BRUSH WITH DESIRE
Previously titled ART OF SENSUALITY
Publisher: Udumbara Publishing
Length: Novel ♦ Release Date: 2008, 2013
Contemporary Romance, Erotic
Brought together by art, but does falling in love come at a price…or is it the ultimate masterpiece?
Art was not only a passion of Machiko Barrett, but also a destiny―a way of life she has known since her talent was discovered at three-years-old. Caught in a turbulent storm of celebrity, scandal, and corruption, she disappeared from the art world only to re-emerge 15 years later. Her sheltered existence is disrupted when she is lured back to her one true passion: painting.
While she struggles to discover her own identity through her art, she encounters a man who opens her eyes to the art of sensuality, and awakens the woman buried deep inside the broken girl.
Read an Excerpt
Warning: This excerpt may contain material inappropriate for minors and is intended for readers over 18 years of age.
OCEAN WAVES FLOWED inland like silken sheets, rolling across the soft stretch of sand. The water spread upwards, spraying specks of liquid on Caleb Holden’s tennis shoes and jogging pants. The chilly morning air caressed his face and bare arms as he continued his steady morning run across the beach.
Caleb slowed his pace as he neared the routine end point, two houses from his own. He stopped at the edge of the familiar glass house to catch his breath, his heart pumped hard against his chest as he bent forward, hands on hips, to inhale a lungful of air.
This morning he had run harder than he had in quite a while and it felt good to push his body beyond the limit. He experienced a sense of accomplishment every time his calf muscles throbbed in pain. No pain, no gain. The clichéd motto was a theme that often ran through his mind in regards to everything in his life. He believed pain was just a reminder of his mortality and the necessary force to reach his goals. Success was all the sweeter when he tasted the fruits of his labor.
Caleb took a few deep breaths to level out. He straightened up when out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of dim lights flickering from inside his neighbor’s home. He glanced at his watch. Who could be up at 3:45 AM?
“Strange. They must be back early this year,” he whispered under his breath. Curiosity got the best of him and Caleb looked through the oversized window of the massive modern construction composed of glass, concrete and steel. The Delacroix’s home was a breathtakingly elegant and slick design worthy of any magazine feature. A graceful masterpiece he had wanted to purchase but accepted the offer a few days short.
Caleb had immediately fallen in love with the architecture for its clean, yet tranquil, Zen appeal. “Sustainable design” was what Luc Delacroix had proudly emphasized years ago when he had asked about the unique appearance. From what he understood, this was a response to the global environmental crisis and would contribute to the environment by reducing use of non-renewable resources. He thought it would bring people back to their natural environment by being “green”.
Of course, Caleb had a newfound respect for his neighbor after that education. He was quick to install solar panels in his home and did some eco-friendly landscaping on his modest yard. One thing was certain; Luc was a man ahead of his time.
Since then, the neighbors who had once ridiculed Luc for being a “tree hugger” were quick to change their tune. All in the name of tax breaks, not for the environmental cause.
Caleb made a mental note to stop in later to greet his seasonal neighbors. He always enjoyed Luc’s lively conversations and open-mindedness towards diverse topics from art to the stock market. They had shared many dinner parties and drunken dialogues in which their bond only grew stronger with time.
This was a huge change from his introverted, unfriendly neighbors and if not for Luc, living in Manhattan Beach wouldn’t be nearly as bearable, or as entertaining.
He smiled to himself in remembrance of their last get together. His breath caught in his throat when he took a quick glance inside. Alarm bells went off in his head and he stepped in closer for another look. He had known the Delacroix’s to have house guests every so often, so he didn’t believe she was any kind of burglar. She certainly didn’t look like one either.
Who was she?
He would have remembered meeting her if they had been introduced. Caleb decided it would be best to call Luc when he got back to his home. He didn’t want to jump to any conclusions without sorting it out with them first. He had intended to leave, yet being a hot-blooded male; he opted for a closer look at the Delacroix’s houseguest.
How was she connected to the Delacroix family?
He looked around, hoping the neighbors wouldn’t catch him and get the wrong idea. Maybe he was acting a little paranoid, but he felt like a voyeur viewing the most intimate and private moments of a stranger. Her profile revealed a striking beauty, an exotic goddess bathed in candlelight.
Everything about her appearance seemed delicate and innocent, yet strong at the same time. His eyes skimmed across her face, her slender yet seductive body, to her curved hips that were accentuated in the short cutoffs. Her long midnight-black hair flowed across her back, spilling across her arms, and adding to her sensual allure.
