CHAPTER ONE

DESTINY

Niobe leaned back in her car seat and turned up the volume to one of her favorite songs Kiss me Dangerously by an up-in-coming grouped named Dangerous Behaviors. As the female singer screamed and the music began to hit into its middle beat, a smile appeared on full lips, although it was not a genuine smile. It was rare that Niobe smiled and meant it.

She was driving in her little blue convertible around a slightly sharp corner, her slender hands guiding the wheel almost expertly as she rounded the corner and kept going at her high speed. She wasn't worried about getting pulled over, in this small community, it was rare that the cops would come around.

Dark wavy hair was pulled back into a tight bun, although there was wavy tendrils flying into her face as she drove. Her dark and angular shades protected her eyes, and she ignored the wisps of her hair slapping against her skin lightly. She wore little makeup, although she needed none with her natural beauty. Only a light plum color tinted her dark lips. She wore a bright blue sundress to match the blue paint of her car, with cute little blue high heeled sandals to match.

Niobe detested high heels.

In all honesty, if anyone from her old high school could see her now, they'd be stunned at her current behavior. Niobe Blakes-Johnson, while she had been an honors student at Kayeshire High, was anything but a 'girly-girl'. The shy girl, despite her grade point average, had been mostly overlooked by the other students, and she had always preferred it that way. She had always worn baggy pants and shirts way to large for her slender frame, and had always carried herself as if she was shorter than five foot nine. Her hair had always been put into a hasty lump of mass, as if she had more hair than she knew what to deal with. Lastly, Niobe had never, ever, ever worn makeup until now.

A few months had certainly not changed her, and this recent transformation from 'dull' to 'beauty' was actually not something Niobe had wanted. Her sisters, having 'moved' into this area for 'business prospects', which actually meant that her parents had made them move here to keep an eye on her, decided that it was far time their youngest sister transverse into the land of the feminine, and had promptly burned all of her old clothes upon her arriving in Knolls Shore, ME. From there they had taken her to the closest mall and practically brought her a new wardrobe, complete with matching purses, shoes, and of course, tons of makeup.

Thankfully for Niobe, the summer had been long, and so she had been able to learn how to walk again while wearing high heels. She still tripped often, but she most certainly did not fall down flat on her face as she had the first few times she had tried wearing something that enhanced her already tall frame. Her sisters had shown her how to wear makeup and how to do her hair so that she didn't look like a 'wild thing' as they had dubbed it. Because of Niobe's mixed origins, her hair was thick but fair, but also incredibly wavy. Although she had always wanted to cut it, her parents had never allowed it, and so the thick mass was now nearly to her waist. She wasn't good with hair like her sisters, who had just recently opened up a store in the little town. Their business was doing well for its grand opening, and the two sisters were talking about even expanding and opening up a spa in a few years closer to the Boston area.

After Niobe finished her degree in Law.

She rounded another sharp corner with her stylish little car and ignored the fact that she was probably scowling. Although Niobe's love for her family was strong, and while she knew she held certain obligations to them, she had to admit, deep down, that she hated their controlling nature. Her parents were the worse, they had practically chosen her occupation for her, no, they had chosen it for her. Even when Niobe had chosen the farthest and most remote college that she could think of, her parents had sent her two sisters to 'watch over her'. Niobe had wanted to feel that it was because they wanted the best for her and not because they didn't trust her, but it was becoming more and more difficult to feel as if she wasn't trapped day by day.

Niobe held nothing but love for her family. Her mother was a Pediatrician, her father an infamous lawyer in the Washington, DC area. Her sisters were both naturally skilled in cosmetics and hair-styling, and while they had very little scholastic training, they had started by doing hair at home, and then expanded to eventually open their own shop. It had done rather well for five years, until they had decided to move to Maine. Niobe wasn't stupid, there was no way they had willingly left shop in DC to move all the way to Maine for 'business opportunities'. The notion itself was absurd and insulting to the intelligence. Yet there was little Niobe could do about the situation other than deal with it; her parents did what they pleased when they pleased, especially when it involved her future.

As she rounded the last corner her vision was filled by carefully planted trees in beautiful rows which led up to the University that she would be attending. It was a small University, all girls of course, but even to Niobe, who was fresh out of High School, the campus was massive.

The main building was tall and rectangle in shape with a round top, with two smaller buildings seemingly attached to it. Off to either side, about half a mile, were two larger buildings, plain in structure, but were obviously important. There was enough sidewalk for one to get from one location to another, but anything else was nothing but beautiful bluish-green grass that seemed to be always neatly trimmed. Each building was surrounded by beautiful tulips and other assorted flowers, and that was just the front part of the campus. Beyond that were other various buildings, and if she squinted, she could most certainly see the dorms off to the left and far back of the building. All of the buildings, every single last one, were painted white.

Niobe drove up to the largest building, enjoying the feel of the bright trees and the natural beauty of the place. The artist in her cried out for her to paint the landscape, but she tried to squash the feeling down. She was not an artist, and she never would be. Niobe Blakes-Johnson was going to be a lawyer, her parents had said so, and it was what they were paying her to go to school for.

There were street paths which lead to all the buildings, which all of course had parking lots near the back of the buildings. Niobe steered off to the right of the major building and found a parking spot, easy enough as the fall semester had not yet started, and skillfully parked her car.

Long, dark slender legs moved out of the car as Niobe stood up, straightening her knee-length sundress and removing her sunglasses, squinting at the light for a moment. She held her small blue purse beside her as her other hand put her sunglasses away. Closing the door she mentally sighed, wondering how she was going to make it so far without tripping up or stumbling at least once.

