Authors: Lisa A. Olech
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #spicy, #model
Her imagination pictured the scene….her bound and tied to the railroad tracks with the distant sound of the train whistle. Ed standing over her twirling a black, bushy handlebar mustache, laughing maniacally.
The train is coming. Agree to marry me, and I’ll set you free!
Jagger riding up on his white horse…in a Canadian Mounted Police uniform. Wait, a Mountie with an Australian accent? Zee was tempted to sketch Jagger wearing jodhpurs and polished boots. In her mind, while the men were fighting, she’d untie the ropes herself, steal the horse, and leave both men gaping at her as she rode off into the sunset.
It was kind of nice to think of Jagger protecting her, though. Sweeping her into his arms. Carrying her away to—
She had to stop thinking like that.
She needed to reclaim her perspective. She was an artist. He was her model. Period. Not that there wasn’t a long line of artists throughout history that fooled around with their models. The tragic tale of Rodin and Camille Claudel sprang to mind. But didn’t she end up insane and surrounded by cats? She gave Bella a wary glance. “This is how it starts.”
Focus, Zee. Jagger is just work. Gorgeous, fantasy-inspiring, hot as her roof in August work. Images of a sweat-bathed Jagger sunbathing on the roof smearing his body with coconut scented sunscreen filled her senses. His hand moving over his carved abs…then lower. She choked on her tea.
Zee blew out a breath. Work. She looked back over her sketches. Usually, she chose two or three to expand into paintings, but Zee was having trouble narrowing it down. She flipped the thin sheets of newsprint and came to the drawing of Jagger’s face.
God, he was beautiful.
If only she could recreate this one.
What made the piece special, however, was the fact she had been totally in the moment when she created it. She’d experienced that perfect combination of hand, heart, and soul, and placed them all upon the page. It was an alignment of the stars. A kiss of grace. It was enough that she stood in the magic for that sliver of time to produce this one drawing. It felt greedy asking for more.
Zee removed the sheet gingerly from the pad. She needed to fix the drawing so the charcoal wouldn’t smudge. Later she’d have it mounted on an acid-free backing to keep the inexpensive paper from yellowing.
She clipped the sheet to her drawing board and took it out onto the roof to spray it with a fixative. It was another beautiful morning and the spray would dry in no time. Coming back through the kitchen, Zee warmed her tepid tea in the microwave and pushed back through the swinging door to the living room.
Isabella sat looking over the stack of drawings.
“Don’t even think about it.”
Bella blinked in response. The cat loved paper and would like nothing better than to march across Jagger’s sketches and curl up in the middle of them to take her nap. Zee scooped her up and sat with her purring in her lap. “You stay away from him. He’s mine,” she teased as she nuzzled the cat’s head.
A pounding on the door startled them both. Tea sloshed as Isabella bolted for cover.
“Damn. Who can that be?”
Zee used the peephole in the door.
“Zee, I know you’re home.” Isabella hissed behind her. “Come on, open up.”
If she didn’t talk to him, he would just continue hammering on her door. She kept the security chain on and opened it a crack.
“What are you doing here?”
“I need to talk to you.”
“I didn’t buzz you in. How did you get up here?”
“The wacko in 1A let me in.”
Mrs. Oglethorpe thought of herself as their unofficial doorman, but she had a bad habit of letting anyone in the building. First chance she got, Zee was going to have a little talk with her.
“I told you, I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Zee, be reasonable. Ten minutes, tops. I just climbed five friggin’ flights.”
“Fine, say what you have to say.”
“Don’t I deserve to have this conversation on the other side of the chain?”
“I’m still in my bathrobe.”
“It’s not like I haven’t seen you naked before. Fine, I’ll wait. Go throw something on. Make it quick, will ya? I haven’t got all day.”
“If you called first, I could have saved you the five flights.”
“Fine.” Zee closed the door. The sooner this conversation happened the sooner she could be done with it, and him. She put on the first pants and sweatshirt she found. On her way back to the door, she swung through the kitchen and grabbed her timer. She set it for ten minutes, and then opened the door.
Zee held up the white plastic square that ticked loudly in her hand. “You have ten minutes.”
“Give me a break, will ya?”
“Nine minutes, fifty-eight seconds.”
“I’m trying to be nice here. Don’t piss me off.”
“What did you need to say?” Zee crossed her arms. She shivered as if she stood in a draft.