The woman was petite in stature but her toned arms and legs hinted at a quiet strength, perhaps maintained from a rigid exercise routine like yoga or Pilates. Her youthful features and silky skin were enhanced by exotic eyes with thick dark lashes, a button nose and high cheekbones. What captivated him most were her striking Amerasian features with those naturally rosy lips, so plump and perfect. Lush lips that were made to be kissed, worshipped, and devoured with slow subtlety.
Caleb blinked as if she was an illusion caused by his strenuous run. Yet there she was, kneeling on the floor, staring up at an oversized canvas. One moment she appeared to be in control of her emotions and the next she doubled over, her body shaking as she wept. The tears flowed on and her sorrow painted an image he would most likely never forget.
How could a total stranger affect him this way? His stomach tightened with a natural desire to console her, hold her in his arms and discover what caused her such pain. This reaction was so foreign and as bizarre as it seemed, he could almost believe the Universe was pulling him toward her.
Caleb inched in closer. He noticed the splatters of paint across her golden skin and clothes. She gripped a paintbrush in her hand. Fresh paint still glistening on its tip. She appeared as graceful as her own painting and his body tingled with an unfamiliar sensation. The paints called to him and he longed to touch the wet paint, trail his fingers across her flawless skin. Wanted to spread the colors around as if she was an unfinished masterpiece he needed to complete.
Get a grip, Holden. What the hell am I doing?
He blinked, as if that action would break the spell. Somehow his fascination wouldn’t allow him to look away and his eyes kept returning to her. God, she was simply exquisite. A delicate beauty that resembled the woman on the canvas itself, yet the image had a subtle eroticism that surrounded the innocent face.
Naked flesh revealed through a sheer flowing crimson gown, posed seductively, almost as if the painting embodied a message to decipher.
Leave it to him to rationalize everything with a psychological analysis. His eyes caught sight of other canvases from the flicker of candles she used as a light source. Caleb squinted for a better look, his eyes skimming across the room. Several life-sized paintings were propped along the wall and against the various furniture.
He didn’t know what to make of the discovery. All the women had identical faces except for their hairstyles and color, the same sensuality reflecting in their eyes, their lips. If he stared hard enough he would believe they could come to life and weave their magic over him. He swallowed hard. The paintings made him as breathless as the artist who painted them.
As if she sensed him watching, she lifted her head to stare out the window. Straight at him. Caleb reacted without thought, quickly stepping backward in hopes that he could escape detection. Guilt washed over him for peeping at her grief-filled moment. A right he did not have. Without acting like his usual sensible self, he did the one thing he hadn’t done since a teenager.
Caleb ran like hell back to his home.
* * * *
Machiko wiped her eyes across her forearm. Crying hadn’t helped alleviate the deep sorrow lingering in her soul. She felt the emptiness even after years spent trying to overcome the emotion. Years of psychologists, psychiatrists and treatment to ‘undo’ her withdrawal from the outside world. How could she explain to others what led to her breakdown at thirteen or her estrangement from her parents at sixteen?
With time, she learned to accept her idiosyncrasies and ignored the people who had called her a loner. Eccentric. She didn’t care about the labels society placed upon her and focused on ways to heal herself without the team of doctors hovering over her. By sheer luck she had landed a job as an au pair. Her roommate had begged her to go in her place when she couldn’t cancel the assignment.
Briana had vouched for her and the rest was up to Machiko to re-invent herself. She could finally start over in a foreign country and fit into a strange new place where there were no preconceived notions. A place where she could be accepted for all her eccentricities without fear of having her identity uncovered.
She was finally free. So why did she still feel the emotional incarceration deep in her gut? Would she ever fill the gap of continual yearning, find the missing pieces to the jigsaw puzzle that plagued her daily? She knew this unfulfilled part of her had been from swearing off her love of painting—until now. Then how could she explain the emptiness that lingered inside even though she had broken her vow to never paint again?
Anger surged through her and Machiko got up from her pathetic position on the hardwood floor. She couldn’t believe she had stayed in the house for two whole weeks without giving into temptation until today. Machiko couldn’t escape the madness that overcame her and she had finally given in. She had torn through the art supplies like a starved man at a buffet.
She blamed it on the madness, the transformation that had been planted in her head like a seed that slowly blossomed. Luc Delacroix’s words echoed through her head. Don’t waste your talents. Don’t deprive art lovers by hiding the beauty which you are able to create. You were meant for this. You were born to paint.