A few minutes later, after only two stumbles and a trip, Niobe made it to the Admittance Building. The inside was no less impressive than the outside; black marble floor with the white-washed walls made a beautiful contrast. There was an oval cherry oak desk that a sharp-looking woman was sitting at, a few various metal statues decorated the building, along with beautiful pictures of the campus and portraits of obviously important people to the University. To each side of her and towards the exit of the building were two long windows on each side that were covered with beautiful dark red drapes. Towards her far right was a staircase leading up, but instead of disappearing behind the wall, Niobe could look up and see the square-shaped spiral leading all the way up to the top of the building. It was beautiful from an artistic perspective, and for Niobe, who was still not used to going to such large schools, it was awe-spiring.

A loud 'ahem' shook the young woman out of her thoughts and her attentions to the lady at the oak desk. The woman was probably in her early fifties, her dark hair had white at the roots, leading Niobe to believe that the woman was keeping her hair dyed. Her face was leathery-looking and sharp. A long narrow nose accented dark piercing eyes with thin lips that seemed to be smeared a red too bright for the woman's pale complexion.

The woman reminded Niobe of a hawk.

"Excuse me Miss….?" The woman asked, her eyes widening as if expecting an immediate answer.

Finding the woman to be a bit rude, but not wanting to make any enemies and tell her so, Niobe nodded "Niobe Blakes-Johnson…" she said softly, the lightness of it betraying her stunning looks which betrayed her as looking much older and sounding much deeper than she really was. "I…" she began, hoping she could word herself correctly. Usually she had a hard time speaking with others when she first met them. "I read on the website that people could stop by and tour the place- I was wondering if I could acquire a map-" she trailed off, feeling sheepish for some reason. Her gaze went to her beautifully painted toe nails.

"Right. Well, tour all you like, we're fresh out of maps at the moment." The woman snapped, or rather that was the way it seemed to Niobe. The woman had a very Northern accent, but Niobe didn't think that was the reason she sounded so haughty.

"Um, thank you anyway." The young girl said and began to walk past the desk and towards the rear exit, already feeling somewhat at a loss.

She wasn't exactly sure what had compelled her to come here in the first place. The campus was empty at this time, and summer classes usually weren't that many because most of the students wanted to enjoy their summer away from classes. Niobe had come for this exact reason, perhaps because she wanted to find all of her classes so she knew where to go for her first day of school. With no map, however, and with no one really here to help give her directions- for she was not about to ask that mean looking woman another thing- she felt as if she had wasted time.

But she was here, and it was almost a good thirty minutes to drive back to her sister's condo. She refused to believe that she had wasted good gas for nothing.

As she walked outside, the campus grounds greeted her. The buildings she had seen before were still a good walking distance, but she liked the open space of green in front of her. Benches were placed in strategic places around the area, and there were a few closed-in patches of flowers in areas that livened things. Surprisingly, there were a few people out and about. About a good fifty feet away were two women, obviously students by the backpacks they wore, walking and talking, seemingly in good spirits. Almost too far for Niobe to see was another woman in biker shorts and a sports bra rollerblading, her iPod in hand and looking quite oblivious to everything around her.

So few people, yet they looked happy as they moved around this place of learning and intrigue. Niobe was very impressed by all that she had seen so far, and she felt a sense of pride at being a part of this beautiful private college, but there was no real happiness. She wasn't quite sure what it was, but she felt a slight stab of envy as she looked at the happy females, wondering if they were majoring in something that they enjoyed, unlike her.

Perhaps that was the jist of it then. Even though she was here, miles and miles away from her controlling parents physically, they still held control over her life in other ways. Even though Niobe was here and she knew that she would love this school, she knew also that she would hate this school. From here was where she would become a lawyer, from here she would study to do something she had no real desire to do, but was doing it because that's what 'made the money'. Money wasn't important to her, sure, it got her things that she wanted, but she didn't want to major in something because it made her a lot of money, she wanted to major in something that mattered to her.

Clutching her purse a little tighter, Niobe did let a brief thought of happiness pull through. She was a Freshman, and despite her Advanced Placement courses, there were still classes that she had to take as a Freshman, and she had already picked two art classes for her extra curricular courses. Advanced Sculpting and Painting had been her gift to herself, her little defiance and her little joy. Her parents could control what she wanted to do sure, but they couldn't stop her from taking the classes she wanted to take, especially if she needed them for credits.

"You look like the cat that's gotten the mouse."

Startled, Niobe jumped slightly and turned to her left, blinking up at the voice who had just spoken to her. Her hand moved over her heart as if to still it, and the person took a small step back, raising their hands in defense.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."

There stood a man, which had slightly surprised her as she thought this was an all girl's school, wearing a grey suit. His dark hair was slicked back and his bright blue eyes were warm and inviting. He was much taller than her even with her heels on, his face was pale and his smile genuine. Lowering his hands he tilted his head slightly at her, as if taking in her appearance for the first time. Niobe, although quiet, was very observant of her surroundings, and a slight blush crept up on her face as she saw the obvious intrigue in his eyes at the sight of her.

"I…I was just in thought that's all." She stammered out, talking about his earlier statement "I didn't mean to react like that."

He flashed her another disarming smile that Niobe found herself slowly returning, and he extended his hand, which she lightly shook.

"My name is Markus, I'm a temporary instructor here. I saw you looking a little lost and forlorn, and I thought I'd see if you needed any directions. This is a small town, but this University is rather large."

"Oh." She said a little lamely, finding herself looking away due to her naturally shy nature "Um, thank you. I am a little lost actually."

He moved closer to her, his close proximity making her feel a little nervous. Her hand, the one closer to him, moved to hold her other arm, and she turned away from him. He didn't back off, however, instead he leaned forward, his blue eyes looking at her quizzically.

"Map?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "Or some reference to go off on so I can figure out where you need to head?"

