I enjoyed sitting out in the open air surrounded by trees and earthy, floral aromas. It was a clear night with a pearly moon that beamed a ripple onto the swimming pool.
Fanning away smoke that suddenly blew in my direction, I looked up and noticed Bronson, his back to me, puffing on a cigarette. He turned and, noticing me there, distanced himself.
My eyes were drawn to him in a way I wished they weren’t. Under the moonlight, he seemed like an almost mystical being bathed in shadow, especially when the smoke formed a halo around him.
He turned again and said, “Is the smoke annoying you?”
I put my fork down and ran my tongue around my lips to wash away the chocolate. “Um… no. It’s okay. I’m kind of used to it, anyway.”
A slight shift of the brow was his only response, and then he went back to smoking while looking up at the sky.
“I work for a lady who smokes a lot.”
He turned and faced me again. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to be left alone. He didn’t exactly give anything away with that remote stare.
“She makes sure she’s on the balcony, though.” As I babbled, a little voice within told me to stop, because he wasn’t exactly encouraging me with that gaze that bordered on blank, even though I detected a whisper of depth in there somewhere. He just kept sucking on his cigarette as if his life depended on it.
Perhaps it was the champagne and the sugar hit because I kept talking anyway. “I read for her, you see. She also makes me mix martinis.”
After a moment and one more drag on his cigarette, he said, “With an olive?” A hint of a smirk touched his lips and boy… he wore it well.
I remained transfixed. “Um… no. Hmm… that’s funny.” I chuckled in a goofy way. “I have to admit I’d never mixed a martini in my life. I hadn’t even tried one. Until now, that is. She makes me join her, which means I always leave with a smile.”
“She sounds interesting.”
“Agatha’s a cross between Miss Havisham and Greta Garbo.”
“Let me guess,” he responded, butting out his cigarette. “A lonely woman with revenge in her heart who slinks about demanding to be left alone.”
My eyes brightened. “Justin didn’t know what I was talking about when I described her as that earlier. I’m impressed.”
He shrugged. “Let’s just say I’ve had plenty of time to read.”
“Then you’re a rare being because these days not many people read. And to be honest, when I got this job being asked to do just that, reading from a book that I hold so close to my heart, I nearly broke out in a happy rash…. I…” I suddenly lost my chain of thought, mainly because he ran his tongue over his cushiony lips again.
“You were saying?” His voice had a deep, guttural resonance that suited him perfectly.
“Just that I feel blessed. It hasn’t been easy lately. I had the worst boss ever, and then I landed this job.”
“Do you always break out in a rash when you’re happy?” His lips twitched into a hint of a smile.
I giggled. “No. Sorry. I’ve had a bit of champagne, and I tend to say silly things.”
His eyes burrowed deep into me again. And the best I could return was a cheesy tight smile. I looked down at my half-eaten cake, and strangely, my appetite had gone. “Do you have a favorite author?”
“Do you?” he asked.
“I think I love Emily Bronte.”
“Wuthering Heights,” he returned. I must have shown my surprise because he added, “Why that look? Am I giving off some kind of illiterate vibe?”
“No. Not at all,” I lied, because he was the last person I’d expected to know of Wuthering Heights. “I’m sorry. Most younger guys don’t really go for books like that.”
“I’m not like most younger guys.” His eyes darkened again. He’d gotten that right. There weren’t too many guys I’d met who read books, let alone looked like him.
He came toward me, and as I sat there staring up at him in suspense, for I wasn’t sure what he was about to do, my heart raced.
He leaned in, and placing his finger on my cheek, he wiped it gently.
“You had a brown mark there.” His eyes softened slightly. He put his finger in his mouth in a way that made me want to sigh. It was so suggestive. “Mm… chocolate. Nice,” he rasped as if he’d dipped his finger somewhere forbidden.
I wanted to speak but lost my voice due to that subtle cologne scent wafting up my nostrils, combined with his melty brown eyes boring into me.
“Um… Yeah, I…” As I stammered, seeking a coherent response, Justin and Marcus came out, holding cigars and laughing loudly.
Bronson turned to face them. The brothers’ obvious cold regard for one another made me think of the classic Cain and Abel relationship.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING WILD
Our first customer for the day entered.
He had black scrolled tattoos wrapped around his large, muscular biceps. Pausing, he stood before the wall of images and placed his weight on one leg. His hip jutted out as if he, too, like the subject before him, didn’t give a shit about anything. As he regarded Marlon Brando I imagined he was either a biker or in the army.
