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The Canvas of Her Skin
by Vivien Dean

Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: All Mark Douglas wants to do is paint his landscapes in peace. His agent has different ideas. When she demands Mark take a life studies class in order to bring more warmth to his work, the last thing he expects is to meet a woman who turns everything he believes on its ear. Free-spirited Tallulah Weaver inspires Mark to do more than paint. He seeks her out beyond the classroom walls, though somehow even that encounter doesn't turn out as he expects. Is she simply fresh inspiration? Or will Mark finally get past his fears to take the promise of a new beginning she's offering?
eBook Publisher: Phaze, 2006 2006
eBookwise Release Date: September 2006


10 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [67 KB]
Words: 15504
Reading time: 44-62 min.

It was the oranges and reds of the rising sun licking across the rippling water of San Francisco Bay that made Mark late. Out on his morning run, his footsteps faltered when the glints caught his eye, then stopped completely when he turned his head to see the long flames spreading along the water's surface. It was too beautiful to ignore. He was back at his apartment, grabbing a pad and some chalks before the vision disappeared completely, then running back out to the docks to try and catch it. The fact that the sky chose that particular day to begin true and clear was hardly his fault. That was Mark's story and he was sticking to it.

When he ran up the stairs of the art building, his supplies tucked beneath his arm, the first thing he saw was his whole reason for being there in the first place. Cynthia Barcelo paced along the top step, a lit cigarette dangling from between her slim fingers. Her cropped steel-gray hair was half-hidden by the baseball cap she wore, her well-worn pea jacket hanging too largely from her tiny frame. For a split second, he actually felt guilty for how pissed off he'd been about the whole deal, but then realized that her presence meant she hadn't trusted him to follow through with their agreement, and his irritation returned.

"Little early for you, isn't it?" he said.

"And a little late for you," she shot back. Dropping her cigarette, she ground it out with the toe of her tennis shoe, eyeing him warily as he approached. "I know what you're doing."

"You should. It's your fault I'm here."

He kept walking past her, convinced she would never let him get the last word. It was hard not to smile when she lived up to her bulldog reputation and trotted to his side, her cheeks flushed from the brisk morning air.

"This isn't supposed to be a punishment," Cynthia said. "This is about making you better. About making your paintings better."

"My paintings are just fine."

"Fine, maybe, but not extraordinary." Her blunt appraisal took him by surprise and he stopped in his tracks to stare down at her. She lifted her squared chin in defiance. "You think because I love and worship my favorite client that that means I can't see how he can improve?" she said. "And it's not just me, Mark. Every other person who comes into my gallery and sees your work says the exact same thing. Technically flawless, but cold. Your paintings lack life."

She'd said as much when she announced she'd signed him up for the class, though then her choice of words had been much subtler. Now, hearing her lay it out on the line like this, Mark could only bristle. His art was the only thing that truly meant anything to him; it was scalding to think she'd thought this all along.

"They lack life," he said, his voice tense with barely restrained frustration, "because they're landscapes. I don't do people, Thia. You know that. I don't need to waste my time trying to capture beauty that isn't really there. Signing me up for a life studies class is both a joke and a waste of your money."

Her dark eyes studied him, her mouth pressed into such a thin line that her lips practically disappeared. "What's so sad is that I really think you believe that," she finally said quietly. "Tell me, what is it exactly you're objecting to? The fact that I'd like to see you start making some real money off your work or that I'm making you get out there and take a risk?" She didn't wait for an answer, choosing instead to start walking again toward the building's entrance. It was now Mark's turn to trail after her like a wayward puppy.

"You have an amazing eye," Cynthia continued. "When I first found you, there was magic in your work. But now..." She glanced back at him. "You know it's not the same. What you do now, that isn't painting. Yes, your use of color still takes my breath away. But you have absolutely no idea how hard it is for me to sit back and watch you waste your potential because you're too afraid to try something that will rattle your cage a little bit."

