Grayson read the sign in the window and his heart sank. He checked the address again on the paper the waitress had given him and confirmed the number above the door. Stuffing the paper back in his pocket, he sighed, wondering what to do with his double order of sandwiches. He wanted to surprise Chloe with her normal ritual Sunday lunch, and share an impromptu meal with her, but it appeared she was not available.
…’til he heard music.
Loud music, coming from inside.
He turned his face and put his ear closer to the door, listening.
She had Enrique Iglecias playing—no, blaring.
He chuckled as he came away from the door, looking around to see if anyone else, passing by on the sidewalk, heard the booming cadence coming from within her gallery. Apparently, a few people did as their heads jerked around. He even saw one guy step up his walk to the beat, shaking his hips to the rhythm, and earning an elbow from his unimpressed girlfriend.
Grayson cupped his hand above his brow and peered into the window. He couldn’t see her inside, but at least he knew she was home…or working…or dancing. Whatever she was doing, she didn’t seem to want to be disturbed. The ‘Closed’ sign hanging against the pane, and the music so loud she was risking breaking several ordinances, were two big indications.
But Grayson had never been known for his reservation.
He tried knocking, and the door moved. Surprised to see it unlocked, he pushed and it opened.
He glanced around first and then entered, his excitement building in his chest. No woman had ever made him feel this way before. All giddy-like. It was quite unusual for him to care this much about seeing one specific woman, about being with her, but he enjoyed the newness and rolled with it.
Once inside, his sights raised up to the numerous paintings hanging on the walls. Each one even better than the next.
A smile crept on his lips as he took in the colors, the twisted bodies—half naked bodies—and the sensual positions of those painted partners. To him, each one looked as if they were tangled in a dance, though he doubted that was her, or anyone else’s, interpretation. He often had dancing on the brain, and if a physiologist were to hold each of these canvases up as an ink-blot test, he’d respond the same on each one. He might mix it up a bit and say that particular one was the Tango. This one was the Rumba. And that one, on the far corner, was the Paso Doble.
One thing was for sure, Chloe LaRoche had talent.
She could take a fleshy, near pornographic image and turn it into a beautiful display of sumptuous, erotic art. Just what his dance studio needed.
At the change of a song, his attention finally tore from the paintings and into the gallery as a whole. It smelled like paint and wood and Chloe. He could distinctly remember the scent of her skin from last night and it lingered all around him now. Oh, how he loved the way she smelled. Clean, with a hint of vanilla.
He walked around the small gallery, finding himself idly shopping for artwork to hang on his soon-to-be-a-studio walls. But this one…he decided as he drew closer to the register desk, was different. Hanging at eye level behind the cash register, it portrayed a solitary female with polished ivory skin, soft curves, and long dark hair draping over one shoulder. He doubted Chloe had painted such a revealing self-portrait, especially with so much detail and…skin. But he swore it looked exactly like her. From the soft curve of her hips to the modest swell of her breasts being covered by her thin dainty arm laid intentionally across her chest.
He drew even closer, leaning across the desk.
Yeah, that was her all right.
Before he realized, he was already picturing it hanging in his bedroom, envisioning the dark amber hues of her painted hair coordinating well with the deep wood grain of his cherry furniture.
Yes, that one he’d buy for himself.
As he continued to stretch across the counter, a paper blew off onto the floor. He walked around to retrieve it and when he picked it up, he couldn’t help but notice the bright red wording at the top: 2nd NOTICE.
Curiosity got the better of him and he glanced over the receipt. It seemed Chloe was behind on her lease and had been given her last and final warning from the landlord. He swallowed, knowing this was not his business to be reading her personal mail, and quickly returned the paper to the counter.
He felt a pang of pity and concern for Chloe. He didn’t like knowing she was struggling to make ends meet, especially with someone of her talent. Someone like her should be selling paintings left and right, with no worries of when the next paycheck would fall.
He shouldn’t care so much, for he barely knew her. But for some reason, he felt protective of her and wanted to help her through her financial difficulties. Never had he given thought to sharing his wealth with a woman. In fact, he steered clear of women who were gold diggers and leeches. Those kinds could be spotted a mile away.
