With butterflies doing the polka inside her stomach, Sam walked into the Langston Gallery. Olivia greeted her with a smile, and then turned back to the customer she was dealing with. Shifting the soft leather briefcase to her other arm, Sam wandered the shop. She imagined her paintings hanging on these walls, imagined her sculptures adorning the wonderful shelves. If all things went well, they would be.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Miss Dowling.”
“Please, call me Sam, and it’s no problem.” She shifted the weighty case one more time. “I appreciate you taking the time to see me, Olivia.”
“Well, with someone like Ethan Montgomery on your side, how could I not.” Her bright pink lined lips lifted in a sweet smile. “Please, come this way.” Her high heels clicking on the stone floor, she led Sam to a small office just off the main entrance, and left the door open.
“I’m alone here today so I have to keep an eye on the door.”
“I understand.” Sam sat, resting her case on the desk. She hoped her nerves didn’t showing.
“Well now, let’s see what you’ve brought me.” Olivia took a seat behind the small ordinary looking desk.
Sam often wondered how people didn’t notice even a small disturbance when an apparition was present. The shabby gentleman she’d spoken with the night before in the front room sat in the exact chair Olivia just took, melting their images as one. Sam tried to ignore his antics and opened her case.
“I love doing this.” He lifted a finger and stuck it up Olivia’s nose.
Sam bit back a giggle and did her best not to pay attention. “I’ve had this a while now, because it’s rather dear to my heart.” Sam set the black plaque on Olivia’s desk. “I’ve been reluctant to part with it.” What Olivia didn’t know was why. It was an image of a young boy who’d come to her in her youth, asking for help. And with every dream, she’d seen more and more of what had happened to him. His older brother had taken it upon himself to rid his parents of the anguish of dealing with a handicapped child, and had drowned his little brother in the backyard pond.
It was such a tragic story and touched Sam even now, years later. So using wood, painting it black, she’d carved the image of the little boy at the edge of the pond, tossing pebbles into the water. She preferred to remember him that way.
“This is incredible, Sam!” Olivia took the plaque, ran her fingers delicately over the carved images. “The detail is impressive. The way the water is rippling looks so real. I can feel the love you put into it. Who is he?”
“Someone I once knew.”
“Well it’s exquisite.” Olivia set it down carefully and glanced up at Sam. “This wasn’t in your portfolio when I looked it over last week.”
“As I said, I’ve been reluctant to part with it.”
“I can see why. I want to showcase it.” Olivia sat back in her seat, folded her hands on her lap. “You really are quite good. Mr. Montgomery wasn’t exaggerating. I went by the bookstore to see your Mother statue. I love it!” She stood, held her hand out. “Welcome to the Langston Gallery, Samantha.”
Giddy, Sam felt as if she could burst. “You have no idea how happy you just made me, Olivia.” And while they went over the agreement, Sam wondered if she should thank Ethan, or continue loathing him instead.
An hour later, Sam raced into the bookstore in search of her sister. The store was the closest to the gallery and Sam so desperately wanted to tell someone her good news. She turned the corner and nearly ran right into Ethan.
“Hello, Samantha. What brings you here today?”
He always looked and smelled so good and as always, it did things to her system she wasn’t prepared to deal with. “I came to see my sister.”
“I gave her the rest of the day off.”
“She wanted to spend the day with your father and she’s put in plenty of overtime so I figured she was entitled to it. You look nice today.”
She stepped back when he lifted his hand to her face. If he touched her, she might crumble. “Did she say where they were going?”
“No, I’m sorry she didn’t. How did your meeting go with Olivia?”
“Perfect, actually. She took one of my plaques. Sam just couldn’t control her excitement, and when his lips curved up, showing off those sexy dimples, she nearly sighed.
“That’s wonderful. We should celebrate! Have a drink together. Perhaps after work I could pick—”
“Not going to happen. What is it with you? Are you trying to drive me nuts?”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“You are one smooth talker. You take me to dinner, make me believe you’re interested in me then tell me we can’t be together because of your divorce. Now you’re here, wanting to take me for a drink after work. I—” Her breath whooshed out when he yanked her against his chest and covered her mouth with his.
He had a mouth made for kissing. It was soft, skillful, and so damn delicious. And he was blowing the top of her head right off.
When he finally released her, it took her a moment to compose herself. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“I can’t seem to stop myself, Samantha,” he murmured, leaning his head on hers.
God, she wanted to melt in his arms. “I wish you’d stop saying my name like that.”
“With that sexy undertone. The way you say it creates shivers in places I would rather feel.”
Smiling, giving her the softest look she’d ever seen, he stroked her cheek with his finger. “Is that so?”
“I don’t want you making me shiver, Ethan.” Oh God, yes she did.
He pulled her closer in one quick jerk. “And I don’t want to feel as if I can’t breathe unless I kiss you.” Before she could speak one syllable of a word, he crushed his mouth down on hers again, only this time, the kiss was hard, urgent and greedy.
Her head spun out of control and every thought she had, vanished. The only thing that remained was the hard driving need, to take more. Lifting her hands, she slid her fingers into his thick dark hair and angled her head, encouraging him to deepen the kiss. His hair felt like satin against her palm and she curled her fingers around the strands. She wanted to devour him, to allow him to devour her.
When he finally broke the kiss, she looked into his dreamy blue eyes and sighed.
She knew from that moment on, she was lost.
“I think you’ve just damned me, Samantha.” Turning sharply, Ethan fled the room.
Closing her eyes, Sam held tight to the moment.