Realizing that he had moved closer only to help her and not invade her space, her cheeks flushed a dark red as she began to hastily dig into her bag to find her schedule that she had printed off online, feeling horribly embarrassed and silly.

Stop acting like an idiot all the time Niobe. She scolded herself. He's going to think you're a total nutcase.

Producing the paper printout, she handed it to him, trying her best to keep her hands from shaking. She hated being nervous around new people, it was her biggest flaw and she wished that she could be more confident and strong like her sisters. Sharita and Shanita Johnson were anything but shy.

He took the paper from her gently and looked over her schedule for the semester. She watched his facial expressions intently, hoping that he would indeed be able to help her. After a long moment his eyebrow raised again, this time in amusement and almost as if he had just found something to be ironic.

When his gaze fixed upon her face she looked up at him expectantly, her large brown eyes seeming almost too large for her pixyish face. He started for a minute, as if he wanted to say something but had lost his train of thought, before he finally caught his nerve.

"You're taking some interesting art classes Ms. Johnson." He began and when she turned away from him, he seemed to relax a bit, not that she could see that of course.

"I am." Came the simple answer.

"Well, if anything, I can help you find these two classes, because I teach them."

Her gaze snapped back to him in slight surprise "You're Professor Donavan?" she asked, now feeling a royal fool. He looked no older than twenty eight, but that probably didn't mean much when it concerned teaching art.

"Hardly." Markus remarked; looking even more amused than before "As I said before, I'm a sub teacher, basically. Professor Donavan is my first cousin. The highest my education takes me is an Associates in General Studies which is hardly anything to scream about. I am, however, an artist and my cousin asked me to come and teach her class. She's on maternity leave this semester. And just so you don't feel insecure, she left me with some extensive notes on what she wanted me to teach you guys, and I'm going to follow it to the letter." His grin widened "Although I'm sure all this art stuff is boring to you anyway."

Feeling slightly defensive and not exactly knowing why, she tilted her head a bit to look at him "Actually, I'm an artist too."

"Really?" he asked, and the way he sounded made Niobe feel embarrassed once again. He seemed quite surprised and even pleased, and she knew he had meant no real offense at all. "What do you do?"

"I…um paint." She said softly, turning away once more, resorting to her old shy self. "And sculpt."

"As do I, it is good to know that there are still people interested in the world of Art, so many people overlook it these days. I know when I was in college people mostly took art courses because they had to, with it being the only class left after the other 'good ones' were taken of course. I had always found it sad, because art is such a wonderful thing…"

Eventually, as Markus spoke, Niobe turned to him curiously, listening. He seemed very passionate and dedicated to his work, if he was indeed an artist, and Niobe was glad that this man was going to be her teacher. She had secretly hoped that her Professor wasn't going to be some dry old man whose zest for life had all but drained out of him. This man, Niobe could tell, was someone that she would be able to learn a lot from. As she thought this, she felt a smile form on her lips, a genuine smile that she hadn't made in quite some time.

"Yes." She said after he finished, although to what she seemed to be agreeing to was the question indeed.

Her future instructor stopped and they looked at each other for a moment, sharing a companionable silence. She hadn't said much, but then again, there was little to say. Based on her expression and her genuine interest in what he had just said, it was obvious that they seemed to share the same mind, at least about art anyway.

Leaning forward again, he shot her a quick but warm smile as he pointed over to a building in the distance. It was small, smaller than most of the buildings, and was partially cut off by one of the larger dorms. "Do you see that building over there?" he asked. When she nodded he continued "That is the Arts Hall. It's small, but very well equipped and beautiful. Looks can be deceiving after all. In any case, that hall is where you will find your two classes."

From there he pointed out her next four classes, or at least told her the general vicinity of where it would be, and made sure that she understood his directions. Using her pen and digging out some paper she scribbled down some loose directions and when she confirmed that she understood, he moved away from her, but placed his hand between her shoulder blades. His hand felt warm and comforting and despite herself, Niobe felt herself finding him to be a bit attractive. He wasn't the type of guy she usually found herself attracted to, if she had ever really found anyone attractive at all, but there was something about him, perhaps the way he felt about art which was so similar to her own feelings, perhaps that was the draw.

"Thank you Mr. Markus." She said finally "This will be a great help."

"It's no problem Ms. Johnson, I'm glad I could help you. I hope you still plan on being as enthusiastic as you are now about art when you get into the classroom. If you are, I think you'll do fine, even if you are a bit shy."

"T-thank you…" she said again, although this time her smile was a little shaky. Again she was embarrassed by her inability to be normal around people.

She felt a little disappointed when he removed his hand and began to walk away "Well, I must be going, I'll see you in two weeks!" and with a wave he walked towards the way she had came in, leaving the campus.

Taking in a few deep breaths she began to walk over towards the building where her favorite classes were going to take place. She could not help but feel a bit of excitement, not because of the classes themselves, but of the man teaching them. Markus seemed to be a fine person and would be a fine teacher, this she knew. He was kind and obviously dedicated, and would more than likely be a lot of fun.

There was something about him that had struck Niobe as odd, however, a familiarity that she hadn't been able to explain. She had been so nervous at first that she hadn't been able to think properly, and as she walked over towards the art buildings, realization slowly began to dawn on her.

Markus. Markus…Markus…that name was so familiar. She knew a Markus, not personally of course, but she knew one. She tried to recall the description from memory. Dark hair, blue eyes, soft Irish accent, born in Maine, raised in Ireland…

"Oh. My. God."

By the time the realization hit her fully, her slender fingers had just wrapped around the door handle to the Art Hall. She stood there, her brown eyes wide, her mouth slightly agape as she realized the truth.

