Home > Scandalous 1 (Scandalous #1)(12)

Scandalous 1 (Scandalous #1)(12)
Author: H.M. Ward

He explained, “A little bit of wine is good. A little bit removes preconceptions, apprehensions, and allows you to see what I see. It lets you surrender to yourself a little bit and see things the way I do. For you, a sip or two would be fine. It’d let you see... me.” He swallowed hard, like he was offering to reveal something very important.

A chill worked its way up my spine. This was a hard line, something that I said I’d never do, but I wanted to see what he saw. I wanted the chance to get inside his head. It was too tempting to pass up. As I stood there, indecision on my face, a million thoughts racing through my mind, Jack backed away. He didn’t hold out my glass again. I moved next to him, and took it in my hands. Pulse pounding in my ears, I lifted the crystal to my lips. The wine slid down my throat with a warm burn. I pressed my lips together, and looked up at him, still holding my glass, wondering if I’d gone insane. “Let’s go. Show me what’s really happening inside the mind of Jack Gray.”

Jack lifted his glass, and turned back, correcting me, “The heart of Jack Gray. Art is always a reflection of the heart, the soul of the painter.”

I followed him into the Galleria. It was pitch black. “Wait here,” he said and I heard him walk away. The first thing I noticed was a pale blue spotlight slowly growing brighter and brighter on the other side of the room. Music wafted from somewhere. My chest tightened. This seemed romantic, but that had to just be me, right? Patrons didn’t come in here and get this taken with Jack. They saw the millionaire Jonathan Gray.

He was back before I could give it more thought. Tilting his head to the side, he said, “Follow me.” We walked across the dark space, music slowly drifting through the air. Stopping in front of the illuminated painting he said, “Each canvas will light one at a time. During a show, each patron is given a drink and we follow the lights through the gallery until the last canvas is displayed. Then they all turn on and you can wander around and check stuff out. It makes it more dramatic this way.”

My fingernails tapped my glass nervously, “More romantic, too.” He arched an eyebrow at me, surprise on his face. Quickly I added, “You know what I mean. You’re trying to be evocative here, so don’t go giving me the eyebrow. You want your patrons to feel something when they look at the walls. That’s what they’re buying—the idealized version of Jonathan Gray.”

He took my arm and turned me toward the painting. “Maybe, but I want you to tell me what you see. Tell me what you think of Jack, the boy you knew, when you look at these.” His voice was soft, as if he were asking a question that could shatter him. One look at his face told me that I could. This made him nervous, but he was excited as well.

Looking at the painting on the wall, I felt my heart clench. It was monochromatic blue, so pale it almost seemed white. The painting was of a woman, nude, showcasing her from the waist up. Her long hair trailed behind her as she danced. Her eyes were closed, a hand by her face another crossed over her br**sts. Lifting the wine glass to my lips, I took a sip. My eyes moved across the entire canvas. It was huge. Jack and I fit in front of it, and we could have added ten more people and lined them up shoulder to shoulder—they all would have been able to stand in front of it.

Jack’s voice was soft, “What do you see?”

Fear made me reluctant to glance at him. I could feel his gaze on the side of my face, waiting. I didn’t want to lie to him, but if this reflected Jack in some way, well, it wasn’t something good. I swallowed hard, trying to find the right words. “I see a broken heart. Something lost that haunts you. It’s in the colors, the position of the model’s body. It’s like a million different shades of tears, strewn across a canvas.” I breathed hard, worried that I’d offend him. The lights went out, and slowly, a yellow spot light grew brighter across the room. Jack’ features were rimmed in light—his smooth skin, the curve of his cheek, the fullness of his lips—they were parted, his eyes watching me, before he put his hand on the small of my back. I repressed the urge to shiver, as he led me across the room.

Stopping in front of a gold painting, he asked, “What do you see, Abby?” his voice was a whisper.

I sipped from the wine first this time. My heart was pounding. This was a lot more intimate that I’d thought. Jack stood next to me, watching me as my eyes slid over the canvas, the wine glass held loosely in his hand. The paint on this one was a myriad of golds with a few highlights of crimson. The model’s body was fuller this time. Her soft curves replaced the harsh angles of the last piece. It was sensual, seductive. But there was something else. Where the woman’s hand covered her breast, there was a splattering of red. The thick paint was smeared through with soft brush strokes.

“You’re still wounded, still mourning someone in this work, but the pain has faded somewhat. The colors, the flow of the composition... it seems like you long to be free, but you can’t be. You perceive yourself as trapped. I think people look at this and see the model, and think she’s the one who feels that way, but it’s not that way at all. It’s you, it’s Jack who feels the pain and isn’t certain what to do. The femininity of it just hides that it’s your emotions we’re feeling.” Glancing at him, I felt bolder, asking, “Am I right?”

I sipped the wine, as he swallowed hard, saying, “More than you know.” His eyes lingered on mine. The lightness that was typically there, the playfulness, was gone. Jack was like his painting, open and vulnerable.

