Chapter One


The crisp autumn air blew my hair into my face as I stood on the sidewalk staring up at the brick building before me. I glanced at the slip of paper in my hand then back at the building searching for a number, but there was none.

To the left, the door pushed open and a group of women walked out. All were ridiculously tall and ridiculously thin. I figured this must be the place and almost considered getting back in my car and leaving. Compared to the women who just left, I was seriously lacking, in height and good looks.

I sighed, pulled the door open, and looked around. Nothing resembled an art studio, so I climbed the stairs. Just off to the left was a glass door. I pushed it open and was immediately greeted by a tin cup flying directly at my head.

I stood there, frozen; I saw the cup coming at me, heard the paintbrush clatter to the floor but made no motion to move out of the way. The cup hit me in the head.

"Ouch!" I yelped and began rubbing the site of impact.

The man who'd apparently thrown the cup glared at me from over his shoulder. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then immediately shut it.

"What do you want?" he snarled.

"The, uh, the agency sent me. You are Cameron Foster, the painter, correct?"

He nodded, "Yeah, and you are?"

I walked toward him. "Meg Stewart," I said, sticking my hand out.

He glanced at it, then bent down and started picking up his paintbrushes.

"Okay," I mumbled. This was not what I was expecting. In less than five minutes I'd been attacked by a cup and ignored; this was not good. "So do you still need a subject or not?"I asked a bit more aggressively.

"I do. Need a subject that is." Cameron stood up, brushes in hand and stared at me. His gaze made me uncomfortable. It was like he was looking, not at me, but in me. "Do you have an objection to posing nude?"

I felt the blush creep across my cheeks. "Um, no?"

"Good," he replied, setting his brushes down on the table closest to him. "Let's get started then."

Cameron walked across the paint splattered pine floor and pulled a red velvet chaise into the late afternoon sunlight that floated in through the large glass windows.

"If you wouldn't mind," he said pointing to a slinky black dress hanging on a Chinese printed screen at the back of the room. "It might not fit, but we can pin it."

I stared from the dress to Cameron. "You want me to put that on?"

He nodded. "Yeah, then I'm going to take some reference shots to see how it looks. I'll develop them tonight and we can start tomorrow."

I nodded and grabbed the dress off the hanger. As I undressed I shivered in the cool air. It was cold outside, why the hell did this nut have the air on?

I pulled the dress on and zipped the zipper. When I stepped out from behind the screen, Cameron groaned. "Is this okay?" I asked.

The dress fit like it had been made especially for me. Cameron cleared his throat and nodded. "Have a seat," he said patting the back of the chaise.

I sat down and stretched my legs out of the worn velvet. Cameron nodded and asked me to move my arm here, bend a knee, and tilt my head this way. I did as I was instructed until Cameron announced the angles were just right.

Cameron went to the front of the room and picked up a large black camera. "So, tell me about yourself Meg," he said as he snapped the first few pictures.

"I'm originally from Virginia," I volunteered.

"Really? What brought you to Seattle?"

"My dad. He lives on Fort George Island. I moved in with him my junior year of high school, right after my mom got remarried. After high school I went to college in Olympia then moved to Seattle right after college; six years ago."

Cameron nodded. "I see, but why Seattle, why not Tacoma or even Olympia?"

"Well first I missed the city. Tacoma is great, Olympia is too small and I wanted to stay close to my dad, so Seattle was the best choice. That and the fact that there aren't as many opportunities, such as this, in the smaller cities."

Cameron nodded again. "I can totally relate. As soon as I was old enough I moved here. I never would have had the success that I've had if I had stayed in the town I grew up in."

He set his camera down and glanced at the clock. "Okay, well that's all for today. Can you come back tomorrow afternoon?"

I relaxed and nodded. "Yes. What time?"

Cameron glanced at the clock again. "How about 3:30?"

I stood up. "Okay. I'll be here tomorrow."

I went and changed back into my clothes and came out a few minutes later holding the dress in my hand.

"Oh, here I'll take that," Cameron said and took the dress from me. I grabbed my coat and bag and started to leave. "See you tomorrow," I said as I left.

I grabbed my cell phone out of the pocket it occupied in my purse. As I walked down the street I dialed Addie's cell phone. Addie was my best friend and boyfriends sister. We'd been friends since high school. She answered on the first ring.

"Hey," I said, "Are you busy?"

"No," Addie said, "I'm just finishing up, why what's up."

"Oh my god Ad, you should have seen this guy. He was gorgeous." I sighed, thinking back to Cameron Foster's strong face and beautiful bronze skin. He made me tingly in places Robert hadn't in a long time.

"What guy?" Addie demanded, "Oh wait. The painter?!"

"Yeah, the painter. I swear to god Addie, he looked like he should have had a fuck me now sign around his neck."

"Where are you?"

I looked up at the street corner, "I'm on the corner of Lex and Seventh. There's a Starbucks across the street. Can you meet me?"

"Yea, I'll be there in like, ten minutes." I hung up and crossed the street. The coffee shop was all but deserted. The wanna-be writers were hogging all the tables; their MacBooks open in front of them. I rolled my eyes at them and all their egotism, and then stepped up to the counter.

"Hi welcome to Starbucks, what can I get for you tonight?" an overenthusiastic teenage girl asked me.

