The trip back across the Atlantic was agonizing. The distance he’d already established was compounded by the curt, businesslike attitude Katie remembered from their encounters five years before. She had to be grateful that his executive assistant was returning on the private jet with them and Jared spent most of the time discussing business while she slept fitfully on the bed in the back of the cabin. He said goodbye to her at JFK, insisting again that she should call him if there were any consequences from their recklessness. But she noticed he didn’t even glance back as the private car Dario had arranged drove her away from the terminal.
KATIE DROPPED HER paintbrush in the cup of turpentine. Blowing out a breath, she rolled her shoulders to ease tight muscles and studied the composition. She’d been up well before dawn that morning, unable to sleep for another night, compelled to finish the picture. Jared stared back at her, his face full of naked hunger, his beautifully sculpted body gleaming with sweat and taut with arousal.
Awareness blossomed in her sex and she winced.
This was the fourth picture she had done of him in the last two weeks. In fact, Jared was pretty much the only subject she seemed compelled to paint. She would never be able to sell any of the work—even if she could be convinced to let anyone else look at it. But, having analyzed and reanalyzed every moment of their brief time together on Capri, she couldn’t seem to stop trying to paint her way to a different outcome.
She’d had her period three days after returning to Manhattan and, while on one level it had been a relief, on another it had devastated her. Especially when it took her two days to get up the courage to text him with the news—writing and rewriting the message in the vague hope that it might begin a dialogue between them—only to receive a five-word reply.
Thx for letting me know.
She had become obsessed with Jared and their microaffair and she needed to stop. He couldn’t have been clearer about his feelings. Or rather his lack of them. She had caught him at a vulnerable moment, thrown herself at him, and he had been unable to resist her. Then she had blown their four-day encounter completely out of proportion as a way of validating her behavior.
But somehow she couldn’t seem to throw off the draining lethargy of the last few days and the ludicrous thought that something wonderful had been within their grasp and she might never get over the loss.
She’d spent the first week after getting back from Capri trying to work him out of her thoughts. After setting up a website and scouring for commissions, she had managed to secure a gallery showing in Brooklyn, regular work doing designs for a greeting-card company and—with a little help from Dario’s connections—had sold her Capri landscapes to an Italian travel giant for use in their logo. The money she had earned had been just enough to pay the rental deposit on a tiny apartment in Queens, so she had been able to move out of Dario and Megan’s beautiful townhouse.
But, since moving in four days ago, she hadn’t been able to maintain that work ethic—partly because she’d been running on so little sleep, partly because she couldn’t concentrate on painting anything but Jared. But mostly because all the misery, and the endless reappraisals of every second they’d spent together, had crowded back in.
The might-have-beens had begun to torture her. All those questions which she had never even been able to ask. What had happened to Jared to give him those terrible nightmares? Could she have reached him if they’d had more time? Why had he been so determined not to see the possibilities?
She sighed and draped a cloth over the unfinished painting. The first hurdle was getting over the obsessive urge to paint erotic portraits of the man.
She switched her attention to the design on her work station which she was actually being paid to do.
The door buzzer sounded, cutting through the noise of a delivery lorry idling in front of the Korean grocery store below.
She lifted the brush out of the turpentine to clean it with one of her rags as she walked across the narrow room and checked the peephole.
Anxiety churned in her stomach. What was Megan doing here, with her toddler son Arturo perched on her hip and a stubborn expression on her face?
Katie considered pretending she was out. But then Megan’s gaze fixed on the peephole.
“I can see your shadow over the hole, Katie. So stop messing about and let us in. I just spent twenty minutes trying to find a parking spot.”
Katie spent as long as she possibly could undoing the chain and the four locks on the door while searching for her happy face. The one she had last worn in Jared’s bed.
She might as well not have bothered, because as soon as Megan walked into the apartment she gave her a deliberate once-over and then frowned.
“Katie? I don’t believe it—you’ve actually lost more weight. And you look as if you haven’t slept for weeks!” she said, repeating the familiar refrain which had helped drive Katie out of her sister’s home.
Arturo began to fuss, obviously picking up on the distress in his mother’s voice.
“Hey, Artie, how’s tricks?” Katie sent her nephew her brightest smile and lifted him out of his mother’s arms, ignoring her sister’s plaintive plea.
This was the problem with having people who loved you—they couldn’t stop butting into your life.
The baby grasped a hunk of Katie’s hair in grubby fingers, easily distracted—unlike his mother.
“I’m serious, Katie, you look dreadful. What is going on with you?”
“Gee, thanks, sis.”
Arturo wriggled out of her arms so Katie put him down on his sturdy little legs. In such a tiny apartment, there was a limit to how much damage he could do without her or Megan running interference, Katie reasoned. He toddled off, using the sagging sofa to keep himself upright, raring to get into mischief.
“Do you want a cup of tea, then?” she asked, heading for the apartment’s galley kitchen. “Or are you just here to tell me how awful I look?”