I've always been a long story person. When I first writing prose again when my son was born in '01, everything I wrote was long and twisty, mostly because I loved suspense and thriller so much so that was what I was writing. As I honed my skills, I knew that I had to learn how to write shorter works, something I still struggle with to this day. My stories always want to get more complicated, which invariably adds to the length.
The very first shorter work I attempted was a submission to Liquid Silver for the Zodiac collections in 2005. I didn't get selected, which invariably didn't surprise me because my Zodiac connection was metaphorical and really, really, really thin. So I looked around to see where else I could sell something that was only 15k and discovered Phaze. I submitted, then had the pleasure of meeting then chief editor at Epicon. Two weeks after I got home, I had an acceptance for The Canvas of Her Skin.
All Mark Douglas wants to do is paint his landscapes in peace. His agent has different ideas. When she demands Mark take a life studies class in order to bring more warmth to his work, the last thing he expects is to meet a woman who turns everything he believes on its ear.
Free-spirited Tallulah Weaver inspires Mark to do more than paint. He seeks her out beyond the classroom walls, though somehow even that encounter doesn’t turn out as he expects. Is she simply fresh inspiration? Or will Mark finally get past his fears to take the promise of a new beginning she’s offering?
A soft nudge at his foot made him finally look up. Dressed in baggy jeans and a translucent blouse that made her curves even more appetizing, Lou looked down at him with a bemused smile on her face.
"You're very early," she said.
Her voice was deeper than he'd imagined, though really, she hadn't spoken in his dreams and most of his thoughts of her had been obsessions with the flow of her body within the aspects of water. Still, it was musical, with the faint lilt of a Texan accent nearly forgotten shading her cadences.
When he scrambled to his feet, Mark realized just how tiny she really was. Stretched out on the dais before the class, it had been impossible to get a true feel for her height, and for some reason, his imagination had had her in Amazonian proportions. But he was six-two, and here, beyond the realm of his fantasies, she had to tilt her head back to look up at him when he stood. It was disconcerting.
"Do you talk?" she teased when he didn't say anything right away. "Or are you one of those savants who expresses everything through painting?"
"I talk," he said, and then immediately felt like a fool. This was not how he'd envisioned meeting her. "You just took me by surprise."
"That's why I nudged you first. You looked like you were in your own little world. It didn't look like a happy one."
Her gentle teasing relaxed some of the knots in his stomach, and Mark let his smile join hers. "I just want class to get started," he said. "I didn't get as much done as I wanted to yesterday."
"You have all week," she said. "And it's not like I'm going anywhere."
"I know, but…" This was getting ridiculous. He wasn't supposed to be tongue-tied around her; it just wasn't his style. Awkwardly, he stuck his hand out, hoping that a formal introduction would put him more at ease. "Mark Douglas."
She took it, and her hand, though smaller than his, molded to his slim fingers perfectly. "Tallulah Weaver."
It suited her. Exotic and simple all in one breath. The only thing he found curious was why she'd used her full name instead of the nickname the class instructor had shared.
"Why are you here so early?" he asked.
"I didn't have anything else to do."
He glanced at his watch. There was almost an hour before class was due to start and since it was glaringly obvious that he was just going to be sitting here that entire time, it was better for him if he actually did something with it.
Like get to know the model even better.
"Have you had breakfast?" he blurted. "Because I haven't, and if you haven't either, then maybe we could get some together. While we wait. Because we need to eat. To keep our strength up."
Her lips twitched in amusement. Mark suspected that if he was in her shoes, he'd be outright laughing at the idiot standing in front of him. This was just one more reason why he was better off alone.
"Actually," she said, "I already ate. But if you went someplace where I could get a coffee, I'd be willing to tag along." Her amusement turned into a full-blown smile. "I could make sure you don't fall over before you get some food in your stomach. It wouldn't be good for you to pass out and then miss the class you're so excited about."
He took her up on the offer, gathering his supplies and tucking them beneath his arm as she led the way through the building. Instead of the rear exit, she took him to the front, dismissive of the locks that would prevent them from re-entering right away.
"They'll be around to open them before we get back," she said in explanation.
"You sound like you know the routine pretty well. Do you model here a lot?"
She shook her head. "Actually, this is my first time, but a friend asked for a favor. I have a hard time saying no to people."
The faint question if she was only joining him for breakfast because of that very reason darkened Mark's mood, but he forced it aside, unwilling to spoil the moment with reality. Leading her to the small café nearby, he held the door open for her when they arrived. Unbidden, his eyes strayed to the soft sway of her hips as she walked toward the counter. She was more exciting up close and personal, and if possible, sexier with her clothes on. It was as if she was completely unaware of her appeal, wearing her femininity with a casualness akin to breathing.
It had been a long time since Mark had met anyone who seemed so genuine.
True to her word, she just ordered coffee to his ham and egg bagel, loading the dark fluid with milk and sugar before taking it to a small table in the window. "Are you enjoying the class?" she asked as he dove into his sandwich.
He shrugged while he chewed. "I don't usually do people," he said once he'd swallowed. "But this is turning out a lot better than I'd thought it would. I guess I've been inspired."
Her cheeks pinked, and she ducked her eyes as she sipped at her steaming coffee. Mark had to resist the temptation to reach out and touch her. Sometimes, she still felt surreal to him.
"So, what am I supposed to call you?" he asked. "Lou or Tallulah?"
"Whichever one you prefer," she replied. "I pretty much answer to both. Somebody used to call me Tally once, too."
"Why did you get introduced to the class as Lou, then?"
"It's about creating art, right? Well, you have to admit, Tallulah comes with baggage. Preconceived notions. Going by Lou forces you guys to come up with your own interpretation." Her nose wrinkled up as she considered it. "It made a lot more sense when we thought of it yesterday."
It dawned on him that he still didn't really have an answer to his question. As tempting as it was to just accept her claims to call her what he wanted, Mark wanted something more than that. He'd already spent the last twenty-four hours creating fantasy; now he wanted the reality.
"What do you like to be called?" he asked, straining for nonchalance. He deliberately didn't meet her eyes, though as he took another bite of his sandwich, he couldn't help but glance up and see the surprise in her deep blue eyes.
"Tallulah," she admitted. "It's…"
When she struggled to find the right word, he said it for her.
Her soft smile was the only confirmation he needed that he'd said exactly the right thing.
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