Read Only Between Us Online

Authors: Mila Ferrera

Tags: #romance, #Grad School Romance, #College Romance, #art, #Graduate School Romance, #New Adult College Romance, #College Sexy, #art school, #art romance, #contemporary romance, #New Adult Sexy, #New Adult, #New Adult Contemporary Romance, #New Adult Graduate School Romance

Only Between Us

BOOK: Only Between Us
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Copyright © 2013 by Mila Ferrera

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the e-mail address below.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Mila Ferrera Books
[email protected]

http://milaferrera.com/

ONLY BETWEEN US

Chapter One: Romy

Last year, I was broken. Dismantled bit by bit, day by day, until all that was left was a brittle shell. I wasn’t even aware it was happening until it was almost too late. I thought I was in love. I thought I could change—be prettier, more attentive—and that would make it better. It took a black eye and a fat lip to wake me up.

This semester, I’m reclaiming myself piece by piece.

Jude slips his arm through mine. The early fall breeze ruffles his wavy black hair, and the corners of his eyes crinkle as he smiles. He’s wearing a worn flannel over a ratty t-shirt, so different from his usual impeccable style. I link my fingers with his and squeeze. “You’re the best friend ever,” I whisper as we head up the sidewalk toward our destination. My toolbox feels unwieldy and foreign in my grasp, and my palm is sweaty around the handle.

“I know,” he says with gentle humor. “I’m glad you decided to do this. I think it’s exactly what you need.”

I might have stayed home if it wasn’t for him. When I got back into town a few days ago after two months spent rattling around my parents’ huge summer “cottage,” I called Jude to give him the address to my new apartment. He and Eric were at my place within an hour, helping me get settled. Like two mother hens, they clucked about how I’ve lost weight and squawked about my drastically short haircut (then told me I looked fabulous). But their cheery enthusiasm couldn’t fool me—they kept exchanging worried glances as they unpacked my water glasses and plates, more like parents than my actual parents, who had simply hired me a moving service, put a few thousand dollars into my bank account, and told me they’d see me at Christmas. Jude was the one who noticed my laptop screen, where I’d been researching painting classes at the local artists’ co-op. I’d done it on a whim, not sure if I would follow through, but as soon as Jude saw it, he made up my mind for me—by signing both of us up for a class that fit with the course schedule for our graduate program.

As we approach the entrance to the co-op, this multi-story old building three blocks off quaint Main Street with its heated sidewalks and funky boutiques, I push away Alex’s mocking voice as it whispers
You’re wasting your time … that looks like something a five-year-old would draw …

I escaped from him at the end of January, but he’s still in my head sometimes.

Jude holds the door and leads me into the building, taking in the cracked linoleum flooring and the line of coat hooks and cubbies along the wall. On either side of this hallway are numbered classrooms, and ahead of us is a staircase. A sign tells us the artists’ studios are upstairs. The smell of mineral spirits is in the air, and I inhale it greedily while Jude wrinkles his nose. “I can feel my brain cells dying,” he mutters, then glances nervously into the classroom, where several people have already claimed easels and are waiting for the teacher to arrive. “I haven’t painted since my art class in middle school.”

I smile at his sudden uncertainty. “This is a beginner’s class, so I think you’ll be in good company.”

The stairs creak and we look up to see a guy coming down the steps. He looks to be in his mid-twenties, maybe a few years older than I am, and he moves with the careless grace of an athlete.

“Holy hotness,” breathes Jude, mimicking my thoughts perfectly. It’s not that I’m on the prowl, but in this life, there are a few objective truths, and this guy’s attractiveness is one of them. His jeans hang from his lean hips and are stained with paint. A similarly decorated t-shirt clings to his frame, and there’s a smear of blue on his tanned, muscular forearm. He has chin-length, chocolate brown hair, but he’s pulled some of it away from his face in a partial ponytail high on the back of his head. And that gives us a perfect view of his wolf-gray eyes, which skate over us with mild interest as he descends the stairs and walks toward us.

