Authors: Lisa A. Olech
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #spicy, #model
Opening up a calendar, Jagger counted weeks, and scribbled some figures in a corner. If he could cut back more on food, he’d make it to France by early fall. He might hit it right for the vineyard harvests and buy himself an extra week in Paris. That might just work. He packed everything back into the suitcase and gave the inlaid box another pat before latching the satchel closed and sliding it under his bed once more.
Jagger wiped at a smudge of dirt on his hand. The black smudged cheek of Z.Z. Lambert flashed in his mind making him smile. He’d been real lucky since he’d struck out on his own. He’d met some great folks along the way. Now look at him, he was rubbin’ elbows with artists. Hell, he couldn’t draw a straight line to save himself, but that Zee had some real talent.
Okay, so she was a bit chilly round the edges, but she had a great mouth. Her lower lip had this sexy little dip. Very nice. Nice ass, too. Jagger smiled to himself.
Wouldn’t say no to spending time getting to know her better.
Then he remembered what she’d done to his sketch.
What was it with him and thawing out women who’d rather see him tossed into the trash bin?
Friday morning Zee stood at the counter of her tiny kitchen drinking tea and eating a slice of wheat toast with a whisper of peanut butter. The early sun spilled through the windows over the sink. She liked her bright, itty-bitty kitchen. Everything about her apartment was itty-bitty, including the rent. The big selling point according to the rental agent, after she recovered from a near-coronary climbing five flights of stairs, was the roof.
She couldn’t be serious.
Looking out on it now as the sun rose, Zee still couldn’t see its value. In the summer, it was blistering out there. Any plants she placed out on its black tarred surface shriveled and died within a week. It was a desert. No shade. In the winter months, it was just another place to hold snow. It reminded her of an empty parking lot.
Isabella rubbed around Zee’s legs in her usual morning greeting before she leapt up, sat prettily on the windowsill and gave herself a bath in a sunbeam. Mid-lick of one paw, she looked up, blinked her round green eyes and meowed. Zee followed the direction of the cat’s stare, just as she caught a whiff of Chanel No.5.
“You need to eat more than that. How about some juice? Or a piece of fruit?”
“No thanks, Nan. I’m not hungry. Besides, I’m trying to lose a few pounds.”
“Nonsense, you’re skin and bones.”
“Have you seen my ass?” After the other day, she’d given her rear end way too much thought. Damn Jagger. Twice she’d caught herself trying to catch a reflection of her butt in a mirror. Zee set her dirty plate into the sink and brushed the crumbs from her fingers.
“Don’t say ass to your grandmother.”
“How are your drawings coming?”
Zee shrugged. “Pretty good.” Wednesday’s class had been great. Jagger inspired some amazing sketches. His body was just so…so fine. Leah’s new word was scrumptious. He still made Zee feel like she was standing on shifting sand. That smile of his made certain parts of her body pulse
while her head shouted a definite
After witnessing the scene with Ed, Jagger seemed even more interested. He was a huge flirt. When she packed up her things at the end of the day on Wednesday, she found he’d left her one of his apples as a treat. If he started leaving chocolate, she was in trouble.
“I peeked at your sketch pad,” Nana continued. “They’re excellent.”
“You were always prejudiced.” But Nan was right. Jagger made the work easy. It was as if his body was built just for her, as if she’d meant to draw him her whole life.
Zee left the kitchen and gathered her things as well as her thoughts. She hated that Jagger made her so distracted. She needed to focus. Living five flights up was the perfect incentive for not being forgetful. She looked over the small pile by the door. “What am I missing? Oh, yes, my water bottle.” She snagged one from the fridge as she slipped a huge black sweatshirt over her head.
“Are you off to class again this morning?” Nana followed her.
“You know I am.”
“Is that what you’re wearing? Why don’t you wear something pretty? You’re such a lovely girl, if you’d only try a little harder, you could be a real beauty. At least wear something that tells people you’re a girl.”
Zee stuck out her foot and revealed her pink high top sneaker. “See the pink? Girl.”
“Oh, Zee,” Nan said with disappointment. “I left you money so you could buy yourself some nice things, and live in a nice place. You should get out there and live a little.”
“What do you mean? I live. I’m just trying to be frugal. Don’t worry. Someday I’ll buy a tiny little island so I can be the happy recluse I’m meant to be.”