The Delacroix’s had thought they were so clever to propose she housesit for them when she knew damn well they had a deep desire for her to produce pieces for their gallery. Charlotte was a kind woman and very poor at fabricating stories. Over the nine years of service as au pair, Machiko had learned to read the woman and decipher the truths behind her words.
The images of two strikingly beautiful children with disheveled blonde hair and mischievous twinkles in their eyes came to mind. She smiled at the thought of little Didier and Genevieve who had managed to keep her art teachings a secret from their parents for the past two years. It wasn’t until Luc Delacroix had discovered the stash of artwork hidden in the children’s closet and brought it to her attention that the cat was out of the bag.
Machiko bent down to gather the used paint brushes and walked over to the studio sink. She rinsed out the paints from the brushes before laying them flat across the towel on the counter. She caught a glimpse of her stained hands and arms and it comforted her. The paints felt like a sturdy armor secured around her, protecting her from the harsh, demanding, lonely world.
She did not know how she could deny herself the only pleasures she had ever known for so long. Her stomach squeezed and the searing pain returned. She knew very well why. Machiko had single handedly destroyed her parents’ credibility and reputation with a single lie. Not a day passed without a painful reminder of this fact and the guilt she carried with her all these years became the burden that sat on her shoulders, in her conscience.
The room seemed constricting and Machiko suddenly needed air. She walked barefoot through the house and stepped out onto the porch that overlooked the ocean. She leaned her stomach against the wooden railing and closed her eyes, inhaling deeply of the cool, salty air. Energy flowed through her body, relaxing her to the core while the soft breeze caressed her face and made her aware of the peacefulness of the early morning.
A yawn escaped her and weariness took over. Had she been awake for almost twenty-four hours now? Painting tended to make her forget time and place. The act was a drug she didn’t want to kick. Her stomach growled and she ignored the sound.
She would eat later, but first she would take a hot shower and hope that when she slept the recurring dreams would not take root again.
* * * * *
The stranger stroked her face, his hands sliding down her arms, across her rib cage before he gripped her buttocks in his strong hands. She arched her back and felt his lips gently grazing her neck. She turned her head so he could have easier access and he flicked his tongue across her flesh. Her body trembled in anticipation, making her ache to be taken. Violated, worshipped, fulfilled.
He leaned his body in closer, pressing himself between her thighs and the stirrings of desire inched its way through her.
She raised her hips, desperate to feel the closeness and he groaned against her throat. The stranger reached up and grabbed a fistful of her hair, pulling her head back before he captured her lips. His kiss was hard, demanding, and greedy as he explored her mouth.
She reached around him and dug her nails into his back. He growled, deepening the kiss, his tongue dueling with hers with the same eagerness and frantic passion. She felt his rock-hard shaft against her stomach, which only increased her cravings.
She captured his tongue, sucking gently and the simple act had pleased him. He lifted her ass to position her and in one swift motion he entered her, answering her pleas, filling her up in more ways than one.
He moved slowly at first until she understood the rhythm, until she matched his. His movements increased as he slid in and out of her with long, smooth strokes. His kisses growing intense as they moved together, dancing to a song only their hearts could hear. She urged him on with her hips, her mouth, her hands. Their bodies spoke in a secret language as he pumped into her, hard and fast. Her moans escalated until her senses roared to life and the slow buildup became a tight energy ball that needed to detonate.
Her body heated up, consumed by a fire that stirred within like the vibrant colors of her paints when she mixed them together. They created a complete composition, well balanced, a cohesive structure and color scheme. The faster he moved the wetter she became until the pressure was too much for her. She could feel the tension coiling tighter, his body taking control, leaving her helpless and without strength to fight the inevitable.
Do you really want to fight it?
A strange repetitive shrill broke through her senses and Machiko jolted awake. Her heart hammering in her chest, her body tense, her sex screaming out its disappointment.
She let out a hollow sigh and reached for the phone on her nightstand.
Disappointment was an emotion she knew all too well.
* * * *
“Fuck. Fuck. Double fuck!” Machiko yelled as she ran through the house toward the kitchen. Smoke billowed from the oven and she yanked open the metal door. The quick drop made it bounce on its hinges. The sounds of the fire detector going off was deafening to the ears. She took one look at the metal cookie sheet and the charred remains of her once perfect balls of dough laughed back at her.
Machiko grabbed a baking mitt and shoved her hand through it before pulling out the tray, kicking the door shut with her foot. She dropped the cookie sheet on the stove, threw off the mitt, and started opening all the glass doors and windows she could get to before she dealt with the alarm.
