“Leave it to me, Clary. We’ll have you looking sexy and professional in no time.” She looped her arm in mine and was all bouncy.

“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.


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.


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.”