She had just gotten directions from one of the most famous artists in the world. Markus Kavanaugh, in the art world, was a genius, an artist, in her opinion, without equal. It was well know how deeply committed he was to his work, and how close he was to artists of like mind. The articles in her favorite magazine Artist's Door had always spoken about how active he is in the artist community, especially concerning new and rising artists. Niobe, a young woman who wanted so bad to be an artist herself, had practically worshipped the ground he walked on. She had mirrored her style after his, except where he painted a light side to fantasy, she preferred to paint the more gothic side. She had even submitted a few paintings and articles to the magazine and Markus had personally sent a letter to the editors asking her- although she had submitted under an anonymous name, literally- to try and contact him because he felt she had much potential to become something more.

Niobe felt like a first class royal idiot. She had been standing right next to him, he had leaned over her, touched her, and she had totally spaced out and didn't realize who he really was. She felt as if there weren't even any words in any dictionary that could properly define what a jackass she had just been. He had even smiled at her!

Smiled.

She wanted the ground to swallow her whole. How could she have honestly missed those handsome looks? Sharita was never going to let her hear the end of it. Both sisters knew how much Niobe fawned over him, for while everyone was fawning over the latest boy band, she was fawning over Markus Kavanaugh. When all the girls had clip outs of their newest hotties, she had clippings of his newest paintings.

Then something else dawned on her: He was going to be teaching two of her six classes this semester.

Turning, she leaned against the door and smiled, a true bright smile. She thanked every God and anything else she could think of to have given her this chance to impress her idol. No one would probably even know who he was besides her, and that was fine. She just wanted to impress him, to show him that he had made a difference in her life with his words and paintings. Had it not been for the articles he wrote, she never would have thought that she could be a successful artist. Of course, under the circumstances she couldn't, but he had personally said that she had talent, even if he didn't realize it. That was enough for her.

See you in two weeks!

"Two weeks has never seemed so long…" Niobe lamented.

Niobe returned to her sister's condo that afternoon, looking awfully pleased with herself. Sharita, the oldest Johnson sister, was sitting on their plush beige leather couch watching TV. The other sister was not around, although Niobe could have cared less.

Sharita was shorter than Niobe, but no less beautiful. She was slightly round at the age of twenty seven, but that didn't stop her from dressing up like any other female. She normally stuck with beige and gold colors to compliment her skin and today she wore beige Capri pants with a low-cut V neck blouse. She wore various golden bracelets on each wrist and earrings with large hoops which had her name stylishly placed on the inside. She wore no shoes as she watched television and her perfectly painted gold toenails were peeking out from Niobe's view. Her hair was currently braided in a zig-zag fashion, and since Sharita's hair was naturally short, Niobe knew that there was nothing real about her sister's 'hair' which was now almost waist length.

The oldest sister turned as Niobe practically floated from the door to the kitchen, kicking off her heels at the door and moving to the refrigerator to pull out some food. Sharita had, in her opinion, lived a very diverse and interesting life, so when Niobe came in, looking happy for the first time in months, Sharita, being herself, knew a man was involved.

"So, who was he?" the woman asked, her dark brown eyes looking at Niobe suspiciously "Don't tell me you got a man already just by going to the campus. I thought it was an all girls school."

"It is an all girls school." Niobe said happily, pulling out some cheese, butter, and a skillet. Tonight she was going to make her favorite food: grilled cheese sandwiches.

"You didn't answer my question Ni." Sharita asked, a smile on her painted lips.

There was a silence as Niobe tried to think of what to say "….My instructor at the University, I met one of them." Was what came out finally.

"You gotta crush on your teacher already, girl!?" Sharita asked, looking at her sister incredously. She was sitting up on the couch now to look at her youngest sister "You have got to be joking, how old is he anyway?"

"I don't have a crush on him!" came the exclamation as Niobe slammed the refrigerator door closed "He's the substitute art teacher, so he's not even a real professor or whatever. Besides, Markus Kavanaugh is only twenty three…" she paused as she realized that she had blabbed out his name.

"Wow." Sharita said and for once Niobe almost grinned at the fact that her sister was at a loss for words. It was usually a rare event. "Are you for real? That nerdy-looking art guy that you've been liking since you got into high school?"

Feeling defensive, Niobe did her familiar action of tilting her head, a movement that Sharita knew quite well "He's not a nerd. He enjoys what he does and I admire him for it." Her expression grew sheepish again "But yeah, it's him."

Sharita's grin grew predatory "Does he have a nice ass?"

"Sharita!"

"What?!" the older sister asked, feigning confusion "It's a legit question Ni, does he have a nice ass or doesn't he? I can't let you go after no man if he ain't got nothing if you know what I mean."

"First of all," Niobe all but shrieked at her, mortified at the line of questioning her sister had taken "I wasn't checking him out at all, and second, I didn't even realize it was him until he had already left. He showed me some directions, we chatted briefly, and then he left."

"So then he doesn't have an ass." It was a statement.

Niobe almost threw the skillet at her.

"Ni look, we ain't around Mom and Daddy no more okay?" Sharita began, making Niobe pause in her thoughts of maiming her sister. Finding this conversation to be a little odd, she remained quiet "Yeah, they sent us here to look after you, but do you honestly think we're going to sit here and baby-sit you? You're nineteen years old, and you're a lot less loose than we were. You ain't even had a boyfriend girl, and this Markus guy is the only one I've ever seen you fawn about. Did he seem interested?"

Niobe didn't answer right away, her thoughts turning inward. There had been that brief moment when Markus had looked at her in obvious appreciation, perhaps he had? She wasn't sure, and the belief that someone so famous could have been attracted to someone like her was absurd. She wasn't that pretty, and she wasn't even famous. Famous people only liked famous people.