The light faded as another turned up. We walked through the gallery, seeing image after image that portrayed a deeply haunted Jack. When we stood before the last canvas, my breath caught in my throat. His hand was on the small of my back, my wine glass nearly empty. Stepping forward, I reached out and touched the paint.

Jack reached for my hand, gently removing my fingers from his work. He didn’t let go. “What do you see, Abby?” he breathed.

His hand felt warm on my skin. I didn’t know what made me do it. I knew not to touch paintings, but I saw this one and I had to. My fingers were sliding along the woman’s face when Jack lifted my hand away and kept it in his. The expression in his eyes was hesitant, like he didn’t want to hear what I had to say about this one. I shook my head, “Jack, I don’t...” I breathed in, my words trailing off. I didn’t want to do this anymore. The rest of his paintings were melancholy, but this one... This one frightened me. It was the white painting, the one of the model the first night I arrived.

Squeezing my hand, he turned me toward him. “Say it. I know you see it. Just say it, Abby.” He was so close, his lips were right there. My stomach twisted inside of me. The butterflies and the giddy girl within me scared into silence. The intensity of Jack’s gaze made me turn back to the painting. It no longer resembled what we’d made the night it was created. The woman in white was in ecstasy, her long hair moving around her body, caressing it like a lover’s hands. Her soft skin, full pale br**sts, taught n**ples, the curve of her neck, the angle of her head... everything about it made me feel like I couldn’t breathe.

“Jack, I...”

“Say it. I see it on your face. I need to hear it fall from your lips. Prove to me you know me. Tell me you see me better than any of the rest. I need to hear it from you, Abby. Tell me.” His voice was seductive, demanding, and teasing all at once.

My knees felt weak, my voice caught in my throat. I stared into his eyes with my lips parted, knowing exactly what I saw, but feeling too raw to say it. Lowering my lashes, I closed my eyes and found my voice. “I see it, Jack. Your muse is back. The thing that gave you passion, tormented you, and haunted you is back. You’re reeling in ecstasy and dread. It’s something you want, but can’t ever have. And the one that brings the pain is pure, white as snow... and standing in front of you.” The last words were barely audible.

It killed me when I saw it, when my mind snapped the puzzle pieces together. I was the missing muse, the haunting soul that made him feel lost, like he was drifting for over a decade. And that white painting, oh God. I couldn’t look at him. I stared into the darkness surrounding us, the last painting still lit.

Jack’s grip on my hand loosened. He gently stroked my skin as he leaned in and kissed my temple. Before he pulled away, I felt his breath in my ear, “You see me. Every bit. Every part.” When the lights came on, he pulled away. My heart was roaring, flooding my ears with frantic beating. Jack lifted the empty wine glass out of my hands, and put it on the counter. He was tense, the muscle in his jaw tight.

I didn’t know what to say. I stood there like a fool, glancing around the room. That painting—it was untouchable sensuality. Loneliness. It wasn’t the women I saw anymore when viewing the paintings, it was Jack—his soul bared on every canvas.


While Jack turned off the lights, I’d gone outside and sat down on a sand dune. The moon was high, barely giving off any light as it slivered into a new moon. The sound of the waves crashing into the shore calmed me. I didn’t know what to think. It felt like I’d done something wrong, something horribly wrong. It was like seeing Jack nak*d, but much more intimate, and much more damning. When he sat down next to me, I could barely breathe.

Our bodies were an inch apart, close enough to touch, but not. Jack stared at the sea, “That was a lot more intense than I thought it’d be. I’m sorry I made you uncomfortable. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t expect,” he laughed a short high laugh, pushing his hair out of his face and looking at me, “I didn’t expect you to do that. No one has ever done that. There are entire books written on what makes me tick, and none of them even came close. But you, Abby, damn,” Nervously he ran his fingers through his hair, glancing at me sideways, “you stripped me in a matter of seconds, and saw right through everything. No one’s ever done that before. It was wonderful and awful at the same time.”

Oh my God. Someone kill me. I couldn’t look at him. I didn’t mean to make him feel like that. “I’m sorry, Jack. I didn’t mean to...”

He bumped into me with his shoulder, cutting off my apology, “Hell no, don’t apologize. It was perfect. A moment that was scary as hell, and completely perfect.” I glanced at him and he smiled. The tension seemed to fade from his shoulders as the smile drifted across his lips. I smiled back, not knowing what to say, but glad he felt better. “So, tell me. What really happened back in Texas?” Nervous, my eyebrows shot up as I twisted toward him with a who me? expression on my face. He laughed, “Yeah, you. If you want to go back, why’d you leave?”

“Now it’s my turn to squirm, is that it?” I eyed him half smiling.

“Tell me, Abby. Why are you here?”

Looking at him, I wondered why I felt compelled to spill my guts every time he asked me to. What was wrong with me? It was like I had no sense of self-preservation. I made a face, “I was sent on a forced sabbatical. No warning. No pay. Just good-luck, now get out.”

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