Having bent down to collect some fresh coasters, I stood up and found him towering over me, which wasn’t hard given that I was only five-foot-four. He must have been at least six-foot-two because I had to lift my head up to meet his eyes.
As I took in his handsome face, I leaned against the bar because my knees weakened.
Making it back to bar attendant reality, I had to work overtime to pull my eyes away from those deep blue pools of his.
Ten seconds stretched forever. His eyes ploughed into mine. Not one of those friendly social glances one received from strangers, but intrusive, as if he wanted to know me, to read my thoughts.
I swallowed deeply. “What can I get you?”
“A beer, thanks,” he replied with such a deep, sexy husk I wished he’d ordered a complicated cocktail.
After managing to extricate myself from his unshifting gaze, I went about pouring a beer.
The glass trembled in my hand, making my face scorch. As I took his money, I made sure I didn’t gaze into his eyes given their pull. Instead, and stupidly, my eyes settled on his lips. Lips that were full and shapely and made me salivate. When his tongue unconsciously caressed his fleshy bottom lip, it seemed so suggestive, a shiver slid up my spine.
He picked up the beer with his large hand and placed the rim to his lips. Even that seemed sexual. Or was that just my imagination running wild again?
“Will that be all,” I asked, desperate to get away.
He nodded, and his gaze once more drew me in.
Mel entered carrying a tray of sandwiches. Unlike me, she was totally unaffected by our sexy customer. She greeted him with a nod, while I returned to my seat and picked up my book as a distraction.
“Can I have one of those?” he asked, pointing to the tray.
Mel said, “We have ham, egg, or veggie burger and salad.”
“I’ll take ham, thanks,” he said with that husky voice that seemed to penetrate me somewhere deep and unvisited.
His gaze returned to me. Or at least I felt it burning on my face, as I opened my book on my lap. I lowered my eyes onto a page of words swimming around.
I looked up at him. “Um… yeah.”
“What are you reading?” He asked. “If you don’t mind me asking.”
“Let me see, The Importance of Being Earnest?” When he smiled dimples appeared on his cheeks. I nearly dropped the book.
“Oh, do you read?” I asked, berating myself at how stupid that sounded.
He smiled. “I do know how to read, yes.”
“Oh, no… I mean… I meant do you read books?” I took a deep breath. What was wrong with me? I asked myself. I had gone to putty. Still the fact that he knew about that play and Oscar Wilde made my heart miss a beat. He wasn’t just bad-boy gorgeous.
He cocked his head gently to a side, not in a smug way, but in an adorable, sweet way. “My mother’s a huge fan of Oscar Wilde. She took me to that play when I was young. She has tried to get me to read it over the years, but, well… I’m a little distracted when it comes to reading.”
I nodded slowly. ADHD? I wondered. He could have been an alien from Mars and the deep swelling heat between my legs would still have throbbed.
I quickly buried my head in my book again. Not that I read one word coherently.
After he finished his sandwich and emptied his glass of beer, he said, “Just what I needed. Can I buy you a drink?”
Looking up, I managed a smile even though my lips threatened to quiver. “No, thanks.”
“You don’t drink?”
“Yes, but not until it’s dark, as a rule,” I said.
He nodded slowly. “I don’t normally drink this early, but I’ve had a bit of a morning.”
“Can I get you another?” I asked.
ENTRANCE – THORNHILL TRILOGY BOOK ONE
“Not sexy, only professional,” I said.
“Don’t lay that virgin crap on me. You’re working for the hottest guy in town,” she blurted so loudly people’s heads turned.
“Tell the whole of LA, why don’t you?” I snapped.
“You’ve got a figure to die for and a face like Natalie Wood’s,” Tabitha said, dragging me along by my hand.
“Tabs, need I keep reminding you that I’m employed as a PA?”
“I know, I know. But there’s no harm in making the most of your assets,” she said, sounding more like an ambitious mother by the minute.
We passed “Yesterday’s Child” my favorite vintage shop. Instincts fully aroused, I headed for the doorway. Tabitha pulled me back. “No vintage, Clary, only contemporary, stylish, and sexy.
“Vintage can be super classy and fashionable,” I argued. Although she was right, I had a pathological addiction to 1960s clothes. Tabitha said it was because I was trying to emulate my late mother. I couldn’t disagree. My mother and I were so alike in build that I still wore her clothes. It was an obsession that had caused much trouble at college, at least until vintage became fashion. Then the bullies suddenly regarded my Mondrian-inspired mini worn over white patent-leather boots with envy.