"I don't think so." She said finally, although she felt a little disappointment at admitting it out loud. It'd be a dream come true for someone like him, her idol, to like her on more than an artistic level, after all he was her childhood crush, but she seriously doubted it. If anything, Niobe was practical and realistic.

"Well that's okay anyway." Sharita said, noting the look on her sister's face "He's probably snooty anyway, you know how them famous people are once they get some money. Anyway, at least class will be interesting right? Having someone like him teaching the class."

"…Yeah." Niobe breathed, images already filtering into her brain.

She imagined herself working on a painting and Markus walking over, moving his hand over hers to show her an easier step to do a distinct style with her brush. He'd lean forward as he spoke, his face only inches from hers as he mentioned how well her style was and how much of a natural she was. Hell, maybe if she was lucky, he'd figure out that she was the Anon that had submitted those articles and paintings and offer her a side job on the spot, where she could work for him after school.

When she was younger, she would imagine all sorts of silly things. Her meeting him, him instantly falling in love with her and them going off and getting married. There really wasn't any in between, her imagination seemed to stop short when it came to him, but she had long ago given up such fanciful things. That stuff only happened in romance books and fairy tales. Besides, above everything else, Markus Kanavaugh was a taken man. He was engaged to Penelope Ashton, a beautiful daughter of a very rich family. Of course, according to the tabloids, the marriage was actually an arranged one that had been made when the two of them were children, but engaged was still engaged.

Besides, he probably had fallen in love with her anyway, that was usually how the world worked. The two of them, when in pictures, always looked splendid together. The perfect couple. Niobe doubted that she could compete with that.

"I'm not worried about getting a boyfriend right now," Niobe said "Mom and Daddy wouldn't let me have one anyway, which would probably be the reason why they let me go to this all girls school."

Sharita snorted, turning back towards the TV "Girl, all I'm gonna say is this: If you get yourself a man, me and 'Nita didn't see nothing."

Finding herself in a grander mood than she had felt all during high school, Niobe smiled warmly and lovingly at her sister. "Thanks Ree."

Markus had a mighty headache.

He sat in his office at home, a large space that held several bookshelves packed full, large windows with heavy beige curtains that practically surrounded the front half of his study, and then canvases. Everywhere.

Papers cluttered the floor, sketches, scribbles, notes, pens, pencils, erasers, dried up paintbrushes, almost anything you could think of that an artist would have was either on a small table or on the floor beside one of the various canvases scattered across the large room. His art desk, larger than most, was covered in drawings and incomplete sketches.

His walls, instead of having pictures or paintings mounted, had article clippings, blown up pictures of various paintings that seemed to have all been done by the same artist. Large, ancient cathedrals seemed to be the theme of all the pictures, as were gargoyles, although they came in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. Some moved some did not, but the landscapes were all gothic and dark, beautiful and breathtaking. The artist's attention to detail was intense, the strokes solid and sure, the picture seeming to 'pop out' at the onlooker. When the artist wanted you to look down from the large building below, it was as if you could feel yourself falling, that's how real and how excellent the paintings could move someone.

And the articles. Posted on his wall was four years worth of articles by one person and one person alone. Every week an anonymous person had sent in an article, expressing their opinions and beliefs, but it had moved Markus as nothing else ever had. They spoke little of who they actually were and stuck only to their beliefs and feelings, but for the Irishman, for every article he had read, he felt as if he had found a kindred spirit.

He wasn't exactly sure if the person was a male or a female, since they only rarely referred to themselves to indicate any sort of gender, but Markus had a feeling that this person was a female. Nothing solid, just a gut feeling and a hope. He had never really figured out what he had been hoping for, for he knew deep down in his heart who he belonged to.

Yes, he was very much engaged with Penelope Ashton, although he did not love her. Their engagement had been an arranged one, between two powerful families that neither of them had control over. Penelope did not love him either, or at least, Markus believed so, and she shared none of his interests, nor he hers. She was a beautiful woman, striking black hair that framed pale skin and light brown eyes. It was no surprise that she had modeled a few times before for major covers of magazines, and it had been very apparent from the beginning that she liked to be in the light, and she had never liked the prospect of moving from her home in California to his home in Maine.

"What's in Maine anyway?" she had asked him often when they were trying to agree on who would stay with who. It was when their parents had decided that it was time for them to get to know each other a little better before they got married.

That had been three years ago, and Penelope was still asking the same question, even though he had tried to explain it a hundred different times.

Beauty was in Maine. Beauty during all the seasons. Openness. He didn't feel trapped in the small town of Knoll Shores like he did in San Diego. Here people left him alone, he didn't have to worry about a ton of reporters digging their noses where they didn't belong. He had been born here and had spent most of his adult life here. It wasn't Ireland, that was for sure, but he loved it no less. The simple tranquility and peace that this area brought him was priceless. A constant inspiration to his artwork, when not back in Ireland of course.

While he had also grown up with the riches of his family, his family had also enjoyed the simple life as well. Unlike Penelope's family that stayed in the spotlight, his family had always stayed out of tabloids, instead just being a simple company that had grown into an multi-million dollar corporation. Generations of hard work was in his father's company, and although he was not a corporate man, everything that Markus owned he could fully and confidently say he paid for himself, without the aid of his parents. His art sold for small fortunes, and his parents had always raised him to try and be self-sufficient, for there might come a time when Markus could not count on his parent's money. Penelope was a sweet woman, but if her parents ever went bankrupt, she would likely not know what to do.

So they had come to Maine, for he had his small mansion here, and this was where he felt he belonged. Penelope traveled a lot, mostly because she could not tolerate the quiet tranquility and remote location that she currently resided in. She did return often, however, to be with him, although she left and returned so frequently that half of the time he never knew if she was really gone or if she was home. He stayed delved into his art or his reading- for he read constantly if he was not drawing something- or he graded papers.

