Vain - Part Two (The Vain Series Book 2)

By: Deborah Bladon

Chapter 1

"I'd recognize your beautiful face anywhere."

I'd recognize that voice anywhere. It's the same voice that whispered into my ear during those nights in Paris when I was tucked into my bed, and his arms. It's the same voice that has left me countless voicemails since, asking me to talk, begging me for forgiveness. It's Brighton's voice.

"Beck." I feel a flash of pain sail through my body as his name hovers against my lips. This is the point where I'm supposed to turn around and face him but I can't pull my eyes from the canvas where my nude body is mocking me. Beck's presence is only adding an extra layer of humiliation to that. What vortex in the universe did I fall through where my past biggest mistake collides with my present worse mistake?

His hand catches my wrist and before I have a chance to recoil, his lips are brushing against my palm. "Alexa, I can't believe you're here."

I can't believe it either. I can't believe I have to deal with the man who told me he loved me while he was in a relationship with another woman. I can't do this right now. I need to find a gas can and a match so I can set my portrait on fire. That or I need to move to another country where no one knows my name, or face, or now, my breasts and half my ass.

"What are you doing here, Alexa?" Despite the fact that I'm literally almost ripping his hand from his arm trying to dislodge my wrist, he's not letting go. "Did you hear that I'd be here?"

My chest expands with a deep breath. The arrogance that seeps from beneath the question was one of the reasons I was initially attracted to him. Of course he'd assume I tracked him down. Why wouldn't he? I practically threw myself at his feet every chance I had while we were in Paris. "No." That's all I can find within me to say. What else is there?

"Then why are you here?" His eyes dart across the span of canvases, stopping briefly to study each one.

"It doesn't matter." It doesn't at this point.

"Do you know Noah Foster?"

I sigh, knowing that I should reconcile with the inevitable and tell Brighton how I ended up as the subject of one of Noah's portraits. I don't have enough spare emotional energy to do that right now. I have one mission, and one mission only, and that's to somehow rewind time so my naked body isn't part of this display of tits and ass.

"Where's Noah?" I find the words, pushing them together into a barely audible question.

Brighton shifts his body so he's standing directly in front of me now. His head bobs into my field of view and I pull my gaze from my portrait long enough to glance at his face. It's the devastatingly handsome face that I fell in love with only a few months ago. His brown hair is slightly longer now but that's the only difference. He looks exactly as I remember him. "Alexa, you're white as a ghost."

"Where's Noah?" I repeat the question, my voice rising enough that several people next to us, turn abruptly to look.

His hand squeezes my wrist before it slides down to cup my hand. "What's wrong?"

The question demands a simple answer. He's expecting me to say that I'm overwhelmed with seeing him and perhaps, in some small way, I am. I'd imagined this moment in time, when I came face-to-face with Brighton again, a million times over in my mind and not once was it while a portrait of my naked body was hanging in the same room. "I need to talk to Noah."

He cocks his head to the side, his eyes scurrying over my expression before darting behind me. "He's busy with a buyer." The words are clipped, direct and steady.

"A buyer?" Fuck me. I can't let anyone buy that portrait. I need to take it before it ends up in office of some overly wealthy, older gentlemen who uses it to spur on his libido.

"What's going on with you and Noah?" he asks in a hush.

I shake my head limply from side-to-side. "I don't know." I don't know. I delivered a sandwich as a favor weeks ago and now I'm standing here, looking into the eyes of the only man I've ever loved while my entire future is being stolen from me by Noah Foster.

His head darts back to look at the portraits and I feel a blush course though me. He's seen me exactly as I am on the large canvas. He's touched every place that is now there for everyone to see, yet I feel more exposed than I did when we were making love. "Can we go somewhere to talk?"

"I can't leave." My hand flits past his face towards the canvas. "I need to take care of that."

"What?" His blue eyes squint together as he thoroughly studies my expression. "What are you talking about?"

I want to break open and grab hold of Brighton to steady myself. He was my anchor when I felt adrift in Paris. Since I saw him cuddling his girlfriend in the café down the street from my flat, I've convinced myself that the only reason I fell so hard and so fast for him was the fact that he offered me stability in a world that was literally, completely foreign to me. Now I'm in the most vulnerable place I've ever been and his voice holds the same tender composure it did during all those long nights in my bed when I gave my heart and body to him.

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