Authors: Lisa A. Olech
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #spicy, #model
In the parking lot, the air felt cool, but the bright heat of the morning’s sunshine promised warmer weather to come. George sat in his regular spot. She opened the back door on the passenger side. The black canvas-wrapped bundle was difficult to see at first, but there it sat under the driver’s seat. Zee crawled across and snatched it off the floor. When she righted herself, Ed stood by the back fender of the car.
“Dammit, Ed! What the hell? Are you’re trying to scare the life out of me? Knock it off!”
“I was passing by, saw you, and wanted—”
“I have class. I don’t have time to talk to you.” This had to stop. Zee took a deep breath. “I thought you understood. I don’t want to see you again. I’ve made that very clear.”
Ed planted his hands on his hips and scowled at her. “Oh, you made it clear all right. What your little brain doesn’t understand is that it ain’t over until
say it’s over.”
A tiny ribbon of fear whispered down her spine. “Are you stalking me?”
“Hell, no. Don’t be so damn paranoid. I just wanted…”
A beat-up Chevy van pulled into the parking lot and rumbled into the space just behind Zee’s car. It was rusty red in color with patches of gray Bond-O, and a muffler so loud both she and Ed stopped their conversation to look in its direction.
Ed snorted. “And I thought your car was a piece of shit.”
Before she could defend George, Jagger Jones bounded out of his van.
“G’day Zee.” He took off his sunglasses and looked toward the sky. “Cocker of a day, aye?”
Ed frowned at Jagger and shot a look back at Zee. “You know this guy?”
“Hi, Jagger.” Zee turned to Ed. “I have to go.” She closed the door and locked her car.
“We aren’t done talking.” Ed grabbed her elbow to stop her.
“Yes, we are.” Zee tried to pull away. His fingers dug into her arm as he jerked her back.
“And I say we aren’t.” Ed raised his voice.
“Ow! Let go. I’m late for class.” Zee pushed against his punishing fingers.
“So you’re a few minutes late drawing your porn, big deal.”
Anger flared in Zee. She and Ed were almost the same height and she met his glare with one of her own. “
Let go of my arm. Now
“My mum would have boxed my ears for not acting gentlemanly. Can I help you carry any of your stuff up to the studio, Zee?” Jagger stood behind Ed. He was taller by a good six inches. She watched the muscles in his jaw tense. She thought he’d left. Had he heard their conversation? He crossed his arms and didn’t seem in any hurry to leave.
Ed loosened his grasp. Zee wrenched her arm away.
“Thanks, Jagger. I’ve got it.” She lifted the brushes. “I’ll walk up with you.”
Jagger stood aside to let her pass.
Zee looked at Ed. “Good. Bye.”
He grumbled under his breath. “Not till I say what I have to say.”
Soon. Count on it.” He hit Zee’s car with his fist and stalked away.
“Interesting bloke,” Jagger commented as his frowning gaze followed Ed’s retreat. He put a gentle hand on Zee’s shoulder. His voice softened. “You ready to go in?”
Zee sniffed, ran chilled fingers over her eyebrows to smooth the tension building behind them. “Oh, yes, I’m ready.”
She was thankful they didn’t speak on their way to the second floor. A flood of adrenaline was making her body tremble, and she had to tighten her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering.
All eyes were on them as they arrived at the studio together. Jessica’s eyes fired poison-tipped arrows at her as Zee moved back to her easel. Leah was at her side in an instant.
“Want to tell me what’s going on?”
“No.” Zee opened her brushes. She shot a glance at Jagger and then back to Leah who looked ready to burst.
Leah smiled sweetly. “But you will, won’t you?”
“Maybe later.” Zee pulled the brushes she needed.
“Ooooh, I can’t wait to hear.”
Zee looked up again. Jagger was already on the model’s dais. He looked at her with dark eyes. She couldn’t read his face. A rush of jumbled emotions tumbled down on her and she averted her gaze.
Jagger slipped out of his clothes and found his spot. He placed one foot slightly ahead of the other yet kept his weight on his back foot. Left hand behind his back. Right arm raised and bent with his right hand resting behind his head. He adjusted the turn of his hips, and froze. Artists hated fidgety models. Twenty minutes, this one, but the minutes ticking by were not what filled his mind.
