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"What do you do when you're not working?" I asked, looking at Giovanni from behind the barista counter. It seemed we were getting into a routine of sorts, spending our mornings together inside the cafe, before the rest of the city woke up. Giovanni was much more than I'd previously thought him to be and it was a pleasant experience to reveal all of his layers. Most recently, he'd told me that he was an art buyer, shaking hands with the wealthiest of people in the area. And since his work hours were crazy, it was evident that he had little time for himself.

"When I actually have the time, I like to draw and paint," he replied, taking a bite of his cinnamon sugar muffin. I wrinkled my nose.

"You don't get tired of that art medium? I mean, you already have to deal with it for work." Giovanni shook his head emphatically, swallowing the muffin in his mouth.

"Never. Art is my life," he said, "It allows me to see the world clearly and make sense of things I can't explain. Through art, I can examine things and see what most people don't. It adds a new dimension to everything in the world while, simultaneously, stripping away the unnecessary distractions…" Giovanni wasn't looking at me while he was talking, opting to look out of the window instead. It was clear he was in love and I wondered how it felt to be so passionate about something.

"...My job is simply another facet of it all. I get to find something beautiful, breathtaking and exquisite, bring it to a client and watch as their world expands, little by little." I smiled at him and put my cup down, leaning onto the counter.

"Ok Michelangelo… what type of things do you paint or draw?" Giovanni glanced at me and laughed softly. Getting up from his table, he walked up to the counter where I was standing.

"I'm no Michelangelo... though I suppose I aspire to be," he said, "But in any case, I love to realistically sketch landscapes, people, or places. When I have time to paint, I like to use watercolor. And though most of my works are realistic, sometimes I add a touch of surrealism. Recently, I've started to go into photorealism, which is proving to be harder than I expected…" As Giovanni was talking, I stared at him blankly. I wasn't understanding everything he was talking about and I couldn't even pretend that I was.

"Sorry, am I losing you?" he asked.

"A bit," I admitted, "But it sounds like you're incredibly talented. I would love to see some of your stuff one day."

"Well, you're welcome to my loft anytime… that's where most of my art is. But you have to be willing to see me outside of the comfort of this cafe…" Giovanni raised an eyebrow at me and I laughed nervously, choosing not to respond.

"Anyway, what about you? What do you do when you're not working?" he asked, thankfully changing the subject.

"I'm not really an artist of any kind, but I like fitness. I like to run a lot and before I became so busy at the cafe, I actually used to practice my freerunning around the city."

"Freerunning? Wow… isn't that like parkour?" I pursed my lips and looked up in thought.

"Well, they're similar, but not the same. Freerunning is a little more creative, including more acrobatics and expression," I explained. Giovanni's eyebrows went up and he scoffed.

"How is that not artistic?" he asked. I shrugged.

"I don't know, that's just not what I think of when I think of 'art.'"

"Morgan, that is most definitely art. Believe me. I wish I could do something like that..." he said genuinely.

I looked up at Giovanni's beautiful, bearded face and my fingers longed to caress the Italian's cheeks. I knew the man was creeping up on me in an unexpected way and I felt helpless to stop it. It was much easier to resist his advances when he was being playfully arrogant rather than sensitive and cooperative. The past several weeks had flown by in an intimate and pleasing blur and with each early morning conversation, the need to be closer to him rose higher in my chest.

Giovanni was still talking about the beauty of acrobatics but I had tuned him out, my attention elsewhere. Taking another sip of my tea, I let my mind wander as images of him and I filtered into my brain. Some were sweet, while others made me cheeks heat up slightly.

I had never been attracted to 'Alpha-males' but Giovanni didn't seem to be a two-dimensional caricature of the term. There was a depth and kindness in him that I knew couldn't be faked. And since I wanted to explore the deeper side of him, I had to get past my own inhibitions.

"Giovanni..." I interrupted him mid-sentence. He stopped speaking and looked at me expectantly.

"Was I talking too much again?" he asked and I smiled up at him kindly, shaking my head.

"No, not at all. In fact, I was just wondering… can I come over tonight?"

"...This is your artistic space?" I asked, my mouth hanging open. I was in awe of how much room Giovanni had to work in and just how well he used it. His loft in general was large, but his art room seemed to be an apartment of its own.

"Ti piace?" he asked, walking up behind me. I frowned, trying to take in everything I was seeing.


"Do you like it?" he translated and I nodded. There was so much life, so many stories, residing in the room that I wanted to sit down and study each drawing and painting.

"Giovanni, tell me how to say 'you're incredible' in Italian."

"'Sei incredibile'," he said, chuckling and taking a seat one of his stools.

"Sei incredibile!" I exclaimed, plopping down on the floor next to a few of his paintings.

