Home > Scandalous 2 (Scandalous #2)(13)

Scandalous 2 (Scandalous #2)(13)
Author: H.M. Ward

Jack is in the studio mixing paint, trying to get the exact color that he wants. From the look of it, his next work is going to be all shades of vivid violet.

I walk up behind him and slide my hand across his back. Jack is bent over a large vat of paint, pouring in more white. I kiss his cheek. "Good morning, lover."

He stops what he's doing and straightens, wiping his hands off on his jeans before grabbing my face and pulling it to his. Startled, I go in for the kiss and fumble it, kind of just smooshing my lips against his like I fell.

He laughs and says, "First, I want to tell you that last night, was - there are no words for last night. I'll be looking forward to dinner a lot more from now on." I smile at him. There's tension in his smile. The floor of my stomach sinks. He knows.

"And, you know, don't you?" I ask, looking at his hands like they're really interesting. My fingers intertwine as I say it.

Jack looks from my hands to my face. His voice is soft, remorseful. "Yeah, I know. I woke up early and while I was having a cup of coffee, I turned on the news and saw a picture of my wife with a voice over telling the press that she wasn't a virgin when she got married."

"And then what?" I ask, hedging.

"And then I laughed like this couldn't possibly be happening, that my sweet wife couldn't possibly know about this. Then they say the information is from a confirmed source, and guess who that source was?"

"Gus." I look down at my hands, twisting them. My heart is pounding, but in a bad way. I didn't want to hurt Jack more by not telling him, but I had to do what I did. I wanted him out of the limelight. I can take someone saying nasty things about me, but Jack can't. We're wired differently, I guess. Either way, this was something I could do to deflect the arrows thrown at him, so I did it.

Jack seems like he's losing his composure. His shoulders are rigid and he keeps working his jaw. His eyes are just a little too big when he looks at me, like he's really mad. "Right, Gus. And can you imagine how insane I felt? My best friend leaked this shit to the press. So while I'm screaming at him, I find out what really happened, that it wasn't him at all. It was my wife who orchestrated the whole thing, but she's still asleep because I made love to her all night and she's probably too sore to walk." Jack's voice gets higher and higher as he speaks. His eyes lock with mine, pleading, begging for an explanation.

Placing my hand on his forearm, I say, "I should have told you."

He flinches, like I've struck him, and shirks me off. "Yes! Yes, you should have told me! How could you not tell me?"

"How could you not tell me that you knew about the Brimstone group before we got home?" My voice is level, even. I'm not mad. I'm pointing it out to prove a point. Jack blinks at me and then sighs, shaking his head. "I wanted to protect you, to give you what I could. I know this is tearing you up inside, Jack."

"Abby, that wasn't the same. Not telling you didn't change anything. That group is there conspiring against me no matter what."

"Yes, it's exactly the same. Not telling me made you go through it alone. No wonder why you were so tense that night. You should have told me." Sadness tugs at my throat. I wish he'd confide in me, but he holds back.

Anger flashes in his eyes. "You should have told me! Do you have any idea what you've done? This is like throwing a match into a room filled with gas. It's not a question of whether or not it'll explode, it's a question of how big the explosion will be. I can't protect you from this, Abby. Fuck, I don't even know what to expect." His hands pull at his hair as he turns away and he paces as he speaks. When he turns back to me, the expression in his eyes makes me want to cry.

My voice is gentle. I step toward him. "I know what's going to happen. You don't have to shield me, Jack. I'm okay with the choices I've made. The result ended with you and me together. That's all that matters."

"What are you going to say when they ask why you ignored your vows? What are you going to say when they ask if you thought twice before sleeping with me? Damn it, Abby, this whole f**king mess is my fault. You weren't mine, and I took you anyway!" He's yelling. Jack turns and kicks one of the cans of paint. It makes a weird sound, but it doesn't spill. I've never heard him so angry about me breaking my vows. He doesn't even know what they were. Everyone assumes everything. I took vows, and made promises to be celibate and serve. I promised these things, and I threw them away. Maybe it looks like it was a whim to Jack, but it wasn't. Turning away from me, Jack storms toward the backdoor.

"Wait. Jack, wait!" I run after him and grab his arm. "Stop, damn it! Listen to me! You have this notion that I was beyond reproach, and the truth is that I screwed up just like everyone else. I'm not a f**king angel! You didn't snap the wings off my back. I struggle with the same problems everyone else has. I make the same mistakes everyone else does. I wanted you when I couldn't have you. Years of falling asleep thinking about you, and then leaning in for that kiss, made me do it. And I don't regret it. If I pay for that later, then so be it, but I won't have you blame yourself."

All the anger seems to flow out of him as I speak. When he talks, his voice sounds so strained, so defeated. "I just want the world to see you how I see you."

"Jack, I'm like everyone else."

"No, you're not. Not to me, not ever. Not ever, Abby. I'd do anything for you, give anything to save you from this, but I can't. It's already been done." Jack seems so miserable, like he has no idea what to do since he can't shield me from this.

