Forbidden Merger(7)

By: Emilie Rose



“Sorry.” She snatched her hand away and dug her nails into the armrest on the car door, bracing herself as the taxi zigzagged around slower cars.

“Not a problem.” His voice sounded tight.

Her palm continued to tingle long after it left Liam’s rock-hard thigh behind, all the way down Lexington Avenue, in fact. Awareness whizzed through her veins.

The cabbie drove like a carjacker evading the law, but that wasn’t surprising considering Liam had offered to double his fare if he’d get them to the gallery fast.

Another swerve pitched her back against the hard-muscled, good-smelling, taboo man beside her. Their shoulders bumped and their eyes met. Liam’s gaze slowly lowered to her mouth. Aubrey’s breath caught and her heart raced.

How would he kiss? Soft or hard? Reserved or passionate? She’d never know. She turned to look back out the window and a disappointed sigh slipped past her lips.

The cab pulled to the curb in front of the gallery. Aubrey said a silent prayer of thanks and climbed out while Liam paid the fare.

He joined her on the sidewalk. “You said you like this artist?”

“Yes. Her paintings are very sensual.”

“They’re flowers,” he said with a straight face.

Aubrey studied the confused frown on Liam’s face. Did he not know anything about the artist? “Have you ever studied Georgia O’Keeffe?”

He shook his head. “Only enough to know vaguely who she is. Art’s not my thing.”

What were his interests outside of work? She’d never know that either.

Disappointment weighed heavily on her shoulders.

“Gilda Raines has been compared to a modern-day O’Keeffe although she’s more likely to paint the flowers and scenes from the Southeast rather than the Southwest. She’s originally from Charleston, South Carolina, and she took up

painting after her husband, the love of her life, died. I’ve heard she’s quite an unusual personality.”

She followed him inside a bright, open area. Oils of varying sizes graced the walls and a few pieces of sculpture stood on wide pedestals scattered throughout the space.

A chic brunette approached. “Mr. Elliott?”

“Yes.”

“Trisha Evans.” In Aubrey’s estimation, the handshake lasted longer than it should have. “And you are?”

“Aubrey Holt.”

“Ms. Raines is waiting for you in the private viewing room. Follow me.” She turned and led the way. Aubrey wondered if the woman normally sashayed that way or if she’d widened the pendulum swing of her hips for Liam’s benefit. And then Aubrey rolled her eyes. What did it matter if the woman wanted to advertise her wares? Aubrey would probably be doing the same thing if Liam’s last name were anything but Elliott.

A woman no more than five feet tall awaited them. Her face held remarkably few lines for someone in her late sixties. The morning glory painting on the easel beside her took Aubrey’s breath away. It wasn’t one she had seen before. This painting seemed to express everything she’d felt before she’d discovered Liam’s identity.

“So you wanna buy my painting,” Gilda Raines said without preamble in a rich southern drawl, drawing Aubrey’s attention momentarily away from the mesmerizing artwork. The artist’s dark eyes assessed Liam.

“Yes, ma’am.” He briefly glanced at the framed oil.

Ms. Evans barely finished with the introductions before Ms. Gaines asked, “Why?”

“I explained about my mother in my letter. About her illness.”

Aubrey’s gaze jerked to Liam. He’d written to the artist?

“I don’t get many letters begging me to sell—especially a painting someone has never seen. Anything, you said. ‘I’ll buy anything.’ I don’t part with my babies often, Mr. Elliott, and when I do it’s for a good reason. I don’t know that I should give up one now. Why should I?”

“Because my mother admires your work and having one of your paintings will make her happy.”

Thin arms crossed over a loose-fitting paisley print shirt. Gilda remained mute, but her expression said, “Not good enough.”

Even though it wasn’t any of her business, Aubrey butted in. “Because after a double mastectomy his mother needs to be reminded she’s a woman.”

All three heads swiveled toward Aubrey. “Your morning glory embodies womanhood, femininity and sexuality. I’m guessing Karen Elliott feels she’s lacking all of those qualities at the moment.”

Gaines’s eyes narrowed and she cocked her head. “How would you know?”

Memories encroached, robbing a little of the brightness from Aubrey’s afternoon.

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