Forbidden Merger(10)

By: Emilie Rose



He unlocked the door on the right and motioned for her to precede him. Aubrey walked through the dark wooden portal. Her heels tapped across the granite floor leading into Liam’s living room. The warm wood tones, scatter rugs and traditional furniture and fabrics surprised her. She’d expected a bachelor pad to look more like…well, a bachelor pad. Black leather, chrome, fur rugs. But other than the granite floor, his home had none of those I-am-man-hear-me-roar attributes. Jewel tones of emerald, ruby and sapphire dominated a decor that was surprisingly classic and very similar to her tastes. A couple of landscapes hung on the walls. Vineyards, unless she missed her guess.

The man continued to surprise her. Too bad she couldn’t hang around to uncover the rest of his secrets.

“Tell me why three women just looked at me like I was a pitiful dumbass.” Liam balanced the heavy frame across the arms of a wing chair.

Aubrey’s grin hit him in the solar plexus. “Didn’t like that, did you? Here let me do that.”

She approached to help him remove the paper from the painting. Their fingers tangled as they reached for the same piece of tape. It was a wonder the sparks between them didn’t ignite the heavy brown paper protecting the artwork. Liam jerked too hard and a tearing sound rent the air.

“Careful,” she said. “You’re going to want to rewrap this to take it to your mother.” She carefully removed the remainder of the paper and then placed it on the floor beside the chair. Stepping back, she tilted her head and observed the picture. “Tell me what you see.”

Liam looked at the painting. “A white flower with a magenta center surrounded by green vines.”

Aubrey closed the distance between them. Her shoulder brushed his. In her heels she stood almost eye to eye with him. “Focus on the vines. What do you see?”

Violet eyes. Sleek, milk-chocolate hair. Smooth ivory skin. Her scent filled his senses. Roses? Gardenias? Something floral and heady, reminiscent of hot summer evenings at The Tides, his grandparents’ estate in the Hamptons. If the kiss they’d shared in the taxi had shaken Aubrey as much as it had him she didn’t show it.

Sunlight streamed through the window, heating his skin. He shrugged out of his suit coat and tossed it over the back of the sofa and then transferred his attention from the woman who had his hormones in an uproar to the piece in question. “Curves. The vines are curvy.”

“Resemble anything you’ve seen before?”

“Yes. Plants.” His tone and expression must have revealed his frustration.

She reached out and traced a fingertip over the thickest vine. “Look again.”

He felt stupid—neither a familiar nor welcome feeling. “Hills. Valleys…” And then it clicked, and it was so obvious he didn’t know how he’d missed the shape before. “A woman’s body. Reclining.”

Each leaf and vine shimmered like wrinkled emerald-green satin sheets and the woman’s form lay right in the middle. Damn, how had he missed that?

Because any man who wasn’t thinking about sex would only see a tangle of vines.

“Very good.” Her approving smile filled him with an inordinate amount of warmth.

“Now look at the morning glory itself. Notice the dew trembling on the edge of the blossom and the curling tendrils of the shoots surrounding the flower.”

Her description made it impossible for him to miss the hidden meaning. Liam’s ears burned and he swore. “I bought a pornographic painting for my mother.”

Aubrey’s low chuckle danced down his spine. “No, you bought her a sensual one.

There’s nothing dirty about this picture.”

“If that symbolizes what I think it does, then I can’t give it to her.”

“Gilda Raines paints of life, birth, femininity and sensuality. Like you said, it’s just a flower to the uninformed observer, but to someone who looks deeper it’s the cradle of life.”

“It’s a woman’s—”

She held up a hand to stop him. “Liam, don’t make this ugly. It’s a beautiful piece. Your mother will adore it.”

She turned back to the painting. The way Aubrey looked at it—with parted lips and flushed cheeks—was the same way she’d looked at him before they’d exchanged names and again right before he’d kissed her. The air in the room thickened. He shoved his hands through his hair. He should call her a cab before sexual attraction and thoughts of this…erotic picture overrode his good sense.

His brain and his mouth took opposite paths. “Can I take your jacket and get you a glass of wine?”

She hesitated, catching her bottom lip between her teeth. Her gaze traveled to the door and back to him as if she, too, were weighing the wisdom of staying.

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