Hello, Gentle Reader.
Can I just say how in love I am with this writing thing, right now?
I know this is a huge departure from my recent posts where I complain about fear and self-doubt and being firmly in the everything-I-write-is-shit stage of making the wordsauce. But ya know that’s the process. It’s full of ups and downs and right now I’m on an awesome upswing.
And I have you all to thank for that.
Recently, I’ve been corresponding with some readers and it’s made me feel like I might actually know what the fuck I’m doing and that’s big. HUGE.
Most of these conversations center around love of my heroes, Julian and Elijah. The commentary you guys give me on this is HILARIOUS and enlightening. It’s weird to see readers falling in love with these men I created. Lots of you are wanting more of Julian. Well, you’ll be glad to know that Julian makes a big appearance in Everything She Never Wanted (Coming May 25!!!) and an even bigger one in Having it Both Ways. So don’t fret, my lil’ pets. You will get your dose of Julian. But in the meantime, I have written this short story from his POV. It’s kind of my twist on a meet-cute prequel story that tells you how Julian and Yves met and all the delicious things that led up to her waking up in his apartment the next morning.
(It’s not available at Kobo or showing at Goodreads yet, but as soon as it is I will update the links! Enjoy!)
“Be careful of that one. I hear she’s some sort of man-eater.”
When Julian Webster lands his first big group showing at an exclusive gallery in Philadelphia’s Old City, he is hardly ready to deal with the attention focused on him. Particularly from a pint sized, so called man-eater by the name of Yves Santiago.
Women are his weakness…a weakness he has chosen to avoid to focus on his career, but Yves is a force of nature that demands to be acknowledged.
Two months ago when winter was still hung on with a biting wind that rattled and whistled through the ancient windows of his studio, Julian wondered if he would even be able to keep the lights on. Now he stood in Desirable Objects a gallery in Old Town, in a silk t-shirt and his best jacket, pretending that he didn’t feel a bit nervous or out of place. It was a group show, not his first, but it was one of the most exclusive. Five of his best pieces hung on the wall.
“Lots of interest in your Island Fever piece,” the gallery manager murmured as she exchanged his empty glass for another one filled with rum punch. “Mingle. Make conversation. There are lots of critics and columnists here. Show them some of that shining personality.”
Julian nodded and cleared his throat. “I’ll try. Thank you.” He smoothed his lapels, pulled a deep breath into his lungs as he scanned the room. His eyes settled on his own painting, Island Fever. He shook his head. Such a ridiculous title. The painting however was one he was very proud of. It had come to him during of his visits back home in Jamaica. He still didn’t remember much about it. Lots of rum. Lots of women. The painting that sprung from it perfectly depicted his lingering memories of that summer.
Lost in his own thoughts he moved across the crowded space with it’s murmuring and laughter, smooth-legged ladies in skirts and dresses in bright summer colors until he stood in front of it. Very briefly he glanced at the the price tag and his stomach clenched. Thirteen thousand dollars? What right did he have to ask for that kind of money? The thought that someone would pay that much for some paint and canvas with his name signed at the bottom made him uncomfortable.
“Gorgeous, isn’t it?”
He only meant to glance at her, but at the last moment he couldn’t look away. The petite thing next to him was all eyes and hair. The latter cascaded in curling waves over her shoulders and back and had that tousled look that was supposed to seem carefree and bohemian, but probably took hours. Her eyes were curious and cat-like, hazel, but more green than brown with flecks of gold. They were the sort of eyes that would come alive on canvas.
Julian had two choices in this moment. He could reveal himself as the artist or he could hear this woman’s honest opinion of his painting. It was so rare that he got to hear what people really thought without them pandering to him in some way. So without even making a decision to do it, he crossed his arms over his chest and said, “What do ya find so gorgeous ’bout it?”
“The way their bodies entwine and overlap to create a sort of landscape.” Her hand gestured, undulating in the air in front of her. “The bodies are like hills and valleys. This artist really loves women.”
Julian grunted. Was that what this piece conveyed? Love was far from what he felt when he painted it. It was more about him succumbing to his most basic desires.—overindulging them. Women were a distraction that he couldn’t really afford which was why he had sworn them off and didn’t feel like he was missing out on anything. “What make ya say that? I had a feeling of sameness. Like he was speaking to a sorta boredom.”
She shook her head. “No way. This artist loves women. Look at how the brush strokes follow the curves and lines of their bodies making them into hills and valleys. And how it can it be about sameness when there are so many variations in skin tone and body composition? If I were to judge by their placement on the canvas, I would also say that he has an affinity for dark skinned women. With these darker tones it probably would’ve made much more sense if he placed them on the bottom to symbolize earth and on a more philosophical level, symbolizing the black woman as the foundation of his relationships with all women. But placing her on the top where the sun meets the landscape is very telling.”
He smiled at that. She wasn’t completely wrong. Darker complexions were his preference. Skin that carried the heat born from it’s proximity to the equator. Warm brown tones that spoke of earth and fertility. Her complexion wasn’t very dark, but it definitely appealed to him. Burnt sienna with warm yellow ochre tones that glossed the rounds of her cheeks and the cup of her bare shoulders.