Ed ran his hand through his hair. “This isn’t the way I wanted this to go.”
“Wanted what to go?”
“I want you back. There, I said it. Okay? There it is.” Ed put his hands on his hips. “You’ve had enough time to chill out and come to your senses. I’ve been damn patient, too. That’s gotta count for something. Your mother agrees with me. I should still be pissed about that whole job thing, but, hey, we should just let bygones be bygones. I forgive you.”
Zee stood with her arms still crossed over her chest. The timer’s tick was the only sound in the room. “You forgive me?”
“Yes. Damn big of me, too.”
Zee rubbed a hand over her eyes. “Should I thank you?”
He gave a smug nod. “That’s a start.”
Zee shook her head. “You’ve been the model of patience. A true testament to your strength of character. And here’s the funny thing. I’m not even angry at you anymore.”
“Yes.” Zee nodded. “It is good. If I was angry, it would mean I still have feelings for you. But I don’t. I’m not sure I did to begin with. You don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t care, Ed.”
“I still want to be with you, Zee”
“No, you don’t. Not really. You just think that’s what you want because I decided to call it off. You can’t stand the thought of not having the upper hand.”
“What kind of psychobabble is that? Why can’t you talk like a normal person?”
“I know you,” Zee continued. “You only want me because you can’t have me. For all I know I’m the first woman who’s said no to you, and you don’t know how to handle it.”
“That’s crazy. Who put that stupid idea in your little pin brain?” Ed’s voice rose.
Zee winced. Arguing would get her nowhere. She needed to get him out of the apartment. The sooner the better.
Don’t push his buttons
. Zee took a gentler approach. “You want a woman who loves you, don’t you? You deserve that. I’m not that woman. Why are you so insistent? You have to see that we won’t work as a couple.”
Ed looked at her with a frown on his face. “Well call me crazy, Zee, but I don’t care that you’re dumber than a post. You’re my dumb post, and I’m not ready to let you go. What’s mine is
. Hell, I’m even willing to marry you.” He threw a hand in the air. “You forget I’m on my way up at Speedy Quick. I’ll have my own repair garage, soon. You know, plenty of money. Hey, how about I buy you new boobs for a wedding present? Guess they’d be more of a present for me, huh?”
Zee snapped. “That’s it.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m just kidding. I know your boobs are a sore point with you. Two sore points, get it?”
“Get out! You’re wrong, Ed, I’m not
. I never was! Neither are my boobs! I don’t have to take your abuse. I’m done!
“Calm the hell down! Jeez, you can’t even take a joke!”
The timer rang in her hand. “Time’s up. Good bye.”
“You know what, Zee? You can be a class-A pain in my ass. You wouldn’t know a good thing if it hit you over the head. One of these days you’re gonna regret losing me, and when you come crawling back, I’ll just stand there and laugh in your face!”
Zee held the timer up. “Did you hear the bell?”
Ed snatched the timer from her hand and whipped it against the wall. The hard plastic shattered. “Fuck the timer! I’m not done!”
Fear made Zee’s body shake. “If you don’t leave right now, I’m calling the police.”
A slow, evil smile spread over his face. His voice became low and deadly calm. “Go ahead. Call the cops. I’ll just have to make sure they aren’t wasting a trip for a lousy, two-buck timer.” He spit the last words at her like venom.
Zee opened the door. Her heart pounded in her chest. “Please leave. Now.”
“When you realize no one else wants your big, sorry ass and there isn’t another man on the planet who’ll deal with all your crazy shit, you’ll come back begging. How’s it gonna feel when I’m the one throwing you out?”
Zee fought the lump in her throat. The threat of tears kept her silent. She stood by the open door.
Ed stomped past her in anger. “Stupid bitch.”
Zee slammed the door, flipped the deadbolt, put on the chain, and checked the peephole. He was gone. She unclenched her jaw as her insides trembled and twisted. She leaned her forehead against the door and closed her eyes.
She rubbed at the knot in her stomach and took a deep breath. Isabella circled around her ankles. “Forget him, Bella, he’s gone. Maybe he finally got the message?” A dark thought nudged the back of her mind. What if she was wrong? What if he didn’t stop?
The smell of Chanel filled the room.
“Why did you let that horrid little man into the apartment?”
“He wouldn’t have gone away, Nana.”
“Don’t let him in again.”