A loud banging on her front door added to her annoyance and she ignored the sound. When the pounding didn’t stop and the shrill of the alarm grated heavily on her nerves she ran to the door and opened it without looking through the peephole.
“Well, hello…” the man began, his brows drew together and without finishing his greeting he stepped around her and went straight for the source of the irritating noise. The stranger reached up and pulled the lid off the smoke detector before pulling out the battery to silence the device.
“Fuckin’ annoying things,” he muttered to no one in particular before turning to meet her gaze. She had managed to follow him and realized it had been an error in judgment.
Machiko stood inches from him and when she had fully focused in on his face, her chest tightened oddly, her body temperature rising. My God, he was perfect. Her heart stopped.
The man had remarkable features. Piercing toffee eyes with a gentleness to them, high cheekbones, a strong, square jaw. To top it off, his thick mass of spiky dark hair only accentuated his sexy, rugged good looks. He reminded her of a sleek athlete mixed with a catalog model appeal like a David Beckham or a Tom Brady. Not so bulky, just lean and masculine.
“Welcome to the neighborhood,” he announced in a rich voice that made her knees suddenly grow wobbly. The man shoved a covered dish at her and all she could do was stare. She didn’t know how long she had paused; her eyes were glued to those lips, that wide grin which slowly dissolved into a frown.
“This is the part where you take the gift and thank me,” he instructed in a tone that made her feel like a child that couldn’t grasp simple instructions.
“Um, thanks.” She felt like an idiot and grabbed the dish from him. “What is it? And who are you?”
“Cookies. From the smell of things, it looks like you aren’t a seasoned baker. Better leave it to the pros.”
Machiko didn’t know what to make of the man. He had a take-charge demeanor. Had managed to dismantle her alarm like a hero rescuing a damsel in distress, yet when he opened his mouth he had practically insulted her twice in two sentences.
“Excuse me?” She emphasized with attitude.
“No offense, but I’m afraid the burnt cookie smell may take a while to air out.” He winked as if he were trying to turn up the charm.
Somehow his action made her defensive and she couldn’t wait to get rid of him fast enough.
“Thanks for the gift but now I’ve got a lot of cleanup work to do.” She turned abruptly and headed for the front door, which was still wide open. She didn’t hear the footsteps behind her and whirled around to see if he was going to follow.
His expression, the strength of his stance, the intense glint in his eyes made her think of a Gladiator preparing for battle. Look away. Why did he make her feel so unhinged? Nervous, anxious, uncomfortable, yet so aroused.
Her body hummed. There was definitely a strange pull of attraction so strong she needed to look away before she made a fool of herself. She would most likely gawk at him as if she’d never seen a man before. Her skills in the social conversation department had always been lacking and someone who looked like him never glanced her way, let alone wanted to engage in conversation with her.
“Are you always this friendly?”
He started to move toward her and she took a step back. The man frowned at her response, then his expression changed. He appeared to relax, showing her a flash of white teeth as he smiled at her. “Hey, I can see I caught you at a bad time. I’m one of your neighbors, two houses down. Come by anytime if you need anything.” He headed for the door and stopped right at the frame. “I work from home so don’t hesitate to drop by. I’m sure you’d need a cup of sugar or a bottle of wine sometime when you aren’t in the mood to run to the nearest store. I’ve got plenty in stock.”
His words came out in one long stream and she couldn’t help biting back a smile. His actions were almost boyish and he seemed like a man who craved company. She, however, was the complete opposite and relished the solitude. Loved shutting herself off from society if she had a choice.
“Thanks. I’m sure I won’t be needing anything.” She attempted a smile, a little out of practice, and hoped she had at least sounded friendlier. Just go already. If he stuck around any longer she was ready to shove him out the door.
As if a light bulb clicked in her head, an old memory resurfaced. She recalled the first time her body reacted this way and her stomach knotted at the thought.
He nodded in understanding but his eyes seemed to be sending her a message she couldn’t read. Those beautiful chocolate eyes she could drown in if she wasn’t careful.
“If you change your mind…” he let the sentence hang and turned to leave without waiting for her response.
She watched him continue down the steps and along the sandy path. When he disappeared in the distance, she finally let out her breath.
The knot tightened.
All signs pointed to trouble. He was a six-foot, hunky temptation just two doors down and the kind that oozed a whole mess of trouble she shouldn’t entertain the thought of getting to know.