There were a few watercolor paintings of an old town, high in the mountains with winding roads and I squinted, reading the writing at the bottom. 'Chieti Abruzzo.'

"That's where I lived until I was fifteen," Giovanni spoke softly, "It's an old city but it's full of character and history. The painting doesn't even begin to do it justice." I stared at the painting in my hands for another moment.

"Do you miss living there?" I asked, looking up at him.

"In some ways, yes. In other ways, no." I turned back to his work and searched through them again. When I saw a messy painting of a golden labrador, I picked it up and read the word at the bottom. 'Rossi.'

"I painted that a year after we left Italy, when I was sixteen. As you can see, I wasn't that great at watercolor yet," he said, laughing slightly. But there was a sadness in his voice and I looked back up at him.

"Rossi was my dog. When we had to leave, I couldn't bring him with me so I left him with a few of my cousins. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. It was even worse when I found out he'd gotten hit by a car and passed away. So, I expressed some of my pain in a painting," Giovanni explained and my heart clenched with sadness.

"Wow…I'm sorry…" I said quietly. There was nothing else I could think to say, so I let silence fall around us. Looking up past Giovanni's head, I saw many more paintings lining the walls. There were sketches and watercolor paintings of houses, children, families and landscapes. But, in examining a lot of them again, I noticed they were a lot darker than I'd initially noticed. Only a few had warm tones and they were scattered amongst the others. Certain paintings near the ceiling were, in fact, quite depressing. My brows furrowed deeply and my eyes went back to Giovanni's gray ones. It was clear that the room was nothing but his pain and depression on canvas.

"...Giovanni…" He silently waited for me to continue speaking, but I hadn't yet figured out how to say what I wanted. There was so much to analyze and so much to ask about. Giovanni was aware, as well, that he and I were sitting in a room decorated with his issues, but he also appeared to be unbothered. There was a silent strength about him, like he knew these things were plaguing him and he accepted them for what they were and what they meant.

"Something hurt you…" I stated softly. Giovanni smiled and lowered himself to the floor, sliding over to me.

"A lot of things have hurt me, little fox," he admitted. He moved close to me and stretched out on his side, looking up at me.

"Why do you pile all of your paintings in here? You have so much room in other parts of the loft." Giovanni placed a hand on one of my crossed legs and squeezed gently, unknowingly sending a jolt of electricity through my body.

"I like to paint my feelings and then let them go. The paintings stay in here because I won't allow them to overtake my life. They have their place and I allow them to breathe. They're in my timeline of life, but they're not who I am. I can't allow myself to be stuck in one painting. There's nothing that's going to control my life like that," he said, his words confident. I stared down at him in admiration, realizing that I wasn't as strong as he was. I had years of pent up feelings that had yet to breathe, which probably contributed to my slow emotional healing in a lot of areas. Giovanni's tongue darted out to lick his lips and immediately, my attention was diverted downwards. The need inside of my chest rose again and I clenched my jaw, pulling my eyes away from his face.

"Why do you look at me like that?" Giovanni asked softly, squeezing my leg again. I looked back at him.

"Like what?"

"Like there's something you want but are too afraid to ask…" I scoffed and rolled my eyes, opening my mouth to say something off-putting. But before I could, Giovanni grabbed the arm farthest from him and pulled it over, making my body twist toward him. Placing my open palm on his toned chest, he locked eyes with me. His gray ones were intense while I was sure mine betrayed my nervousness. The sarcastic remark I had stayed stuck in my throat and I remained silent.

"Dimmi…" he said quietly, letting go of my wrist. Though I had the chance to move away, I stayed still, feeling his pectoral beneath my fingertips. The need in my own chest was at an all time high and I knew that he was leaving the situation in my control.

"Puoi mostrarmi?" he whispered.

I didn't know what he asked, but I knew it was encouragement to do what I'd been wanting to do for a while. Applying a bit of pressure, I pushed on Giovanni's chest and he complied, lying down on the floor. Keeping my hand on his chest, I moved to my knees and bent over him, my other hand on the floor beside his head. Leaning down, him and I stared at each other, his gray eyes dancing with excitement. Even though I was technically on top, I felt vulnerable and transparent.

Tilting his head up, Giovanni nuzzled my nose with his and my eyelids fluttered closed at the gentle gesture.

"I don't bite, little fox," he said, nuzzling my nose again. The need in my chest finally overflowed and at last, I let my mouth touch his.

Giovanni's lips were warm and inviting, coaxing me to relax. His scent of sandalwood was all around me and I breathed in deeply, sinking into him further. Our kiss was better than I'd imagined, the softness of his lips starkly contrasting the hardness of his chest. He softly bit my bottom lip and I groaned, leaning back slightly.

"You said you didn't bite," I reminded him breathlessly. Giovanni smiled and pressed a kiss to my cheek.

"And you said you weren't interested."