After leaving the downward spiral of Bremerton and settling in Seattle, Katina Mead has finally landed her dream job of working in Chef Toka’s restaurant. For years, she’d tried to forget about the love she’d lost when Derek left her, telling her to grow up. With a new career, good friends and a new direction, she can finally stop wishing for Derek to return for her the way he promised
Derek Montgomery left his hometown after having a powerful sexual reaction toward Katina, the girl who made his life worth living. Knowing she wasn’t mature enough to handle a man who needed to have sexual control over another person, he ran…straight into trouble. Deemed unworthy of love, he holds on to the promise of returning to Katina. But, the woman he’s always loved wants to love him in return, and doing so might destroy him.
She hurried over to The Unspoken. The strange reaction earlier deemed too alluring to ignore.
“What are you about?” she whispered. “Whoever painted you…either loved you or hated you.”
The darkness coming from the painting, so overwhelmingly deep, touched a part of her she couldn’t understand. Her vision blurred. She swallowed, forcing the tightness in her throat to ease. The splash of red, meant to lighten the mood, came at her like acid, ready to burn an already painful wound.
“Unspoken…” She shook her head. “No. It’s speaking loud and clear. The title is all wrong.”
A tear escaped. She swiped her cheek and turned away from the painting. She sniffed, drawing air into her lungs. It’s the stress.
She turned back around. What was it saying? Why couldn’t she leave?
The painting called to her. Why? The most expensive piece of art she’d ever bought was the antique Jimmy Dean poster in her bedroom. Oils, acrylics, finger-painting meant nothing to her. She reached out and stopped right before coming in contact with the painted canvas. Her hand shook. Such an odd need to connect with the picture came over her. She wanted to run her fingers over the red splash as a woman would caress the bare chest of her lover, but she was afraid she’d end up ripping it off the wall and stomping the piece. Her hatred deep enough to destroy a multimillion-dollar piece of art scared her.
The lights dimmed, leaving the spotlights highlighting the pictures along the wall the only glow in the room. She backed away, shaking her head, never taking her gaze off the painting. Afraid if she ignored the message, the artwork would harm her.
“The Gallery is closing.” A deep voice came from behind her.
She whirled around, panting, searching for the man who spoke. “I-I’m sorry. I’ll go.”
The thunk, thunk, thunk of footsteps echoed in the large, open room. She squinted into the darkness. A man stood half in the shadows. His black slacks, his polished black shoes gave her permission to relax. He must be in charge of the gallery.
Unable to view the top half of him, she glanced away. Despite Lisa’s concern over waiting outside for a taxi alone, she’d better go.
“Please. Stay. Take your time.” He spoke quietly, his voice rough and deep.
As if he’d given her a gift, she stepped closer to the wall and turned her back toward the man. Her pulse raged, and she stared at the artwork.
“What do you feel when you look at it?” He stayed in the back of the room.
“I-I don’t know.” She turned back around, pinching the skin at the base of her neck. “It’s odd…”
“Go on,” he said.
“There’s something about it that makes me not want to trust it.” She glanced behind her, but his silence encouraged her to go on. “Yet, I do. I can’t help but know I’m safe standing here.”
She inhaled a shuddering breath. “This will sound silly, but it’s hurting and in pain. I want to protect it.”
“The buyer deemed it inspiring and prolific,” he said.
She frowned. “No. Not at all.”
He chuckled, and she shivered. There was something familiar about his amusement.
“It bothers me that someone bought the painting, and I’ll never have another chance to look at it. Yet, I don’t think I want to look at it. I-I guess it scares me.” She cupped her elbows in her hands.
“Hm. The artist originally called it Sacred, Scared.” He stepped out of the shadows. “There’s a fine line between two words that are so similar but extremely different in meaning, don’t you agree?”
Her first glimpse at the man talking to her left her breathless. “Derek,” she whispered.
Tall, dressed to perfection in a black tuxedo, white shirt, and tie, he stood exactly six feet two. If she were closer, the top of her head would fit neatly under his chin. She hadn’t seen Derek Montgomery since she was eighteen years old and he’d hauled over his lap and spanked her down by the river. All she’d wanted to do is comfort him. It’d been obvious to her that he was hurting inside. His reaction…her reaction to Derek’s action startled them both.
In the end, he’d yelled at her, making her cry. The next day, he’d disappeared from her life. She was barely eighteen and he was barely twenty-one at the time. A man. In her bravado she’d told him it wouldn’t matter what he did to her—she’d love him forever.
“All grown up and still more beautiful than any woman I’ve ever seen.” He took his time looking at her. “How are you, Kitty Kat?”