“It really is a gorgeous night, tonight,” Scarlett remarked. “Initially I’d thought you were insane to want to walk.” The air was crisp and clear. Overhead were a billion stars, twinkling around a misty moon. Definitely not what she had expected from a city purported to be dreary and gray. There was no snow, but the crunch of autumn leaves under their feet was a worthy substitute as they made their way down the sidewalk back towards RazCon Towers. The doors of a tiny jazz club were open and they could hear the soft, lazy strains of a saxophone and piano playing. After dinner, he’d taken her to a small clothing shop that specialized in restored vintage pieces. She came out of the shop with three pairs of jeans, several tops and the clunky leather boots of her dreams. Even better, when she’d gone to the register to pay, he pushed her out of the way and handed over his credit card, despite her protesting. She nearly laughed at the absurdity of how the evening seemed to come straight out of some silly romance novel.
“I rather like the cold,” he replied. “Everything just seems brighter. Especially at night.” He looked up at the sky, casting his elegant profile against the moon. His eyes were closed and she could see the feathery eyelashes that lay against his cheek. The moonlight bounced off of the lines and curves of his face and again she was struck by his extraordinary beauty. Even in the cold of the evening, he sent a blast of heat straight to her center and she shuddered visibly. He noticed and stopped. “Are you chilled? I didn’t think about your not having a coat.”
“I’m alright,” she replied, crossing her arms over her chest and hugging herself against the chill. “I was silly not to bring it.”
“I agree,” he said dryly. He took his jacket off and wrapped it around her shoulders. It swallowed her frame and she pulled it tightly around herself. It was warm with the body heat that lingered. Inhaling deeply, she could smell him all over it. A woodsy scent, clean and pure like the unspoiled snow that gathers on the uppermost branches of a cedar tree that mixed with the earthy smell of the leather. A distinctly male scent that made Scarlett tingly all over. “Whatever are we going to do with you, little one?” he teased.
Something inappropriate almost escaped her lips, but she caught it in time, covering with a tiny cough. “Sorry… a tickle in my throat,” she said. “But don’t bother trying to save me. People have been trying for years. I’m surprised David didn’t tell you that.”
“He did, in his own way I suppose.” He took her hand and Scarlett inhaled sharply, almost startled by his action. “Your hands are like ice. We should get you inside.” He said little as they continued down the street. People passed them by with knowing smiles. She even heard his name whispered and caught a few hungry stares. It made her feel both smug and self-conscious. All those feelings of not being attractive enough or seeming awkward rushed into her cheeks with a flush of heat. She curled a little closer into his side and began to walk faster. She wanted out of the street. She didn’t want to be stared at anymore tonight. The drugs had made her lazy and she was nearly frozen to the bone.
He didn’t speak again until they were standing at the small private elevator, waiting for it to arrive in the lobby. “Since we’re down here, would you like to see the studio?”
Scarlett’s heart leapt and her face lit up with an excited smile. “Yes, please!” she exclaimed eagerly. The thought of getting back to painting was exhilarating. Already she’d begun to feel that familiar itch in the back of her mind. She supposed it sounded ridiculous and pretentious, but at times she felt so inspired that it became a necessity to get something down on the canvas.
He returned her smile and held the elevator door as it opened before them. “Then by all means, let’s not keep you waiting.” A few minutes later, the doors opened into another foyer, much like the one downstairs, except the reception desk was a bit smaller. “I put it here on the floor with my office because there was a lot of empty space up here. My secretary, Leilah, will be glad to help you if you need anything.” He pointed to the large doors behind her desk. “That’s my office there.”
“Very Bruce Wayne,” she joked.
“I can assure you I don’t own any bat costumes or drive a funny car,” he chuckled, leading her down the hallway off to the right. “Your keycard will open the door and only yours. I don’t even have access unless you invite me.”
Scarlett’s eyes went wide. “You don’t have to do that. I mean, it is your building.”
“Nonsense. Art is a very private and personal business. I don’t want you to feel that you have to worry about my spying. Not that I ever would.” He held his hand out. “So go ahead. Try your key.”