“Ya see all a that in there?” he asked with a raise of his brow.
She shrugged her shoulder. “Yeah, but mostly I see evidence of a very sensual lover.”
“Is that so?” he asked turning to her.
“Yes, that’s so—“
“Julian!” Pricilla, the overly-energetic gallery manager angled between them and hooked her arm in his. “I see you have already met, Yves Santiago. Entertainment columnist for the Philadelphian.”
He cringed inwardly when he saw a confused look pass over the woman’s face, but she recovered smoothly and extended her hand. “It was nice talking with you, Julian. Ah, I see Tamara Winston over there, would you excuse me?” And was gone before he could offer any sort of explanation for his deceptive behavior.
“Be careful of that one. I hear she’s some sort of maneater,” Pricilla warned. Julian didn’t need her warning. Everything in his body could sense it. The gallery owner kept him clear of Yves Santiago for the rest of the night, expertly steering him toward this or that press representative or art collector. She was exactly the sort of women he was fatally drawn to. But even in his avoidance Julian was still aware of her. A bright blur at the edge of his vision, drawing his eye. Her reciprocating look was one of scorn, of which he was totally deserving.
When the champagne ran out and the crowd began to thin and Julian stepped outside for a cigarette, he was startled to find the siren waiting on the curb. She walked right up to him and took the cigarette from his fingers and took a generous pull. When she handed it back her red lipstick had stained the filter.
“So, is that your thing? You lie about who you are to hear what people really have to say about your work?”
“I don’t know what came over me, lying like that–“
“I do. You thought you would get an honest opinion. And you did. But you didn’t consider the fact that I already knew who you were.”
An involuntary grin pulled at the corners of his mouth. “Ya know me?”
“You’re Jamaican born. Got your undergrad at Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing arts. You applied and were accepted in the artist in residence program here in Philly at The University of the Arts. Your focus is oil painting and this is your second group show, though you’ll probably get a solo one pretty soon based on all the attention you’re garnering tonight. You sold out tonight. You’re an amazingly talented artist. I know exactly who you are Julian Webster.”
Julian shoved his hands in his pockets. “That’s gotta be some kinda talent. Ya made me feel flattered and scolded all in one breath.”
Yves smiled and shrugged. “Words are kind of my thing.” She stepped a bit closer, invading his personal space. Feline eyes assessed him in a way that made his gut seize up and blood rush to places far south of his brain. “So how far off was my critique? Does the artist adore the female form? Is he a sensual lover?”
Alarm bells went off in him, ones he readily ignored in to study the shape of her lips. “Ya nah far off at all.”
The smile that pulled up one side of her mouth was slow and lethal. The kind of smile that always sent a swift punch of lust to his groin. “I thought so.” A cab slowed to a stop on the curb and she reached for the door handle. “Hey, do you wanna go somewhere for a drink? Talk maybe?”
“Uh…” His first instinct was to say no. This woman was trouble. The dirty kind that he didn’t want to wash off in the morning. One that he would gleefully follow to his own self destruction just to bask in her light. “That’s probably not such a—”
“Think twice before you say no. I’m writing an article on you tonight. Do you want your little white lie to find it’s way in there?”
He chuffed. “Hold on. Ya blackmailing me?”
She tipped her head thoughtfully, hand on the door handle of the taxi. “Possibly. But I think you owe me an exclusive. Maybe more than that,” she added with a wink.
“More? What exactly does that entail?”
“We can work that out later. So dinner? Drinks?”
Julian thrust his hands in his pockets and surveyed the manipulative little beauty in front of him. Logic told him to use caution. The gallery manager labeled her a man-eater, after all and that was exactly the type of woman he was trying to avoid. Perhaps he was being presumptuous. Maybe her request was purely professional. Either way, her bold approach intrigued him.
“Alright. Dinner and drinks.”
She smiled broadly and opened the car door. “Hop in.”
Juilian shook his head. “My bike is parked around back. Why don’t we take that?”
Her eyebrows raised with interest. “Bike? Like…motorcycle?”
“Yeah…is that ok? We can take a cab if–“
“Absolutely not. Let’s go, island boy.”
A fine mist had begun fall while they back tracked through the gallery to the alley. Droplets dappled the gas tank of his Indian with iridescent beads that winked and shone in the light of the street lamp.
“This is yours?” She trailed her fingers over the sleek curvature and up to the handlebars.
“Yeah. Ya nah ‘fraid to ride, are ya?”
Yves smirked. “Not in the least.”
“Alright then.” he asked as he helped her put the helmet on. He only had one. He would just have to do without. Once it was on he swung his leg over the bike and sat in the saddle. “Climb on.”
She hesitated and for a moment he thought she might be one of those types of women who pretended to be brazen then chickened out at the last minute. But she surprised him by gathering up the hem of her flouncy skirt and straddling the bike behind him.
“Have ya ridden a bike before?”
He half turned so he could look her in the eye. “Hold on tight,” he instructed. “When I lean, ya lean too. A’right?” She nodded, over bright eyes shining at him in the darkness. He kicked the engine to life. Her hands slid under his arms and wrapped around his trunk. Cautiously, he put the bike into gear and made his way to the mouth of the alleyway.