“Sounds terribly lonely to me. How about a little company?”
Zee shook her head. “I have Isabella…and you. And there’s always Mom. Plus, I have my work. What more do I need?”
“I was talking about male company.”
Zee pulled her riotous hair back into a loose knot at her nape. “I knew what you were talking about. You can save your breath.”
“What about the hunky boy?”
“Hunky boy? You mean Jagger Jones?”
“Is that his name? I like him.”
“How do you know Jagger?”
“I told you, I peeked at your sketch pad. Great ass.”
You can say that again.
Zee’s body and her brain bickered again. She shook her head. “Hey, if I can’t say ass, neither can you.”
“But he has a nice one. At least you’ve drawn him one.”
If you think that’s good, you should see his… Whoa.
“I can’t have this discussion with my grandmother. I need to get to class.” Zee slipped the strap of her book bag over one shoulder, closed the door to the apartment, and trotted down the deep square spiral of stairs. Nana always had a way of cutting to the chase. Annoying, but Zee still loved her. She would love her forever.
Zee waved good morning to her first-floor neighbor, Mrs. Oglethorpe and her ancient poodle, Casanova. Shocking how much green glitter eye shadow one woman could wear before eight o’clock in the morning. It was almost as if Mrs. O. painted in her heavy black eyebrows to give the eye shadow a place to stop.
Zee smiled as she went to the car. She’d left herself extra time to coerce George into starting, and made it to the second-floor studio with oodles of time to spare.
Her favorite easel spot was hers for the taking this morning.
Big wide windows gave her a great view of the old church next door, letting warm sunshine caress her back as she worked. And, she didn’t have to listen to the
drip drip drip
of that gross rinse sink. Perfection.
Zee set up the easel.
Closing her eyes, she breathed air deep into her lungs. Ah, she love that smell. All art schools smelled alike. It was the smell of creativity. Someone should sell a candle with this scent. It was a blend of linseed oil and paint and sweat and hope. It mixed the aromas of experimentation, and emotions and gesso on canvas. It always brought Zee back to the days when she was little. Ghosts of art schools past.
Her mother had been dating some New Age, surrealistic artist. Wasn’t his name Neville? He had talked Mom into sending her off to Saturday morning art lessons at the local high school. Zee knew it was just an excuse to get rid of her for a few hours, but she hadn’t cared. She fell in love with painting and creating her own little worlds where everything was beautiful and colorful and safe.
Art became her best friend and her escape. She looked forward to those carefree hours of painting when she didn’t have to be the grown up for once. When she didn’t have to remind her mother to buy food for dinner or pay the light bill or be a parent.
One by one, the other artists arrived for class. Zee respected their set-up rituals and didn’t bother them with more than a good morning smile. Emily arrived first. It was early for her, wasn’t it? She usually flew into the studio at the last minute. She looked adorable today with her short, spiky pixie hair decorated with a little bow. Was she wearing makeup? Odd. Not her usual style. Jessica arrived next, wearing a long skirt and sweater. She looked great, too. Even Geoffrey came in looking very dressed up. What the hell was going on? Did Zee miss some email? Was it class picture day?
Leah arrived in a mini skirt, boots and a Wonder Woman tee shirt that looked airbrushed on.
“Look at you. Want to tell me what’s going on?”
“What do you mean?”
“A mini-skirt and heels? Hot date?”
“Oh, this old thing? I don’t know, I just felt like wearing something cute today.” Leah smoothed the front of her skirt.
“You and everyone else it seems. Look around.” Madeline walked in and Zee choked on a fog cloud of gardenia. “Okay, Madeline’s perfume could knock someone out. What is with all of you today?”
Leah just gave a little shrug, opened her eyes wide, looking innocent. Zee scanned the room once more. Realization dawned on her like a brick to the head as Genevieve tottered into the classroom wearing red patent leather, peep-toe stilettos. Zee tugged Leah close and whispered, “This is all for our pretty boy Jones, isn’t it?” Leah gave her the same wide-eyed shrug. Zee’s mouth dropped open. “I don’t believe this! What’s wrong with all of you?”
“Nothing is wrong with any of it. So we tidied up a bit.”
“Tidied up?” Zee pointed, “Look at Genevieve’s shoes. She’s going to kill herself.”