Scarlett swiped the card on the box at the side of the doorknob, eliciting an angry beep from the machine. “Oops… I don’t think it likes me.”
“Nonsense. Try again.” She obeyed, getting the same glaring red “No access” message.
“I must be doing something wrong,” she said, feeling a little embarrassed that she couldn’t swipe a card effectively.
Raze reached out and took the hand that held the card. He was close behind her and she could feel his breath on her neck as he leaned over her shoulder. “There’s a trick to it,” he said, guiding her hand to swipe the card in a slow and steady movement. “You can’t do it too fast.” Immediately the card reader gave a happy chirp and she heard the lock click open. “See there,” he murmured.
“You make it seem so easy,” she said, trying to mask the lust in her voice. She couldn’t help it. She was drawn to this man. Something about his voice, his movement, it spoke to her most primal stirrings.
“I’m just used to it. Shall we?” he pushed the door open, stepping aside so that she could walk inside. The room was a wide space, nearly bare. Like the penthouse, there were shiny hardwood floors and a bank of windows down one side of the room. Rows of shelves and cabinets ran down another wall. Some of the shelves had been filled with supplies: brushes, palettes, bottles of paint and cleaners and a compact stereo system. “Is it alright?” he asked.
Scarlett wandered about the room, tracing her fingertips along the wooden shelving that had been built into the wall. “Of course it is,” she said. “You seemed to think of everything.”
“Well, I did have a little help from David. He’s the one that told me to make sure you had a stereo system. Though, I didn’t buy canvases or a lot of paint. I thought you might need to pick those things for yourself.”
“Thanks… I’m a little particular.” Nestled in the corner of the room, by the large windows, was a fluffy couch and a drawing table with stool. “But it’s just… too much. You’ve done too much.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s like you know everything I want before I’ve even said it.”
“Everything you need, you mean?” He strolled toward her, his movements almost predatory. “As I told you before, I’ve been watching you for a very long time, Scarlett. Be rest assured that there is very little that can be hidden from me.” She turned as he approached, backing her against the wall. His scent assaulted her again and her face flushed red. “Tell me, do you like it?”
“Yes,” she stammered, looking up into his face. “Thank you.”
He nodded. Those steely eyes were fixed on hers and she searched them for any sign of teasing. “Then you can start in the morning. Yes?”
She nodded, her voice barely a whisper. “Yes.” She was nearly panting with him so close. He was so intimidating and dripping with sensuality. She knew that she would do anything he asked and that he delighted in that power he held over her. “I mean… whenever you like.”
“As it pleases you,” he said, his eyes never leaving hers. “Though I must warn you, I can be impatient at times. More of that always getting what I want thing.”
“Do I what, Scarlett?” She shivered when he said her name. Something about the way it rolled off his tongue.
“Always get what you want?” she asked nervously.
“An interesting concept,” she said. “And what is it that you want from me?”
Scarlett’s heart fluttered hard against her sternum, sending waves of desire all over her body. A throb deep in her sex nearly made her moan, but she managed to stifle it just in time. She wasn’t certain, but she was almost sure that he knew exactly how much of an effect he was having on her. “You know…” she stammered. “I haven’t had the chance to thank you. You’ve gone to a great deal of trouble for me.”
“Think nothing of it.” His lips were close to her brow. So close that she could feel them graze lightly against her skin. All she need do was turn her head slightly and they would touch. “As I told you last night, I have every intention of protecting my investment.”
The air between them was heavy and thick. Scarlett felt that they were on the verge of something, but she wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen. Staring up at his face she examined the lines of his lips and the sharp contours of his cheekbones that stood out in the heavy shadow. Before she knew what was happening she had stretched upward, brushing her lips across his. When he didn’t protest, she kissed him again, this time letting her lips linger against his mouth. His arms slid around her waist and pulled her close. One hand slipped up her side, cupping her jaw gently as he pulled her in again. His mouth closed over hers. He parted her lips with the tip of his tongue, teasing it inside. She accepted him eagerly with soft sighs, letting him nibble and bite. He pulled back slightly, but she held fast, keeping her body melded to his as she placed kisses over his mouth and cheek. The taste of his skin, the rhythm of his breath, took her arousal to a fever pitch and she found herself pressing her center against him. “Scarlett…” he murmured between kisses. He wove his fingers into her hair, pulling her head back and breaking their kiss. “We can’t do this, Scarlett.”