“Let’s go there.” Tabitha pointed to an enormous department store. I followed along submissively.
ENLIGHTEN – THORNHILL TRILOGY BOOK TWO
As I stood by the cinema-sized screen displaying images of Gustave Klimt’s embellished, gilded images, it felt like blocks of concrete held me up. My hands were so clammy that I suspected I’d left damp imprints on my velvet dress.
I did everything in my power to cast my focus over the crowd. It was a technique I’d picked up the previous night. Unable to sleep, I’d sat at the computer seeking advice on public speaking.
My eyes had other ideas. Like magnets, they were pulled toward Aidan. With his large, powerful arms crossed, a smoldering aura bounced off him. He’d cut his hair. Even though I loved his hair long, at least it still sat on his collar. And really, it didn’t matter. Even with a Mohican haircut, Aidan would still be the sexiest man alive.
He wore a blue silk linen jacket over a cream-colored shirt and a silk cravat that robbed me of my senses. My mind, instead of scholarly contemplation, was in a tussle with my heart. In fact, maintaining focus had become so crippling that I’d left my body. Miraculously, the speech was made by another force. Or so it seemed like that, given I couldn’t remember a word I’d uttered.
When the guests rose from their seats, I exhaled a long, uneven breath. The turnout was staggering. Were all these people really into nineteenth century art? And they weren’t all hounds-tooth jackets and tiaras either. There were people of all age groups, mainly beautiful women, much to my chagrin. Had they heard Aidan was going to be there? Probably, judging by their husband-seeking attire.
“Clarissa, my sweet girl. That was so edifying. You’ve made me proud,” said my father, hugging me.
“Oh, Daddy, was it?” I undid my embrace in order to study his earnest gaze. I needed to know if he was being truthful. He had never been good at lying. “It was such a blur. I don’t even remember what I said.”
“It was fantastic, Clarissa. I mean it.” His eyes glistened with sincerity.
“Thanks for telling me. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And with…” Just as I was about to mention his name, I glanced over and saw a beautiful, dark-featured woman slinking close to Aidan. He had his back turned to me, so I couldn’t see his expression. My nails dug into my sweaty palms.
Noticing my distracted gaze, my father said, “It’s great to see Aidan again.”
My lips had turned down, and my eyes were glassy, about to erupt in tears, when Rudi and Dorothy, the hosts, joined us. I attempted a smile, but my face was as tight as that of an aging Hollywood starlet.
“Oh, Clarissa, that was fantastic. The images were truly wonderful. And you went to all the trouble of showing the entire collection from the Belvedere Museum,” said Rudi. Just as my lips parted to utter gratitude, he turned to my father. “And Julian, I really enjoyed your performance as well.”
Ebullient and jumping out of her skin as always, Dorothy nodded. “It was so engaging. I’d read Eliot on the page, but it really delivers well when spoken. The language is so eccentric and evocative.” She touched my father’s arm affectionately. Oh my, was that a glint of attraction in her eyes? After all, my handsome father was looking rather dashing in his green velvet jacket.
Dorothy cast her attention back to me. “And Clarissa, you were stunning. And that dress is something special. The color really suits your dark hair. You made a striking figure up there next to the paintings.” She clapped her hands. “It is such a lovely evening. Better than we could’ve imagined. It’s so important to celebrate history.”
“Indeed, it is,” said my father, who cast his attention over my shoulder. I turned and noticed Greta looking gorgeous in a fitted blue dress. Their eyes met, and a little smile was exchanged. I felt a tingling of warmth for both of them. They were in love.
When my focus returned to the sexy brunette cornering Aidan, Rudi, having noticed, said, “That’s Imelda speaking to Aidan. She’s here briefly. She lives in Italy and lectures at Bologna University. Art history. Her specialty is medieval art.”
My veins froze. Why couldn’t he have told me she was really a man and that she cleaned toilets for a living? She was not only a beauty but cultured and educated—just how Aidan liked his women. My head was thumping with so many screechy voices that I didn’t hear Dorothy when she spoke to me.
“I’m sorry, you were saying?” I asked.
ENFOLD – THORNHILL TRILOGY BOOK THREE
As I studied Chris I saw something in his heavy blue eyes that made me feel pity and affection at the same time. He’d always inspired that in me. I never knew I could like someone who was a drug addict. If anything, it highlighted how closeminded society was about these things.
