Here’s the first chapter of Never Leave Your Side. Enjoy.
There’s just something about a man in a suit that makes me stop and notice him. That makes it hard to take my eyes off of him. Just like the man I’m looking at right now. He’s wearing a suit, and wearing it damn well. I’ve been staring at him for at least the last five minutes. But to be fair, he’s been standing in front of the same painting for longer than that, so he’s kind of asking for it.
His eyes move back and forth as if he’s trying to figure the painting out. It’s both amusing and nerve-racking to watch someone view your art, your creation, with such critical eyes. Out of all the people in the gallery tonight who are looking at my pieces on the walls, he’s the only one who truly seems to be admiring the paintings, instead of just glancing at them.
I walk over and pretend to look over the painting as well.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” he asks.
His voice slithers down my spine, damn near making me shudder. It’s rough and deep.
“You think so?”
“Absolutely.” His eyes come over to me briefly, but then he does a double take and looks at me for much longer, his eyes trailing up and down my body.
I turn my head and look right back at him. His dark-brown eyes, strong jaw, and light-brown skin only add to his appeal. His hair is cut low, same as his beard.
“What do you like most about it?” I inquire, more than curious as to what his answer will be.
“You can tell this is a really important painting to the artist. The way she paid so much attention to the smallest things, like the crinkles around the man’s eyes from his smile. The way she even painted the woman’s stray hairs blowing in the breeze. The details are what make it really special. How about you?”
“It seems like the artist is really fond of the people in this painting.” I answer.
“Fond of? What makes you say that?”
“Because that’s my mother and father. So, yeah, I’m quite fond of them.” I smile at the shock on his face.
“You painted this? All of these?”
“This is my showing.”
He looks down at the flyer in his hand, which has my picture in the lower right corner, and shakes his head.
“Well, now I feel really stupid.” He grumbles.
“Don’t. It’s refreshing to talk with someone about my paintings without them knowing who I am. Keeps people honest.”
“Well, even though I know you’re the artist now, I’ll still honestly tell you that these are amazing.”
“So, what was it?”
“What was it about this moment that made you want to paint it? That you remembered everything about this moment so well?”
I’m taken aback by his question. No one has ever asked it and I find myself having to take a deep breath before answering. “This was the last time I saw my parents together. My dad died that night.”
“I was glad to get this last great memory of them together. This was the first time I ever painted it and felt that I’d truly captured the essence of that moment.”
“You really did. I can tell these people really love each other. That they’re happy in each other’s arms.”
I look over at the painting and try to see it through his eyes. My mother had fallen in our backyard, tripped, really, running from the hose my dad was trying to spray her with. My father was helping her up, his one arm behind her back and her one arm wrapped around his neck. They were looking into each other’s eyes, smiling, and so in love.
“Are all of these for sale?”
“Even this one?”
“Yeah. Do you think that’s weird?”
“No, it’s just that it’s so personal to you. I didn’t know if you’d want someone else having that.”
“The picture will always be in my mind. And I like thinking that someone will look at this and want to find the kind of love my parents had, if they don’t have it already.”
He gives me a sideways smile. “I like that. So now that I know who you are, I know your name is Renna. I’m Kyle.”
He extends his hand and I shake it. The callouses on his hand are a sharp contrast to his suit and they make me want to ask what he does for work. Then I think of those callouses running down my skin and my face heats up. He smirks as if he knows exactly what I’ve just thought about. I clear my thoughts along with my throat.
“So, how did you hear about the showing?” I ask.
“One of my students.”
My eyebrows scrunch in confusion. “You don’t seem like a teacher.”
“A martial arts teacher. I’m not sure if I should be offended or not though.” He chuckles.
“Not at all.” I smile. “I was just thinking, they didn’t have teachers who look like you when I was in school.”
He raises his eyebrows. “Thank you, then. But, yeah, one of my students was telling everyone about it after class.”
“Is he here?”
“She already left.”
“She? Do you have a lot of female students?”
“Less than I’d like. I think it’s especially important for women to know how to defend themselves.”
“I agree. Do you have classes just for women?”
“There are a few self-defense classes, just for women, so they can be more comfortable. And I do one-on-one lessons. You could come to one, if you want.”
“Is that your way of asking me on a date?”
I cringe right after the words leave my mouth. I meant them to be funny, but they were anything but. Now it seems like I’m fishing for a date. Smooth, Renna. Really smooth. But Kyle just grins.
“When I take you on a date, it definitely won’t be to a class.”
“‘When?’ So sure, huh?”
“More like hopeful. Would you like to go out next weekend?”
“Next weekend, I’m in an auction for charity. So, it would have to be another time.”
“In an auction? You mean, your paintings are?”
“Nope. I am. They’re auctioning off dates, and yours truly is on the chopping block.” I wave my hand up and down my body.
“Interesting,” he says, drawing the word out. “Well, let me get your number and we can set up a date for, maybe the next weekend.”
I give him my number. As he’s putting his phone back in his pocket, the owner of the gallery, Tracy, calls me over.
“Just give me a few minutes.” I tell Kyle.
He nods and I walk over to her. I can’t help but look at him over my shoulder and when I do, I find his eyes on me. He smirks before turning around to look at the painting again.
Tracy introduces me to a few people who want to meet me. It takes a lot longer than the few minutes I thought it would. Of course, I know I need to meet people and be friendly, but my mind is still on the conversation with Kyle. When I’ve finally shaken the last hand, I turn around to find Kyle gone. I look around, thinking he’s moved on to another painting, but I don’t find him.
“Renna, you won’t believe it.” Tracy calls out to me, walking over.
I look for Kyle a few more seconds before giving her my attention. “What?”
“You just sold four paintings.”
My eyes widen. “Really? Which ones?”
“The one of the night sky, the one with the woman touching her reflection, the one of the library, and the one of the man and woman on the grass in the backyard.”
My breath stalls knowing that painting, one that means so much more to me than the others, has sold and will belong to someone else now. Unexpectedly, a tear comes to my eye.
“Oh, this is such great news.” Tracy continues, running her hands up and down my arms.
I nod. “I know.”
“Congratulations. Your first sales.”
And even in this moment, my mind drifts back to the sexy man in a suit, whose number I didn’t even get.
Releasing November 15, 2019
Pre-order now: Never Leave Your Side