Burn Me Once - Page 15

He’s still wearing the condom—but not for long. He rolls it off and wraps it in a tissue, tossing it carelessly into a wastepaper basket before reaching for the phone and replacing it on the cradle. Then, hands on hips, gloriously naked, he stares down at me, where I’m hiding behind an organic Italian cotton pillow.

‘Alicia?’

I can’t speak. Maybe not ever again. It is quite possible that he’s erased my voice, like some kind of kinky Little Mermaid scenario.

‘Come here.’

I can’t speak, but I can move, and I will move as he demands because he’s offering me a whole new world of pleasure and I am anxious to enjoy it, and with it to erase Jeremy’s significance in my life.

I stand. My legs shake and my skin is raw—pale pink, I see, as I look down at my breasts. The sight of his marks on my body makes me soar. An ancient feminine power rocks me to the core. He did this to me. His passion did it to both of us. And the passion was bigger than either of us could control.

‘You never answered my question.’

‘What question?’

He links his fingers through mine and pulls me gently away from the bed. For the first moment since entering the suite I notice the view.

‘Holy shit.’ I stand completely still—naked, uncaring. ‘Wow...’

Manhattan glistens before me. It is high-rises and high dreams, lights and lives, lows and loves.

‘Yeah.’

His voice is hoarse and it draws my attention. I stare at his profile again, and it’s so different now. I see all his lines and marks and strengths, and somehow I feel that I know him so much better than even an hour ago.

‘I’ve always loved the contradictions of New York,’ I say.

I am drawn to the view and step towards the window, relinquishing his hand without realising it. I press my palm to the glass. It is darkly tinted and I am confident in the privacy it affords.

‘So much beauty...so much despair.’ My smile is crooked as our eyes latch on to each other in the reflection. ‘Nowhere in the world can you find such wealth and poverty in the same city block.’

‘It’s a unique place,’ he agrees. ‘Where are you from?’

‘Wisconsin, originally. I moved here five years ago—right out of college.’

‘What did you study?’

‘Fine art and art history.’

I’ve surprised him. I see the way he nods, but it’s speculative. Funny, because I’m well-known and well-respected in my field, and it’s been a long time since I’ve met anyone who doesn’t know what I do.

‘You’re an artist?’

‘I wish...’ I sigh wistfully, turning to face him with mock sadness on my face. ‘I always wanted to be. My mom says I spent so much time clutching paintbrushes I practically deformed my fingers.’

I lift my hand up and we both stare at it in the silence of the room. They’re normal to look at now, but I remember the claw-like grip they manifested after days and days spent hunched at a canvas.

‘But...?’

‘Can’t paint to save my life.’ I grimace. ‘I’m a buyer now. And an appraiser by appointment.’

‘So you take other people’s cash to choose fashionable art?’

I shrug. ‘Fashionable, abstract, classic. I spend a lot of time with my clients and in the spaces the art will inhabit, making sure it’s going to work.’

‘That’s a job?’

‘Hell, yeah.’ I gesture to the room we’re standing in. ‘This whole hotel is fitted with contemporary American masterpieces—testaments to the modernist movement. You look around and you see the art and maybe you don’t realise the effect it creates. But we’re standing in a movement, Ethan!’

I hear the enthusiasm and passion in my own voice and wince. I adore my job. That’s a good thing, but it can be a bit bizarre to people who don’t feel the same way.

‘I know what you mean.’

I exhale. ‘You do?’

‘Well, not exactly...’

He turns and cuts through the suite, disappearing through a door. I follow.

‘But the first time I recorded at Abbey Road I just about shit myself. I mean...’ He shakes his head as he reaches for the faucet and turns on the water. The bath is around the corner, half hidden by a dark wood-panelled wall. ‘The history is thick in the air at that place. The microphones, the carpet, the pictures. Legends—so many, a list as long as my arm. Not just the Beatles—though that’s everything. But all the bands, musicians, songwriters. It’s impossible to explain—except I guess it’s like you just said. I was in the middle of something so much bigger than me. It took me three tracks to get the jitters out of my voice.’

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