Right. That's where his headache was brewing from.

Almost all of the students in his first class were Freshmen. This was unsurprising, for it was the generic art course that every freshman took if they couldn't get a hold of any of the other electives they wanted to take. While he knew that art seemed to be a dying cause for most people, as for some reason no one seemed to think that they had artistic talent anymore, he had no idea the extreme indifference these kids seemed to have. Of course, he wasn't that much older than most of them being twenty three himself, but he was pretty sure that his attention span wasn't that short when he had taken an art class.

Their current assignment had been an essay of sorts. His cousin, Professor Mariann Donavan had left him in charge of the class while she took time off to tend to her new baby boy Joseph. He had been happy to teach the class, and her assignments for the first class was basic at best. The essay was to basically write about an historical figure who had an impact on the art community. The class had been given a week to do it, and so far only five essays were actually worthy of an A. Everything else sounded either plagiarized or half-assed. Markus was no writer by any means, but he was certainly a reader, and it was obvious that most of these students saw the assignment as more of a punishment than something interesting and possibly fun. He had loved assignments such as these, for he was able to learn more about famous artists than he had previously known. Maybe it was just him and he simply didn't understand the other side of the playing field. He was sure if he had been asked to write about his favorite football player he would have drawn a blank.

But that didn't stop his head from hurting. Despite the direct copying of text-book information and simply laziness, some of these kids had simply made up something and it was so off the mark it was painful(because really, Picasso…German? No.), there was their grammar and spelling as well. He could excuse some grammar mistakes, he wasn't an English Major by any means, but some of these essays were practically 'leet speak' which made his head hurt and his eyes water. There were some comments he made that simply said 'Don't write as you speak. Ever.' and promptly gave it 'D' or an 'F', depending on how bad it made him cringe.

Sitting back so that he was leaning on the edge of his chair, he laced his fingers behind his head and grew a thoughtful look. There were a few students that seemed very interested in his class, and there were two students that were in both of the classes he taught. The other art class was more advanced and involved more hands-on material. It was his more favorite class since most of the people there were very interested in making art their career. It was a refreshing change in pace and he always looked forward to teaching the class.

He was also glad that none of his students knew who he was. It was rather refreshing really, to know that he wasn't as famous as people made him out to be. Perhaps if he had became an actor, where he got more screen time, that would have helped, but he was an artist, and it wasn't often that he showed his face.

Returning back to his first class, he again thought about his two promising students. Rachel Harriston and Niobe Blakes-Johnson. Niobe he had met before the class had even started, and he had to admit that there was something about her that drew his attention. At first, she had looked so mature and sophisticated in her little blue sundress and those high heels that he thought she couldn't possibly be a student, until she had told him she was looking for directions to her classes. She was obviously of African American origins- which didn't bother him in the slightest, beauty was beauty- and when he had first saw her, he hadn't been able to help but let his eyes move over her slender but full frame. He had flirted with her slightly at first, finding her shyness to be cute and alluring, but when he had realized that she was going to be a student in his class, he knew he had to act professional.

He showed her no favoritism but he didn't need to. Niobe was and excellent writer, very interested in art and was very enthusiastic in class. It was after the third day of class, which was when he had realized that he was finding it more and more difficult not to stare at those long legs that she seemed insistent in showing off with those short dresses or skirts, that he realized while she dressed very feminine, she didn't seem very comfortable with it. Of course, he had avoided any contact with her outside of the classroom since his encounter with her that first time, so he had never gotten the chance to ask her why.

Rachel was also a student that seemed very interested in the classes, or at least interested in him. She was a pretty young woman, short and pale, with striking red hair and bright blue eyes. She didn't have Niobe's figure and so she tended to wear less revealing clothing, preferring long skirts and low cut blouses, but it did not detract from her beauty. He was not attracted to her in any way, but he did realize that she tended to stare at him a lot more than was necessary and liked staying behind to 'ask questions' about nothing as she bent over to try and give him an ample view of her breasts. That, to him, was actually more of a turnoff than a turn on. He liked a challenge, girls fawning all over him was boring.

Besides, he was about to get married in six months anyway.

Of course, that hadn't stopped him from admiring Niobe's long legs and beautiful face. Her face had soft features and was round. Her eyes were dark and was obviously of Asian origin, although he had never quite asked her if she was mixed or not. Her skin tone, now that he had thought about it, was lighter, he had heard the term before for girls like her 'High Yellow' or something like that. He never quite understood the reference, but she certainly fit the description.

Oh, and then there was the day when she had actually worn jeans to school. That had been, admittedly, a very frustrating day for him. He saw her at least one or two times during the day but he saw her every day of the week due to the classes she had taken. On that day, and it seemed like he had saw her all day even outside of class, those jeans had looked…well, words couldn't describe. Skirts and dresses had given him a visual of most of her legs, but the jeans completed the entire package, and she had the most beautiful rear end he had ever seen. Her jeans had hugged her in all the right places, and Markus had to admit after that day that he most certainly found Niobe to be quite attractive.

It was so strange to him. Normally he wasn't attracted to women that often, he had Penelope and she was beautiful, but he had always wanted more than that. He had never resisted her when she had desired to share his bed, but his heart had never been into it, and they had both known it. It was rare now that they slept together, and in all honestly, he felt that if she came and asked him now, he would probably flat out refuse. He wasn't entirely sure if he was properly sane, for he really couldn't understand why he wasn't attracted to someone as beautiful and sexy as Penelope, or why Niobe somehow sparked something in him that he almost thought didn't exist.