The room was warm for a change. The last few classes they’d had to move a portable heater in to keep him warm while he posed. Today he didn’t notice any chill. Today his slow-building anger at watching that weasely bastard grab Zee burned low and hot in his belly. Jagger fought to keep his hands lax when they instinctively wanted to tighten into fists.
After witnessing the way he spoke to Zee and his performance at the parts store, Jagger knew the man liked to run his mouth, but there was no excuse to put your hands on a woman in anger. None. Ever.
Zee stopped painting to rub the place above her elbow where that arsehole’s fingers had dug into her arm. Her hand stilled and her gaze lifted and met his. She was quick to lower her eyes. Her cheeks flushed. Jagger watched as she picked up her brush again.
She took a breath, scooped a bit of paint and stood poised for a long moment. Her hand shook. Jagger’s heart tugged. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and comfort her before he hunted down that slimy arse and beat the crap out of him. Zee looked back into his eyes once more.
This time she held his gaze. He saw fear, shame, hurt, and anger flicker in her changeable eyes. It wasn’t hard to see. Zee wore each emotion clearly. Then she notched her chin. He watched her straighten her spine and reclaim her strength.
A fierce need to protect her threw him. He hadn’t felt like this since fat Freddy Abbott pushed Mick down in the playground and sat on her. Jagger had pummeled fat Freddy, bloodied his nose, and made him cry. The only difference now was he wanted to strangle the bastard hurting Zee, not just bloody his nose. And, the
thing he felt toward Zee Lambert was brotherly.
Jagger stretched out in the back of his van. His guitar rested comfortably on his chest while he picked his way through the bridge of a new song. The inside of the van resembled a freshmen’s dorm room with the back half of the space a makeshift bed piled with pillows and a sleeping bag. A beat-up cooler, his backpack, and sheets of music were scattered about. A pair of sweats thrown in a corner covered a toolbox and other random things. He even had curtains on the windows cut from an old wool blanket.
Jagger strummed a minor cord change and jotted down the new notes on the sheet beside him. The side doors to the van stood open so he could feel the late afternoon warmth and enjoy this beautiful day. That was bullshit, of course. The real reason—he was waiting for Zee.
After this morning he needed to…what? Be her guard dog? Faithful sidekick? Her shrink? Oh, right, that would have her falling into his arms! He twanged his G-string.
It wasn’t like him to be so unsure of himself, especially around a woman. He’d thought about Zee and little else for the past two days. Hell, it rained yesterday, and he couldn’t help noticing the gray of the sky was the same shade as her eyes. Jeez, he had it bad for this girl.
He heard a trunk close and peeked over the front seats to see Zee unlocking the door to her car. He was quick to step out of the van. “Hey there.” Zee jumped. Dammit, he hadn’t meant to spook her. “Sorry.”
“Jagger? What are you still doing here?”
He turned and set his guitar back inside. “Just killing some time. Enjoying this beautiful day. Playing a little.”
Zee slid her things into her back seat. “I didn’t know you played.”
“I’m not very good, but do a bit of composing.”
“You write songs? Wow. A man of many talents.” She looked at the keys in her hand. “I…” She gave a tiny shake of her head and held up a hand. “I need to go. I’ll let you get back to your music. Have a nice afternoon.” Zee turned to get into her car.
“No. Wait. Did you want to go for coffee or something?”
“I don’t drink coffee.”
“Then how ’bout the something?” Jagger lifted an eyebrow and gave her a tipped smile.
“I don’t do that either.”
“I meant food.”
“I know what you meant.” She shook her head. “I-I really should go.”
Jagger hooked his thumbs into the pockets of his jeans. “So, this morning…”
“What about it?” Zee crossed her arms over her chest and rounded her shoulders as if she were cold.
“The short guy. What’s the deal with him? Boyfriend?”
“Ed. He’s my ex.”
“Oh. Is he bothering you?”
Zee frowned again and looked out across the parking lot. “Why do you ask?”
“Just trying to be nice.”
She shook her head. “Please don’t.”
Jagger shrugged one shoulder. “My mum would smack me if I wasn’t.”
She gave him a small smile. “I won’t tell her if you don’t.”
He took a step toward her. The desire to wrap her in his arms was back. “If he’s giving you a hard time…”
Zee held up a hand to stop him. “You’re sweet, but put away your armor, Galahad. I-I can take care of myself, but thank you.”
