Sold into Marriage(2)

By: Ann Major

“Except for my older brother.” Lucas’s voice sounded tense. “He doesn’t get contemporary art. Or your gargoyles. He says they look like large rats.”

Rats? Self-doubt, that constant demon that lurked in the depths of her artistic soul, ate a little piece out of her.

“Call me, why don’t you?” Lucas left a number.

Smiling, she ripped the paper sack open and began eating her blueberries.

One by one, she slipped the berries in between her teeth and bit down on them, nibbling until they burst, sweet and tart, at the back of her throat. Licking her lips, she went to her tiny fridge and splashed Merlot into a long-stemmed glass.

She wasn’t lonely or homesick! That wasn’t why she replayed Lucas’s message.

Again Lucas sounded as adorably Texan as he had three days ago when she’d seen him off at the Métro stop on his way to the airport. As always he’d worn boots, overly long, creased jeans and a cowboy hat.

“I’m going to tell my family all about you.”

“Not that there’s anything to tell.”

“Yet.” He’d removed a tan leather glove, emblazoned with a big black, swirling R, the family brand he’d told her about with more than a little pride. He’d pulled her wool scarf down and touched the rosy tip of her frozen nose with a warm fingertip. “Some day soon I’ll have a lot to tell them. I’ll wait. Until you’re ready.”

When would that be? Would she ever get over Barnardo’s awful betrayal?

“It’s just that after…Barnardo…and his awful video show…” She stopped, saying only, “I—I promised my family I wouldn’t date for a while.”

“Your family would love me. I’m a Ryder.”

“You say your name as if you think you’re royalty.”

“In Texas, we are. Why do you think I can afford to live in Paris on the same block where Hem lived and wrote like he did?”

Lucas had told her that before Ernest Hemingway became famous, he had lived on the Rue du Cardinal Lemoine with a young wife and child. Like Hemingway, Lucas was optimistically determined to live abroad and write great American novels that defined male machismo.

She smiled indulgently. Lucas felt as sure of himself as both her big brothers did. What would it be like to grow up feeling secure and safe?

She sipped her wine and fought not to think about a listing barge in a lost bayou and the ramshackle, shotgun house on top of it. Or the illiterate girl who’d lived there until she was thirteen.

She held her wineglass up and made a silent toast to Lucas and to the sweet love he’d professed. How different he was than Barnardo. Frowning, she forced herself to make a second toast to her own family. Someday, somehow, she would find a way to make them proud of her.

Lucas. She closed her eyes, thinking of what it might be like if they were together. She pictured his hands, his lips, and tried to imagine lying in his arms. And then his image blurred into that of a dream lover, who was tall, incredibly handsome and darkly dangerous.

Aching with hot, shameful feelings that had gotten her into trouble with Barnardo in New Orleans, she stalked over to her window and glanced out at the dark courtyard again. Standing there, wondering if anybody was there, she took another long sip.

Imagining a new, dangerous, dream lover in one of the windows, her skin warmed and her heart pounded.

Then, shocked at herself, she shook her head to clear her thoughts. She had to get to work. Turning away, she peeled off her gray jacket and slung it onto the newspapers she’d scattered under her easel. She gave no thought to how provocative her form-fitting sweater and her black miniskirt might appear without the jacket. After all, she was alone.

She moved about, her necklaces, bracelets and earrings catching the light and jingling. Josie kicked off her black leather mules and pranced around her huge canvas. Strutting about in her stockings on slippery newspapers, she drained the last of her wine and then set her glass beside her laptop. She placed her hands on her hips and leaned over the canvas, accentuating the twin curves of her bottom, which was thrust toward her window. Focused on the livid, purple beak of a painted gargoyle, she leaned over and put a lot of shapely leg on display, too.

She had a headache from her long day working at Brianna’s gallery, so she rubbed her temples. A red, curling tendril came loose and fell against her cheek.

Even though Josie had almost no experience running a gallery, and her Cajun French left a great deal to be desired, Brianna had sworn Josie could cover for her while she and Jacques honeymooned.

“The gallery, plus my painting…trying to speak French…I don’t think so, Brianna. You know how driven you are, compared to me.”