There's a little curl by his ear. I reach for it and tuck it back. Looking into his eyes, I say, "You wouldn't have let me do it if I told you, just like I wouldn't let you do anything now. This won't destroy me. I don't care what they say. They can talk all they like, it doesn't change who I am."

Jack takes my hands and looks at me. "You are always so certain of things. What makes you think you can endure this?"

"Because I have you."

I pull him to me and hold him tight. Jack does the same. We stay like that for a moment, knowing the world is about to cave in on us.

Gazing into my eyes, Jack says, "You inspire me beyond words. You're strong, you're brave, and you're utterly selfless. You're like a warrior with a cute button nose. That's what's so amazing about you. You live and love like you're not afraid. It makes me crazy sometimes, but it's so admirable that it's jaw dropping." He presses his lips against mine. I don't get a chance to deflect his compliment. I do the best I can, and often, I feel like I fall short, but his praises make me beam.

Jack's kiss starts light, but becomes more intense. His tongue sweeps the inside of my mouth as his hands tangle in my hair. It reminds me of last night and I kiss him harder, feeling my body flush at his touch.

"Ah-hum," Gus is standing in the doorway. "So, I take it you told her?"

Chapter 22


Looking up at Jack, Abby asks, "Told me what?"

She's amazing. He can't stop looking at her, thinking about how insanely wonderful she is. Abby took a bullet for him. Jack didn't know how he was going to endure all the shit that Brimstone would throw at him, and then without a word, Abby stepped in front. Her statement will make them shift their focus to her. She knows what she's done. At first, Jack was afraid that she didn't, but after talking to her, it's clear that she knew exactly what she was doing. There's no regret on her face. They'll rip her to shreds instead of him. Guilt keeps trying to get a hold of him, but he's starting think it shouldn't be there. This was a gift. Abby gave it to him. She's so certain that it was right, so certain that she can take whatever they throw at her, but the stuff with Dick had her in tears. Jack needs to talk to her about Texas, about what she wants to do now. They'd put it off for too long.

With Gus watching from the doorway, Jack knows that he's in for a little scuffle. Gus has been pestering him about his next painting. Jack knows exactly what he wants, he just has to get Abby on board.

He takes Abby's hand and leads her over to the vats of paint. "I have an idea for a new painting. I want you to be the model. It's going to purple and yellow or red. I haven't decided." Excitement fills his voice. Abby is smiling at him, glancing at the huge tubs of purple.

Gus speaks up and says, "I tried to talk him into painting another model, but he won't have it. There are already claims on his next full color piece. It will be taken to the last stop on the tour of Jack's work and be presented then. It'll be public."

Abby glances at Jack. "What were you wanting to do?"

His eyes hold hers, hoping. "Something a little different. In the other painting of you, well, everything is concealed. In this one, it won't be. That's the main issue. I wasn't sure if you'd want to do it, if you should do it with everything that's going on. Gus has been pushing for a model, but I want this painting to be of you." Jack watches her, practically holding his breath. Gus is staring, too.

"You two already discussed this?" Abby asks, glancing at Jack and then Gus.

Jack nods. "Gus arranged for the next color piece a while ago, after THE AWAKENING was added to my private collection. People wanted more color pieces and I agreed to make one. When Gus asked who I was going to use as the model, I said you." Jack looks down at her. He's pulled in two different directions. The painting would be beyond perfection if Abby were the model.

"It wasn't a discussion, Abby. It was an argument. I tried to dissuade him. I still have no idea what he has planned. I just need to know if you'll do it or not so I can determine if we need to hire a model." Gus slips his hands into his pockets and waits.

"Jack..." she starts to say, uncertainty in her voice.

But he takes her hands, "Abby, please. Let me show you what it'll be. If you don't want it public, I'll use a model and make it again. This is a turning point. I feel it. I want to share this with you. If we add another painting to our collection, I'm okay with that."

"I'm not," Gus says, straightening. "You have deadlines, Jack. You can't blow them off."

Jack glances at him. "I'm not. This is something new. Forcing it will make it suck. How many times do I have to tell you that? I need to feel it. Just painting anyone doesn't work. You know this, Gus." Jack stares at his friend and shakes his head. Gus opens his mouth to speak, but Abby steps between them.

"I'll be your model, Jack." She's looking up at him like she can't believe she said it.

"Really?" he asks, astounded.

"Yes. I want to be part of your life." She smiles crookedly at him and shrugs a shoulder. "Besides, it's art. It's not like you'd get jealous if another guy saw me nak*d."

Gus lets out a high-pitched laugh, "Yeah, you guys figure it out on your own. I don't think I need to hear this part." He ducks out the door, grinning.

Jack feels the mischievous smile lace across his lips. His eyes burn into Abby's. She has the smart, sexy smirk on her face. It makes him completely crazy. He steps toward her and pulls her to him, yanking her waist hard. "Is that a confession, Mrs. Gray?"

Her eyes glitter with mirth. "Take it how you want to, Mr. Gray."

"Like I'm going to let you leave it at that." Jack grins before scooping Abby up in his arms. He swings her around in the air, letting her scream wildly. She alternates between trying to get herself free and holding on like she's going to fall.

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