Chloe was different.
She didn’t pursue him at the club like most women had. She didn’t even stick around the apartment the next morning to try her hand at gaining something for herself. Hell, she never even gave up her name. She was mysterious. Unpredictable. And until he walked into her shop, elusive.
Perhaps those things were what drew her to him so strongly. A challenge. The thrill of the hunt….
He glanced toward a door to the side of the counter, from where the loud music was coming—where Chloe no doubt was—and a strange sense of predation came over him. Every bone in his body screamed for the woman in the next room. To see her. To capture her. To claim her.
Was he out of his freakin’ mind?
She was a woman with baggage—the heaviest of all kinds—money problems. If he walked through that door, there was a strong possibility he’d be in for a hell of a lot more than what he bargained for. And since he had already slept with her, it would be nigh on impossible for him to back out.
Save face, Grayson, and walk out the door.
But he couldn’t.
He wanted to see her again, to see her look of surprise. To have her in his arms again.
Last night was the most incredible night he had ever had, and he wanted more of those nights, but only if it was with her.
Who gives a shit if she’s a struggling artist? Every person with a dream was at one point or another. Even him, years ago.
And let’s not forget the reason you pursued her in the first place. If she takes your offer of employment at Gyrations, the extra cash would surely help her.
Grayson liked the sound of that. It lay lighter on his conscience to think he could assist her without feeling as if she were picking from his pockets, nor could anyone else allege to such a thing later on. There was nothing he wanted more than to dance with this woman night after night and, quite possibly, score himself a sexy, provocative lover to boot.
Oh, but the unrelenting female club-hounds of Gyrations would be thoroughly pissed.
He smiled, pleased that his dueling thoughts seemed to have come to an agreement. With that, he stepped forward toward the door, their lunch in hand.
It was settled. Grayson Anders was going to pay his little enigmatic vixen a visit.
But the moment he opened the door, his bravado temporarily left him and all he could do was stare. Like a statue, he watched as Chloe danced around her quaint, efficiency apartment in nothing but baggy dove gray sweats and a paint-splotched t-shirt, thinking she was the sexiest woman he’d ever seen.
Yep, he was a gonner. He knew it and didn’t care to fight it.
Her cute little bottom bumped and grinded to David Bisbol’s Oye El Boom, her legs slightly bent, her eyes closed. She held a paint brush in one hand, pressing it close to her chest like a warm body, while her other hand smoothed down the curve of her hip.
She hadn’t noticed him standing there, that was obvious, but he sure noticed the twitch in his groin. His body immediately stirred behind the tightness of jeans as his eyes were glued to her body, aching to be that very paintbrush tucked between her breasts.
He felt like he was in a gentlemen’s club, watching his own personal erotic dancer, tempting him, whetting all of his senses with tantalizing shoulder rolls and hip thrusts—minus the pole.
What was more alluring about this whole situation was she thought she was alone and she was being herself. He was able to catch a glimpse of Chloe LaRoche behind closed doors and see that she enjoyed dancing just as much as he did—and to the same style of music he listened to. Too many women in his life had pretended to like Latin-style dancing simply for the sake of winning his affection. But as he stood in his remote corner of the room, the real Chloe unfolded right before his eyes, and he was truly smitten.
Unable to be the inactive spectator any longer, he set their Styrofoam to-go lunches on the floor and walked toward her. He yearned to take her from behind, lay his hands on her hips and pull her to his body, but he feared he’d only frighten her, since she still had no idea he had entered the room. With his luck, she’d probably kick into self-defense mode and throw a heel to his balls.
No, he treasured them too much. Another time, perhaps.
Right now, he’d approach her from the front, that way he could at least see what was coming at him, should she freak out and throw punches. For some reason, the thought of catching her wrists and restraining her against him aroused him even more than his original plan.
With the music blaring in his ears, he was driven by his hunger and a deep anxious need to touch her, to dance with her. He slipped his hands around her waist and pulled her into his arms.
“Care if I join you?”
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