“I think they look nice.”
“You’re not serious. And for what? So Aussie boy will spill some of his 24-carat charm on you? Incredible.” Zee planted her hands on her hips.
“So what?” Leah fluffed the back of her hair. “It’s not doing anyone any harm. There’s nothing wrong with trying to look pretty every once in a while. You know, you could—”
Gasping, she held up her hand. “Don’t even go there, Leah. Say it and I swear I’ll never speak to you again.”
Smoldered, Zee couldn’t believe Leah and the rest of them were jumping through hoops to impress Jagger Jones. They were all crazy! She tried taking a deep, calming breath, but Madeline’s perfume got in the way.
She checked her watch.
was ten minutes late…again. Zee forced herself to unclench her jaw and tipped her head from one side to the other to loosen the wooden two by four that had become her neck. She shouldn’t be angry at him for what was happening, but she couldn’t help herself.
Arms crossed, she checked her watch and stood tapping the toe of her high top. She tried not to glance around the room at the barnyard of feathered chickens all vying for the attention of the new rooster and his handsome
you know what
Zee unfolded her arms and jerked down the frayed hem of her paint-smeared sweatshirt. She was not jealous. For a split second, she considered that maybe Nana and Leah had a point. If she…
Anger flashed as common sense regained its hold in her brain.
What the hell?
Were they piping some invisible gas into the room that made everyone lose their minds? Zee set her jaw, yanked her zipper up tight, and crossed her arms again.
Jagger hit the room running. “Sorry.”
The collection of hens clucked, “That’s okay.” “No problem.” “Take your time.”
Today’s shirt advertised Fosters beer and Jagger was out of it in seconds. His jeans took even less time. Did he always go without underwear? Madeline set her timer and Jagger struck a pose.
Zee spent the first minute fuming. The pose wasn’t good anyway. But then he changed his stance, and the light hit him just right. Grabbing a blunt stub of a charcoal stick and using it on its side, she slashed with annoyance onto the page. A wide gash of black imprisoned Jagger’s torso onto the pad. In just three or four terse lines, she captured the rugged beauty of the man’s body. Her next view was of the breadth of his back. Again, Zee’s precision with line and form trapped him with angry strokes onto the page.
Jagger chose to sit for his longer, twenty-minute pose. He drew up his legs and curled into himself. Limbs tangled and intertwined. He sat with his forehead resting on bent knees until his final adjustment when he tipped his head to one side so his cheek rested where his forehead had been. He closed his eyes. In contrast to the tense knot of his body, the serenity of his expression gave him the look of a sleeping angel.
On the page, Zee arranged the weave of each arm and leg, but changed her mind and abandoned the sketch. She flipped to a clean page. The sunlight from the window behind her bathed Jagger’s cheek and shown in the unruly wave of his hair. The warmth across her shoulders seeped into her muscles and melted some of her anger. She set aside the short stick of charcoal she’d been using like a sword, and picked up something a bit more refined.
Zee began to draw his face. Only his face. Duplicating each feature with ease, she felt as if the straight sweep of his nose and the fullness of his beautiful mouth were all hers for the taking. Every line fell perfectly into place. Using her fingertip, she created the shadow of his cheek, the dip above his upper lip and the shade of his eyelids.
The sketch seemed to draw her in. They left the crowded room. The world became just the two of them. She felt her fingers touching and caressing the warm lines of his face. Zee used a sweep of her eraser to indicate where the light kissed his hair. Blending with her fingers, she could almost feel its softness.
When she moved to highlight his mouth, a flush ran over her skin. Her nipples tingled. She touched the paper with the lightness of a whisper and smudged at the pale curve of his lip. Her own lips parted. The air around her hummed.
Looking back at Jagger, Zee’s hand froze over her work. Her heart pounded. The sunlight was warm, but that wasn’t the cause of the heat she was feeling. It was him. He was too beautiful. She’d fallen under his spell just like all the rest.
But in that one tender moment, she chose not to fight it. She gave herself permission to lose herself in the sensation and wrap it around her. Too soon she’d be back in her apartment eating day-old tuna fish and berating herself for her foolishness, but just for a minute she loosened the reins on her common sense and let the fantasy sweep her away. A minute couldn’t hurt. It was just sixty lovely seconds.