Finishing up the papers, he got up out of his chair and began to pace his study, thinking. He did this often when something perplexed him, and tonight would be no different. He would probably get very little sleep this night.

His attraction also betrayed his feelings for another, that mysterious person who he had come to admire and was still searching for to this day. Anon was the only name he had to go by, and that artistic style that was all their own. A part of him felt as if he were betraying something with this Anon as he found himself attracted to that beautiful dark woman. It wasn't a deep attraction, but Markus knew himself. Once he started feeling for something, he felt it hard and deeply, and knew if he didn't distance himself from Niobe that he would find himself in a very awkward position.

His bright gaze turned to the cut out paintings and article clippings on the wall. Gothic paintings were all he had to go off of in picturing the person who spoke his soul so well. He had tried to envision this 'Anon' as a person, but his mind always came out blank. He had tried so hard to seek this person out, but they had flat out ignored his summons and no one could ever figure where the articles and paintings came from.

Of course, everyone thought he was foolish for being 'obsessed' as they had said. Even Penelope, especially Penelope, felt that this 'Anon' was probably nothing more than some middle aged old man. His family and friends, the few friends that he had, thought him weird for getting so involved in finding this 'Anon' person, but Markus knew that they couldn't possibly understand his desires. Even if Anon was a man, he knew that that man would probably become a very fast friend of his, possibly the closest friend he would ever have. If it was a woman, and he knew that it was, he felt that he would probably fall in love with her instantly.

She knew him. Even if she didn't realize it, with her words and her art, she knew him, understood him. He had to believe that Anon was a woman and that he could find her, because he knew the moment he did, he would have found his soulmate. He knew that his family found him to be eccentric, and indeed he was, very much so, but something deep down told him that this Anon was someone special, someone special for him. It just didn't make sense otherwise.

Which was why his growing attraction to Niobe disturbed him. He shouldn't be feeling this way, yet every time Niobe walked into the classroom the entire area seemed to light up, and the only focus he could make was on her. He didn't show it, of course, but he knew that it was becoming more than just a physical attraction. There was simply something about her that was unique and different. He was touching the surface of it, but he wasn't quite there yet. Her love for art, her poise and elegance, her beauty. The way she carried herself and her obviously caring nature, the way she seemed so passionate about art was so much like his own passions. He knew that if he got to know her better, he would find that they were very much in common.

"That must be it…" he mused, his arms crossed as he continued to pace his room. That had to be it. Her shy nature, he had to admit, drew him to her, but it was the way she lit up when they discussed something of interest, the way she seemed to really enjoy the class and not just sit there because she had to be there. He knew that if he sat down and talked to her, he would confirm his suspicions, but then he also realized that if he did, and he had finally found someone that he could connect with…he would be in great trouble.

He knew he never thought about things, he knew he always reacted by his feelings and not much logic. He knew he'd try and dive head first into spending more time with her, and based on his already physical attraction to her, he wasn't sure what would come out from that.

He wasn't sure if he wanted to know. There was still Penelope.

Immediately guilt slammed into him. How could he harbor such thoughts when he was engaged? It didn't matter that they didn't love each other, they still had a relationship, forced or no. Unfortunately, there was not much either of them could do to get out of their marriage. If he tried to break things off it would look horrible on his family, and vice versa for her. Their families, who did nothing but benefit from their relationship, would not so readily let that go. He felt bad for Penelope, she deserved a better life.

Better than being with me in any case. He thought.

So when slender pale hands slid around from his arms to his chest, Markus almost jumped out of his skin. He turned to face Penelope wide-eyed, unaware that she had returned home.

Her face was more angular than Niobe's, her eyes were as dark as her hair, giving her a very soft look with that pale skin of hers. She wore light makeup, mostly because she had a natural beauty to her that needed little primping, and her small lips were turned upward in a soft smile.

"I'm back sweetie." She said, her voice was soft and very feminine, certainly not husky. She wore a beautiful black gown that seemed to shine in different colors in the light, the straps moving down in the front to come to a V point just above her navel. Despite the expensive pumps she was wearing Markus was still much taller than her, and as he looked down upon her smiling face, he wondered when she had actually left. How long had she been gone? He had no idea.

"Welcome back." He said, leaning down and kissing her on the cheek. He moved away from her then, not noticing the slight frown on her face as he began to pace again once more.

"Are you feeling well Mark?" she asked, pacing around him so she could get a good look at his facial expressions. He stared past her, his arms crossed, his frown intense. "You look upset. Is teaching stressing you out?"

He shrugged at the latter question, but did not answer the former. Her first question had actually made him tense up a bit, for he hated being called 'Mark' and she was quite aware of it. He wondered if she did it on purpose.

"I'm fine." He finally answered "I've had worse jobs." He suddenly stopped pacing and turned to look at her "How was your trip?"

Her face lit up then and she closed the gap between them, standing on her tip toes to put her arms around his neck "Wonderful. Mother and Father took me out to these wonderful restaurants that had just opened up in Cali by some famous chef or another. We went to the back and-"

Without realizing it at first, Markus tuned her out. He felt cold and cruel for some odd reason when he had realized it, and he wasn't quite sure why. He didn't feel comfortable with her arms around him, not when he knew that he was starting to become attracted to another woman. It was different when he had been fascinated with that 'Anon', at least then he knew that the chances of finding that person was small, but Niobe was a very real person, and it just felt wrong, so very wrong, to let Penelope so close when he felt for another. It wasn't deep, this he knew, but Markus still felt as if he were being a player somehow.

"Penelope."

She paused in mid sentence and looked up at the man she was going to marry in six months. "Yes?"

The Irishman opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something, thought better of it, and shook his head instead. "It's nothing. I'm sorry, I'm just a little tired, today was a long day." He moved away from her again, his hand moving to his head, fingers rubbing his temple in a slow circular motion.