“Why not?” she whimpered. She tried to capture his mouth again, but he held her against the wall.
“I didn’t bring you here to seduce you,” he said, his expression going stoic. “Let’s not do something we might both regret.”
“But I…” she stammered. She wanted to say more, something that would convince him to go on, but the words died in her throat and she backed down. “You’re right, of course. We shouldn’t be doing this. I seem to have a terrible way of mixing business and pleasure.” Her eyes narrowed and she gazed at his face, searching for any signs of crumbling resistance, but he only looked away. “It won’t happen again.” She pushed past him and rushed to the door. She could feel the tears stinging the corners of her eyes and she didn’t want to cry in front of him. “I’ll see you upstairs. I should call David.”
“Scarlett,” he began, crossing the room in two strides to catch up. “Don’t be angry…”
She paused at the door, refusing to turn and look him in the eye. “Nonsense. Why would I be angry? Obviously I had too much wine at dinner and it got the better of me, that’s all. Lucky you were here to stop me before I did something really crazy.” She gave a fake chuckle and walked away, praying that her keycard would work this time.
Raze had the good sense not to follow her and after only two attempts at using the card, the doors to the elevator opened. She didn’t wait for him and rode the elevator up to the penthouse, pressing the floor button several times as if it would make the machine travel faster. When it arrived on the top floor, she rushed through the doors and up the stairs to her room. When the door was safely closed, Scarlett collapsed on the bed and let go the tears that had been threatening to fall. How could she have been so stupid? Why would someone like Raze Constantine want her? He was intelligent, successful and classy. Of course he saw her as some kind of junkie charity case. She was probably just another project, like that school in Africa. Save the little junkie artist girl. She gave a bitter laugh. “Maybe he could have a telethon,” she said to the empty room.
Her purse fell open when she fell down on the bed and one of the pill bottles rolled out and onto the floor. She reached down and picked it up. She could be the junkie artist girl, if that’s what he wanted. Two tiny pills and she might be able to sleep and forget all about Mr. Constantine and his kissing abilities. Two Halcion and her angel might visit her dreams, making everything go away. Popping the lid off with one hand, she shook two pills out onto the coverlet. The little blue pills blended in to the silvery pattern on the bed, but she scooped them up with shaking fingers. She put them on her tongue, holding them there until she could get into the bathroom to scoop water from the sink into her mouth to wash them down.
Scarlett leaned against the counter, staring at herself in the mirror. Her makeup had begun to wear and dark circles loomed under her eyes. Her cheekbones stood out in harsh relief and she rubbed her hands over them. She didn’t eat much, these days. She was too thin, almost gaunt. It was true what Raze had said. Her obsessions were getting harder to hide. “Fuck it,” she growled at the mirror, turning the light off and walking into the bedroom. She shed her clothes, leaving them strewn around the floor, until she stood naked. She could feel the drugs creeping into her system, bathing her brain in a hazy kind of relief. Her extremities felt heavy and her eyes were closing against her will as she lay down on the bed. She sank into the depths of the feather mattress, pulling the comforter around her.
Downstairs, she heard the elevator doors open and Raze’s footfalls on the floor. She wondered for a moment if he would call out for her, but he was silent. His boots made a low thud on the stairs as he walked up. Scarlett panicked for a moment, sure that he was going to come inside. She pulled the covers over her head and peered out from under them. If she pretended to be asleep, he wouldn’t stop. The footsteps stopped outside her door and Scarlett’s body tensed. Slowly, the door opened, a blade of light slicing the room in half. Raze peered inside, but he said nothing. Then, just as quickly, he was gone.