I glanced at her nametag, Nicole, "Hi, Nicole, can I please have a Venti caramel frappachino and two of those chocolate chip cookies."

She rang up my coffee and I handed her my AmEx card. Robert could foot the bill for this one, I thought as I collected my frappachino and cookies. I looked around for an empty table, and found two burnt orange armchairs instead. I sat down in one, put my handbag in the other, and munched on my cookies as I waited for Addie.

I thought about the painter as I chewed on the warm cookie. He was gorgeous, there was no denying that. I couldn't understand the cup flying at my head when I first arrived, but assumed it had to do with the gaggle of blonds fleeing the building as I arrived. Addie arrived then, waving at me as she came in out of the rain and approached the counter. A few minutes later she joined me with a steaming caramel macchiato in hand.

"Hey," she said, flopping down in the armchair opposite mine, "How was your day?"

"Good. I had a cup thrown at my head," Addie made a 'what the hell' face, "Was asked to wrap myself in some scrap of slinky, black fabric. It was interesting."

"Wait a minute; he threw a cup at you?" Addie asked incredulously.

"Not at me. More like he threw it and then I walked in," I said, taking a sip of my frappachino, "But honestly Addie, he could throw cups at me all day long. The man was gorgeous."

"Are you going back?" Addie asked, stealing a chunk of my cookie.

"Yes. Tomorrow afternoon. I did say he was gorgeous right?"

"Yes, you did. I should tell my brother your eye fucking the painter," she said laughing.

I sobered immediately at the mention of Robert, "Tell him, please. I've been looking for a way out of that. He's been a total cold fish lately. And I think he's cheating on me with that blond bimbo, Roxanne."

"Oh no, Meg," Addie sighed sympathetically, "Really?"

I nodded and played with my straw, "Yea, all of a sudden he has to 'work late.' Just seems real convenient that as soon as Grace retires he hires this new girl and starts working late. I mean come on, that's the oldest excuse in the book."

My eyes teamed with tears at the thought. I might be unhappy with Robert but that doesn't mean I want to be cheated on. Being cheated on strips a woman of a certain kind of dignity; it's like being told you're not good enough, or pretty or smart enough. Not good in bed anymore, or any number of things from the long list of things women are insecure about.

Addie handed me a Kleenex from her purse, "Don't cry, sweetie, I'm sure he's not cheating on you."

"Screw him if he is," I said wiping my eyes.

"Come on, we'll go rent chick flicks and pick up some popcorn and have a girls night." Addie reached for my hand and we walked out of the Starbucks. She unlocked her midnight blue Porsche and got behind the wheel. I got in and shoved the crumpled tissue into my bag. Addie zipped in and out of traffic and even ran a few red lights.

"How do you still have a driver's license?" I asked after I got out of the car in the parking lot of the Blockbuster's around the corner from my apartment.

"Meg, please," Addie retorted, "Look at me. What cop would even think of giving me a ticket?"

I shook my head at her ego; she was definitely full of herself.

We chose a couple of movies, all of which I was sure were going to be stupid, but whatever, Addie didn't have to throw me a pity party but she did so I kept my mouth shut and just went with it.

Two hours later and one bad remake of The Women, Robert came home. Three hours late. He opened the door to the apartment and walked right by the two of us. He didn't say a word, didn't acknowledge the fact that his sister and girlfriend were sitting on the couch in his living room; nothing. I heard the bedroom door close and the shower start.

"See," I said looking at Addie, "He saw us sitting here, probably saw your car in the visitor's space downstairs, and yet he says nothing and immediately jumps in the shower."

"You should go sniff his underwear," Addie said matter-of-fact.

I could only imagine the disgust on my face, "Why the hell would I want to do that. That's just nasty Addie."

"I read it in a book once. The female character suspected her boyfriend or husband was cheating on her, and her friend suggested she sniff his underpants for coochie juice. She did and he was cheating on her. I think she beat his ass with a baseball bat." Addie looked down at her nails, "Or something. I don't remember."

I shook my head at my nearest and dearest friend, "Addie, sweetheart, I think you have truly lost your mind."

Addie looked at her watch, "Oh jeez. I hate to cut and run, but it's late and I told Jamie I would try to come by after work."

"Ok. Thanks for everything, you're an angel." I helped her gather her stuff and then locked the door after she left. Robert had come out of the shower and was digging through the fridge.

"What'd you make for dinner?" he asked coldly.

"Not a damn thing. Who was I going to cook for? My absentee boyfriend?" I picked up my almost empty wineglass and swallowed the last of it.

"Damn it Meg, will you please knock it off. I just asked a simple question." Robert shut the refrigerator door and walked out of the kitchen, "I'm going to bed."

"Good riddance," I muttered, pouring more wine into the glass.

He stopped at the bedroom door, "What?"

"Nothing," I said sweetly, "Sleep well."

He shut the bedroom door and a few minutes later the light clicked off.

How was your day? I thought angrily to myself, Fine dear, I put on a swanky dress for a strange man today, and he liked it.

I smirked at the thought, imagining the anger that would have evoked in Robert if I'd actually said it out loud. Cameron had liked it. When I walked out in that dress, his eyes had damn near popped out of his head. The rush of power that look gave me was intoxicating, and I definitely couldn't wait to go back tomorrow