"Considering you're making me taking this class as a requirement to continue showing at your gallery, I'd say it's pretty impossible for you to just sit back," he argued.

"You're probably right. But I'm right about this."

"I've gotten this far without any formal training. I think that says a lot."

"Yes," Thia agreed. "It says there's still a lot you can learn."

They stopped at the doors, her hand resting lightly on the handle as she lifted her gaze to his yet again. The empathy that shone there was unmistakable, crumbling the last of Mark's indignant resolve.

"It's only a week," she said. "Not even that . Four days. Yeah, odds are you're going to hate me for the next few months for forcing your hand on this, but I wouldn't have insisted if I didn't think it would make all the difference in the world for you. It kills me that you won't let anybody else see what I do, Mark. Hiding in your landscapes isn't living. You need people. So, if I have to tie you down to a classroom for a week in order to get you to see that, that's what I'm going to do."

Something inside him shut off. She'd crossed the line from being the agent anxious for her client to improve to being the nosy friend who thought he was closing himself off to the world in the aftermath of what she'd dubbed Hurricane Amy. It didn't matter that Amy had left him over two years ago, or that he'd announced for any and all to hear that he wasn't looking for a relationship any time soon again. For Thia, the art wasn't worth it if it was created in a vacuum. She just didn't get that the art was all he had any more.

"You're taking me out to dinner on Friday night," he announced. "I plan on ordering the most expensive meal I can and then getting drunk off my ass in order to forget this damn class."

"As long as I get whatever you paint this week," she said with a smile. "It's going to be brilliant. I just know it."

Casting her one last withering glance, Mark pushed open the door and stepped inside, the scent of clay and oil assaulting his senses before he crossed the threshold. In spite of his determination to hold onto his self-righteous anger for being put into this position in the first place, it was hard not to relax as he hurried down the hall to the classroom. Regardless of what he was going to be painting, being surrounded by the tools of his trade always felt like coming home.

The other easels were already set up when he entered the room, forming a semi-circle around a raised platform in its center. The platform was empty, which was a good sign; though he was late, the class hadn't officially started yet. The not-so-good sign was that everybody else in the room was female. Women from the ages of twenty to seventy-five all turned their eyes toward Mark to watch as he hurried to occupy the lone empty space in the arc. Thia had been sure to stack the odds against him as high as possible.

"Mr. Douglas." There was no mistaking the warmth in the woman's voice as she came up behind him, but he refrained from looking until she was at his side. Black dreadlocks that hung down to her waist and a caftan with every color under the sun on it. This had to be the instructor. He had no idea what her name was.

"I'm a great admirer of your work," she was saying. "When I saw your name on my roster, I had to go down to admissions to find out if it was the same Mark Douglas who did 'Summer Moons.'"

"The one and only." It was said with more cheer than he felt.

"You have such a natural gift. Where did you go to school?"

He gritted his teeth. "I didn't. This will be the first art class I've taken since high school."

Her face lit up. "Really? Your landscapes are gorgeous. I have to admit, I had no idea you were thinking of branching out."

"Neither did I," he muttered.

He deliberately kept silent as she chattered along, setting out his supplies in careful order. When it became obvious he wasn't going to respond as she wanted, he heard her sigh and start inching away.

"It looks like I'm distracting everybody with all my babbling," the instructor said. "And since Lou's already in place, I should let you get to work. I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with, Mr. Douglas."

Mark just nodded as she walked away. All he wanted was to get this morning over with as quickly as possible, though knowing that he was going to be forced to stare at some guy named Lou for the next four hours was less than pleasant. Beer bellies and gold-toothed grins were not his idea of a good time.

He waited as long as he could, fussing with his brushes before he decided that it was pointless prolonging the inevitable. Taking a deep breath, he shifted sideways on his stool so that he could peer around his easel, already resolved that he'd just have to focus on Lou's surroundings rather than the model himself.

His eyes widened when he saw Lou.

Correction. Herself.

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