To what exactly, she wasn’t sure, but the glimmer in those world-wise eyes told her the future would be harder than expected. She tried not to fidget.

Nicolai leaned back in his chair and cocked his head to one side. His stare meandered from her Lanvin heels to her Chaumet hoops. One captivating hand rose to his chin and a single elegant finger trailed over his bottom lip. He said nothing.

The visual perusal peeled away her defenses, leaving her too warm. Too exposed. Her cheeks heated under the weight of that stare. As the seconds ticked by in silence, other things heated too.

What is Nicolai thinking? Is he trying to focus my attention on those wide ruby lips, that strong jaw? Cher Dieu, that long finger traveling back and forth over his beautiful mouth is so...Arrête! Pay attention.

When she shifted from one foot to the other, he dropped his hand. It made a small clap on the desk as he declared, “Well then, we’ll leave inspiration for another time.” Then he swirled it through the air above his head. “This gallery, this studio, is my world and during your time here, you belong to me. I expect obedience and discipline and I won’t tolerate the lack of either."

Words aside, the low, smooth tone implicitly defined the dynamic that would exist between them.

“I understand, sir.”
Better than you know
.

“Do you? We’ll see.” There was a hint of something in his voice and then it was gone. ”I intend to challenge you, Julianne. If you put your trust in me, I will make you a better artist.”

“I do trust you, sir,” she insisted.

His eyes narrowed, drilling into her. “Trust is not easily given, or earned.”

Her gaze dropped to the carpet. She’d been referring to art. Nicolai meant something much deeper.
Merde. I messed up again
.

“Look at me, Julianne,” Nicolai said with patient command.

As she met his stare, something stirred. Something deep and elemental. As if this man could see into her eyes like open doors to her soul.

Pas possible. No one sees me
.

“Fascinating,” he murmured, then shattered the fleeting connection with another flit of hand. “You cannot paint in Dior. I’ve provided suitable dress. Go. Change. Then we shall begin." Nicolai fluttered his fingers toward the door, dismissing her.

For a moment she stood, breathless from his impact, unable to convince her feet to move. Star-struck didn’t even begin to describe her response to him. His authoritative aura combined with the sharp sting of humility at the challenge he posed created a heady cocktail.

Especially for someone like me
.

Julianne practically swooned. She’d found the perfect mentor.

The perfect mentor wrapped in the most unbelievably stunning package.

Biting her bottom lip, she turned to leave the office. This time, she hid the skip.

 

*****

 

Julianne hated being late.

She burst through the door of the Art Saves Center. It had been months and she could barely stand another minute without her best friend. When she found him, Jerard was crouching on the linoleum floor packing art supplies into a duffel bag.

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