“You guys here for my class?” he asks, nodding toward the classroom. Oh my God. He’s the teacher.

“Absolutely,” Jude says quickly, newly enthusiastic, and I can’t hold in my laugh.

“Head on in and grab an easel. We’ll start in a few minutes. I’m Caleb,” he says, holding his hand out to Jude, who shakes it and introduces himself.

Caleb turns his gaze to me and offers his hand. “Romy,” I say as I take it, my heart beating a little faster as my skin touches his.

He lets go first. “Have you painted before?” he asks softly, giving my toolbox a questioning glance.

“A little.” That’s a lie. I minored in art in college, and painting was my passion. Until last year. I was passionate about a lot of things until last year, actually.

He smiles, and it’s as warm as his skin and steals my breath. “You look nervous, Romy. You don’t have to be. This is supposed to be fun.”

Jude throws his arm over my shoulder. “Come on, girl. Let’s go have
fun
.” He pulls me toward the classroom, and I am acutely aware of Caleb behind me as I walk in. Jude drags me over to two easels in the corner of the back row; every easel in the front two rows is taken. I set my box down and look around, realizing for the first time that we’re the youngest students in the room—and that Jude is the only guy. Most of the rest of the spots are occupied by middle-aged women, rings glittering on their fingers, hair sprayed into place, wearing spotless aprons over their tailored slacks and blouses. They look like women my mom would be friends with.

Jude leans over and whispers, “What do you bet these cougars are hot for teacher? I know I am.”

“Shut up.” I bow my head as Caleb reaches the front of the room, knowing Jude is right but refusing to acknowledge that I’m feeling the same way. This was the last thing I expected or wanted out of this evening. I came here to reclaim myself, not to focus on someone else … but I’m having trouble keeping my eyes off Caleb.

“Hey, everyone, welcome,” he says. “This is the first meeting of our twelve-class session, and I’m glad to see you guys.” He nods at a few of the women, and I wonder if they’ve taken the class before. “We’ll be focusing on basic technique with acrylics, including color-blending, basic washes and watercolor effects, layering, and texturing. We’re going to start with paper for the next several weeks, and then we’ll do some work on canvas. For those of you who have your own supplies—” His eyes rest on me for a moment, and his eyebrow arches. “—you might want to pick up some glazing medium and flow improver, or feel free to use what we have here. And for those of you who don’t have supplies, you can find brushes and sample paints over there, along with paper. My only request is that you wash the brushes thoroughly at the end of class so that I don’t get in trouble.” His grin is easy and mischievous, and I find myself smiling with him even though I’m not sure why.

After Caleb tells us that we’ll spend today discussing and experimenting with composition, the other students get supplies out of their art boxes while a few, including Jude, head over to grab brushes and paints from the shelves. I sit on the cold cement floor and skim my fingers over my dented toolbox. I’ve had it since high school. My dad let me have his old one to put all my supplies in … and I haven’t opened it in what feels like a lifetime. It used to hold my entire imagination. It used to be the way I could free whatever was inside me. But all of that got twisted up somehow, and it became another symbol of how trapped I was. With a deep breath, I flick the latch and open the lid. My eyes sting as I look down at my brushes and half-used tubes of paint, acrylics and oils, gesso, pencils, varnish, frozen and waiting for me to return.

A hand closes over my shoulder and my head jerks up. “You okay?” Jude asks, and in his worried expression I see his memories, of me showing up at his door that horrible night, of all the months after when I was too miserable to get up off the couch.

“Yeah, sure,” I say with a rasp in my voice. To my horror, I notice Caleb watching me. But as soon as our eyes meet, he looks away and starts to address the class, drawing attention to the front of the room. I slowly climb onto my stool as he instructs everyone how much paint to put on the palette and talks about the qualities of acrylic paints. I’d rather be using my oils, but I’m just getting back into this, so I sit and listen and drift a little, enjoying the sound of Caleb’s deep voice.