“How have you been?” I asked, taking the cup of coffee, he handed me.
He held up a bottle of bourbon and dropped some into his coffee. “Do you want some?”
I shook my head.
After he took a long sip his focus returned to me. “I’ve been okay. I suppose. You know me?”
“I don’t know you, Chris, that well. All I know is that you’re seriously talented, and that I worry about you.”
His head pushed back sharply. “You worry about me?”
“Yeah, I do. I know you’re into shooting heroin, and I fear that we’ll find you on the floor one day.”
“Ah… You don’t want to clean up after a junkie. That’s understandable. It’s not pretty.” His tone was dry and unaffected.
“No, that’s not what I meant. Both Aidan and I respect you, we like you as a person. Not just as an artist.”
He raised his eyebrows and drew a tight smile. “But you hardly know me? I could be an evil motherfucker, for all you know.”
“Well, if you are, you’re a talented, evil motherfucker.”
He laughed with a croaky husk while lighting a cigarette. “Even when you talk dirty, Clarissa Moone, you make it sound sweet. Your little witchy face glows delightfully as if you’ve entered a den of sin. You’re a little sweetheart.”
“I’m not that innocent, you know?”
His eyes glowed playfully. “I know. I’ve watched how you gaze salaciously at Aidan, devouring him with those witchy eyes of yours.”
My face heated. “Have I been that obvious?”
“But seriously, Chris. Is there anything we can do? You know rehab? I’d be happy to pay.”
“You’re too generous.” He snorted. “I’m a man born out of my time. I’m doing a Thomas De Quincey.”
“But you’re romanticizing it. Even De Quincey admitted to the drug’s hellish grip on his life.”
“I don’t know what impresses me more, the fact you’ve read De Quincey, or that you care about my well-being,” he said with a dismissive smirk.
“I’ve read heaps of books in my short life.”
“Then you will appreciate that I feel like a ghost passing through life. That it’s only when I paint that I escape something that seems inescapable. And that living in this technological, plastic world fills my waking hours with the need to drift about with my eyes half closed.”
“For an artist whose line is so confident and pure, and a color palette that although reckless, is eye-catching and just right, you don’t strike me as someone who walks about with his eyes closed.”
“I couldn’t find those curves, nor juxtapose color, and break every rule nature has thrown at us, if I didn’t walk around with my eyes half shut. Can’t you see that? Reality is so beige, square, rectangular shapes that use asymmetry as if it’s making a fucking bold statement for originality. That does my head in. And then there’s all the fucking plastic everywhere.”
I had to laugh. His eyes had gone all fiery and wide for the first time.
“We don’t have to go down the path of technology. There are books, art and beauty.”
“Mm… beauty you say?”
“Well, yes. Europe, for instance, is filled with magnificence. It’s like one big glorious museum.”
“Even that is too sugar sweet for me. I like grungy, dark matter. Beauty is a subjective concept, Clarissa. I find old dilapidated buildings beautiful. I find old broken-down women beautiful, more so than the plastic chicks getting around showing off their fake tits, and bum implants. Fuck me, can someone shoot the dude who came up with that fucking invention.”
I had to giggle at his acerbic tone. “I also am born out of my time. I have a penchant for all things 1960’s.”
He stared at my polka-dot shift and white boots. “I’ve noticed.” His face went serious. “Clarissa, you’re one of a kind, as is Aidan. His generosity and appreciation for art resonates with the Renaissance sensibility. While you, pretty little witch, are clever, talented and true to your soul. You’re so blissfully ethereal I can imagine you floating through the air.”
I laughed. I loved hearing myself described like that, and Aidan, as a Renaissance man—a kind of a sweet version of Medici without being underhanded and murderous.
“Speaking of all things plastic, are you still seeing Jessica?”
“Miow…” Chris clawed his fingers. His eyes twinkled with amusement. “I’m not seeing her as such. But she has this annoying tendency to drop in wearing very little under her designer coats. And she gives good head, so I overlook the fact that none of her is real.”
I laughed again. “Chris, you’re one of a kind. And we don’t want to lose you. Life would be dull without you.”
“Bullshit. I’m a tiny dot in the whole scheme of things.” His face cracked into a lopsided grin. “Still, it’s nice to hear your words of encouragement. And hey, there’s no need to worry about me. I’m not drugging out as much as I used to. I’m more of a dabbler these days.”
“That gives me hope, Chris.”