Authors: Deborah Bladon
By: Deborah Bladon
First Original Edition, August 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Deborah Bladon
This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is entirely coincidental. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and situations either are the product of the author's imagination or are used factiously.
All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written consent from the author.
"I'd recognize your beautiful face anywhere."
I'd recognize that voice anywhere. It's the same voice that whispered into my ear during those nights in Paris when I was tucked into my bed, and his arms. It's the same voice that has left me countless voicemails since, asking me to talk, begging me for forgiveness. It's Brighton's voice.
"Beck." I feel a flash of pain sail through my body as his name hovers against my lips. This is the point where I'm supposed to turn around and face him but I can't pull my eyes from the canvas where my nude body is mocking me. Beck's presence is only adding an extra layer of humiliation to that. What vortex in the universe did I fall through where my past biggest mistake collides with my present worse mistake?
His hand catches my wrist and before I have a chance to recoil, his lips are brushing against my palm. "Alexa, I can't believe you're here."
I can't believe it either. I can't believe I have to deal with the man who told me he loved me while he was in a relationship with another woman. I can't do this right now. I need to find a gas can and a match so I can set my portrait on fire. That or I need to move to another country where no one knows my name, or face, or now, my breasts and half my ass.
"What are you doing here, Alexa?" Despite the fact that I'm literally almost ripping his hand from his arm trying to dislodge my wrist, he's not letting go. "Did you hear that I'd be here?"
My chest expands with a deep breath. The arrogance that seeps from beneath the question was one of the reasons I was initially attracted to him. Of course he'd assume I tracked him down. Why wouldn't he? I practically threw myself at his feet every chance I had while we were in Paris. "No." That's all I can find within me to say. What else is there?
"Then why are you here?" His eyes dart across the span of canvases, stopping briefly to study each one.
"It doesn't matter." It doesn't at this point.
"Do you know Noah Foster?"
I sigh, knowing that I should reconcile with the inevitable and tell Brighton how I ended up as the subject of one of Noah's portraits. I don't have enough spare emotional energy to do that right now. I have one mission, and one mission only, and that's to somehow rewind time so my naked body isn't part of this display of tits and ass.
"Where's Noah?" I find the words, pushing them together into a barely audible question.
Brighton shifts his body so he's standing directly in front of me now. His head bobs into my field of view and I pull my gaze from my portrait long enough to glance at his face. It's the devastatingly handsome face that I fell in love with only a few months ago. His brown hair is slightly longer now but that's the only difference. He looks exactly as I remember him. "Alexa, you're white as a ghost."
"Where's Noah?" I repeat the question, my voice rising enough that several people next to us, turn abruptly to look.
His hand squeezes my wrist before it slides down to cup my hand. "What's wrong?"
The question demands a simple answer. He's expecting me to say that I'm overwhelmed with seeing him and perhaps, in some small way, I am. I'd imagined this moment in time, when I came face-to-face with Brighton again, a million times over in my mind and not once was it while a portrait of my naked body was hanging in the same room. "I need to talk to Noah."
He cocks his head to the side, his eyes scurrying over my expression before darting behind me. "He's busy with a buyer." The words are clipped, direct and steady.
"A buyer?" Fuck me. I can't let anyone buy that portrait. I need to take it before it ends up in office of some overly wealthy, older gentlemen who uses it to spur on his libido.
"What's going on with you and Noah?" he asks in a hush.
I shake my head limply from side-to-side. "I don't know." I don't know. I delivered a sandwich as a favor weeks ago and now I'm standing here, looking into the eyes of the only man I've ever loved while my entire future is being stolen from me by Noah Foster.
His head darts back to look at the portraits and I feel a blush course though me. He's seen me exactly as I am on the large canvas. He's touched every place that is now there for everyone to see, yet I feel more exposed than I did when we were making love. "Can we go somewhere to talk?"
"I can't leave." My hand flits past his face towards the canvas. "I need to take care of that."
"What?" His blue eyes squint together as he thoroughly studies my expression. "What are you talking about?"
I want to break open and grab hold of Brighton to steady myself. He was my anchor when I felt adrift in Paris. Since I saw him cuddling his girlfriend in the café down the street from my flat, I've convinced myself that the only reason I fell so hard and so fast for him was the fact that he offered me stability in a world that was literally, completely foreign to me. Now I'm in the most vulnerable place I've ever been and his voice holds the same tender composure it did during all those long nights in my bed when I gave my heart and body to him.
"I need to talk to Noah." I jar my wrist free of Brighton's grip and turn sharply. I need to deal with him. I know that I do, but not tonight. Tonight my wrath is honed in one direction and that’s straight at Noah.
"Alexa, wait," he says, his hand briefly skims over my waist before I dart into the crowd. I scan the faces, noting immediately how many of them mirror my own. The blonde, blue eyed women punctuating the otherwise male gathering all resemble me in a restrained way. Our features are different, but our bodies are so strikingly similar. They're the other models. I see quiet composure on their faces now, but the desire that screams from the photographs can't mask their identities. It can't mask mine either and if Noah sells that portrait, everything I've worked for is going to be sacrificed because he couldn't keep a promise.
I spot Noah in deep conversation with the man I briefly spoke with before the unveiling. It's Ron, the older gentlemen who told me that Noah likes to put on a show. He wasn't kidding. I march up to them, my anger only being tempered by the fact that I just saw Brighton, and the shock of that has sucked up the majority of my emotional energy.
"That man over there is staring at my breasts."
"Do you blame him?" Noah nods towards my chest. "That's quite the dress."
"I'm not talking about my dress." My eyes dart down to where my breasts are spilling out of the top of the simple black dress I chose for the occasion. I wish I hadn't picked something so low cut. I feel exposed enough as it is after seeing the unveiling of my nude portrait in all its glory and coming face-to-face with Brighton.