The class time flies by, and an hour later, we’re packing up, washing our brushes and tossing our papers in the recycling bins. There’s a cluster of women around Caleb, touching his arm and laughing with trilling voices at almost everything he says. He doesn’t look like he minds the attention. I take Jude’s hand and tug him into the hallway, toward the staircase. “I want to take a peek at the studios,” I tell him.

“Are we allowed to go up there?”

I shrug. “Why wouldn’t we be? It’s not private space, and art is meant to be looked at.” When I first moved here last year to start a graduate program in counseling, I fantasized about renting one of the spaces here, and came to look at it a time or two, but then I got wrapped up in my relationship with Alex and the plan went by the wayside along with everything else.

The space at the top of the stairs is cavernous, and I shiver at the cool air—all the windows are open to let out the fumes. I have to wonder how they handle it when the wind turns frigid and the snow falls. We’re in Michigan, after all, right by the lake. Winter is no joke here. It’s the beginning of September, and the evenings are already cool enough to call for long sleeves.

The center of the huge room is cluttered with tables of supplies, half-stretched canvases and tools, broken palette knives and palettes, wire and glue and canvas stretchers. There’s a kiln near the back windows. Large stalls line the edges of the room, each one about ten by ten feet, each one a different world. One contains a potter’s wheel and boxes of clay and half-finished pots and sculptures. Another is plastered with still lifes and nude figures, charcoal and pastel and pencil drawings. Jude and I walk around slowly. Some of the stalls are occupied, and a few of the artists look up when we go by and say
hi
. None of them look surprised to see us, which tells me they’re used to spectators. Some of them ignore us completely.

Jude squeezes my arm. “Why didn’t you tell me this place was full of hotties?” he hisses in my ear.

I look up and see that he’s talking about a guy in one of the stalls across the room, who’s stretching a canvas over a huge frame. The muscles of his arms stand out as he uses pliers to pull the canvas tight, and his blond hair falls over his forehead as he staples the fabric into place. A tribal tattoo winds up his neck from beneath his shirt. Jude stares at him with rapt interest, and I roll my eyes. “How would Eric feel if he saw you now?”

Jude gives me this are-you-kidding look. “He’d be appreciating the view right along with me, darling. We don’t do jealous.”

“Whatever,” I mutter right as the blond guy raises his head and realizes he has an audience. He looks me up and down, and then a seductive smile brightens his face.

As the blond sets his stuff down and brushes his palms on his cargo pants, Jude lets out this little giggle. “He’s coming over here! Shall I leave you two alone?”

My eyes go wide. “No!” I say, laughing. “If you leave my side, you can forget me helping you study.”

He holds up his hands. “It was only a suggestion!”

“You moving in?” the blond guy asks as he walks toward us, his focus on me.

“What?” I ask.

He nods toward the empty stall next to his and then down at my toolbox. “Are you taking the space?”

“Oh. No. We were taking a class downstairs and came up here to take a look.”

His blue eyes flash playfully. “See anything you like?”

“Maybe,” Jude says, and his tone is so heated that the blond guy’s smile falters. But then he offers his hand.

“Daniel. I teach classes here, too. Lots of us do. A good way to help pay for the space we use.”

We introduce ourselves, and Jude and Daniel get to talking about the cost of renting the space. Jude is obviously attracted to this guy, but Daniel’s gaze keeps sliding over to me. He’s cute, but again, I’m not really … available. I wander over to one of the studios in the back of the room. There’s a spotted drop cloth on the floor and a table cluttered with oils, brushes, and jars of all sorts of oil mediums. There’s a metal canister of turpentine on the floor, along with an open toolbox containing scissors, a staple gun, a t-square, and a measuring tape. A roll of canvas and several narrow pieces of lumber are leaning against the flimsy metal wall. This particular artist is a do-it-yourself type and stretches his own canvas. Builds his own frames, too, by the look of it. There’s a stack of completed paintings against the wall, and I slip over and take a peek.

BOOK: Only Between Us
6.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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