When Markus felt, he felt deeply. This much he knew. Growing up, it had caused him a lot of problems, for he was quick to anger or quick to grow a deep crush on someone. Of course while he loved hard he also did everything else the hard way as well, such as over thinking situations that weren't as serious as he believed them to be. Such was the case with Niobe and Anon and Penelope. Three women, one he had a growing attraction to and another he didn't even know if they were a man or a woman. Penelope he didn't love at all, but he cared about her, and he did not want to hurt her. Even though she probably didn't love him as well, it was obvious that she cared, and he knew that if he told her the truth she would be a little hurt. Penelope wasn't a bad person, or an overly vain person, they just had little to nothing in common.

Her hand moved to the side of his face, cupping his cheek "You should rest." She said, her smile warm and caring "You work too hard, you know that?"

"I know." Came his soft answer as he pulled away from her again "I think I'm going to get some rest, I'm a little tired."

"Oh. Are you sure you're okay Markus?"

He didn't miss the drop in her tone or the concern in her eyes, but instead of facing it, he began to walk towards the door "I'll be fine. I'm really sorry, don't worry about me okay?"

As Markus walked out, Penelope stood, her gaze intense on his back. Her hands were clenched together in front of her, a small frown on her face. When the white double doors to his study closed behind him, the dark haired woman sighed and spun around to face the clutter he dared to call a room.

Her almost-obsidian eyes regarded the posters and clippings on the wall with no amount of love in her heart. They were constant reminders of the fact that no matter what she did or who she was, an invisible person who probably wasn't even a female came between them and what she wanted. There were many, many times when she wanted to just rip the objects right off the wall, burn them all and demand Markus to look at her the same way he looked at those pieces of things he called art.

Penelope wasn't an art person. She was a city-girl through and through, and enjoyed her luxuries as did any other girl who grew up with the amount of wealth that she did. The woman drove expensive cars, wore only the most fashionable and expensive clothing and her hair and makeup was always done to perfection. She had never cleaned or cooked in her entire life, and as far as she was concerned, that's what maids were for.

Despite her privileged life, however, Penelope was not the spoiled rich-girl stereotype. She was still selfish at times, and had her beliefs about society and how it was ran, but she cared about Markus and wanted him to succeed, even if it was in something that she had no interest in. She always encouraged Markus to continue his art, even if he did sell his paintings at lower prices than they should be, and even if he did tend to donate more money than he should to art communities and the like. It was his passion, his dream, and Penelope loved nothing more than to see him happy.

But imaginary bitches had to go.

Being a calm and collected woman most of the time, Penelope does not often get jealous. However, she does have the tendency to become upset when she wants something and she has a very particular time acquiring it. In this case, it is especially frustrating because Markus is, officially, her fiancée. At first their relationship was passionate and romantic. The both of them hadn't known each other long, but they had liked each other enough and so they had delved into the relationship expecting the worst and hoping for the best. Penelope had been pleased for the most part; Markus was handsome, rich, an excellent lover, funny, and he had a taste for class. She wasn't exactly sure when it happened, possibly those few years ago when he started picking up that damned magazine Artist's Door when an invisible person named only Anon began to publish articles and paintings in it.

That first year Markus had hardly spent time with her. Part of that was because his agents were having him travel all over the world to give art shows and write opinion articles. Penelope knew, however, that a larger part of that was that he was trying to find clues to this 'Anon's identity, going anywhere and everywhere to see if perhaps someone had seen the artist's work and perhaps had an idea of who they were.

His man, or woman if one preferred, hunt had been relentless for a while. He had called the editors of the magazine hundreds of times, using bribes and anything else he could think of to get an address or a name. His trail went cold before it had even began, for the artist never wrote their address down. Whoever the person was, they didn't want to be found, which was something she had told Markus many, many, many times before.

"I know Penny, but it's a little hard to explain," he had said God knew how many times in the past "This person says exactly what I feel, and their style is so much similar to mine, so I know they have to know of me. Maybe I could offer them a job, get to know them a bit better. It's so hard to find someone who really understands me, and that's why I have to meet this person. Please understand."

It was more than that and they both knew it. Markus had conjured himself a woman behind those paintings and words. For some strange reason, a grown man believed that some guy who probably plagiarized some paintings and threw together some pretty words was his soul mate or some other bullshit of that nature. Penelope didn't bite on it at all, and his stubbornness and inability to see the truth in front of him was probably the only thing about him that truly pissed her off. She had tried everything after those first few years to get their relationship back on the track it had been. Seduction, lying about her interests to get him paying attention more, leaving for long periods of time to make him see what he was missing, and nothing had worked. The seduction had, at first, gave her some ground, but now Markus would hardly ever touch her, and recoiled from her whenever she tried. As for lying, she was quite horrible at it and they had both known it, so she had given up after a time. Her recent trick, in which she would go on very long trips to make him see what he was missing in his life, didn't work at all. It was as if he didn't even realize she had left when she returned.

Penelope realized that Markus didn't love her. While she was pretty sure that she was somewhat in love with him, she didn't like his obsessions over invisible girls and most certainly didn't like the fact that he was resisting her when it concerned intimate matters. While sleeping with other men filled the void for a while, it was tricky because of the tabloids always trying to score dirt on the famous and the simple fact that she always felt guilty afterwards. She didn't want other men, she wanted Markus, although that didn't seem to matter since he no longer wanted her.

Looking back at the articles and pictures, Penelope began to feel a new anger bubbling up inside of her. Her hands remained at her sides, clenching and unclenching. After a moment, she threw her hands into the air noiselessly and stormed out of the room.

AN: I'm not sure I like where this story is going but it never hurts to submit things anyway.