“You should invite the pretty one over.”
Zee laughed a short bitter laugh. “I don’t plan to do that either.”
“You believe all the ugly things Ed says.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Not in your head, but he’s bruised your heart.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Zee sniffed.
“Of course it matters. You’re lovely and talented. Don’t let the ravings of a lunatic convince you otherwise.”
“Don’t worry about it, Nana. I can handle it.”
Zee retrieved the sketch of Jagger from outside. The fixative spray allowed her to touch the drawing now without smudging it. She ran a tender finger along the bow of Jagger’s lip. He’d never speak to her like Ed did. Her throat tightened again. She couldn’t help but reach out to stroke the flow of his drawn hair. Was it as soft as it appeared?
A shiver ran through her. She set the sketch aside and rubbed at her goosebumped arms. She was being foolish. Just as stupid as Ed believed her to be. This drawing was only a fantasy. It wasn’t real. Daydreams and flights of the imagination weren’t going to help her get control of her life. They wouldn’t help her win that fellowship. They sure as hell weren’t going to heal her bruised heart. The only things to do that were time, distance, and hard work.
Wednesday morning, Jagger was determined to arrive on time for a change and strolled into the classroom. Zee was already there talking to Leah. She was busy securing her hair with a fat clip. Several shiny spirals refused to be tamed and spilled out to frame her face.
“G’day, ladies.” He smiled at Zee. “How’s George this morning?”
She zipped her sweatshirt up tight. “George is fine. I had to tighten that ignition wire connector screw thingie again this morning. Thanks for showing me where it was.”
Leah looked at her in disbelief. “
“Don’t look so shocked. I can turn a screw. ’Course, I ruined my new palette knife in the process.”
Leah patted her shoulder. “I’m impressed. You’re dabbling in auto maintenance. Ed should really be worried now.”
Zee held out her hand to stop her. “Please, don’t say that name.”
“Uh-oh. What happened?”
She shot Jagger a look before answering. “Later.”
Had something else happened between her and Ed since Monday? He couldn’t help but wonder if there was any connection between him and that ignition wire coming loose again. One way to find out. “I thought I fixed that screw tighter than a fish’s arsehole.”
Leah laughed. Zee just shrugged. “I can’t explain it. I’m just thankful you showed me how to fix it.”
“Glad to be of help.” Jagger ran a hand through his hair and frowned. “After class, I’ll take another look and make sure the threads aren’t stripped.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“I do a lot of things I don’t have to do. But speaking of stripped…” Jagger gave her a wink. “Best be getting to it.”
Class ended. Jagger dressed and pulled up a chair next to Zee’s space and ate his lunch while he waited for her to finish her clean up.
“You don’t need to hang around. I’m sure the car’s fine. You certainly have better things to do than to wait for me.”
“I don’t mind. Take your time.” He put the top back on his water bottle and pointed to her canvas. “You’re so good. Very talented.”
Zee raised her eyebrows. “Um...thanks.”
“I’ve noticed how you work. It’s different from the rest of them. The building could collapse and you wouldn’t flinch.”
Her cheeks flushed. “Wow, thank you.” She went back to wiping out the last of her brushes. “You make it easy.” She flashed him a look. “I mean, you’re one of the best models I’ve worked with. You really know how to show your body.”
He shrugged. “I’ve done some studying.” Right now he was studying how the fine hair on the nape of her neck curled into two perfect corkscrews. He was noticing the curve of her ear with the small gold hoop piercing its lobe, and he was wondering how it tasted.
“Well, you’re good at it. You seem very comfortable. That in itself is a talent.” She stopped what she was doing, glanced back at him and shook her head. “I couldn’t do it.”
“Always been more comfortable without my clothes. It’s how I relax. My mum used to say if I wasn’t afraid I’d get arrested, I’d be naked all the time. Drove her a bit daft.”
Zee went back to her brushes. “Hell, if I had a body that looked as amazing as yours, I’d be naked right now.” Jagger’s eyebrow shot up. If he wasn’t careful, it wouldn’t be the only thing shooting up. Zee clamped a hand over her mouth and looked at him with wide eyes. “I mean…what I meant to say—never mind. I’m sorry. I’m just tired. I didn’t get much sleep last night. Best if I keep my mouth shut. I’ll be finished here in a minute and we can go see to that screw.” This time her hand covered her eyes.