“I’m more of the superhero cape type. Armor’s too bloody heavy.” She gave him a smirk. “I’m sure you can take care of yourself. I just thought…”
“Please. I’m fine. Honest.” She opened her car door. “I have to go. Bye, Jagger.”
Zee climbed into her car, and Jagger turned back toward his van.
Superhero? Really, mate?
He bumped the side of his van with a fist. He was such a wanker!
Whir, whir, whir, whir.
Zee’s car struggled to turn over.
Whir, whir, whir, whir, whir, whir.
Jagger hesitated but couldn’t help himself. He walked up to her window. Zee sat facing forward. She wouldn’t look at him. Once again she turned the key with the same result. Jagger tapped on the window.
She sighed and lowered the glass.
“Sounds like a problem with your ignition. Want me to take a look?”
“You’re just hell-bent on saving me today, aren’t you?”
Jagger shrugged. “Comes with the cape.”
Zee shook her head but graced him with a dazzling smile. Complete with a dimple in her left cheek. “Let me guess, another of your talents is fixing cars?”
“I’ve kept that heap over there alive. Got it so she runs on the smell of an oily rag. Go on, pop the bonnet.”
She reached under the dash and pulled the lever. Jagger juggled the flip latch and raised the hood. It only took him a second to find the problem. Loose wire. It was an easy fix. He poked his head around, “Give it another go.” The engine started right up. He gave her the okay sign. “Great. Shut it off.”
He came back to her window. “Just a loose ignition wire. Let me grab a screwdriver. You should be all set.” In the minute it took him to rummage through his toolbox and find the right size screwdriver, Zee had gotten out and was looking at the engine. “Nothing to worry about. Let me show you. Here.” He pointed to the cable. “This fitting is just loose. Have you been having problems starting?”
“Sometimes. George can be temperamental.” Under the bonnet her voice sounded soft and intimate. She was standing so close he could smell her shampoo. The light scent clashed with the oily smell of the car’s engine.
Jagger made the mistake of looking at her. Now he wanted to kiss her. “George?”
She swept her hand toward the car. “Jagger, meet George. George, this is Jagger.”
Jagger smirked. “Nice to meet ya, George. I’ll have ye fixed in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.” It took those two shakes to tighten the screw, but Jagger was stalling and took his time giving the engine a good look see. He could feel the heat of her next to him. You bet he was going to take his time.
“You’re not going to tease me?”
His head almost hit the hood. “Tease you?” His mind flooded with possibilities.
“About naming my car.”
“No. It’s a good name.” She gave him a whisper of a smile and looked back at her engine. If it wasn’t for the grease on his hands, he’d have placed a finger under her chin and tipped up her face to his so he could run the pad of his thumb over that distracting little dip in her lower lip. Followed closely by the tip of his tongue.
Zee raised her eyes to his. She absently bit at the very lip that was sending his testosterone levels through the roof.
Leah’s words surfaced through the fog.
“Try George again?”
Zee slid into the driver’s seat. The engine sprang to life on the first try. Jagger lowered the hood and closed it with a short slam. “All fixed.” He leaned on the top of her open door.
“Thanks, Jagger. Really.” She looked up at him with soft gray eyes. “I’m sorry I was kind of a bitch before.”
He put up a hand to stop her. “You don’t owe me any explanation.”
“Just trying to be nice.”
Jagger smiled. “You could be extra nice and thank me by having lunch with me.”
nice.” The car door was between them. He watched her worry her bottom lip again. “I’m…busy today.”
He took Leah’s advice. He wouldn’t push. But he sure as hell wasn’t giving up. “Another time then?”
“Um, well. Maybe.”
“I like maybe.” Before she could come up with another excuse, he let her go. Jagger shut her door. “See ya, Zee.” He tapped the roof. “Take it easy, George.”
He moved back to his van and leaned against the side as she pulled away. Jagger smiled to himself and flipped the screwdriver catching it by its yellow plastic handle. Maybe wasn’t a no. He’d take that for now.
Sitting on her couch, tea in hand, Zee looked through the sketches spread across the coffee table. Page after page of Jagger’s naked image sat before her.
She thought about him in the parking lot the day before. Hell, she was having trouble thinking about anything else. She kept picturing his face over Ed’s shoulder. Jagger had to have heard them arguing. He’d looked furious. He obviously assumed she needed saving as if she were some timid damsel in distress.