"What are you talking about then?" His eyes shoot behind me to the crowd milling around the portraits. It's obvious from the grin on his face that he's enjoying all the attention his work is getting.
"My portrait." I skim my hand through the air to the left and the line of photographs everyone else in the room is gathered around. "That man right there is staring at mine. He's been locked to that spot for the past five minutes."
Ron's brows shoot up before he murmurs something about getting a drink. He dashes into the crowd giving me the much needed privacy to talk with Noah that I've been craving.
Noah's eyes narrow as his gaze falls to me. "Alexa, that's not you in the portrait."
My stomach flips and I feel as though everything in it is going to come racing out. What kind of game is he trying to play with me? "What? Noah, don't lie to me. Don't do that."
"Do what?" His hands reach to grab my shoulders. "It's not you."
"It's me." I cling to his eyes with my own, searching the depth of his for some understanding. He promised me that he wouldn't display my face and he betrayed me. Even after everything we shared together in his bed, he stabbed me in the back. My entire life's course is going to change from this moment forward because of him.
"Come with me." His voice is soft as he sweeps my hand into his. "This way."
"I can't look at it, Noah." My throat is so dry I have to swallow before I can get the words out. "Just take it away."
"Alexa." His hands are in the pockets of his pants, his head bowed down towards mine. "Turn your head and look at it."
The mumblings of the people around us isn't helping. Any nerve that I had when I was twenty feet away from the portrait has now dissolved into the vapor. It's right there. It's so close I can touch the canvas. I can't turn my head to look at it. My gaze is steady, and set, on Noah's face.
"Noah." A woman's voice carries over my shoulder. "I've been trying to catch you all night. Can we talk?"
His eyes jump from my face to hers and then back to mine. "I'm busy, Ari. Not now."
"I came tonight because of you." She slides into my field of view. It's the same brunette that I exchanged empty pleasantries with earlier. She was one of last year's models, perhaps both literally and figuratively. The way her gaze bites into me suggests that she wants him. Her body language is screaming it.
"I'm busy." His hand reaches for mine.
Her eyes follow the movement of his arm and her shoulders tense. "It's important, Noah. I just need five minutes."
His body shifts slightly and I feel his index finger slide over my chin pulling my eyes back to his. "Ari, this is more important. If you'll excuse us…"
"If you don't talk to me now, Noah, I'm leaving," she snaps.
"Goodbye, Arianna." His deep voice is measured and restrained. His stare pierces through me.
"Fuck you," she hisses as she turns on her heel.
He doesn't flinch as his hand slides across my chin until he's cupping it firmly in his grasp. I don't try and move as his lips brush mine. "Look at the portrait, Alexa," he whispers into my mouth. "Look at it."
"I can't," I mumble. "Please don't make me. I'm so embarrassed."
His lips trail a heated path across my cheek to my ear. "The woman in this portrait isn't you. She's not as beautiful as you."
I pull back and scan his eyes. "It's me."
I don't resist as he pulls my back into his chest and turns us both towards the portrait. My eyes shut briefly knowing that when I open them, I'll have to face the choice I made weeks ago when he asked me to model for him. I'll have to take responsibility for trusting a man I didn't know. A man I knew was immersed in a world I'd never fully understand.
"Open your eyes." His warm breath skirts over my shoulder. I feel his hand snake around my waist, pulling my body into his. "You expected to see yourself in the photographs. This woman is ordinary. She's nothing like you."
I lean forward, wanting to distance myself from the desire that I can't temper. It's unwanted and misplaced, but it's there. The touch of his body against mine, the hint of his arousal pressing into me and the scent of his skin is threatening my better judgment. I slowly open my eyes.
"See the curve of her shoulder." His lips brush against the bare skin of my shoulder. "It's not as soft as yours."
I study the portrait, unable and unwilling to see what he sees. "It's my shoulder."
"Look at her hip." He reaches forward, his fingers running along the portrait. "It's not as broad as yours. She can't use her body the same way you do. Your body was made to take pleasure." His hand jumps to my hip, pulling a slow path across it.
I shake my head without thinking from side-to-side. "No," I whisper. "That's me."
"Her nipples." His hand winds up the front of my dress until it's cupping the underside of my left breast. "Her nipples are small. See how swollen they are." I feel the nod of his chin against my cheek. "Your nipples are full and plump."
"Noah," I whisper as I feel him pull my body closer to his. His finger lazily courses over the fabric to rub against my growing nipple. It's so brazen. There are people standing within feet of us, but there's no uncertainty in his movements at all.
"Look at her face, Alexa." His hand jumps to my chin. "Your face is so much more beautiful."
"It's my face." I tilt my head to the left, trying to find the familiarity I did earlier when I first saw the portrait across the room.
"She looks like you." His lips touch my cheek as he whispers into my skin, "she's not perfect like you."
I stare at the portrait, soaking in all the fine details of the woman's profile. The long blonde hair, the sculpted brow, and the full lashes. They all look like me. "It looks like me," I repeat back to him.
"It's not you." He leans closer, his breath skirting over my ear. "I couldn't show your photographs tonight."
I turn around, my mind still a mass of confusion. "Why?"
He holds my gaze as he takes a steady breath before he speaks, "I want those for myself. They're only for my eyes."
I need a reprieve from the serious undertone of the response. I can't ask him what he means. If I do that, I'm going to open a door I'm not certain I want to walk through yet. I flip back around and study the portrait again. I still see glimpses of myself within it. It looks too much like me. If I see it, others will too. "It looks so much like me. You just changed something with software on your computer. It's still me. "
"She's here." He pulls his hands away from my body. "I'll go get the model and then you'll see for yourself it's not you."
I don't move. I can't.